Fisher, Thomas. The Emergency: A Year of Healing and Heartbreak In a Chicago ER. One World, 2022. ISBN 978059323067 pp. $27
ER doc Tom Fisher intersperses his dispatches from a South Side Chicago ER during the pandemic with letters to patients, colleagues and family regarding issues around healthcare in America. A Black doctor who grew up in the community he serves, he uncovers many injustices in the system from inequitable treatment of VIP and uninsured patients to systemic racism to failure of treatment of medical issues that develop into untreated chronic then terminal illnesses.
The narrative is short, engaging and fast-paced with most unfamiliar medical terminology explained in context. The epistolary sections are long, dense, well-cited essays, connected to a real person (or composites) from the previous chapter’s shift narrative.
Dr. Fisher operates from a unique perspective, well-versed in not only medical practice, but also policy. The entire book represents a bleak outlook when his own mother can’t get fast-tracked and is one of the many Black patients sent home undiagnosed and in pain; hopefully, this will have some impact with owners, insurers, investors and other key stakeholders to make real, much-needed change.
I received an advance reader’s review copy of #TheEmergency via #NetGalley.
Felicia Berliner. Shmutz. Atria, 2022. ISBN 978-1982177621 272 pp. $27
A young ultra-Orthodox woman details her discovery of porn in this fascinating novel about religion, sexuality, and rebellion. Eighteen year old Raizl has always had a head for numbers and gets a dispensation to work as an accounting assistant in a jewelry company, and a scholarship to attend college and take accounting courses. The scholarship comes with a shiny laptop (it’s not clear how she connects to the internet) which is presumably for assignments, and access to therapy.
The Internet is full of people having sex, discovers Raizl. She learns the English words for names of body parts she only knows in Yiddish, and from watching illicit videos it’s a slippery slope to eating bacon and egg sandwiches, cheeseburgers and fries, changing into tight jeans in the restroom at school, and fooling around with boys at the beach. In the midst of this, she has increasing responsibility in the accounting job, increasing belligerence towards her therapist. She shares a Maccabeats video with her little sister, and goes on several dates arranged by the shidduch, eventually accepting a suit from an auburn-haired young man who informs her no computers will be allowed in their home.
Bonus points for clever placement of hamantaschen on the cover. The writing is immediate and both authentic teenager and authentic ultra-Orthodox. Scenes detailed the porn Raizl watches and later, her fantasies, are untitalling for this reader, reduced to observation of the mechanics. The story ends were any good YA novel leaves off: at a launch point for a new beginning of sorts.
I received an advance reader’s review copy of #Shmutz via #NetGalley
Morgan, Robert. Gap Creek: The Story of a Marriage. Highbridge Audio, 2021 (reissue). ISBN 979-8200922529 11 hours, 3 minutes. $41.99
Books on CD: I’ve recently gotten the bug. Robert Morgan’s Gap Creek (read by Kate Forbes) was amazing. Southern fiction has always been one of my favorite genres and this one is at the top of my list. Julie’s only seventeen when she and Hank get married, but in life experience, she’s much older. She’s already witnessed her younger brother and father’s deaths. She’s worked the fields like a man, chopping wood, slaughtering animals and plowing and planting fields. Julie Harmon works like no person you have ever known. After her marriage to Hank, they move from their mountain home to Gap Creek to live with old Mr. Pendergast. He gives them a place to live in return for Julie doing the chores and cooking around the house.
Despite their free place to live, Julie and Hank face a year of terrible tragedy: fire, flood, hunger, being tricked and robbed, death, in-law troubles, unemployment, and finding the rhythm of this new relationship. Julie faces every trial with courage and honesty and gets through things by diving into her work. Finding chestnuts, laundry, canning, keeping a garden, cleaning the house, sewing, and slaughtering animals. It doesn’t matter the work, Julie puts herself into it completely and lets the work soothe her fears, sadness, anger, and loneliness. This is a beautiful work of fiction based loosely on the author’s great grandparents who came from the Appalachian Mountains.
My last two weeks of reading have included:
PS, I Love You by Cecelia Ahern
This was a fun chick lit novel. Through the whole book I thought I had the ending all figured out and then Wham–it was not what I expected. Pretty impressive for this kind of book.
