Showing 91 - 100 of 204 annotations in the genre "Memoir"

Annotated by:
Shafer, Audrey

Primary Category: Literature / Nonfiction

Genre: Memoir

Summary:

John Grogan's best selling memoir of his and his family's life with an exuberant, loving Labrador retriever pup that grew into an overly boisterous ninety-seven pound member of the family chronicles the joys and tribulations of dog ownership. Particularly, of Marley ownership. Marley flunked obedience school, required tranquilizers to tolerate thunder storms, destroyed possessions and jumped on people, to name a few traits.

The young married couple adopted Marley before they had children. The reader learns of the pregnancies and births of the Grogan's three children, including a miscarriage, ‘performance failure' during sex timed to ovulation, and an episode of post-partum depression, with an eye to what Marley was up to during that phase of family life, and especially how he responded to his owners' emotional states. Marley's protective stance towards not only the children, but also to a knifing victim in the neighborhood and to Grogan himself when he was struck by lightning, proved the dog's loyalty and devotion.

Marley lived a full life; as he aged, his hearing, sight and mobility worsened. He required emergency abdominal surgery at an old age, recuperated, but then suffered the same stomach bloat and twist problem again.

Grogan, a newspaper columnist, decided, after a period of intense grief, to write an article about Marley. "‘No one ever called him a great dog - or even a good dog. He was as wild as a banshee and as strong as a bull. He crashed joyously through life with a gusto most often associated with natural disasters...' There was more to him than that, however... ‘He taught me to appreciate the simple things...And as he grew old and achy, he taught me about optimism in the face of adversity. Mostly, he taught me about friendship and selflessness and, above all else, unwavering loyalty.'" (p. 279)

The column generated an avalanche of responses; fellow owners of bad yet lovable dogs wrote to the newspaper of their own experiences. These responses were cathartic to Grogan as he and his family learned to live without Marley, the dog who had taught them all so much: "the art of unqualified love." (p. 287)

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Summary:

In this compelling memoir, Grace, a writer, artist and teacher, unexpectedly finds herself attracted to a carpenter, Howard Staab, whom she meets when looking at a new home. Shortly after their relationship begins, Staab is told in a routine physical examination that he has severe mitral valve regurgitation and will require surgery. Staab, an active, otherwise healthy fifty-three year-old man, has no health insurance. The cardiac surgery will cost over $200,000. Thus Staab and Grace embark on a quest to find an affordable, but excellent surgeon and hospital. Grace details her efforts to find the best care possible, including correspondence with her son, Bryan, a Stanford medical student with interests in international health. These inquiries lead to the possibility of surgery in India.

After a useful, explanatory preface the book begins when Staab and Grace land in New Delhi and enter the Escorts Heart Institute. Staab undergoes a series of tests confirming the need for surgery, which is subsequently performed by Dr. Naresh Trehan. Through Grace's eyes, we also meet nurses, aides, other physicians, administrators and friends. The narrative follows the hospitalization, including dramatic complications and eventual recovery, and also backtracks to better detail the search for care and the predicament of un- and underinsured Americans. Grace also describes the post-hospital phase, including venturing out beyond hospital and hotel walls.

The book, highlighting the fact that Grace and Staab face more than one cultural challenge in this journey, contains both a medical terms glossary and a short list of Hindi terms. Ultimately, Grace concludes she would consider returning to Escorts or a similar hospital should she or a loved-one require surgery, even without the insurance issue. She states: "India, the land of contradictions. Organized chaos. A third-world country with first-world state-of-the-art medical care available for a fraction of the cost of the same procedures here in the U.S." (p. 259)

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Just Breathe Normally

Shumaker, Peggy

Last Updated: Sep-18-2007
Annotated by:
Davis, Cortney

Primary Category: Literature / Nonfiction

Genre: Memoir

Summary:

Author and teacher Peggy Shumaker was involved in an unexpected and terrible biking accident.  Out of that accident and her following slow recovery she has crafted a remarkable memoir---one that both examines her interactions with the medical community and her family and charts her return from disability---in short essay-like chapters, individual memories that comprise and inform her life before and after illness.  Reading these gem-like pieces, I could imagine her, in the process of recovery, having time and patience to look back at family, friends, custom and community in order to recreate who she was before and who she would be after her accident.  The longest of these "chapters" is several pages; the shortest, only a few sentences.  There is no table of contents guiding readers through the six sections of this book---and how could there be, as the book itself reflects the healing mind as it searches for continuity in the midst of disruption. 

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Running with Scissors

Burroughs, Augusten

Last Updated: Sep-03-2007
Annotated by:
Shafer, Audrey

Primary Category: Literature / Nonfiction

Genre: Memoir

Summary:

This memoir chronicles the pre-adolescent and adolescent years of the author, the son of an alcoholic, abusive mathematics professor father and a psychotic Anne Sexton-wannabe confessional poet mother. The only family member who does not abuse the boy in any way is estranged--an older brother with Asperger’s syndrome. Meanwhile, the amount of trauma to which young Burroughs is subjected boggles the mind. Just when one thinks it couldn’t get any worse, it does.

