EVERYBODY LIES

SETH STEPHENS-DAVIDOOWITZ

Seth Stephens-Davidowitz has written a fascinating book about social scientists using data collected by Google or Facebook in their research. Things to be learned from reading LIES:

  1. Some people use search engines as confessionals. They type complete sentences like “I am sad.” or open-ended questions like “Is my daughter ugly?”
  2. People assume machines (like the Google search engine) will keep their secrets. For sensitive topics, Google may generate more honest data than surveys. There are many questions asked to Google that I’m sure people won’t pose to a librarian.
  3. Google searches for “Obama” is frequently paired with “kkk” and the “n” word. The prevalence of racist searches does not exhibit a North-South divide – it’s East-West.
  4. As President of Harvard, Larry Summers spent quite a bit of time brainstorming with Economics PhD students on how to beat the stock market using new data. (And they came up empty-handed, or so they say.)
  5. Some economists found that going to Stuyvesant (a highly influential high school) conferred no meaningful benefit to one’s career – at least, this is the case for those who attain a score close to the cutoff in the admissions test.
  6. There are 6,000 searches on Google a year for “how to kill your girlfriend” while there are 400 murders of girlfriends.
  7. “Big data” does not provide any insights that surveys can’t at the aggregate level so people slice and dice the data to examine “micro” segments, which means they are analyzing a huge collection of small data sets.

I borrowed this interview from VOX’s interview with author Stephens-Davidowitz.

Two weeks ago, I interviewed Seth Stephens-Davidowitz, author of Everybody Liesa new book that uses data on America’s Google habits as an insight into our national consciousness. Two findings from the book dominated the conversation: America is riddled with racist and selfish people, and there may be a self-induced abortion crisis in this country. But there was plenty more revelatory data in the book that we didn’t cover. So I wanted to follow up with Stephens-Davidowitz to talk about some of the other provocative claims he is making. I was particularly interested in sexuality and online porn. If, as Stephens-Davidowitz puts it, “Google is a digital truth serum,” then what else does it tell us about our private thoughts and desires? What else are we hiding from our friends, neighbors, and colleagues? A lot, apparently. Among other things, Stephens-Davidowitz’s data suggests that there are more gay men in the closet than we think; that many men prefer overweight women to skinny women but are afraid to act on it; that married women are disproportionately worried their husband is gay; that a lot of straight women watch lesbian porn; and that porn featuring violence against women is more popular among women than men. I asked Stephens-Davidowitz to explain the data behind all of this. Here’s what he told me.


Sean Illing

Last time we spoke, I asked you about the most surprising or shocking finding in your research. We talked about racism and the possibility of a self-induced abortion crisis in America. Here I want to dive into something a little lighter: sexuality and online porn. What did you learn about this?

Seth Stephens-Davidowitz

Porn is the biggest development in sexuality research ever. I don’t understand how social scientists weren’t begging Pornhub for their data. I was one of the only ones. I sent some of my results to some of the most famous sociologists and sex researchers in the world. Many of them had no interest.

Sean Illing

Why does porn data offer such unique insight?

Seth Stephens-Davidowitz

Well, to learn about sex, the main approach was to ask people. But people lie on sensitive topics such as sex.

Sean Illing

You combed through the data — what did it say about us?

Seth Stephens-Davidowitz

There’s a lot of variation in what people like. Probably 30 percent of people exclusively watch stuff that you would find disgusting.

Sean Illing

Why focus on sex? Were you initially interested in this, or did the data lead you to it?

Seth Stephens-Davidowitz

It’s a book about human nature. Sex is a big part of human nature. Some reviews of Everybody Lies have criticized me for being obsessed with sex. Everybody is obsessed with sex. If they say they’re not, they’re lying.

Sean Illing

You point to some interesting data in the book about sexual orientation.

Seth Stephens-Davidowitz

It’s clear that a lot of gay men remain in the closet. In places where it’s hard to be gay, such as Mississippi, far fewer men say that they are gay than in places where it’s easy to be gay, such as New York. But gay porn searches are about the same everywhere.

