Showing 211 - 220 of 3169 annotations

Summary:

Soldier Girls is an exhaustively researched, intimate report by a journalist of the lives and deployments of three women in the Indiana National Guard, who, through serving together in Afghanistan, become friends. Each of the women joined the Guard prior to 9/11/2001, mostly for economic reasons. Thorpe selected women who were vastly different in age and background.  Debbie Helton becomes a grandmother during deployment and has served in the guard for decades - she is eager to be deployed. Michelle Fischer (a pseudonym) is newly out of high school, has liberal political views and sees the Guard as a way to pay college tuition. Desma Brooks is a single mother of three with a fractured and unreliable support system. All three have alcohol and or drug dependency issues. Brooks and Helton are deployed a second time - to Iraq.

 As one of the women, Fischer, notes, the Bush wars were an ‘economic draft' (p. 374) The struggles to find adequate housing, reliable partners, good schools, decent jobs, and to avoid the morass of drug dealing, which particularly surround Fischer and Brooks, are paramount in their lives.   

The women bond not only due to their shared gender, but also due to their mutual sense of humor. For example, to distinguish her tent from the dozens of similar ones on the base in Afghanistan, Brooks orders 50 plastic pink flamingos to decorate the ‘lawn.'   

In Afghanistan, the women are part of the support troops, doing such jobs as fixing AK-47s for the Afghan National Army. Nonetheless, even there, they are in harm's way, with the potential for injury or death from mortars, buried bombs (landmines) and improvised explosive devices (IEDs). In Iraq, Brooks is exposed to danger daily, as she drives an armored vehicle  usually in the navigation spot of a long convoy, third in line. She suffers traumatic brain injury after driving too close to and detonating a large IED.    

Thorpe weaves the three stories together of the women into a seamless whole. She chooses to follow the post-deployment lives of the women, and it is after demobilization that the heartaches truly develop. For example, Helton, who had always been upbeat and extraordinarily generous with her nurturing, turns inward and suffers depression. Fischer finds it difficult to relate to anyone without a military background, yet feels alienated from veterans who continue with a gung-ho attitude. And Brooks's children, who felt abandoned by their mother, act out in different and difficult ways.   

Issues of military sexual trauma are introduced, though none of the main characters experiences MST. However, all are harassed, to varying degrees. Sexuality is a prominent theme, both heterosexual and homosexual. "Don't ask, don't tell" was the policy during their deployments. Partners during deployment are different than those at home, and infidelity is common on base, further dividing military from civilian life.   

A particularly poignant side-story is that of the translator, Abkar Khan, introduced on page 171: "He was movie-star handsome, with a square jaw, high cheekbones, chiseled lips, and an aquiline nose." Abkar accomplished what no amount of cultural sensitivity training might - he gave a face and voice to the people the troops had been sent to help: soldiers would later relate "that getting to know Abkar was the single greatest thing that would happen to them in Afghanistan - he was what gave meaning to their deployment". (p. 172) Abkar marries his first cousin in an arranged marriage, temporarily realizes his dream to work in the United States, then returns for a lucrative but dangerous job of translating in interrogations.   

Posttraumatic stress disorder, post deployment risky behavior, traumatic brain injury, and bone and joint injury due to maneuvers required while wearing heavy equipment and protective clothing are discussed. Despite the large numbers of sexual partners, no sexually transmitted diseases are discussed, but one minor character does get an abortion after a relationship with a superior officer (these relationships, though forbidden, seem common). As noted in the book, the costs of the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan go far beyond the activities in the war theaters themselves, but continue on in the lives of the returned troops, and the families of all those who were deployed.       

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Polio: An American Story

Oshinsky, David

Last Updated: Sep-16-2014
Annotated by:
Willms, Janice

Primary Category: Literature / Nonfiction

Genre: History

Summary:

 In his introduction, the author summarizes the history of polio’s first appearance as an epidemic in the United States, the ensuing research, subsequent applications of new information, attempts at abatement and ultimate success in the development of preventative measures.

Embedded in the successes and failures of the research applications are the details of human interactions.  Their impact on the goal of achieving near extinction of polio in America constitutes a dramatic subplot, which the historian adroitly weaves into the work.

