Saturday, September 23, 2017

Summer 2017 Book Reviews

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Boys in the Boat
By: Daniel James Brown 

A classic sports tale regaling the 1932-1936 University of Washington men's rowing club and quest for Olympic gold. The story begins with Joe Rantz quest for education and a better life after being abandoned and abused on the Olympic penninsula.   The author masterfully draws the reader in with vivid imagery, exciting action, and sympathy-inducing backstories. You root for the home team, knowing full well they will win, they must win, but following along each step of the way. The author builds suspense and draws the reader in with each rowing season, until the final, dramatic 1936 season. The last race is nothing short of epic, and you feel the significance of their task, the rippling magnitude of their performance, and the emotional roller coaster of preparation for the obsessive quest to be the very best. It's a Cinderella story in its purest form, a thrilling read, and a heart-warming story. 

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By: Laura Hillenbrand 

Continuing on the vein of harrowing quests, Unbroken follows Louis Zamperini's unbelievable service in WWII, including his unfathomable airplane crash and Japanese imprisonment. The author paints stark, riveting images spanning years while never allowing the reader to lose interest or hope. Zamperini endured unspeakable torture during his service, drafted from the brink of being the first person in history to break the 4 minute mile. In a matter of months, his goal changes from shaving miliseconds off his mile time to surviving, unbroken. His story inspires and challenges the reader to examine her own drive and determination, drawing strength from his grit as we ponder the extreme measures his tormenters went through to break him. He seems almost super human at times in his fierce determination not to yield, but life eventually catches up to him and we glimpse the true effects of the horrors of the war. The book's ending is perhaps the most personifying aspect of his story: after gale-force storm of war and the still calm of it's end came the wreckage and aftermath, which he stumbles through and emerges a better, more sustainable man. Louis Zamperini was, in the truest sense, unbreakable.

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The Stranger in the Woods
By: Michael Finkel

This book was very short, but I found myself stopping after each chapter to let the layered meanings sink in. For 23 years, a man lived in the North Woods in total solitude less than 2 minutes from civilization. The book begins with his discovery, and pieces together his life as the author searches for understanding, understanding of the man and his motive, and understanding of why society views his the way it does. The hermits direct quotes are my favorite part: he did not speak for 23 years except to say "Hi" once to a hiker who encountered him on a trail. His primary source of knowledge were books he stole, so his sentences are sparce and pregnant with meaning. It is unclear how much he intended, but very clear he doesn't care at all. He had no filter and no emotion for many of his interviews, and his sentence structure and choice of words are so foreign from the way we generally communicate. He begs the question why. His perspective on life and existence is so radical, and diametrically opposed to the rest of civilization, that one cannot help but rethink their own opinions on how to live. A fascinating story, though only 3-4 years old, already disappearing into the past like everything this man had built his life around. A bit haunting, never dull, a strong recommendation for everyone who wants to be challenged.  

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By: Dean King 

A fascinating glimpse into a little-known political maneuver with international implications which would reshape the face of history forever. I loved the emphasis on the women of the trip, but found the story excessively depressing. The long march is nothing more than brutal, and the author never lets you forget it. The political perspective was interesting, but there exists so little information on the individuals themselves that it was difficult to form attachments to the characters, or even sometimes keep them all straight. It hardly matters though, because so many of them end up dying.

Wednesday, April 12, 2017

Spring Book Reviews

Catching Homelessness 
by: Josephine Ensign
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Dr. Ensign taught my community health undergraduate nursing class, and this book was selected as the Health Sciences book of the year. She is such as creative, descriptive writer and paints a relentlessly driven, frustrated, young woman struggling to find meaning and follow her purpose. She doesn't spend much of the book talking about her homelessness, but paints it as stark and real as it must have felt to her. Her transition out of homelessness occurs very quickly as well, but I appreciated the drawn-out backstory. Too often we see our homeless patients as a name or for their current situation, and Dr. Ensign reminds her reader that there are rich backstories, if only we have the courage, kindness, and time to ask, and to listen. Highly recommended.

