Sunday, April 25, 2010

Always Looking Up: The Adventures of an Incurable Optimist

Fox, Michael J. (2009). Always looking up: the adventures of an incurable optimist.  New York: Hyperion.

My review

Get ready! Rev up your DeLorean for a short trip through time. Michael J. Fox's memoir of the last decade chronicles his transition from "Spin City" actor to passionate crusader in the fight against Parkinson's. His memoir is divided into four sections: "Work", "Politics", "Faith", and "Family".

The memoir opens with a strong and funny start, describing his average morning battle with Parkinson's. After founding the Michael J. Fox Foundation, Fox became a figure of political controversy for advocating for research on the potential of embryonic stem cells to cure Parkinson's.

His writing style is occasionally over-the-top (at one point, he jokingly refers to himself as "Mahatma J. Gandhi"). While the first two sections are strong, the areas on Faith and on Family can be interpreted as sentimental, and as focusing on trivial events. There is also no question that many people will take issue with his politics. This book is a worthwhile read for many reasons. It's written in a way that people can see a human face behind Parkinson's, and it sheds light on the politics behind research and change.

My notes
I picked up this book because I used to enjoy "Back to the Future." I still struggle with the ethical implications of embryonic stem cell research, but have high hopes for the future in science and research.

Sunday, April 18, 2010

Beatrice and Virgil by Yann Martel

Book Information
Martel, Yann. (2010). Toronto: Knopf Canada.

Readers who enjoyed the spare existentialism of Samuel Becket's Waiting for Godot or the animal symbolism of Yann Martel's Life of Pi may wish to take a look at Beatrice and Virgil.

The novel focuses on two stories. The first story is of Henry, the author who helps a strange taxidermist to write a play. Much of the novel centres on Virgil and Beatrice, a donkey and a howler monkey who have lived through unspeakable tragedies.

As noted in the Toronto Star book review by Geoff Pevere, this novel is broken up and the pieces do not easily work in a whole. However, Yann Martel provides a fresh perspective on survival and on tragedy through two surprisingly understandable animals.

My Notes
I have mixed feelings for this book. The English student part of me loved all the talk about the process of writing. Martel also captured Becket's style. Sometimes, however, I wished that the issues dealt with by Beatrice and Virgil were approached with more realistically and with less existentialism.

Saturday, April 10, 2010

The Complete Idiot's Guide to Werewolves by Nathan Robert Brown

Book information:
Brown, Nathan Roberts. (2009). The Complete Idiot's Guide to Werewolves. New York: Alpha Books.

My Review

Are you a fan of Charlaine Harris' Sookie Stackhouse books? When you watch/read the Twilight series, do you like Jacob better than Edward? Does the full moon make your hair curl?

If you said yes to any of the above questions, you may want to take a look at The Complete Idiot's Guide to Werewolves by Nathan Robert Brown. This book covers many areas of werewolf culture, from their mythology and historical werewolf trials, to werewolf videogames and movies. The writing style is quite tongue-in-cheek, and the book is filled with bite-sized trivia. Each chapter finishes with a series of highlights called "The Least You Need to Know". One section that readers really might enjoy is Chapter 15: "Once Bitten.... Then What?", which describes the life of a typical werewolf in such a matter-of-fact way that I feel the author had a really good laugh while writing it.

My Notes

I picked this book up since I am fascinated by reading social/cultural histories and I really enjoyed the Harry Potter books (Remus Lupin was a really sympathetic character). I hadn't realized that werewolves had quite such a long and complicated background. After reading the table of contents, I was BITTEN  and had to read it.

Saturday, April 3, 2010

Not My Boy

Peete, Rodney and Morton, Danielle. (2010). Not My Boy! New York: Hyperion.

My Review

Meet Rodney Peete, the NFL quarterback. Peete is a born fighter, both in sports and in real life. According to Peete, he was coached during his early years in the NFL to trust his own instincts and to learn to play outside his comfort zone.

Playing ouside his comfort zone took on a new meaning in his personal life after his son was born. Peete and his wife, actress Holly Robinson Peete, started on a quest to support their son R.J. in his personal growth with autism.

In his memoir, Peete speaks directly to readers through his experiences and challenges as a father raising a child with autism. He describes his hopes for his children, and how he had to dramatically readjust his expectations of fatherhood when his son R. J. was small. The strength of his marriage was quickly put to the test as Peete denied his son’s issues and did not support his son’s therapies. In this memoir, Peete transforms from “hesitant father” to “active supporter”, and the successes that R. J. experiences are amazing.

At the end of the book, Peete offers several tips on parenting a child with autism, including suggestions on maintaining a strong marriage, and for including the siblings of the child who has autism. There are some controversial issues that are addressed throughout this book, including the belief that vaccines can cause autism, and the use of chelation (thought to remove toxins, including mercury, from the body). Parents should address any questions in these areas to medical professionals, including doctors and therapists: chelation and vaccines are serious issues that have significant impacts on everyone’s health, and can have other outcomes than the ones that R. J. experienced.

This book is a gripping read for anyone interested in learning about the challenges of raising a child with special needs.

My notes

After reading this book, I felt like I had climbed an emotional mountain. I decided to read this book for two reasons: I enjoy reading about people who succeed despite obstacles. I also know a family whose son has autism. While I know already that many children present different aspects of autism, I really wanted to know more, so that I can be more understanding during their visits. Reading this book, I felt I had a private window on Rodney Peete’s family life that gave me a different perspective on children growing up with autism.

I also note that there are two different subtitles for this book. On my copy, the subtitle is: A Father, a Son and One Family's Journey with Autism. On other copies, I notice that the subtitle is A Dad's Journey with Autism, which is not quite as accurate, since it is clear that the entire family is working together to help R. J.