July 4, 2016

Recent Reads

86. Being Mortal: Medicine and What Matters in the End
The advances in medicine have lengthened human lives in ways that were inconceivable to people even 70 years ago, but if the ultimate goal is to cure death, then medicine get an F. We often forget that. Death wins. Sooner or later we will all die. We are mortal after all.

It is clear that medicine can improve life, but can it also improve the end of life? This is the main question tacked by the author, who is also a surgeon. There is so much packed into this short book to ponder, and I highlighted something on almost every page. Life and death are two sides of the same coin, and we forget that at our own peril (hah!). If we are lucky, we arrive in the land of the aging, a land with its own specific challenges. Hospitals, nursing homes, and hospice are places most of us don't even want to think about, until we find ourselves or a loved one there. I would highly recommend this book for all mortals as the topics explored should be part of our personal, familial, and political conversations.

So why not 5 stars you ask? This could have used better editing, and would have been more effective as a long essay. In order to make it book length, there is a bit too much repetition and bloat for my tastes. Rating: 4 stars.

87. The Story of My Tits
If you are a woman your breasts are a significant part of your biography. There is that moment when you realize that you are no longer allowed to run around topless. There are those horribly restrictive days of wearing your first bra, and maybe later your first under-wire one. You might have been someone who agonized about the lack of growth in those buds, or alternately, someone who was anguished by how big they were getting. And on and on it goes. In no way am I implying that there is not more to women than their breast size and shape (au contraire!), but there is no avoiding how much angst they tend to give rise to until one gets more mature. And then, just when you are comfortable with them, you might get breast cancer.

This is a graphic memoir about the author and her tits. It's not often that we get that point of view. The black and white art is sketchy and rather cartoonish, but works really well juxtaposed against the text. Like any life, the story is funny and sad, full of heartbreak and loss, and moments full of joy. Up. Down. Repeat. It is the story of one life, and the lives of others also affected (and lost) to cancer. There are tangents that don't add to the overall story, but I really liked the honesty in the telling of this one. Rating: 4 stars.

88. Nijigahara Holograph
I picked up this manga based on the beauty of the cover art, and while I liked the art in this one, I did not understand what was going on for most of the story.

I knew going in that this was a horror story, and I quite liked how the author shows that what is often most horrifying is not some unknown bogeyman, but often the people around us. There is clearly trauma of various types in this story, and some of those scenes are shown in ways that made me pause for several minutes. However, I was confused as to what was going on, and the fact that there were multiple timelines only added to my confusion. The little I understood was brilliant, but unfortunately, that light at the end of the tunnel never did clear things up for me. Rating: 2 stars.

89. The Heart
I'd heard that this book was all the rage in France and wanted to see what all the fuss was about. My copy is translated by Sam Taylor.

Medical science has advanced to the point that transplants are no longer considered all that unusual, but how often do we really think about all the players involved in a transplant? There are of course the donor and the recipient(s), their families, and the medical staff that manage, or perform the actual operations, and all these humans carny their own individual stories with them.

This is one such story. We get into the story from various points of view, and while there is the tragedy at the core of a story that results in the donor, the story is always so much more than that. I don't think I can put into words how wonderful the writing is in this one. The sentences are long and lyrical, and there are lots and lots of commas. If run-on sentences bother you, go in with the mindset of reading a long prose poem, and you'll appreciate the skill shown by the author. It is a thing of beauty.

My one complaint is that the entire story is told in the third person, which creates an emotional distance between the reader and the events unfolding on the page, and yet I was deeply moved. I understand this choice though, as there is no real way to do what she did in any other voice. I would highly recommend this one. Rating: 4 stars.

90. Take It As A Compliment
Book blurb: Bringing together the voices of males and females of all ages, the stories in this collective graphic memoir reflect real life experiences of sexual abuse, violence and harassment.

What I did not know going into this graphic novel is that it is a collection of experiences, and that each vignette was not fictional, but in fact represented something that actually happened to the people in this collection. That would have been useful information to have at the start of the book instead of the end. Since I did not know that going in, the short vignettes, and changing gender voice was confusing as I thought I was reading a single story.

The art is sketchy and cartoony, and maybe that was a deliberate choice to help offset the violence of the stories themselves. The themes covered in this collection are important ones that affect too many of us, and this might be a useful book for starting a discussion on these difficult topics. I so appreciated the author's efforts in shedding some light on these issues, but the book as a whole lacked a cohesiveness for me, and maybe that was due to the issues I mentioned earlier. It's hard to say I "liked" this one given the subject matter, but this slim volume is worth a read. Rating: 3 stars.

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