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.”

ALL OUR WRONG TODAYS

ELAN MASTAI

Tom Barren lives in 2016, in a utopia. In 1965 a generator of clean of unlimited energy was invented. It generates energy based on the earth’s movement. The earth spins on its axis as it revolves around the sun, as it turns in the milky way galaxy, as it flies through the universe in the ever expanding universe. With all that energy the world created a reality that was predicted by futurists of the 50’s and 60’s: flying cars, robot maids, peace. Tom’s father is a genius who is building a time machine. His idea is to return to the past to witness origins of the generator that allowed such a utopia to be created. But when Tom goes back in time he disturbs the timeline to return to 2016 as we know it. How can he restore the world to the utopian future it could and should be?

What a great concept! Great speculative fiction. All the way through the book I thought this would make a great movie, then I read that the author was a screenwriter as well as a novelist.

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.

GUT: The Inside Story of Our Body’s Most Underrated Organ

gutGIULA ENDERS

Enders has penned an engaging look at our digestive tract: mouth to end and all parts in between. Gut is readable and at times funny. “Have my new girlfriend/boyfriend and I been together long enough for farting in front of each other to be okay—and if so, is it down to me to break the ice and go first?” She has scientist’s drive to uncover the worlds hidden beneath what’s visible to the naked eye. The vast legion of microorganisms populating our guts are “the weirdest of creatures” inhabiting “the most amazing giant forest ever.” The gut’s nervous system, food intolerances, allergies, gut bacteria and even the science of bad breath are discussed. She suggests the body’s “most underrated organ” plays a greater role in our overall well being than we might have otherwise thought.” Medical diagrams show the small intestine as a sausage thing chaotically going through our belly. But it is an extraordinary work of architecture that moves so harmonically when you see it during surgery. It’s clean and smooth, like soft fabric.”

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.

 

THE ROSIE PROJECT

BookCover-TheRosieProject-01GRAEME SIMSION

Rosie is a light humerous novel that all can enjoy and laugh with. Don Tillman has Asperger’s syndrome. He has a total of two friends, his colleague at a Melbourne university, Gene, and Gene’s psychologist wife, Claudia, who gently guide him toward normalcy. Tillman flinches from physical contact and cooks all his meals according to an unvarying schedule. He attacks courtship by handing women a detailed questionnaire to test their suitability.  “Logically I should be attractive to a wide range of women.” He calls it the “Wife Project.” Until Rosie comes along. He finds Rosie to be “the world’s most incompatible woman . . . late, vegetarian, disorganized, irrational,” with her thick-soled boots and spiky red hair. Rosie wants to identify her biological father, and Don, a professor of genetics, offers to help surreptitiously collect and test samples of the candidates’ DNA. As they spend more time together their relationship deepens and develops.

I would say this is a must read.

 

“But I’m not good at understanding what other people want.’
‘Tell me something I don’t know,’ said Rosie for no obvious reason.
I quickly searched my mind for an interesting fact. 
‘Ahhh…The testicles of drone bees and wasp spiders explode during sex.”

“Professor Tillman. Most of us here are not scientists, so you may need to be a little less technical.’ This sort of thing is incredibly annoying. People can tell you the supposed characteristics of a Gemini or a Taurus and will spend five days watching a cricket match, but cannot find the interest or the time to learn the basics of what they, as humans, are made up of.”

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.

A TALE FOR THE TIME BEING

Ruth2

RUTH OZEKI

“Forget the clock. It has no power over time, but words do.”

This is a book everyone will love. Ozeki is am amazing writer, juggling themes of time, metaphysics, suicide, history, time travel, zen Buddhism,  Japanese history, computer science, 2011 earthquake and tsunami as well as others. TIME also has an interesting structure. The author is a character in the novel though she is always referred to as Ruth, never as I.

Ruth lives on an island on the west coast of British Columbia. Out for a walk on the beach she discovers a Miss Kitty lunch box. Inside wrapped up in plastic to keep it safe is the diary of a sixteen year old Japanese girl, Nao,  an antique wristwatch and what turns out to be the diary, written in French, of her uncle, who died as a kamikaze pilot in the Second World War. Ruth and her husband Oliver begin to read the girls diary. She Ruthhad been born in Japan but moved to Silicon Valley for many years as her dad was a computer programer. When the dot com bubble burst they went back to Japan in poverty and shame. When Nao starts school in Japan, she is regarded as a foreigner is and is mercilessly bullied. Her only solace is writing about her grandmother, Jiko, a 104-year-old “anarchist feminist Zen Buddhist novelist nun,” with a long history of lovers, both male and female. Jiko helps Nao understand that  “time beings” are beings who understand that “everything in the universe is forever changing, and nothing stays the same, and we must understand how quickly time flows by if we are to wake up and truly live our lives.”