Sean Illing

This doesn’t necessarily tell us how many people are gay in these areas, but it’s a revealing data point.

Seth Stephens-Davidowitz

I look at the data a whole bunch of ways and conclude about 5 percent of men are predominantly attracted to men.

Sean Illing

Can you really draw concrete conclusions from this sort of data? People search for things for all kinds of reasons, right?

Seth Stephens-Davidowitz

I think porn is a pretty good measure of people’s sexual fantasies, even if they never act on them.

Sean Illing

What’s your response to people who are skeptical of inferring anything from this stuff?

Seth Stephens-Davidowitz

I think watching a porn video is a lot more telling than answering a survey question. I agree you should be cautious in how you interpret it, though.

Sean Illing

Let’s talk about what married people are up to online.

Seth Stephens-Davidowitz

The number one question that women have about their husbands is whether he is gay. And these questions are much higher in the Deep South, where my research suggests there are indeed more gay men married to women.

Sean Illing

Do you think women are justified in their curiosity here? Is this a question they should be asking more often?

Seth Stephens-Davidowitz

I think women are too obsessed with their husbands’ sexuality. Women are eight times more likely to ask Google if their husband is gay than if he is an alcoholic and 10 times more likely to ask Google if their husband is gay than if he is depressed. It is far more likely that a woman is married to a man who is secretly an alcoholic or secretly depressed than secretly gay. About 98 percent of women’s husbands are really straight. Trust me.

Sean Illing

What are husbands secretly worrying about?

Seth Stephens-Davidowitz

Whether their wives are crazy.

Sean Illing

What should husbands be asking Google? What would they ask if they knew what their wives were Googling?

Seth Stephens-Davidowitz

Whether their wives are more physically attracted to women than men.

Sean Illing

Tell me about America’s suppressed sexual desires.

Seth Stephens-Davidowitz

There are still sexual preferences that people hide today, even in socially liberal places. About one in 100 porn searches are for the elderly. Hundreds of thousands of young men are predominantly attracted to elderly women. But very few young men are in relationships with elderly women.

Sean Illing

I’m not sure what I think about that. Any theories?

Seth Stephens-Davidowitz

It’s interesting. Some sexual preferences I first learned about on The Jerry Springer Show,which featured really poor, uneducated people. People attracted to animals or family members or the elderly. But, now from seeing porn data, I realize those preferences also exist among wealthy, educated people. Wealthy, educated people are more cognizant of contemporary social norms, which means if you have such an attraction, you hide it.

Sean Illing

I recall something in the book about the sexual preferences we hide largely for cultural reasons or for fear of being judged. Can you talk about that?

Seth Stephens-Davidowitz

If you define being in the closet as picking partners based on what society wants rather than what you want, many people are in the closet. For example, I am certain a large number of men are more attracted to overweight women than skinny women but try to date skinny women to impress their friends and family members.

Porn featuring overweight women is surprisingly common among men. But the data from dating sites tells us that just about all men try to date skinny women. Many people don’t try to date the people they’re most attracted to. They try to date the people they think would impress their friends.

Sean Illing

That says something truly awful about our cultural pathologies. People should be free to like whatever they want, but the pressures to conform are overwhelming — and ultimately unhealthy.

Seth Stephens-Davidowitz

It’s also inefficient. There are a lot of single men and single overweight women who would be sexually compatible. But they don’t date, while the man tries and fails to date a skinny woman even though he’s less attracted to her. And then there are women who practically starve themselves to remain skinny so their husbands won’t leave, even though their husbands would be more attracted to them if they weighed more. The desire to impress people causes all kinds of inefficiency.

Sean Illing

All right, give me a couple of unusual desires you noticed — one from men and one from women.

Seth Stephens-Davidowitz

It is really amazing how much tastes can vary. There are women who just watch porn featuring short, fat men with small penises. There are men who just watch porn featuring women with enormous nipples.

