Monday, June 19, 2017

June 2.0

Into The Gray Zone: A Neuroscientist Explores the Border Between Life and Death by Adrian Owen
Admittedly, non-fiction books about anything medical seem to be a siren song for me; I find them boundlessly fascinating.  Having read and loved Being Mortal, The Remedy, and My Own Country, I was immediately drawn to this one.  Matthew Owen, a neuroscientist, embarked into a career to explore, learn, and hopefully discover what occurs in a patient's brain when diagnosed as being in a 'vegetative state.' Throughout the book, he intersperses real life patient stories, discussions of his own life and experiences with the medical world, as well as the head injury of the woman he once loved.  I found his patient stories the most fascinating, with many "wow" moments as more and more of the gray zone was opened up to Owens and his fellow scientists, as both technology and learning progress continued to expand.  At times, the medical-ese stumped me and got a bit dry, but Owens was able to jump back into a narrative pace that helped bring the story alive to someone like me, fascinated with medicine but a complete dunce when it comes to the science of it all.  For those people who are impacted by a brain trauma, who work with children or adults with brain injuries, or for those other people like me who are just suckers for a good medical mystery, this book is a great choice.

Bellevue:  Three Centuries of Medicine and Mayhem at America's Most Storied Hospital by David M. Oshinsky
Did I tell you I am fascinated by medical  non-fiction? Yep, here is another one and it is a slam-dunk five star read. Author David Oshinsky does a masterful job of deep research, traveling far back into the 18th century, to shed light on the most storied hospital in American history.  At the forefront of every dangerous plague and historical catastrophe (ie. yellow fever, tuberculosis, AIDS, childbed fever, mental illness, the Civil War, Hurricane Sandy, 9/11, etc. etc. etc.), Bellevue has the been the best training ground for every type of medicine known to humanity. Yet, this book is not dry and boring, far from it.  Oshinsky sprinkles in fascinating tales of the real life humans who made this hospital hum, who discovered life-saving vaccines, who invented the modern-day ambulance, who battled sexism, anti-semitism, racism, and who ultimately set the example for all to see, that everyone, rich or poor, deserves medical care.  It is an inspiring, engrossing, completely absorbing look at not only our medical society, but its place in our culture.  I cannot recommend this book highly enough.

The Reminders by Val Emmich
What would it be like if you remembered absolutely everything that happened in a day, as well as what day of the week and time it occurred? Cool or not? Think about it...there's a reason why our brain rids itself of minutia and keeps the good stuff.  However, eight year old Joan remembers what was said, done, worn, etc. for pretty much every day since toddler-hood.  Not trivia or math factoids, just what happened.  Therefore, she is desperate to be memorable herself.  Enter Gavin, her parent's grief-stricken friend who moves in with them after losing his partner a few months ago.  Gavin, a network television star, set the social media world 'ablaze' when his neighbor videoed him burning pretty much everything in his house in an attempt to rid himself of memories.  See where this is going?  The Reminders tells of a beautiful friendship between Gavin and Joan, as well as showcasing the place of art in our lives, what is important in families, and how to make a little girl 'remember' her special talent.  It is a heartwarming book that will leave you utterly satisfied.

The Thirst by Jo Nesbo
If you like dark mysteries, filled with smart but conflicted police, sadistic and brilliant killers, and cynical yet humorous forensic scientists and reporters, and you still haven't discovered Jo Nesbo, where have you been?? Nesbo's Norwegian mystery series starring Harry Hole (pronounced Ho-lay) began a good ten years ago, with The Bat.  I, however, did not discover him until book #7, The Snowman.  The brilliant thing about this series is that you really don't have to read them in order; they all stand on their own.  Admittedly, I do like to see how the characters grow, change, and yes, even die off.  Harry started out as an idealistic young policeman in the first book, and I have watched him go through the most terrible physical and psychological traumas known to man. And yes, he always wins.  The latest is a great mind-bender involving two creepy killers, a new journalist with her claws deep into her police source, a young naive detective who wants to emulate Harry, and the insidious draw that serial killers have to pull Harry Hole back into detective work.  It is a serious page turner, un-put-down-able until literally the last page. Dive into this Norwegian mystery series - you won't be disappointed.

The Last Neanderthal by Claire Cameron
I found this book to be packed with intriguing and fascinating details about the life of ancient humans; the next time I complain about having to go to the grocery store for the second time in a day, I should remember how exhausting the whole 'hunting-gathering' life is! The premise of this novel is to delve into the lives of the Neanderthal people in France, while at the same time telling the story of the paleo-anthropologist who is discovering the bodies on her dig literally thousands of years later. The non-verbal lives of Girl, Him, and Big Mother, as well as Runt (the modern human child she adopts) are depicted in short chapters, full of details of a year in their lives. Each night I picked up the book, wondering "Do I really like this book?"; usually that question was answered in the affirmative in a few minutes, as I was drawn back into the ancient world of humanity.  I was unclear if I was as interested in the story of modern day Rose, as she struggles with the balance of financing the dig and staying true to her research, as well as her own pregnancy and the problems it creates. However, as the story crescendos in the final third of the novel, Cameron deftly brings the two stories together, weaving a powerful theme of survival, loyalty, strength, and perseverance.  This is a different book that will leave you in awe of the research, writing skills, and character development; if you want to take a walk on the wild side of long-ago history, I highly recommend it.

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