Showing 431 - 440 of 742 Nonfiction annotations

Mom's Cancer

Fies, Brian

Last Updated: Aug-24-2006
Annotated by:
Davis, Cortney

Primary Category: Literature / Nonfiction

Genre: Graphic Memoir

Summary:

This extraordinary graphic work began its life as a Web comic, posted anonymously, tracing in image and word the story of a son, his sisters and their mother who was diagnosed with a brain tumor, metastatic from her lung.  This comic caught on, and news of it was passed by email and link from reader to reader. About a year later, the author, Brian Fies, was presented the Eisner Award for Best Digital Comic. The entire sequence has now been published in a small, wonderful hardback book that will fit into a lab coat pocket.
 
Fies has managed to capture, in word and graphic panels, the thousand emotions and moments that swirl about a family when cancer changes their lives. He shows us the small, personal gestures and thoughts that we look back upon--how he "didn't lose any sleep" (3) when his mom first fell ill; how his mother both denied the severity of her illness and, at the same time, fell into the abyss of medical examination, radiation, chemotherapy; how he and his sisters assumed various roles in their mother's care and, soon, morphed into "superpowers," each defending his or her own territory (41-44).

Most amazing is how Fies exposes, in honest and poignant visuals, the many points of view of illness--his mother's, his siblings', his own, even the physicians'. His portrayal of how the medical system both confuses, abandons and supports his mother is alone worth the price of the book (39-40). We watch his mother, through his "cartoons," as she moves deeper and deeper into the world of illness, and we see the author's own anger in response to this loss.

He lashes out at smokers (pp 55-56), perfectly portrays the ever-smiling doctor (48-49), captures the odd suspension of a transient ischemic attack (TIA) (68-70), and lets us walk the tightrope of treatment alongside his mother (59-61). He also cleverly interweaves the back-story of his mother's youth, marriage and divorce, his childhood, and a vignette of the sickness and death of a favorite uncle, one whose dying prophesy impacted Fies's life (73-77). The moment when his mother truly understands the severity of her prognosis (94) is stunning.

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Summary:

This is a compilation of personal interviews framed by a review of the history of post World War II attitudes toward pregnancy out of wedlock. The project began as an oral history involving over 100 interviewees. The majority of the women were adolescents dependent upon their parents when they gave birth and relinquished their infants for adoption. The book is structured loosely around specific issues--such as parental responses to their daughters' pregnancies, hiding the pregnancies from family members and friends, methods of handling the birth itself and the subsequent signing of adoption papers--each chapter illustrated by excerpts from the interviews.

There are striking similarities among the interviewees' experiences, particularly in terms of the long-term grief and guilt that plagued most of these women. Fessler addresses the increasing movement toward enabling the mothers and the adopted children to seek one another if they so choose, and points the interested reader toward resources for additional information on the contemporary status.

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Gardening in Clay

Valdiserri, Ronald

Last Updated: Aug-22-2006
Annotated by:
Kohn, Martin

Primary Category: Literature / Nonfiction

Genre: Collection (Essays)

Summary:

A collection of twenty-six short essays about AIDS from two primary perspectives. Approximately one-third of the essays reflect on this physician-author’s personal response to his identical twin brother’s deterioration and eventual death from AIDS. The remaining essays reflect this pathologist/public health educator’s interest in confronting the epidemic on a societal/cultural level.

The author’s love of nature and gardening provides a sense of continuity throughout the book. The gentle yet strong voice of the author is very moving when sharing his personal experience. His voice, on occasion, becomes pedantic when addressing societal and public health concerns.

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Primary Category: Literature / Nonfiction

Genre: Journal

Summary:

When confirmed bachelor C. S. Lewis married Joy Davidman in 1956, it was at first a friendly marriage of convenience so that she and her sons could remain in England. By the time of her death from cancer three years later, their partnership had become one of passion, friendship and such deep love that Lewis was almost paralyzed by his loss.

In this undated journal, he documents with brief observations first the overwhelming sensations of his grief, then his rage and confusion at God. As time passes, he chronicles his return to religion and his acceptance of a new life, forever shaded by Davidman’s presence but still whole. The style and writing are beautiful but clear and accessible, and the honesty of his sentiments is clear whether or not readers have found themselves in similar situations.

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Vessels

Raeburn, Daniel

Last Updated: Aug-22-2006
Annotated by:
Wear, Delese

Primary Category: Literature / Nonfiction

Genre: Essay

Summary:

Daniel Raeburn tells the story of watching the birth of his infant daughter Irene who had died in utero three days before and the weeks and months following the event, spent at the intersection of immense grieving, trying to understand why, and attempting to live in a world without his daughter.

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from The Pleasure of Reading

Fowles, John

Last Updated: Aug-21-2006
Annotated by:
Wear, Delese

Primary Category: Literature / Nonfiction

Genre: Essay

Summary:

Fowles, and many other well-known Anglo-American writers in this collection, provide marvelous personal rationales for reading: what it has meant in their lives, and most important for our discussion, how reading can work against the "atrophy of the imagination" brought on by this century’s fervor for electronic media.

This essay can be used early in Literature and Medicine courses to discuss the very different experiences of reading fiction and nonfiction, to show how their aims are opposed in many ways. According to Fowles, this includes: "learning to dream awake, against learning to absorb hard facts; almost, to be subjective, to learn to feel, to be oneself--or to be objective, become what society expects . . . . Talking about reading [fiction] is like talking about flight in a world rapidly becoming flightless; like raving about music to the deaf, or about painting to the color-blind."