Sean Illing

How about other countries?

Seth Stephens-Davidowitz

The number one Google search in India that starts “my husband wants …” is “my husband wants me to breastfeed him.” Porn featuring adult breastfeeding is higher in India than anywhere else. In just about every country, just about every Google search looking for advice on breastfeeding is looking how to breastfeed a baby. In India, Google searches looking for breastfeeding advice are about equally split between how to breastfeed a baby and how to breastfeed a husband.

After I published this finding, some journalists interviewed people in India. Everyone denied this. But I am sure, based on the data, that there are a reasonable number of adult Indian men desiring to be breastfed. It is really amazing that this desire can develop in one country without ever being openly talked about.

Sean Illing

Any other findings from countries not named America?

Seth Stephens-Davidowitz

Japanese men have recently become obsessed with tickling porn. More than 10 percent of Pornhub searches by young Japanese men are for “tickling.”

Sean Illing

So basically all of humanity is united in its weirdness?

Seth Stephens-Davidowitz

Yeah, basically. Some people respond to Indian men wanting to be breastfed and are like, “Indian men are so weird.” That’s not the right response. The data from porn tells us that everybody is weird. Thus, nobody is weird.

Sean Illing

And yet we all feel weird because we assume (wrongly) that no one else is as weird as we are.

Seth Stephens-Davidowitz

Sometimes I think it would be a good thing if everyone’s porn habits were released at once. It would be embarrassing for 30 seconds. And then we’d all get over it and be more open about sex.

Sean Illing

Any other surprising findings about women in America?

Seth Stephens-Davidowitz

About 20 percent of the porn women watch is lesbian porn. A lot of straight women watch lesbian porn.

Sean Illing

That’s not very surprising.

Seth Stephens-Davidowitz

Porn featuring violence against women is also extremely popular among women. It is far more popular among women than men. I hate saying that because misogynists seem to love this fact. Fantasy life isn’t always politically correct.

The rate at which women watch violent porn is roughly the same in every part of the world. It isn’t correlated with how women are treated.

Sean Illing

Let me ask you this: Has all of this research changed how you think about sexuality in general?

Seth Stephens-Davidowitz

I have always wondered how homosexuality made it through evolution. Like, isn’t evolution supposed to make people desire heterosexual sex with fertile people? But after studying porn, I realized homosexuality is hardly the only desire that doesn’t make sense from an evolutionary perspective.

Less than 20 percent of porn watched these days features vaginal sex to completion among two people who can conceivably have a healthy baby. Cartoons, anal sex to completion, oral sex to completion, foot sex to completion, incest, elderly porn, tickling, animal porn, sex with objects, etc.

Sean Illing

Sex is clearly about a lot more than procreation, and I’d say a lot of needless suffering has resulted from our confusion about this.

Seth Stephens-Davidowitz

I think the reason is we are growing up under very different conditions than we evolved under. Hunter-gatherer kids didn’t watch The Simpsons. And hunter-gatherer adults didn’t watch Simpsons porn. I think we are evolved so that if we grew up in hunter-gatherer conditions, just about all people would have an overwhelming desire for vaginal sex. But modern conditions take sexuality in all kinds of directions. I’m becoming more convinced of that the more data I look at.

Sean Illing

So what’s the future of online porn? Where is it going?

Seth Stephens-Davidowitz

I think anal sex will pass vaginal sex in porn within three years. That’s what my data models suggest.

Sean Illing

Somehow that feels like a perfect point on which to end.

Seth Stephens-Davidowitz

People should buy my book. There’s a lot more!

