Although the majority of my reading is fiction, I periodically like to step out of the world of make-believe and read something that is true to life. Over the past few months, I've been enriched by several volumes on different subjects.
Unfamiliar Fishes by Sarah Vowell
I lived in Hawaii for over 2 years back in the 70's and was fascinated about the history and cultural background that accompanied the beautiful and magical landscape. Sarah Vowell's well researched and organized story of the Hawaiian Islands presents the geography, history, the various ethnic groups, the food, the music, the poetry, the myths, the treachery and the language in a low-key but mesmerizing prose.
I'm a definite fan of audio books, so chose to listen to this one. Sarah Vowell's quirky, fun delivery of her writing added a lot for me. She definitely helped us to understand where her humor was responsible for tongue-in-cheek asides, where the straight history was being presented, and where she was drawing inferences based on various bits of info, especially where one might not have normally drawn such conclusions.
We are introduced to the various ethnic groups who populated the islands, the mythical and magical stories that form so much of the Hawaiian charm, and the unquenchably greedy grasping of big money big politicians in Washington whose quest for territory is one of our country's less than stellar moments in history. Altogether an enchanting read, and one which will appeal for a variety of reasons.
Being Mortal: Medicine and What Matters in the End by Atul Gawande
I agree with the many reviewers who urge that everyone should read this book. Since that is of course not going to happen, perhaps the better goal would be that everybody should have the chance to be exposed to the ideas and ideals delineated so clearly by Dr. Gawande. In clearly written prose, Gawande explains why it is that doctors are not giving patients the information they should have to navigate the many options available as a person nears the end of life.
The story is compelling, non-frightening, and utterly believable as he tells of how his own father, a renowned physician, dealt with his impending death. We are introduced to concepts that are all too often brushed aside, glossed over, or even ignored, as doctors (who are trained to cure and keep people alive) bumble along without the proper training in how to help people make intelligent and life-enhancing choices. The phrase I liked best was his insistence on getting terminal patients to think about "How do you want to live the rest of your life? What would you like to do with the time you have left?" By offering patients the opportunity to decline painful, expensive and often extraordinary medical procedures to gain only days or weeks of agony so they can live out their remaining time alert and without added physical distress, he shows us a new and more humane model for coping for life's natural end. Highly recommended.
NPR American Chronicles: First Ladies
A delightful introduction to a collection of first lady vignettes. Cokie Roberts introduces this series of NPR podcasts, which present us with some well-known, some little known tidbits of information, gossip, facts and inferences about many of our favorite first ladies.
Not exactly a book, I received this short CD assortment as part of the ER program. The individual segments are the perfect length for travel listening. Well written, well researched, and absolutely fascinating. It has certainly enhanced my quest to read biographies of all the presidents. I definitely plan to add some fuller bios of the interesting ladies.