“I have a pretty good memory, but memories are time beings too, like cherry blossoms or ginkgo leaves for a while they are beautiful, and they they fade and die.”

Run out right now and get this book!

THE HUMANS

humansMATT HAIG

Professor Andrew Martin of Cambridge University, one of the great mathematical geniuses of our time, has just discovered the secret of prime numbers, thereby finding the key that will unlock the mysteries of the universe, guarantee a giant technological leap for mankind and put an end to illness and death. Alerted to this amazing breakthrough on the other side of the universe, and convinced that the secret of primes cannot be entrusted to such a violent and backward species as humans, the super-advanced Vonnadorians dispatch an emissary to erase Martin and all traces of his discovery. The book that opens with our alien narrator finding himself in the body of the professor, whom he has just assassinated. But the instantaneous intergalactic travel hasn’t turned out quite as expected. Instead of finding himself in Martin’s office, our nameless Vonnadorian has arrived in the middle of a major highway , with no understanding of human culture and wearing his victim’s body but not a stitch of clothing. He is run over but rapidly heals himself and stumbles off to a gas station where he peruses a Cosmopolitan magazine to learn the local language.

The beginning is laugh out loud funny as the alien learns about post-millenial earth culture and comments on it as a visitor from a far. But as he becomes more human the novel changes tone to warm, welcoming glow.

This is a must read.

THE CURIOUS INCIDENT OF THE DOG IN THE NIGHT-TIME

dog2MARK HADDON

What a pleasure it was to finally take the opportunity to read this book. Published in 2003, the book is ten years old and has greatly been discussed. It takes the reader on a journey into the mind of a high functioning autistic fifteen year old boy, Christopher. “It was 7 minutes after midnight.” The attention to detail in opening sentence alerts the reader that something is wrong.  At first I thought the narrator might be Asperger’s but at 15 asperger’s kids are not kicking and screaming when they are over stimulated by what to everyone would be normal situations. His autism means he can only ever tell the truth, and he becomes determined to discover who was responsible for murdering the neighbour’s dog. Through his detective work he unearths uncomfortable truths about his family and the way adults lie to children and to each other. Haddon has done a superb job of detailing the inner works of an autistic brain. A great read if you have missed it.haddon

 

THE NO-NONSENSE GUIDE TO THE HISTORY OF THE WORLD

CHRIS BRAZIERhist2 history

The magazine New Internationalist publishes No-Nonsense guides on multiple topics. They are all brief, concise and easy to read. Brazier does an excellent job of summarizing the history of the world in 150 pages. And he covers the world’s history not just the western hemisphere’s.He has some interesting analysis I found this of particular interest: the Russian “revolution was highjacked by the ruthless dictator Stalin – blow from which the Left worldwide has still not recovered.”

It is a good quick read. It reminds me of

A PEOPLE’S HISTORY OF THE UNITED STATES by Howard Zinn.

AGE OF MIRACLES

KAREN THOMPSON WALKERage

Something is wrong. The earth’s rotation is slowing down. And it is causing a myriad of problems. Do people use clocks or the sun to tell time? The tides are increasing. People are getting sick. The earth’s magnetic fields are affected. Gravity is increasing; birds that can no longer fly are dying. People are scared; friendships breakdown.  Whales are beaching themselves at unprecedented rates. But young  people are still falling in love and in lust.

An interesting dystopian novel that is also a coming of age story.

I did have problems with the faulty science. Gravity is a factor of mass not rotation. There are other scientific issues as well. But it is well written and a good read. Ultimately an allegory of global warming.

 

WOLVES UNLEASHED

 

WolvesUnleashed_still_1ANDREW SIMPSON

Simpson has penned a beautiful coffee table book of his work with wolves. Simpson is an animal trainer for the  film industry who specializes in wolves. He went to Siberia with his handlers and wolves to make a movie Loup. This book is a documentation of his work on the this feature, which will be one of the largest wolf movies ever made. He had raised these wolves from birth and new them intimately. Conditions were harsh. They lived in a remote camp in the siberian mountains of Russia in the extreme cold of winter and the hot and buggy summer.

“The day Digger fell into the ice hole was my hardest day on set. To walk on thin ice was not something we could train dogs to do – they are too smart for that. But when Digger began walking, he kept his focus on me as if he believed the ice would hold him because I was there.” Andrew actually went into the water to help the wolf out. “For the next three nights, digger slept in my room.” He truly is devoted to his wolves.

wolves2The photos are wonderful. It is well worth a peruse. In Darwin’s Ghost there is a long discussion of the evolution of wolves into all the breeds of dogs there are in the world. This seemed like a great way to follow the book on evolution.