BECOMING NICOLE: The Transformation of an American Family

Amy Ellis Nutt

At almost 3 years old, when Nicole was still known as Wyatt, he declared to his father, “I hate my penis.”  She alway knew she was a girl despite having an identical twin brother. Nicole’s mother, Kelly, supported Wyatt as he presented himself — a girl mistakenly incarnated as a boy. His father, Wayne, a man’s man: both hunter and ex-military, had trouble that his son was a girl. Eventually he came around and became a spokesman for transgender rights. “The world where he was a father and husband in an ordinary, hardworking, middle-class family had just blown up. He stood there stunned, unable to hear whatever was going on around him, as if deafened by the psychological explosion.” Nicole was bullied in school and the administration refused to protect her. The family sued the School Division for barring her from using the girls’ bathroom.

The author not only tells Nicole’s and her family’s story but also the medical and legal stories of transgender people. It is well research and well written.

“Lesson number one: “Sexual orientation is who you go to bed with,” he told Spack. “Gender identity is who you go to bed as.”

“other words, our genitals and our gender identity are not the same. Sexual anatomy and gender identity are the products of two different processes, occurring at distinctly different times and along different neural pathways before we are even born. Both are functions of genes as well as hormones, and while sexual anatomy and gender identity usually match, there are dozens of biological events that can affect the outcome of the latter”

“When it comes to that physical self, for a transgender person every waking moment, every conscious breath, is a denial of who they truly are.”

THIS IS HOW IT ALWAYS IS

LAURIE FRANKEL

Penn and Rosie have four rowdy, rambunctious boys who they teach they can be anything they want to be. They want to have a girl but of course, they end up with another boy. But Claude is different. Claude is quieter and calmer than the other boys ever were. At three Claude starts wearing a dress and saying he wants to be a girl when he grows up. The family motto is you can be anything you want to be, so the parents take this in stride. For pre-school Claude wore pants to school then changed into his dress when he returned home. When Claude starts kindergarten he starts wearing dresses and skirts to school and adopts the name Poppy. After a playdate gone horribly wrong with a gun-toting homophobe father the family flees to Seattle for greater acceptance. There they tell no one that Poppy is both a girl and a boy. But secrets have a way of getting out.

Terribly well written, THIS IS a page-turner. It’s the best book I’ve read for some time.

TOMBOY SURVIVAL GUIDE

IVAN COYOTE imgres

Tomboy Survival Guide, by the Canadian writer, performer and musician Ivan Coyote, is of well-told tales about the author’s experiences growing up as a transgender person in the Yukon. Adapted from Coyote’s successful stage show of the same name, these stories are entertaining but also impart serious messages and offer the reader a window into the experiences of a transgender person who became a successful writer and performer. Like many transgendered people, Coyote prefers the pronouns they and them. Coyote describes grandmother Flo, a devout Catholic, as “not a cuddly woman” and as someone who was “far more likely to cuff the back of your head than she was to pat the top of it.” Yet Flo was perhaps the first person to reassure Coyote that, while they might not be just like everyone else, they was just fine the way they was. As Coyote remembers it, Flo said that “Some of us have hard roads, but the Lord never gives anyone a burden without also giving them a gift. Your job is to find out what that gift is and use it, y’hear me? God doesn’t make mistakes. Never forget that. You are exactly who God meant you to be.”Public bathrooms and change rooms for me have always been a choice between very uncomfortable and potentially unsafe, so I try to be polite about it because if I get angry it become so much easier for them to

Public bathrooms and change rooms for me have always been a choice between very uncomfortable and potentially unsafe, so I try to be polite about it because if I get angry it become so much easier for them to dismiss me, plus an angry someone who looks like a man in the ladies’ change room? Then I am seen as even more of a threat. Then it is even more all my fault.

coyote-tomboy-survival-guide-s650But my day-to-day struggles are not so much between me and my body. A am not trapped in the wrong body. I am trapped in sa world that  makes very little space for bodies like mine. I live in a world where public washrooms are a battleground where politicians can stand up and be applauded for putting forth an amendment barring me from choosing which gendered bathroom I belong in. I live in a world where my trans sisters are routinely murdered without consequence or justice. I live in a world where trans youth get kicked out onto the street by their parents who think their God is standing behind them as they close their front doors on their own children. Going  to the beach is an act of bravery for me. None of this is a battle between me and my own flesh. For me to be free, it is the world that has to change, not trans people.

