Books

Not Cool, Goodreads.

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I got this email from Goodreads earlier this week and suffice it to say I am not happy.  As a book review blogger, I’ve come to rely on Goodreads for their handy “post to blog” checkbox feature that’s right there on the review page.  It pulls everything into some lovely HTML code and I jut plop it over here and my review, links, and rating all just appear like magic.

I’m so sad to be losing this lovely feature.  Not cool, Goodreads.  I hope you replace it with something awesome.

Book Review: Lolas’ House

Lolas' House: Filipino Women Living with WarLolas’ House: Filipino Women Living with War by M. Evelina Galang

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Content Warning: This book contains explicit descriptions of rape and torture that could be triggering to some survivors.

Lolas’ House is part history book, part memoir, and part biography. Eveline Galang interviews sixteen women who survived imprisonment as Japanese “comfort women” during World War II. These “women” were most often young girls, barely teenagers, stolen off the streets while running errands with siblings. They watched as parents, siblings, and spouses were tortured and murdered before they themselves are hauled away and forced into sexual slavery.

Galang mingles her own personal narrative with the testimonies of the survivors and the history of Filipino life during WWII. It is impossible to not be moved by the strength of these women. They have experienced the worst that humanity has to offer. Not only were they stolen from their homes as children but after daily rapes and slavery, many were rejected by their families upon their return. Yet, the women pushed on and now as very old women, they are fighting the Japanese government.

The only real issue with the book is that it immersed in the history and culture of the Filipino people. As someone outside of that circle, I would have liked a little more context around some of the traditions that are discussed. Likewise, there is some dialogue that is in the original languages of the women. This is noted in the author’s introduction but it was difficult to understand the longer passages. However, this in no way diminishes the book for me — it’s still an exceptionally moving read.

Lolas’ House comes at a pivotal moment. Many of the lolas express their desire to end war. They say over and over that they hope to keep other children safe from this fate. With the world poised on the edge of the cliff, I would behoove everyone to read Galang’s book. It is an incredibly powerful testimony to the horrors of war and the power of the human spirit to persevere. We cannot let this happen again.

Book review: In Full Color

In Full Color: Finding My Place in a Black and White WorldIn Full Color: Finding My Place in a Black and White World by Rachel Dolezal

My rating: 1 of 5 stars

Full disclosure: I don’t like Rachel Dolezal.

Despite my personal misgivings, I am a knowledge-seeker so when the opportunity to read Ms. Dolezal’s book presented itself, I took it. I even went into the venture with an open mind, ready to hear her side of things before passing judgment. Unfortunately, reading the book only solidified my feelings that Ms. Dolezal lives in a world of her own creation and feels persecuted by those outside of it (which is nearly everyone).

I will say that Dolezal had a horrific childhood and endured more than any child should. However, some of the claims in her book leave me dumbfounded. She highlights growing up in rural Montana where there were no black children. She didn’t even know such a person existed until she was given a National Geographic magazine as a young teen. Yet at the same time she knew she was inherently black. She compares doing manual labor on her family farm to being a chattel slave which is preposterous. This goes on and on throughout the book and rather than presenting a well-rounded view of society, it comes off as whiney and at times delusional.

Regardless of whether Dolezal is delusional is beside the point here. What the book does present is a well-rounded view of her experience. I was able to see exactly how she came to believe what she does and it is clear that her identity crisis started from a very young age. Her story is a very interesting psychological study in that sense this is a very good read.

Storms Reback is the only saving grace in this whole thing as the book is actually very well written. I’ve argued before that good writing can make a terrible book readable and it holds true for this one as well. I wouldn’t have finished it otherwise. Rather than paying for the book, just read some news stories on Dolezal and you’ll have all you need to understand her.

Book Review: On the Spectrum

On the SpectrumOn the Spectrum by Jennifer Gold

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

I’m not usually a fan of young adult novels but On the Spectrum is one that really grabbed me and refused to let go.

Clara lives in a world where she wants for little, if anything, but her life is incredibly complicated. Clara’s mother Catherine is a famous ballerina and food, or lack thereof, has always been a central part of Clara and Catherine’s relationship. Clara soon is diagnosed with an eating disorder and Catherine tries to do everything she can to make up for sixteen years of poor parenting. Everything is thrown into disarray one night at a party when Clara is duped by a cute Yale student.

Clara finds herself in Paris, living with the father she never really knew and his passive-aggressive anti-American wife. Clara also meets her little brother, six-year-old Alastair, who is “on the spectrum.” Charged with his care over the summer, Clara is worried about how she will ever know exactly what this weird kid needs when he needs it. Despite her trepidation, Clara and Alastair have a lot to teach each other.

As a step-parent to a kid on the spectrum, I was dubious as to whether the book could really capture what it’s like to be the kid and the parent. I was thrilled to find that Jennifer Gold was spot on when it came to both Alastair’s quirks (though they were really played-up at times) and his father’s fears about his future. This book was so touching and well written. It’s definitely a must-read and I highly recommend it!

Book Review: Patient H.M.

Patient H.M.: A Story of Memory, Madness, and Family SecretsPatient H.M.: A Story of Memory, Madness, and Family Secrets by Luke Dittrich

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

This book was nothing short of amazing. I’m extremely interested in neuroscience and the history of the lobotomy — this book was the perfect intersection. Having read several books on memory and lobotomies, I was already familiar with the case of H.M. but this book explored who H.M. was as a person which was never allowed to enter into the scientific case studies.

Author Luke Dittrich writes from a very personal place since it was his own grandfather, Dr. Scoville, who performed the lobotomy on Patient H.M. and so many others, including his severely ill wife. In that sense, Dittrich often comes across at angry and occasionally petulant in his desire to defend all the good that his grandfather did while also mourning the horrors inflicted on unsuspecting patients.

This book is also raises important questions regarding medical and scientific ethics. The woman “in charge” of H.M.’s care during the final years of his life, was the woman whose career exploded into the limelight thanks to her research on H.M.. She also assigned H.M.’s guardian who was a man who was not at all invested in his care. This “scientist” closely guarded her own research and access to H.M. to keep others from learning more about the enigmatic patient. Dittrich also brought to light the possibility that research data might have been falsified. However, we’ll never know since she destroyed nearly all the records and test data prior to her death.

As an avid reader of science and history books, this was a wonderful read. Dittrich brings in enough science to keep those in the field engaged but he also makes it approachable for the causal reader. Writing from a very personal space, Dittrich brings to life the wonderful man known to most only as H.M.. Dittrich balances his disdain for his grandfather’s procedures with facts, figures, and light-hearted tales of growing up as Dr. Scoville’s grandson. Patient H.M. is an important tale of science gone awry and the dangers of being on the bleeding edge of medicine.