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DARWIN’S GHOST: The Origin of the Species Updated

charles-darwinSTEVE JONES

Charles Darwin’s masterpiece, The Origin of Species, is probably the best-known, least-read book. Unquestionably one of the most important achievements of the millennium, its publication in 1859 caused a sensation, because it forced mankind to see itself as part of the animal world–a notion that hundreds of millions still deny. Darwin’s theory of common descent did for biology what Galileo did for astronomy: made it into a single science rather than a collection of unrelated facts. Those facts, however, are now a century and a half old, as are The Origin‘s illustrative examples and Victorian prose style. Writing as “Darwin’s ghost,” the well-known geneticist Steve Jones has drawn on our ever-expanding scientific knowledge and the brilliant logic set out in The Origin to restate evolution’s case for the twenty-first century.

Jones has been called “the British Carl Sagan” because of his prominence as a popularizer of science. Using contemporary examples–the AIDS virus, the rules of the American Kennel Club, the sheep who never forget a face and the garbage that floats in the Pacific–he shows the power and immediacy of Darwin’s great argument. Filled with anecdotes, humor and the very latest research, Darwin’s Ghost is a popular, readable and comprehensive account of the science that makes life make sense.

For anyone interested in biology and evolution Darwin’s Ghost is a must read and very readable.

I borrowed this review from BookBrowes.

INQUISITION

ALFREDO COLITTO

Inquisition is a medieval, medical mystery that has little to do about the inquisition except that one character is an inquisitor. In early fourteenth-century Italy, Mondino, a physician at the studiuum, receives an unexpected visitor in the dead of night. The visitor, one of Mondino’s students named Gerardo, drags a dead body into the studiuum and with it a compelling secret which puts both their lives in jeopardy. The dead man is a Knight Templar and his heart has been turned into iron. Gerardo finds himself as the prime suspect for the murder, but clearing Gerardo’s name is not Mondino’s prime priority, instead, he is desperate to learn the art of turning flesh into iron, which he believes is the Al-iksir (an alchemic preparation formerly believed to be capable of prolonging life). Gerardo and Mondino must find the murderer, but when two more bodies with hearts of iron are uncovered, the Inquisition begin to suspect Mondino’s involvement in what they consider to be acts of devil worship.

A better title would have been ” Elixir of Life and Death.”

Not a great read by any means. But an OK mystery. Needed a lot of editing.

HEARTH OF DANKNESS:Underground Botanists, Outlaw Farmers, and the Race the for the Cannabis Cup

MARK HASKELL SMITH

I’m not a smoker, nor a toker, nor a midnight joker but I still enjoyed this book on pot. Dankness refers to pot that will give you the ultimate high. We learn that there are two strains of pot sativa and indica. Sativa is a clear headed high, energetic “like a cup of espresso,” and slightly hallucinogenic. Smith described being in a hail storm high on a sativa like “being in a shower of diamonds.” Indica is a high that Smith avoids since he tends to get paranoid and sleepy and needs to take a nap.

Smith takes the reader around the world  from Amsterdam’s coffee shops to a California plantation hidden in a sequoia forest.  Ironically, America’s crackdown on weed has driven farmers to move their crop inside, leading to “a boost in potency and a boom in demand for high-quality genetics.” With a vast cottage industry of high-tech grow ops, a plant “that thrives in almost any climate, in any country in the world, now mostly grows indoors.”

“One of the Dutch government’s aims is to “separate the markets for hard drugs and cannabis.” The government wants to protect casual cannabis users from “exposure to more harmful drugs.” In other words, when I go to my local drug dealer to buy some weed she usually has cocaine, LSD, mushrooms, and other substances for sale, but if I go to a coffeeshop, it’s just cannabis and soft drinks. You can’t even get a beer — the ultimate gateway drug — in a coffeeshop.”

Smith is an excellent writer. Dankness is a good read.

LEFT NEGLECTED

LISA GENOVA

This book was too close to my heart to write the review. A young friend of the family, a 26 year old university student had a stroke due to a condition she had since birth. She was lucky in that she was at the university with friends who realized something was wrong and got her help immediately. If she had been in bed asleep her condition would have been much more sever. She is progressing very well. Being young and strong helps, her father knows about brain stimulation and so do other friends.My friend had right side neglect. This book is a must read. Also read A Stroke of Insight.  So any way I respectfully borrowed this review from the Globe and Mail.

If Lisa Genova’s objective is to shed light, from inside the brain, on rarely looked at neurological conditions, as she did in her bestselling first novel, Still Alice, then she
succeeds with Left Neglected.