For the reader who has only a sketchy knowledge of this important period in medical research, this history provides details of human exchanges, conflicts and resolutions necessary to bring the scientific developments to fruition.  Central among the multiple struggles rests the basic disagreement between Jonas Salk and Albert Sabin, two of the most prominent scientists working against the clock to develop the most effective and safest form of immunization.  Each new surge of the disease added to the urgency of the problem as well as to the question of the best solution.  Salk felt strongly that the immune system should be stimulated by a killed virus preparation, while Sabin was equally convinced that only the living virus could provide this need.  Each view had its own cadre of supporters and of opponents.

Funding issues also troubled those fighting the polio epidemics.  The March of Dimes is credited with raising a record $55 million in the fight against polio in early 1954, becoming the first major infectious disease battle to benefit from a concerted public awareness campaign and demonstrating the power of such volunteer driven efforts to supplement public and other private funding efforts.

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Brief Encounters

Shapiro, Ben

Last Updated: Sep-12-2014
Annotated by:
Bruell, Lucy

Primary Category: Performing Arts / Film, TV, Video

Genre: Film

Summary:

In the photograph, the camera frames the window of a rundown motel room on a snowy evening. Inside, a young mother in a pale green nightgown sits on the side of a bed gazing sadly at her sleeping baby curled up on the far side of the mattress.  This is one of the hauntingly beautiful images in “Brief Encounters,” a documentary about the photographer Gregory Crewdson and his project “Beneath the Roses.“

The son of a Brooklyn psychoanalyst, Crewdson and his family spent summers at a lakeside cottage near Pittsfield in western Massachusetts.  It is to this area, with its abandoned shops and dilapidated buildings, that Crewdson returns over and over again to search for settings for his intricately composed photographs.  These towns, he says in the film’s narration, “were really backdrops for a more submerged psychological drama,” one that blurs the line between reality and fiction. Crewdson approaches his photographs as if making a film, with a crew of as many as 60 people and a cast composed of the townspeople he encounters in his travels.  But unlike a film, the photographs capture a single moment in time.  For Crewdson, what happens before and after is of no interest to him. Rather, he is concerned with just that one frame, “a perfect moment.”

Crewdson creates his worlds as a way to explore his own anxieties, fears and desires.  The images he constructs are exquisitely detailed and psychologically complex, inviting multiple interpretations by viewers. An engaging narrator, he directly addresses his own fear of failure, how he struggles to overcome it and to continue working despite periods of self-doubt.

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Annotated by:
McEntyre, Marilyn

Primary Category: Literature / Nonfiction

Genre: Memoir

Summary:

In the course of sharing her own experience of breast cancer diagnosis and treatment, the writer offers personal reflections on coping with each of a number of specific challenges most American women with breast cancer face:  desperation, fear, sadness, anger, guilt, overwhelming choices about treatment, side-effects of treatment, grief, adjusting to a new "normal," shifts in relationship, and rethinking spirituality.  She raises hard questions in a compassionate way, encouraging readers to use the experience of illness as an occasion for examining and growing into a new phase of psycho-spiritual maturity.

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Summary:

This book combines social history with personal memoir. It serves as a reflection on how the various challenges of living with chronic illness have shifted over time, and how they are still real and present for the increasing portion of the population who suffer from ills invisible to others and often hard to account for.  The book's brief treatments of cultural and medical approaches to chronic illness, from ancient practices to "patients in the digital age," provide a broad perspective against which to consider current legislative, political, medical, and personal concerns for those coping with chronic illness or disability. 

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Dying in Character

Berman, Jeffrey

Last Updated: Aug-31-2014
Annotated by:
McEntyre, Marilyn

Primary Category: Literature / Nonfiction

Genre: Criticism

Summary:

In this collection of essays on writers' end-of-life memoirs Berman combines a fine-tuned appreciation of literary strategies with reflections on how writers, who have defined themselves, their philosophies, their voices, and their values publicly, bring their life work to characteristic and fitting conclusions in writing about their own dying.  The writers he considers cover a broad spectrum that ranges from Roland Barthes and Edward Said to Elisabeth Kübler-Ross and Tony Judt to Art Buchwald and Randy Pausch.  Each essay offers insights into the writer's approaches to death and dying against the background of his or her earlier work. 