The glass cafe, or, The stripper and the state : how my mother started a war with the system that made us kind of rich and a little bit famous by Gary Paulsen
Thanks for recommending this, April, I loved it! The first person narration is addictive, as is Tony’s unusual outlook on the world.
Shopgirl by Steve Martin
Mirabelle is in her late twenties, is a talented artist and works in the outdated glove department at Nieman’s in Beverly Hills. Ray Porter is her older lover/sugar daddy. And Jeremy, he starts out as a hook-up and then disappears, but then reappears as much more. Steve Martin has a talent for character description and development. He is a keen observer of those things that exist on the exterior of each person and then uses x-ray vision to look closer at the things that live and grow in the interior of his characters’ hearts and minds.
great great great story!
O’Brien, Tim. If I Die in a Combat Zone, Box Me Up and Ship Me Home. Crown, 1999. ISBN 978-0767904438 240 pp. $17
I just read Tim O’Brien’s Vietnam memoir called If I Die in a Combat Zone, Box Me Up and Ship Me Home. This book starts with O’Brien’s enlistment into the Army after seriously considering escaping to Canada during the draft. He then chronicles his experiences in bootcamp and the basic training he received in Vietnam before heading out to the jungle. Then, it’s all war.
I can’t really describe this book. It’s horrifying and terrifying and gut wrenching. Again, I can see clearly why Vietnam Veterans are so reluctant to talk about their war experiences. It’s not real life or anything you can explain to someone who hasn’t been through it. I’m so glad that there are people like Tim O’Brien who can speak the unspeakable so those of us that weren’t there can better understand the Vietnam/American war experience.
Haddon, Mark. The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time. Vintage Contemporaries, 2004. ISBN 978-1400032716 226 pp. $15
I just finished reading The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time by Mark Haddon. Reading this book was quite an experience. Christopher, an autistic teen, discovers his neighbor’s dog dead when he is out for a night-time walk. But the dog is not just dead, it’s been killed with a garden fork. Christopher decides he will find the murderer. We start detecting with Christopher and all his quirks and brains and difficulties in relating to others. Although I really liked this book because it was so unusual and had a great narrator, I was disappointed with the other characters. I thought there could have been a lot more character development. Maybe this is deliberate though, since the narrator has such difficulty relating to others… I don’t know… I wanted more from the co-stars of the story.
Grisham, John. The Last Juror. Anchor, 2006. ISBN 978-0385339681 416 pp. $17
I picked up the new John Grisham novel The Last Juror this week. It has been a while since I read any Grisham titles but this one appeared in my work supply last month and rekindled my interest. I fondly remembered reading The Firm and The Client and hoped for another experience staying up way too late (maybe even all night) to race through the book enthralled.
The legal aspects of the plot aren’t really the ones that are on stage here. This is a story about early-1970s small-town Mississippi, the odd characters who people it, and the exploits of a 21-year-old ne’er-do-well Yankee who buys the local newspaper with a little help from his grandmother. Sure, there is a plot line featuring a sensational rape and murder, a trial infused with technicalities and crookedness and a promise to exact revenge, all faithfully detailed on the book jacket blurb. But it is the colorful town characters and the white newspaper owner’s friendship with an older black woman from the other side of the tracks that are the salient elements of the story. It’s an entertaining read, just not the one I was expecting. Grisham fans who like the direction his fiction has taken in his last few novels will enjoy this book.
Hay, Elizabeth. Garbo Laughs. McClelland & Stewart, 2004. ISBN 978-0771037931 384 pp. $
Posted on behalf of the lovely Marcella:
I just finished Garbo Laughs—which I LOVED–by Elizabeth Hay. Quiet yet powerful novel centered around one family and neighbourhood in Ottawa during the big ice storm (big for us. not sure if it was for you guys too) and in particular one woman who ‘lives’ through movies-particularly old movies–her emotional life really revolves around the stars and plots and so she tunes out of her real life for her reel life–oh the cliche, marcella! anyway–I loved the language and storyline and I think you will too!
Recent good reads:
The Gospel According to Larry by Janet Tashgian
Tale of Despereaux: being the story of a mouse, a princess, some soup, and a spool of thread by Kate DiCamillo
My not-so-terrible time at the Hippie Hotel by Rosemary Graham
Currently reading Al Franken’s new book: Lies and the Lying Liars Who Tell Them. It’s making me laugh to the point of embarrassment at my lunch breaks!