THE ILLEGAL

arts_books1-1-72464fd7f6b3c94d                                                                                                         LAWRENCE HILL

THE ILLEGAL seems even more timely today, with the election of Trump and his executive order to start construction of the wall on the border of Mexico, than when it was first published. Illegal follows the story of Keita Ali and his family in the fictional country of Zantoroland. It’s populated by people whose ancestors, a century and a half ago, were the slaves whose labour built the third wealthiest economy on the planet, the nearby fictional country of Freedom State.  Keita Ali is running a marathon in Freedom State against a vicious opponent who is tormenting him with racial slurs. “Go Home N—–.” Keita is not just running a race, he’s on the run from the authorities who want to deport him. With his tormentor at his heels, the unflappable hero calmly ticks his pace up a notch and begins to sing as he surges up the hill: “Want to shatter your opponent’s confidence? Just when he starts to hurt, you sing.” Keita’s sister is captured by the Zantoroland’s military government and held for ransom so Keita must run and win every race so he can buy her freedom. Hill creates a trove of fascinating characters: a violent sports agent, a woman who runs a brothel and AfricTown (the black shantytown), a prime minister who is evil incarnate, and a schoolboy who films everything by hiding in various closets.

Hill is an excellent writer. The Illegal is not to be missed.

 

 

 

MISCHLING

AFFINITY KONAR28664920

Josef Mengele, the Auschwitz physician who not only sent countless men, women and children to the gas chambers, but also performed grotesque experiments on selected prisoners — especially twins, whom he eagerly sought out upon arrival. Konar makes the emotional lives of her two spirited, twin narrators piercingly real, as they recount, in alternating chapters, the story of their efforts to survive: Pearl, once the more outgoing of the sisters, becomes more methodical, more focused on memories to get through each day; while Stasha grows feistier and more cunning — “a creature capable of tricking her enemies and rescuing her loved ones.”

Once inseparable, the twins are broken in different ways by Mengele’s repulsive experiments, which damage Stasha’s hearing and sight; and leave Pearl in an isolated cage, her ankles snapped and her feet smashed.

Mischling is a dark book but light radiates in the girls’ strength and will to survive. It’s a great read.

Forgiveness “did not remove my pain or blunt my nightmares. It was not a new beginning. It was not, in the slightest, an end. My forgiveness was a constant repetition, an acknowledgment of the fact that I still lived; it was proof that their experiments, their numbers, their samples, was all for naught — I remained, a tribute to their underestimations of what a girl can endure. In my forgiveness, their failure to obliterate me was made clear.”

Mischling (“mixed-blood” in German) was the German legal term used in Nazi Germany to denote persons deemed to have both Aryan and Jewish ancestry.

THE WONDER

EMMA DONOGHUEimgres

Wonder like Donoghue’s previous novel, The Room, is about the lengths a person will go to protect a child. Lib, an English nurse, trained by Florence Nightingale, is hired to see if Irish girl, Anna O’Donnell, said to have gone four months without sustenance, is truly fasting. Anna, the 11-year-old daughter of a poor farmer in a desperately poor region, is surviving (her family claims) on a diet of water and prayer. Lib’s task is to watch over her to see whether she is telling the truth. She’s to report her findings to a committee of local people eager to refute criticisms that their community is perpetrating a backwater fraud. They want to believe that, in these years of privation and difficulty after the potato famine, they’re witnessing a genuine miracle.

In an author’s note, Ms. Donoghue explains that the novel was inspired by several dozen cases of the so-called Fasting Girls in Europe and North America, who claimed to go for long stretches of time with no food.

The ending is great! An excellent read.