The title refers to the little-known condition of left side neglect – also called hemispatial or unilateral neglect – which is a result of an injury to the right hemisphere of the brain. It can happen after a stroke, an aneurysm or traumatic head injury. A patient is entirely unable to perceive anything on the left, including her left arm, leg and facial features, to the point where she has to be reminded to look left, a task not easily achieved. It can be temporary, or it may improve in increments through rehabilitation. The title is also a metaphor for all the things that the characters in the book are forgetting about, either deliberately or inadvertently, because of the dizzying pace of their overscheduled lives.

Lisa Genova, a trained neuroscientist, once again puts her immense knowledge and fascination with the brain to good use in this story of a Type A, multitasking mother of three who has climbed the career ladder to a VP position and isn’t about to hit her head on the proverbial glass ceiling. Instead, she hits it hard in a car accident on her way to work, in the driving rain, while preoccupied with her phone.

Pre-accident, Sarah Nickerson is an expert multitasker, simultaneously getting kids ready for school while texting and phoning or sending e-mails and “meeting” with her husband to co-ordinate their schedules. Pre-accident Sarah worries about seven-year-old Charlie’s inattention, relies on five-year-old Lucy’s free spirit to keep her occupied and seems quite often to forget about Linus, her nine-month-old baby. She fusses over the baby weight she hasn’t been able to shed, the growing emotional distance from her husband, Bob, and, mostly, about making sure her professional life is flawlessly moving up.

Pre-accident Sarah has been having the strangest dreams, about her dead father and brother, who accidentally drowned as a child, and her mother, so overcome with grief that she forgot she had a second child. Genova opens each of the pre-accident chapters with a new dream, a foreboding not necessarily of the car wreck, but of its catalytic awakening.

An accident of this magnitude might cause anyone to re-evaluate, but two elements are in play here, courtesy of the creative mind of a neuroscientist. Genova wants to show readers what left neglect feels like; how a vibrant, ambitious and determined person could possibly learn to live with what others might perceive as a handicap; Sarah’s stubborn reluctance to accept it, her high-achieving resolve to fight through it. She wants to show how the lives of others are affected by one person’s journey through such trauma; her resilience, her difficulty. She also wants to take readers on a road of reconciliation; in this case not only with Sarah’s new reality, but with her unconscious parenting, with her estranged mother and especially with her compulsion to be supermom and super-career-woman.

Over the course of reorganizing her life and learning a new normal, which includes eventually resigning from her beloved job, Sarah comes to appreciate time in a different way. Instead of squeezing the life out of it, she learns to luxuriate in its healing quality. She gets to know her children, she listens to her intuition.

By far the greatest resolution comes when she has to confront her mother, who has become her live-in caregiver. Sarah has felt a lifetime of neglect from her mom that began the day her brother Nate died; she can barely remember any sort of relationship, certainly no nurturing or motherly advice. Slowly they reveal themselves to each other and, out of proximity, necessity and understanding, they reconcile.

In the end, Sarah’s life is vastly different than she had planned and, through her unyielding convincing, even Bob decides to leave the rat race, so they move to their weekend house in Vermont, where they both begin new and much more fulfilling careers.

If there’s a weakness at all in Left Neglected, it’s that the novel doesn’t feel as vital and immediate as Still Alice, which may be attributed to the first novel having been born out of Genova’s intense feelings about her grandmother’s Alzheimer’s. Or it could just be the usual sophomoric tendency to put your all into your first project. While the empathy she is intent on showing is never clunky, the story is a touch clichéd in places and it would be a shame in the future to see Genova err on the side of the formulaic.

Carla Lucchetta is a Toronto-based writer, TV producer and essayist for TVO’s The Agenda with Steve Paikin.

THE WILD LIFE OF OUR BODIES: Predators,Parasites and Partners That Shape Who We Are Today

ROB DUNN

Dunn writes that many human ills and behaviors reflect the evolutionary past where we put ourselves above nature and all other species. Our super sterile environment is hurting us all by unbalancing our immune systems, leading to attacks on our own tissues rather than invading organisms. His solution is to repopulate the gut with worms that the immune system tolerates or that may suppress the system’s hyperactivity. Dunn writes that Crohn’s and other such disorders are rare wherever gut parasites are common. There is actually a cottage industry selling worm eggs. Some people have even travelled to go barefoot in a primitive latrine in hopes that worms will infect them to cure their autoimmune disorders.  Other subjects he tackles is why some peoples can digest milk but the majority of the world cannot. What the appendix does and why is appendicitis rare in third world countries. How bugs lefts us hairless. Many interesting ideas are raised and discussed. Some parts of the book needs skimming but it’s still worth the read.