EXTRAORDINARY

extraDAVID GILMOUR

Sally has asked her much young half-brother to help her end her life. Sally has been severely disabled since she broke her neck tripping over a carpet at a party. “Everything had shut down,” she tells her brother. “From my neck downwards. It was like waking up in somebody else’s sleeping body. You want to move your arm, but your arm won’t obey.” Explaining her decision she says, “I’m not depressed, the world isn’t grey, I don’t want to punish people. It’s just that this has become less and less manageable. I don’t want to go into physical details, but you understand. And it’s only going to get worse.” She plans to drink alcohol and then take pills that her brother has procured for her that have  been with drawn from the market because of their severe reaction with alcohol. A sure plan. They spend the the evening and night talking and reminiscing; the novel is almost all conversation. Most of the story is Sally’s, we don’t even know her brother’s name.  Different from her 15 year younger brother, Sally was raised by her grandparents. She had two kids of her own, from a failed marriage, Kyle, who turns out to be a psychopathic liar and a thief and Chloe, who is a serious, albeit troubled, artiste. It becomes apparent to the reader that some kind of mental illness runs in the family.

Extraordinary is short novel and quick, interesting read.

CUTTING FOR STONE

cutting-for-stone220ABRAHAM VERGHESE

Marion and Shiva Stone are born one sultry day in 1954 in Addis Ababa, the same day their mother — a nun, Sister Mary Joseph Praise — dies of complications from her hidden pregnancy. The boys are conjoined at the skull, separated at birth, still they feel an amazing connection. The twins are raised by Dr. Kalpana Hemlatha, a strong willed woman known as Hema, and Dr. Abhi Ghosh, both immigrants from Madras and both doctors at the hospital where the boys’ natural parents also worked. Missing Hospital, it’s called: “Missing was really Mission Hospital, a word that on the Ethiopian tongue came out with a hiss so it sounded like ‘Missing.’ ” They grow up amid the political turmoil of Ethiopia. They both learn medicine beside their parents, Marion along side his surgeon father, Shiva with his gynecologyst mother. In 1979 Marion flees, first to Nairobi and finally to New York, where he qualifies as a surgeon. Shiva, too, goes into medicine, specializing in treating vaginal fistula, for which work he is acclaimed. In New York Marion finds his long lost father the famous transplant surgeon Thomas Stone, who fled at their birth and the death of his lover Sister Mary Joseph Praise.

“How beautiful and horrible life is, Hema thought; too horrible to simply call tragic. Life is worse than tragic.”

“My father, for whose skills as a surgeon I have the deepest respect, says, “The operation with the best outcome is the one you decide not to do.” Knowing when not to operate, knowing when I am in over my head, knowing when to call for the assistance of a surgeon of my father’s caliber–that kind of talent, that kind of “brilliance,” goes unheralded.”

Stone is a great read. You learn a lot about Ethiopia and medicine.

THE VISIONIST

visionRACHEL URQUHART

Polly Kimball “accidentally” sets fire to her family’s farm, killing her father. To escape from whatever fate awaits her, Polly and her younger brother Ben are sent by their mother to live in the Shaker community, City of Hope. Shakers would take in children under the condition that they must remain in the Shaker community and follow the strict Shaker rule. It’s Massachusetts, 1842, a high point in the Shaker culture. It’s not long after Polly’s arrival that she finds a kindred soul in Sister Charity, a young Shaker outsider with mysterious marks covering her body. For the first time ever, Polly thinks that she might find the peace that she has always been looking for. But what the girl doesn’t know is that Simon Pryor, a fire inspector, is searching for her and other survivors of the Kimball farm fire. He works for a rich land owner who wants to take over the land so he can profit from it by selling it to a miller who can use the stream flowing through it. He needs to find Polly’s mom to purchase the land cheaply.

The Visionist is an excellent read, a page turner at times.

THE WORLD’S STRONGEST LIBRARIAN: A Memoir of Tourette’s, Faith, Strength and the Power of Family

librarinanJOSH HANAGARNE

Josh Hana­garne is a librarian at the Salt Lake City Public Library which the way he describes it must be the most beautiful library ever. Hanagarne the Dewey Decimal System as chapter headings. We’re treated to personal stories that fall into the Dewey taxonomy as topics such as 011.62 — Children — Books and Reading; 616.89075 — Diagnosis, Differential; 289.3 — Mormons Missions; 613.71 — Bodybuilding; 155.432 — Mothers and Sons; and 616.042 — Abnormalities, Human. It was a clever tactic and it illustrates the wide range of topics covered in this memoir. Hanagarne is born into a mormon family and you couldn’t ask for a more supportive family. His parents “had a knack for making everything into a game. Learning was a reward. And when I came home from school, instead of asking, ‘How was school today?’ they’d ask, ‘What did you ask today?’ ” His love of books started early. On his first visit to the bookmobile, he grabbed the biggest book in sight, “The Tommyknockers,” by Stephen King, which “was full of swearing and I was uneasy during a section in which a woman’s picture of Jesus began talking. People had sex, lost their skin, murdered one another, and wrecked their town. And there were aliens. I couldn’t get enough of it.” Adolescence brought the first signs of Tourette’s: tics, blinking and yelping, as well as involuntary noises, including the “hooting baby owl sound and the slobbering dog just finishing a round of wind sprints.” And of course he loves libraries. “Libraries have shaped and linked all the disparate threads of my life. The books. The weights. The tics. . . . The library taught me that I could ask any questions I wanted and pursue them to their conclusions without judgment or embarrassment. And it’s where I learned that not all questions have answers. As a librarian, saving lives and worlds isn’t in my purview, although if I could put those on my resume with a straight face, I would,” concluding that “at its loftiest, a library’s goal is to keep as many minds as possible in the game, past and present, playful and in play.”

Librarian is a good read. You’ll like it.

POLISHING THE MIRROR: How From Live From Your Spiritual Heart

RAM DASS with Rameshwar DasRamDass

Ram Dass is a veritable saint for our time and place. I have often found his books too much the same – his life journey with words of wisdom. But this book is a great step above the rest. It still tells his life story and there are many words of wisdom but somehow it is told in a new, refreshing way. Possibly the addition of the second writer made the difference. I am sure that since his stroke he would need help composing a new book. I loved this book and recommend it to all who are interested in spiritual development. Here a some of my favourite quotes”

“The power of God is within me. The grace of God Surrounds me.” Though I would replace God with the One.

“May all being be free from danger.  May all being be free from mental suffering.  May all being be free from physical suffering.  May all beings know peace. I am. OM”

“I look like an old fart, but I am dancing inside. And what a joyful, joyful dance! The love play of the soul. You can join any time, because it’s always going on.”