THE BOOK OF MEMORY

PETINA GAPPAHMemory

Memory starts with a bold thunder clap: in the first two sentences we learn that there has been an ugly death and that Memory was sold by her parents to a strange man, Lloyd. Immediately your mind wonders why a man is buying a child? Memory’s family was poor, “but everyone was poor so nobody knew they were poor.” Her skin would blister and burn because she was an albino. Her mother had little gentleness and kindness. The novel takes place in a Zimbabwean prison where Memory is serving a life sentence for murdering Lloyd.  In preparing for an appeal she is given a notebook and asked to write about her life. These musing make up the body of the book. A wonderful exploration of the themes of memory and forgiveness.

ME BEFORE YOU

meJOJO MOYES

Louisa Clark is a relatively normal British girl, living with her family, waitressing with no great plans for her life. Her boyfriend is more interested in training for marathons than in her.  Will Traynor was an uber-athlete, high intensity, wealthy businessman until an accident left him an angry quadriplegic.  Their paths cross when Lou is hired to be Will’s caregiver. Will’s mother informs her that the contract is for six months because unless Will’s attitude changes at the end of that time he will go to Switzerland to end his life. Lou has alway been a ray of light but this is quite a challenge. Is she up to it? How does she feel about Will?

Laugh out loud funny and weepingly sad. Me Before You is a great read.

“I want to tell him that I don’t know what I feel. I want him but I’m frightened to want him. I don;t want my happiness to be entirely dependent on somebody else’s to be a hostage to fortunes I cannot control.”

“No journey out of grief was straightforward. There would be good days and bad days. Today was just a bad day, a kink in the road, to be traversed and survived.”

MARTIN JOHN

ANAKANA SCHOFIELDmartin

From the first page you know something is wrong with Martin John. Is he intellectually challenged or is it something more serious, something worse. The author expertly gradually  reveals the truth about him. John is not an easy book; Schofield’s portrays a character who’s inner life is seldom seen, a sexual deviant.

 “Martin John has made mistakes. Check my card. Rain will fall. Harm was done. It put me in the Chair.”

““Flashing is a very angry act. Coats can drift. Open. That’s what coats are like. That’s what women like, open coats and a quick face full of him. He likes it too. He likes what they like.”

His mother, “mam,” doesn’t “want to hear it” when her son calls and talks nonsense. Keep your head down and avoid all women, she cautions. The overbearing mam resorts to tying her sick son to his bedroom chair to protect him, and others, from his predatory act.

A woman was assaulted by Martin John in a dentist’s waiting area when she was only 12. Now, 20 years later, “whenever she is nervous for her children, she remembers.” She had tried to report him, but the receptionist refused to corroborate her story. “It was a time when people didn’t see stuff. That was the time it was.”

Schofield’s style of writing in short, brief sentences is unusual pointing to the unconventional differences that are Marin’s psyche.

Martin John has been nominated for the Giller Prize.

GHOST BOY

MARTIN PISTORIUS with Megan Loyd Davie

Locked in Syndrome must truly be a fate worse than death. Pistorius was a normal little boy until the age of 12 but by 14 both his brain and his body were paralysed. Eventually his brain woke up but his body never did. Nobody knew he was home until years later a care

martin-with-bookgiver at the day home tried to reach him after attending a workshop. Within 18 months he was communicating with a computer, working and going to school. He writes about how much pain his body was in sitting in a wheelchair all day. When he go older it was worse because sometimes he was put down so he was sitting on his testicles and he couldn’t move nor ask for assistance.

At home his father was his main care giver. Mom found it too difficult. “My mother looked at me, her eyes filled with tears. I wished that I could reassure her, stand up from my wheelchair and leave behind this shell of a body that had caused so much pain. ‘You must die,’ she said slowly. ‘You have to die.’ The rest of the world felt so far away when she said those words. She got up and left me in the silent room. I wanted to do as she bid me that day. I longed to leave my life. As time passed, however, I gradually learned to understand my mother’s desperation and to forgive her. Little by little I learned why it was so hard for my mother to live with such a cruel parody of the once healthy child she had loved so much. Every time she looked at me she could see only the ghost boy he’d left behind.”