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First, You Cry, excerpt from

Rollin, Betty

Last Updated: Aug-21-2006
Annotated by:
Squier, Harriet

Primary Category: Literature / Nonfiction

Genre: Autobiography

Summary:

In First, You Cry, an autobiography by Betty Rollin, a well-to-do television broadcaster adjusts to the loss of a breast from cancer. The author uses humor to deal with and recount her loss as well as her anger, as she slowly begins to adjust. This excerpt deals with the author’s fixation on finding the right breast prosthesis.

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Fragments

Wilkomirski, Binjamin

Last Updated: Aug-21-2006
Annotated by:
Aull, Felice

Primary Category: Literature / Nonfiction

Genre: Memoir

Summary:

Note, entered 12/99: The authenticity of this account has been called into question. Legal documents and school records contradict the author’s claim of being a Holocaust survivor. The author, however, maintains that his story is true. News accounts of this controversy first appeared in Weltwoche, a Swiss publication, in an article written by author, Daniel Ganzfried, who researched Wilkomirski’s background (August 27, 1998). Among later reports are those in The Times of London (Sept. 8, 1998), and The New York Times (Nov. 3, 1998). In October, 1999 (Oct.,14, 1999 NY Times report) the German publisher, Suhrkamp Verlag, withdrew from stores all hardcover copies and Schocken Books suspended publication on November 1, 1999.

My Summary and Commentary below were written under the assumption, which appears to be false, that Fragments is a memoir, and not fiction. All indications are that Wilkomirski believes his story to be true. Readers might consider the metaphoric significance of the Holocaust in ongoing individual suffering.

Note, entered 10/01: Interestingly, in relation to my final comment of 12/99 above, a recent article places Wilkomirski’s book within the context of scholarly work on trauma, memory, and testimony. See "Beyond the Question of Authenticity: Witness and Testimony in the Fragments Controversy" by Michael Bernard-Donalis (Proceedings of the Modern Language Association, 116/5, October 2001: 1302-1315).

Note: 2/02: The recently published book, A Life in Pieces, by Blake Eskin (New York: W. W. Norton, 2002) tells the story of Wilkomirski, Fragments, and the research into Wilkomirski’s claims, and places the affair into sociohistoric context.

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Subtitled "Memories of a Wartime Childhood," this Holocaust memoir unveils the memory "shards" of a childhood spent in the Nazi death camps of Poland. The author, now a musician living in Switzerland, believes himself to have been born around 1939, in Riga, Latvia. He can’t be certain because his father was shot by militia as young Binjamin watched; later he was separated from his brothers; he remembers his mother only from one brief, forbidden visit with her in Majdanek concentration camp when they were both confined there.

Because the memoir is narrated primarily in the present tense, from the perspective of a confused, frightened child, in disjointed flashbacks, the reader viscerally experiences the bewilderment, physical hardships, the viscious cruelty of the guards, the sickening realities of existence (rats, lice, beetles; standing barefoot, ankle-deep in excrement), the fear and guilt [yes, guilt!--for inadvertently betraying another child]. But there was kindness as well--the wise older child, Jankl, who taught Binjamin survival techniques; the women inmates who hid Binjamin and other children under cloths in the laundry room--for weeks on end.

Near the end of the war, camp guards deserted and the surviving inmates staggered out--Binjamin was literally dragged along, against his will, by a camp inmate who recognized him. Somehow he ended up in an orphanage in Krakow, Poland. Here, there was fear of a different kind--distrust of all adults, fear of being "discovered" as a camp survivor (to be held responsible for another child’s death, and for abandoning his mother), total unfamiliarity with the habits of "normal" life.

Wilkomirski’s memoir begins and ends in Switzerland, where he was placed in foster care. In Switzerland there are other nightmares. Spastic attempts to verbalize his experiences are ridiculed, disbelieved, squelched. Not until a high school teacher--a German who fled to Switzerland during the war--shows documentary footage of the allied liberation of Mathausen concentration camp, does Binjamin realize that HE was never liberated. "Where was I when everyone else was being freed? . . . nobody tended us . . . the way it happened in the film. Nobody ever told me that the camp was . . . finally, definitely over . . . that . . . I could go forward without fear or threat into a new time . . . Not even later."

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A Fortunate Man

Berger, John; Mohr, Jean

Last Updated: Aug-21-2006
Annotated by:
Coulehan, Jack

Primary Category: Literature / Nonfiction

Genre: Essay

Summary:

The subtitle of this photographic essay is "The Story of a Country Doctor." Berger and Mohr give the reader an imaginative portrait of Dr. John Sassall, an English general practitioner who lives and practices in a remote rural community. The book begins with several stories of Sassall’s work with patients, gradually introducing the man himself and revealing his thoughts about his profession, his life, and the nature of healing.

Berger explores what people in the community think about this unusual doctor who has given up his chance to "get ahead" in the world in order to remain with them. They are sure he is a "good doctor," but what does that mean? How does one judge "goodness" in a physician? Berger comments in an impressionistic way on the nature of Sassall’s relationships with patients--a complex mixture of authority, fraternity, and intimacy.

The latter part of the essay expands its focus to the community as a whole and the nature of contemporary medicine. Throughout the book, Jean Mohr’s photographs serve as indispensable features of the story.

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My Left Foot, excerpt from

Brown, Christy

Last Updated: Aug-21-2006
Annotated by:
Squier, Harriet

Primary Category: Literature / Nonfiction

Genre: Autobiography

Summary:

In this short excerpt [from the early section of the book, describing his birth, family, and early childhood], Brown eloquently describes his difficult birth, the hopelessness of his doctors, and the persistent love of his family, especially of his mother. He relates in detail that profound moment when, at age five, he inexplicably grabbed a piece of chalk from his sister’s hand with his left foot and, with great difficulty and incredulity, traced the letter A on a piece of slate. For the first time, his family knew for sure that his intellect was intact. And for the first time, he could start to communicate with them.

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