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Summary:

Following the 9-11 terrorist attacks, approximately 20 New York University medical students volunteered to work with the Office of the Chief Medical Examiner of the City of New York (OCME) attached to the NYU School of Medicine to sort, catalogue and identify human remains recovered at Ground Zero. On September 11, Barry Goldstein, Adjunct Professor of Humanism in Medicine at NYU, was to begin teaching a course on aspects of photography to medical students. After 9-11, Goldstein decided to photograph and interview the volunteer medical students in order to document their individual experiences and memories of the events of September 11 and their personal reflections of working with the dead.

Photographed with a simple black background in the "scrubs" they wore while working in the morgue, and with a personal "prop" of their choosing, the colour portraits are intensely sorrowful and candid. Goldstein, who is an experienced portrait photographer, observed that "for reasons I still find unclear, these students were surprisingly adept at absenting themselves from the entire process of picture taking. As a result, the masks that we generally put on for the world when faced with a camera were absent." Accompanying each student's image is an excerpt from his/her interview about memories of working in the morgue and the meaning of that work.

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Tenth of December

Saunders, George

Last Updated: Aug-27-2014
Annotated by:
Miksanek, Tony

Primary Category: Literature / Fiction

Genre: Short Story

Summary:

A chubby boy with a vivid imagination and a terminally ill man intent on suicide share an adventure in survival on an extremely cold day. Robin plays make-believe as he heads to a pond in the woods. In the distance, he spots an emaciated man who appears to be wearing only pajamas. Fifty-three year old Don Eber is dying from cancer that's in his brain. Surgery and chemotherapy have not prevented its progress. He's come to the woods on this frigid day to die with dignity.

Robin finds Don's discarded coat on the ground and is determined to return it to the stranger. While toting the jacket, the boy falls through the ice of the frozen pond. Don sees Robin struggling in the water and realizes it is his fault that the well-intentioned kid is in danger. With great difficulty, Don makes his way to the pond and pulls the boy out. He removes Robin's wet clothes and replaces them with his own dry pajamas and the coat. He revives Robin and encourages him to run home.

Don is now naked, shivering, exhausted, and alone in the woods. But he no longer wants to end his life. He now understands its value, how "there could still be many - many drops of goodness" [249].
As he reminisces about the past, Don senses he is in a warm place. It is Robin's house. The boy has sent his mother to retrieve Don, and she has successfully rescued him.

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This Old Man

Angell, Roger

Last Updated: Aug-18-2014
Annotated by:
Kohn, Martin

Primary Category: Literature / Nonfiction

Genre: Essay

Summary:

Roger Angell, longtime sports writer, senior editor and staff writer for the New Yorker, and a recent inductee to the Baseball Hall of Fame, gives us a deeply revelatory tour of old age in "This Old Man." Perhaps a lighthouse beam more accurately describes what his thoughts/scenes provide those of us who are younger some much younger, since Angell is 93 years old at the time of the essay's publication who are following him to the shores of old age. Through his words and images he provides brilliant flashes of the present, the near past and distant past, allowing us to see, feel and experience virtually his journey to becoming an "elder" (which he playfully places "halfway between a tree and an eel"). Most revealing are his thoughts on his relationship with his failing body, with memory intrusions ("What I've come to count on is the white-coated attendant of memory, silently here again to deliver dabs from the laboratory dish of me"), with being invisible, and with the still powerful need for intimacy, love and attachment.

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Annotated by:
McEntyre, Marilyn

Primary Category: Literature / Fiction

Genre: Novel for Young Adults

Summary:

Annie Howard is beginning high school in Tacoma, Washington in 1950, four years after her father returned from World War II, having been blinded in combat.  Her mother has opened her own beauty salon as a way of coping with her husband’s disability and the loss of earning power it has meant.  Annie loves her father, and maintains a close relationship with him, but is dismayed by his recurrent depressions and his steady refusal to get a guide dog, go out into the world, and respond to invitations to volunteer with an organization that helps other veterans similarly afflicted.  As the school year begins she meets two new friends, a Dutch brother and sister—refugees whose parents were killed in the war and who now live with an aunt and uncle.  Through them, and ultimately through her father, Annie learns some hard truths about the lasting effects of trauma, about the role of acceptance in healing, and about how a more grown-up love involves willingness to accompany others through some of the darker dimensions of suffering.

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