“However much I tried to beg and plead, shout and scream, I couldn’t make them notice me. My mind was trapped inside a useless body, my arms and legs weren’t mine to control and my voice was mute. I couldn’t make a sign or a sound to let anyone know I’d become aware again. I was invisible – the ghost boy. My father’s faith in me was stretched almost to breaking point – I don’t think it ever disappeared completely. Each day Dad, a mechanical engineer, washed and fed me, dressed and lifted me. A bear of a man with a huge beard like Father Christmas, his hands were always gentle. I would try to get him to understand I had returned, willing my arm to work. ‘Dad! I’m here! Can’t you see?’ But he didn’t notice me.

BOY is an easy read and quite a page turner. Highly recommended.

THE CHILDREN ACT

childIAN McEWAN

Act is complex novel dealing with many issues. Fiona Maye, a 59-year-old High Court judge, faces one of the most complex decisions of her career; a hospital petitions against Jehovah’s Witness parents who refuse a life-saving blood transfusion for their 17-year-old son. Adam Henry and his parents believe that the Bible expressly forbids “mixing your own blood with the blood of an animal or another human being.” As a judge, she prides herself on bringing “reasonableness to hopeless situations.” But she is going through a personal crisis. Her husband told her her he wants to have an affair. “I need it. I’m fifty-nine. This is my last shot. I love you, but before I drop dead, I want one big passionate affair.”  She goes to see Adam in the hospital and finds a bright, creative and sensitive young man. He reads her some of his poetry. He play the violin and she sing to his music. Then she must decide whether to override his parents wishes and force a transfusion on this young man or let him die.

Well worth the read.

 

KNOCKING ON HEAVEN’S DOOR: The Path to a Better Way of Death

KATY BUTLERknocking

Part memoir of her father’s dementia and evential death, and treatise on how we came to the situation of people dying in Intensive Care Units being kept alive at extreme costs for a few extra days or months. At 79 Butler’s father was active and enjoying retirement when he suffered a stroke. Soon after hospitalization a “discharge planner” told the family that Jeffrey had to be immediately transferred to a neurological rehabilitation facility. “Only later would I understand the rush,” Butler writes. “The hospital was losing money on him with every passing day. Out of $20,228 in services performed and billed, Medicare would reimburse Middlesex Memorial only $6,559, a lump sum based on the severity of my father’s stroke diagnosis.” A year later he recieved a pacemaker. It was a rushed decision. The heart specialist was concerned only with keeping her father’s heart pumping to keep him alive. Butler’s mother wasn’t given all the information to make an informed decision, nor was she given the time to think and consult other professionals. A team approach would have been much better. The device would keep his heart functioning even as he descended into dementia and almost total physical helplessness over the next five years. With out the pacemaker he likely would have died peacefully in his sleep after a couple of years. “On the phone with my brothers and me that winter, she cried. She loved my father. She’d vowed to be with him in sickness and in health, she told us — and who was she to think they’d escape the sickness part? He’d taken care of her for 50 years, and now it was her turn. But in ways we were only beginning to fathom, my father was no longer her husband, and she was no longer his wife.” “At 77, she had become one of 29 million unpaid, politically powerless and culturally invisible family caregivers — 9 percent of the United States population — who help take care of someone over 74.”

Butler is an excellent writer and researcher which makes this book a must read for all people who are aging or who’s parents are aging. Another excellent book on aging and death is Final Gifts.

