Showing 621 - 630 of 667 Nonfiction annotations

A Plague of Tics

Sedaris, David

Last Updated: Sep-16-1997
Annotated by:
Aull, Felice

Primary Category: Literature / Nonfiction

Genre: Autobiography

Summary:

This is the second of 13 short autobiographical pieces in the book, Naked. In it, Sedaris describes, in vivid and humorous detail, the obsessive compulsive behavior that plagued his life from grade school into college. From licking every light switch encountered, to counting each of "six hundred and thirty-seven steps" on the way home from school, "pausing every few feet to tongue a mailbox" and having to retrace his steps if he lost count, Sedaris was compelled to " . . . do these things because nothing was worse than the anguish of not doing them."

Each year, a teacher called on his mother to discuss the strange tics. His mother took his behavior and these visits in stride: "The kid's wound too tight, but he'll come out of it. So, what do you say, another scotch, Katherine?" "She suggested my teachers interpret my jerking head as a nod of agreement. 'That's what I do, and now I've got him washing the dishes for the next five years.'"

Life became more complicated when Sedaris entered college and had to contend with a roommate. There are amusing descriptions of the elaborate stratagems that he devised to conceal or explain the tics. Finally, "my nervous habits faded about the same time I took up with cigarettes . . . more socially acceptable than crying out in tiny voices."

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Paula

Allende, Isabel

Last Updated: Sep-16-1997
Annotated by:
Poirier, Suzanne

Primary Category: Literature / Nonfiction

Genre: Autobiography

Summary:

Novelist Isabel Allende's daughter, Paula, died after entering into a coma following an acute attack of a porphyria disease. Allende was at her daughter's side in a hospital in Spain, where Paula was living with her husband, and later in Allende's home in California, where Paula spent the last months of her life.

When Paula first lost consciousness, Allende began writing for her an account of her illness, which soon grew into a memoir of Allende's own life: "Listen, Paula, I am going tell you a story, so that when you wake up you will not feel so lost" (p. 3), Allende begins. As Allende tells of her childhood, political and feminist awakenings, and her growth as a writer, she also watches Paula sink deeper and deeper into coma. She remains insistent, however, that Paula will recover, works in secret with a sympathetic physician to wean Paula from the respirator that breathes for her, then flies her back to California for rehabilitation.

In the end, though, she faces the reality that Paula will not recover, and, as she finishes telling Paula the story of her own life, she discovers that she has found the strength to let Paula go. Paula dies in a sunny room in Allende's house, surrounded by family and friends.

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The Night-Side

Skloot, Floyd

Last Updated: Sep-16-1997
Annotated by:
Coulehan, Jack

Primary Category: Literature / Nonfiction

Genre: Collection (Essays)

Summary:

This book is a series of essays about the illness experience. The author developed chronic fatigue syndrome (CFS) after a viral illness in 1988. Suddenly, this 41-year-old public policy analyst, who was also a successful writer and a competitive runner, was thrust into the world of severe disability. He developed subtle but extensive neurological deficits that affected his concentration and memory. For months he could hardly get out of bed. He discovered that not only was the cause of CFS unknown, many physicians did not even believe it was a "real" illness.

"Double Blind" tells the story of Skloot's participation in an ill-fated clinical trial of Ampligen, an experimental treatment for CFS. Other essays describe the author's experience with alternative medicine, including an intensive course of Ayurvedic "detoxification" ("Healing Powers") and a visit to Germany to encounter Mother Meera, an avatar of the Divine Mother ("Honeymooning With the Feminine Divine").

"Home Remedies" presents his comic experience with helpful calls and letters telling him how to get rid of the illness. Other essays deal with Skloot's learning to cope with chronic disability. A final section includes poems about the illness experience of several composers and artists (e.g. Carl Maria von Weber, George Gershwin, and Vincent van Gogh).

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Kitchen Table Wisdom

Remen, Rachel Naomi

Last Updated: Sep-15-1997
Annotated by:
Willms, Janice

Primary Category: Literature / Nonfiction

Genre: Collection (Essays)

Summary:

The author, a pediatrician by training who has gradually moved into psycho-oncology and training others in relationship centered care, writes about life in this collection of short vignettes and analyses. She blends stories of her own experiences as patient and as woman with those she has gathered from a long history of patient encounters. There is no temporal sequence, but the work is grouped into thematic segments. The author shares selected, carefully garnered and assessed narratives of life events intended to be spiritually healing to those who are ill or who care for the sick.

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Balsamroot

Blew, Mary Clearman

Last Updated: Sep-15-1997
Annotated by:
Dittrich, Lisa

Primary Category: Literature / Nonfiction

Genre: Memoir

Summary:

In Balsamroot, Mary Clearman Blew explores the life story of her beloved aunt, who has recently developed dementia. The memoir artfully interweaves the stories of the author's struggle to cope with her aunt's condition and find the best care for her; her aunt's past as revealed in newly discovered diaries; the author's reconciliation with her estranged daughter; her coming to terms with a broken love relationship from the past (spurred on by her discovery of a thwarted love in her aunt's past).

