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Terry Tempest Williams, a thirty-four year old Mormon woman and naturalist based in Salt Lake City, Utah, considers herself part of "The Clan of One-Breasted Women." Ten women of her family, including Williams, have been treated or have died from breast cancer. Is this just an example of the randomness of nature, or is it related to the fact that Williams and her family were residing in the "virtually uninhabited" plains downwind of the atomic bomb testing grounds from 1951 to 1962?
When her book begins, Williams' mother has just been diagnosed with ovarian cancer, and the book follows the next five years of her life and death. At the same time, the Great Salt Lake is rising to record heights, flooding the Bear River Migratory Bird Refuge and scattering the birds and animals with whom Williams has lived her life. The interplay of the uncontrollable elements of nature and the inevitability of life and death make this book an elegant study of "renewal and spiritual grace," and an excellent and unusual telling of a daughter learning how to grieve for her mother.
Summary:It is sometime in the future of genetic engineering, at the point at which, for a high enough price, one can buy physical and intellectual characteristics for one's fetus. This is the story of a young American couple of average means who have one "normal" son and are negotiating a supernorm status for their female fetus. The action centers around the stresses placed on the young family by the financial sacrifices required to engineer a daughter who would be able to compete in the growing population of engineered people. Husband and wife disagree increasingly, and ultimately the family breaks up over the wife's obsession with having a perfectly engineered child.
Summary:This is a lovely poem about an elderly married couple who share a room at a nursing home. The woman is confined to bed because her backbone is "so thin / the doctor jokes that X-rays can't find it." Her husband's mind is gone. The woman reflects on the morning activities, especially those of the "night girl" who brings the breakfast trays and, later, bends down to take her husband's tray, "the perfume / still lingering from whatever went on / before last night's shift." The woman asks herself: How would this young girl of 20 know that the two elderly people she is caring for once "made love / in the sweetfern high on an island."
Two physicians sit in the Emergency Room of a Kansas City hospital on Christmas Day. The narrator's references to the incompetence or past errors of each is slipped quietly into the text as the story unfolds.
The doctors are telling the narrator of their most interesting encounter of this holiday season: a distraught adolescent, in a religious frenzy, had come in requesting castration for his "awful lust." The two docs managed to blunder the encounter so sufficiently that the boy left, only to return a few hours later bleeding dangerously from his penile self-amputation. The self-centered conversation returns to verbal ego-play between the two physicians, without a hint that either has considered the magnitude of the medical malfeasance against the boy.
Set in Padua "very long ago," this is the story of a "mad scientist" working in isolation on a completely unethical (at least by modern research standards) experiment involving poisonous plants. A young student of medicine observes from his quarters the scientist's beautiful daughter who is confined to the lush and locked gardens in which the experiment is taking place.
Having fallen in love with the lovely Beatrice, Giovanni ignores the warning of his mentor, Professor Baglioni, that Rappaccini is up to no good and he and his work should be shunned. Eventually, Giovanni sneaks into the forbidden garden to meet his lover, and begins to suffer the consequences of encounter with the plants--and with Beatrice, who dwells among them and has been rendered both immune to their effects and poisonous to others.
Summary:A devoted scientist, in a brief step from his laboratory pursuits, marries a beautiful woman with a single physical flaw: a birthmark on her face. Aylmer becomes obsessed with the imperfection and his need to remove it. The tale evolves around his progressive frenzy to use his scientific skills to render his bride perfect and the faith of his submissive wife that the union can survive only if he accomplishes his goal. The author tells us that Aylmer "had devoted himself, however, too unreservedly to scientific studies . . . " and, in the secrecy of his laboratory he prepares the potion for Georgiana which results in the disappearance of the birthmark and the death of Aylmer's experimental subject.
An eccentric aging physician, Dr. Heidegger, calls together his old friends and contemporaries to test his waters of the "fountain of youth." As the doctor himself sits by to enjoy the show, each of his four aged friends eagerly quaffs more and more of the magic potion, each draught further carrying them backwards into their shared youth. Having grown young, smooth-skinned and agile again, the three men begin to fight for the favors of the fourth compatriot now restored to her former beauty.
In the heat of the fracas, they begin to grow tired and within minutes the effect of the "waters" has worn off. The participants in the brief respite from old age are devastated by the transience of the experience. Despite Heidegger's warning that he has learned to appreciate the advantage of age by watching the four of them make themselves fools, they learned no such lesson and resolve to make a pilgrimage to Florida to seek the Fountain.
Summary:The Lesbian Body has been called a lesbian Song of Songs. It is a sensual, image-rich picture of one (or, perhaps, many) lesbian affairs. The images are rich in anatomical detail, even employing medical language to describe the lover's body.
In this reflective memoir, a son in his mid-forties recalls the final years of his mother's life, the mystery of her changed being as she succumbed to Alzheimer's disease, and the long weeks and months he spent as caretaker, confronting the mystery of his own life and the role of memory in it by witnessing at close range the closing down of both life and memory in her. The book is candid about the whole range of feelings--including the most unexpected and unwelcome--associated with the difficult decision to bring an aging and infirm parent into one's household, care for her, reconfigure family life, and consent to the disconcerting inversion of parent-child roles.
Each of its forty short chapters is a lyrical moment. Daniel weaves memories of his mother's life--musing about those parts he can only know second hand--and exquisite portraiture, with ongoing reflection about his purposes in writing; what gifts there may have been in the difficult process of seeing her through a difficult passage into death; and how some of those gifts unfold only in the aftermath. His speculations about the inner life of an Alzheimer's patient add nothing to medical understanding, but model a deeply edifying kind of compassion and will to imagine beyond the failures of mind and body to a silent, inarticulate self that still deserves to be honored.
Tomorrow, as soon as it dawns, I will go to visit your grave, Papa, Adriana, in the long abandoned family home, reflects on her life before her father’s death when she was fifteen. She remembers their closeness and similarities, but also their distance and differences. Wedded by their physical resemblance, temperament and interests, they are also separated--by silence and sorrow, desires and disillusionments.
One night the adolescent tries to discuss her father’s torment, but both become angry. It is their last conversation. In the hours that follow, her beloved father takes his life with a single bullet.