 

AN UNTAMED STATE

ROXANE GAYstate

“Once upon a time, in a far-off land, I was kidnapped by a gang of fearless yet terrified young men with so much impossible hope beating inside their bodies it burned their very skin and strengthened their will right through their bones,” is the opening sentence of this powerful novel. Mireille Duval Jameson, a stubborn, quick-tempered daughter of Haitian immigrants who’s a mother to a baby boy and wife to a handsome, all-American husband. One ordinary morning, on the way to the beach with her family, while visiting her wealthy parents’ home back in their native Haiti, she is kidnapped and held for ransom — an unfortunately all-too-common occurrence in country marked by staggering inequality. But despite his vast, self-made fortune, Mireille’s proud father refuses to pay her captors. Her father believes that if he pays the million dollar ransom then the rest of his family will be more at risk from fortune seakers. It is then the torture begins. Her captures spend the next thirteen days subjecting her to gruesome acts of sexual violence and torture. When she is finally release she feels completely and utterly dead inside; she has such a sever case of PTSD. The novel is quite a page turner.

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.

A HOUSE IN THE SKY

houseAMANDA LINDHOUT & SARA CORBETT

In 2008, when she decided to go to Somalia, Lindhout was an aspiring journalist. She had travelled the Americas, Asia and Africa. She had spent seven months in Baghdad working for Iran’s Press TV, sending freelance files to France 24, six months in Afghanistan as her first and unsuccessful correspondent bid, and had a column in her small hometown newspaper, the Red Deer Advocate, all funded by tips saved from her Calgary job as a waitress.

amandaTwo days after flying to Mogadishu with Australian fellow adventurer and photographer Nigel Brennan, the former couple were kidnapped. Their kidnappers confessed that they hadn’t even been their target. They had been after the National Geographic team who were staying at the same hotel as Lindhout and Brennan. The kidnapping was based completely on money. The captors wanted $2 million for their release. But neither family had much money.  Amanda quickly took lead of the two captives, appeasing the kidnappers as much as possible. At her urging they both converted to Islam and began to pray and study the Koran. But as time wore on patience failed also. There is a passage in the Koran that says it is alright for men to use women who are captive in times of war. But there were other forms of abuse that Lindhout was subjected to that Brennan wasn’t. While she was being kept in a totally dark cell she notice that Brennen was sitting in sunlight and reading in his cell.

(The photo on the right

shows Amanda and Nigel on the day of their release in Somalia.)ama2

A positive ending, Lindhout has set up a foundation to enhance the lives of Somalian women through education. It is a difficult read but worth the time. The book is uneven: the first half needs quite a bit of skimming, while the second half is page turning.

THE MOUSE PROOF KITCHEN

mouseSAIRA SHAH

When does love for begin, when does it end and can it be interrupted. These difficult questions are tackled in Kitchen. Anna is a profession chef, trained in France. Her dream is to return to Provence and teach at the cooking school where she was a star student. Her husband Tobias is a composer who does sound tracks for documentaries but dreams of doing feature films. But the situation changes when her baby, Freye, is born multiply disabled because of extreme brain damage, the cause of which is unknown. They look for a place to move to in Provence but property values are too high. But they find a place in Pays D’Oc in a a rickety, rodent-infested farmhouse in a remote town in France—far from the mansion in Provençe they had imagined. Through out the novel the couple contemplate leaving the baby Freye for social services to take care of. Their line in the sand is when she needs a feeding tube. When one parent is ready to let her go the other parent is madly in love with her, and vise versa. Ultimately this is a story of acceptance, love and opening your hear. There are many enjoyable characters who circle around the main couple which add interest to the story.

Its a good read.

GOLDEN BOY

boyABIGAIL TARTTELIN

Golden Boy is the story of an intersex teen named Max. Raised as a boy, his life is turned on its head when he is sexually assaulted by his former best friend who knew about his condition. Max is a perfect kid. Good student, popular, co-caption of the soccer team, great friend, girls crushed on him. He was golden. Karen, Max’s mother, is a successful criminal lawyer, her husband Steven quits his job to run for the British parliament and her son Daniel adores his big brother Max and hates it when the other family members don’t tell him everything. Stress increases exponentially for Max when he finds out he is pregnant.

This book hooks you in right away.  Golden Boy was an incredibly emotional book. At times it could be hard to read but it was always honest and realistic.

Golden Boy is a must read!