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Summary:

This is a collection of twenty-six first-hand accounts by women institutionalized in mental hospitals or "asylums" in America between the mid-nineteenth century and the end of World War II. The book is divided into four historical periods, each introduced by the editors with an essay contextualizing the narratives in relation to the history of the psychiatric establishment, and to the roles, perceptions, and experiences of women in American culture.

The accounts are all extracts from works published by the writers, usually as attempts to expose the injustices of the mental health system. Most of the writers are not well known, with the exceptions of the author Charlotte Perkins Gilman and the actress Frances Farmer, whose account concludes the book [see film annotation in this data base: Frances].

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The Island of the Colorblind

Sacks, Oliver

Last Updated: Jul-30-1997
Annotated by:
Coulehan, Jack

Primary Category: Literature / Nonfiction

Genre: Collection (Case Studies)

Summary:

In Book I Oliver Sacks describes his visit to Pingelap and Pohnpei in the Caroline Islands (now a part of the Federated States of Micronesia). On Pingelap (population 700) 5-10% of the people are completely colorblind; i.e. they have a rare hereditary condition called achromatopsia in which the retina has no functional cone cells. Rod cells, which normally provide peripheral and night vision, are their only source of vision. While partial colorblindness is common, achromatopsia is normally very rare. Sacks and Knut Nordby, a Norwegian scientist who is himself achromatopic, examined dozens of achromatopes on Pingelap and in a village of Pingelapese people on the larger Pohnpei.

In Book II Sacks takes the reader to Guam where he investigates (with his friend John Steele, a neurologist who lives on the island) the neurological disease called "lytico-bodig." The "lytico" form of this disease is a progressive paralysis similar to amyotropic lateral sclerosis, while the "bodig" form resembles parkinsonism. Both appeared in Guam after the Second World Way and now seem to be dying out. However, no one has ever determined their cause.

Sacks tells the story of his visit, while also discussing various hypotheses that have been considered and discarded over forty years of study. The last section of the book describes a trip to Rota, a small island north of Guam, where Sacks visits a forest of cycad trees and discusses his life-long fascination with these primitive plants.

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Annotated by:
Willms, Janice

Primary Category: Literature / Nonfiction

Genre: Treatise

Summary:

Showalter identifies clusters of syndromes, or mini-epidemics, which she suggests represent late-twentieth century manifestations of the entity which was called hysteria in nineteenth century western culture. Opening with the history of psychiatry's involvement in hysteria in the time of Charcot and Freud, she traces the replacement of hysteria or conversion reaction by modern hysterical analogues such as: chronic fatigue syndrome, recovered memory, Gulf War syndrome, multiple personality syndrome, satanic ritual abuse, and alien abduction.

In separate chapters she examines each of these entities--how it presents, how it fits into her theory of mass hysteria as a cultural response to the millennium, and how it is being handled by health care professionals. Showalter contends that "Redefining hysteria as a universal human response to emotional conflict is a better course than evading, denying, or projecting its realities." (p. 17)

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Chekhov. A Biography

Simmons, Ernest

Last Updated: Jul-22-1997
Annotated by:
Coulehan, Jack

Primary Category: Literature / Nonfiction

Genre: Biography

Summary:

A comprehensive and quite readable biography of Anton Chekhov (1860-1904) by an eminent scholar of Russian literature. Five aspects of Chekhov’s life (as presented here) stand out as particularly interesting: First, the central importance to Chekhov of his self-image as a physician, even in the latter part of his career when he had given up the regular practice of medicine.

Second, the theme of philanthropy (especially in medical and educational areas) that runs through his entire life. For example, even while he was dying of tuberculosis himself, Chekhov was still actively involved in raising money to build a tuberculosis sanitarium at Yalta for poor writers. Third, the fascinating portrait of a person who was extremely compassionate and emotional, yet very reserved and reluctant to express his feelings to others, even to close friends.

Fourth, his long denial (even to himself, perhaps) that he suffered from tuberculosis, even though the diagnosis must have been medically obvious. For example, he began having episodes of coughing up blood as early as 1887 or 1888. Fifth, Chekhov’s fascinating decision to marry Olga Knipper (1901) at a time when he was already gravely ill and an invalid, after having shown no interest in matrimony (and a generally flippant attitude in his relationships with female friends) throughout his adult life.

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Annotated by:
McEntyre, Marilyn

Primary Category: Literature / Nonfiction

Genre: Biography

Summary:

This lively biography is a work of love based on newspaper accounts and an abundance of local anecdotes about "Doc Susie," Susan Anderson, who received her M.D. from the University of Michigan in 1907, and who maintained a single-handed rural practice in the almost inaccessible heights of the Rockies from shortly after her training was completed to 1956. She lived to tell a great many stories about arduous and ill-equipped visits to out-of-the-way sites in lumber camps and makeshift farmhouses in several feet of snow through dangerous mountain passes.

After her death at the age of 90 in 1960 her survivors added their recollections to the body of lore. An authentic hero tale about what made it worth her while to withstand tuberculosis, unreliable transportation and supplies, impoverished patients, snow, and solitude, this book may remind readers of a quality of "gumption" that is one of the still admirable aspects of the American pioneer legacy.

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