Sometimes a Great Notion 
by: Ken Kesey

Image result for sometimes a great notion Full disclosure: This book was only on my radar because a boy I liked told me it was one of his favorites. This was one of the most enjoyable pieces of fiction I have read in years. The story centers around a family dynasty of loggers in costal Oregon named the Stampers. Kesey starts several generations back filling in the genealogy and history of this family and most of the town, gradually making his way westward to the current story. He weaves in rich side character stories who play pivotal or incidental parts in the book, so that when a main character walks into The Snag, Wakonda's local bar, you feel connected to each local just like the characters do. The climactic main conflict hinges around the Stampers logging industry vs the town's logging strike. Hank Stamper is the dictionary definition of stubborn, and unyieldingly refuses to support the strike, instead striving to fill the mill's request almost single-handedly, with the help of only a few loyal family members. His brother also returns from the East Coast during this pivotal time, partly to see his old home, mostly to avenge his mother and destroy his brother. This plot ebbs and flows, and Hank's beautiful wife seems to grace both conflicts. She remains a beautiful, Stamper-defying enigma throughout the story, supporting her husband physically while you always wish to know more about her hopes and dreams. The climax is thrilling, devastating, and senseless, and everything about the story mirrors the aftermath for the rest of the book. It is hard to pick a favorite part, but the author's absolute mastery of descriptive writing at times made me smile simply reading his descriptions. Scenes came to live in front of my eyes, painting themselves with the words he arranged with ease page after page. Definitely a book I will re-read, and a timeless classic. Some say this was Ken Kesey's magnum opus, and they wouldn't be wrong.

Dear Data
by: Giorgia Lupi& Stefanie Posavec

Image result for dear dataThis was kind of a fun book to peruse, and definitely would be a great coffee table conversation starter. These two graphic designers spend 52 weeks sending each other weekly postcards drawing data about their day-to-day lives. Each week, they pick a different topic, spend the week gathering data, and present it in novel, colorful ways from England and New York. The two women had only met once before deciding to do this, but their paths cross again several times during this year. They cover all sorts of topics: how often they swear, doors they pass through, places they've lived, and thoughts of jealousy, to name a few. Each woman has her own unique style preference - one thinks more linearly and with lots of symbols, and the other prefers simplistic, colorful presentation. I enjoyed appreciating their creative talent, and hopefully learned to think a little more outside the box.

Zig Zag: The Surprising Path to Greater Creativity
by: Keith Sawyer

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This was also an impulse read, and part of my attempt to expand my thinking. I ended up outlining each chapter because, unlike many books with lofty promises, Sawyer rolled up his sleeves and got busy objectively summarizing research-proven ways to be more creative. He divides the creative process up into 8 parts, then breaks down each part into steps with tools to accomplish each objective. I learned a lot, and certainly gained more insight into my own strengths and shortcomings. My biggest takeaways were to not be afraid to think broadly and absurdly about problems, narrowing the scope only after approaching the problem from every conceivable angle and solution. Sometimes in healthcare we are encouraged to follow uniform, streamlined approaches which doesn't exactly leave much room for the creative process. Nevertheless, innovation is everywhere, and I have already found myself applying concepts learned in this book.

Extreme Measures: Finding a Better Path to the End of Life
by: Jessica Zitter

Image result for extreme measures bookWritten by an ICU attending turned Palliative specialist, this book should be read far and wide. Dr. Zitter describes her change of heart while placing a central one day and being castigated by the Palliative ARNP in front of her med student. While initially angry and resistant, she examines her motives and realizes there is more to patient care than preserving life at all costs. She honestly discusses holes in the medical education system which focuses more on saving, and less on transitioning. Knowing when can be an incredibly emotionally difficult, ethically ambiguous decision to make, and Dr. Zitter provides excellent language and resources for starting difficult conversations and topics which should be covered. Her own hesitance to write her advanced health care directives really resonated with me, and I ended up writing me own shortly after finishing this book. She provides so much food for thought, and intersperses patient stories with thoughts and discussion points. She doesn't lecture, but rather discusses, and sometimes leaves stories and thoughts without answers. One of her great strengths is being comfortable with uncomfortable questions, situations, or solution-less problems. Her Netflix short, Extremis, is critically acclaimed and a great easy way to start thinking about what it really means to make these decisions. Her strength comes from spending time on how unnecessarily so many people suffer at the end of their lives, but also acknowledging stories of patient's wishes respected, and families making decisions which lead to closure and peaceful deaths.