Brautigan, Richard. The Abortion: An Historical Romance 1966. Simon & Schuster, 1971. ISBN 978-0671208721 226 pp. $
Finished The Abortion: An Historical Romance 1966 by Richard Brautigan just before the weekend. A pleasantly odd book… completely dated… I haven’t read such a book that dated itself that way since I know What You Did Last Summer (by Lois Duncan–not like the movie at all as a side note). I came across the title when I was fooling around at the Invisible Library. “The Invisible Library is a collection of books that only appear in other books.”
I became intrigued by The Abortion because it had so many imaginary books in it and I suppose too because it was near the top f the list (alphabetical order). Anyway, I had to request it from another library and when it arrived I was even more intrigued… on the cover are two people…. so 60’s looking and beneath them a caption: “This novel is about the romantic possibilities of a public library in California.” Well, it’s more about this couple, their relationship and getting an abortion when it was still illegal. The library that the man works in is like no other library in the world, it’s where people can bring in books they have written… anytime of day of night… and they are entered into a log then the author gets to put their book anywhere in the library. It’s completely wild and for me might have been more fun if it was solely a novel about romance in a public library or more about the kookiness of the library. It’s definitely a book I will never forget though, for it’s style (very unique) and the characters (very original). The author apparently was well known for his book Trout Fishing in America and I am tempted to try it.
Falick, Melanie photography by Ericka McConnell. Weekend Knitting: 50 Unique Projects & Ideas. Stewart, Tabori and Chang, 2009. ISBN 978-1584797692 pp. $19.95
On Friday I had to pick up some books for work at the New England Mobile Book Fair and this place has become very dangerous for me. I had been there years ago and think that maybe this is why I have avoided it for so long. It’s an awesome place to get books…. they have everything and at a discount! And it’s just so fun to browse around. Now if only there was a cute little coffee shop right next door…
No! That would be bad! Anyway, I bought a couple of gifts for my niece who is learning the alphabet and a knitting book for myself: Weekend Knitting by Melanie Falick and . This book sums up for me what knitting is… she talks about the relaxing rhythm and enjoying crisp fall days. Of letting go of “instant gratification” (something I have a problem with) and knowing that your love goes into the things you knit for others. At the end of her introduction she says that weekends are a state of mind and I totally agree. So I loved the book right from the intro! But I also love the addition of cookie recipes, a knitting filmography, hand massage instructions and other little tidbits that seemed just right for a weekend knitting book. (And makes it unlike any other knitting book and believe me I have seen a lot lately!) And of course I want to try the projects like a bag that has a tie on backgammon board, fluffy mittens and adorable finger puppets.
Melanie Falick is one of my favorite knitting people…I already love her Kids Knitting book which I recommend for adults too. Both books have wonderful color photographs and easy layouts.
McCracken, Elizabeth. Niagara Falls All Over Again. Dial Press, 2001. ISBN 978-0385318372 320 pp. $25.99
Just as McCracken showed us the world of librarianship in The Giant’s House, here she offers a peep at the exotic traveling life of vaudeville in the early and mid 1900’s. Jewish Midwesterner Moses Sharp narrates his experience as the straight man professor to fat funnyman Rocky Carter on radio, stage and screen in a long and successful partnership that is wrought with argument, compromise, affairs, and hard work, like any marriage of two minds.
Although McCracken may limit her audience with her choice of topic and period references, every time I almost put the book down because I was tired of missing allusions, a laugh out loud funny scene came along, such as the radio scene where the sound man is drunk and uses hoofbeats for every audio effect. McCracken’s insightful gems are universal (“Love is an animal that can–with a great deal of patience–be taught to sleep in the house. That doesn’t mean it won’t kill you if you’re not careful.” p. 93), her humor is easily accessible (the Sharp and Carter bits are funny as Abbott and Costello), and she has a poet’s knack for stringing together words to create vivid imagery: “In the corner a young man with dark hair that fell into his eyes sat at a grand piano, his shoulders already up to his ears, his hands above the keyboard, as though her were a character in a Swiss clock, waiting for the hour to strike.” p. 161
A certain set of readers will love this book, but it may not find a wide audience in spite of its universal themes of marriage and relationships, and of maintaining humor and sanity in the face of devastating loss. Recommended for fans of John Irving.