Burroughs, who loves bright, shiny, orderly things, also likes doctors--paragons of cleanliness, virtue and wealth. Unfortunately, his mother’s psychiatrist, Dr. Finch, described as a charismatic Santa Claus-look-alike, is unethical, bizarre and squalid. As Mrs. Burroughs becomes more and more dependent on Finch, she allows her son to be adopted into the crazy Finch household.

This family includes wife Agnes, who copes with her husband’s infidelity by sweeping madly; son Jeff, daughters Kate, Anne, Vickie, Hope and Natalie; grandson Poo; and adopted son, Neil Bookman, who is twenty years older than Burroughs and homosexual. When Burroughs is thirteen, and has told Bookman that he, too, is gay, Bookman forces the boy to have oral sex. They become lovers.

The Finches, meanwhile, exhibit their quirks and weird tendencies in multiple ways. "Bible-dipping" is popular to read the future, as is prophesying by examining Dr. Finch’s turds. A patient with agoraphobia, Joranne, lives in one of the rooms--in fact, she has not left the room in two years. Young Burroughs is allowed to smoke and drink. When Burroughs says he doesn’t want to return to school, Dr. Finch facilitates this desire by giving Burroughs alcohol and pills to fake a suicide gesture, then hospitalizes the boy.

Yet Burroughs manages to befriend a couple of the Finch daughters, and to survive his childhood. The book closes with his departure for New York City and with an epilogue outlining various people’s outcomes. Finch lost his license due to insurance fraud.

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This is a gripping and poignant account of newsman Bob Woodruff’s brain injury and recovery. He was injured in Iraq by a roadside bomb on January 29, 2006, shortly after being named co-anchor for ABC’s World News Tonight. A public figure—even a celebrity—his injury and recovery were well publicized, bringing to light the injuries of many kinds suffered by soldiers (not to mention civilians) in war-torn Iraq. Woodruff received every benefit American military medicine could offer and had impressive support of ABC and various luminaries. He made a spectacular recovery against all odds.

The book is mostly told by Lee Woodruff, Bob’s wife, who flew to Germany on a moment’s notice to see him at the Landstuhl Military Hospital, who waited 36 days for him to wake up, who saw the CT scan with rocks embedded in his head, who managed their four children and household during the long recovery time, and who writes vividly and personably. There are also flashbacks about the lives of Lee and Bob, truly a remarkable couple: their courtship, their time in China and London, their decision to use a surrogate mother to have their second two children.

Bob himself contributes pages, before and long after the accident. Thirty-one photos, both black and white and in color, enliven the text. One photo shows the interior of a critical Care Air Transport Team, a C-17 cargo plane outfitted like an ICU to transport wounded soldiers.  Throughout, the costs of warfare on people, society, materials, and land (not to mention dollars) is dramatically evident.

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The Village Watchman

Williams, Terry Tempest

Last Updated: Aug-14-2007

Primary Category: Literature / Nonfiction

Genre: Memoir

Summary:

This is a short piece, a scant twelve pages, in which Williams remembers Alan, an uncle who had mental deficits. During his breech birth, Alan’s brain was starved of oxygen. In the dominant American culture, Alan is called “retarded, handicapped, mentally disabled or challenged.” Williams concludes, “We see them for who they are not, rather than for who they are.” (p. 29) The title of the work refers to an Alaskan totem pole figure whose expression reminds her of Alan. In Tlingit culture, there’s a story of a kidnapped boy who lived with the Salmon People. When he returned twenty years later, he was seen as a holy man, not an “abnormal.”

To the young Terry Tempest, Alan demonstrated enthusiasm and spontaneity, for example bowling with reckless glee, regardless of where the ball went. When she asked him how he was feeling, he said, “very happy and very sad,” explaining that “both require each other’s company.” (p. 31) She liked his direct answers, those of a person we sometimes call a wise fool. Later, he lived in a “training school,” a joyless, ugly, and smelly place where abnormal children in Utah were sent and warehoused. Suffering from epilepsy, he wore a football helmet to protect him from sudden falls.

At age 22, Alan made the choice to be baptized into the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints. Williams describes the ceremony and how the family supported him through it (including yet another violent epileptic episode). When Alan died at age 28, Williams was 18. Looking at the totem pole, she remembers Alan, seeing him for who he truly was.

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Annotated by:
Shafer, Audrey

Primary Category: Literature / Nonfiction

Genre: Memoir

Summary:

Dr. Pauline Chen is a transplant surgeon and hence highly trained in the surgical care of desperately ill patients. She found, however, that although she had intensive and first rate training, time and again the message she received from her mentors and peers encouraged a distance from frank discussions about dying with patients who were clearly dying. Dr. Chen successfully suppressed her urges to reflect on the meaning of illness and death. Years into her training, she finally witnessed an attending surgeon stay with a patient and the patient's wife until the patient passed away. The widow sent a thank you note to Dr. Chen for allowing a "dignified and peaceful death." (p. 101) Chen notes that observing her attending stand with the patient during death changed her profoundly: "...from that moment on, I would believe that I could do something more than cure. This narrative, then, is my acknowledgment to him." (p. 101)

Final Exam chronicles Chen's journey from medical student to attending surgeon and examines her experiences with death and serious illness - of patients, family members, friends. The memoir contains three parts: Principles, Practice, and Reappraisal - each with three chapters. The book is chronologically arranged, beginning with anatomy dissection at the start of medical school and ending with Chen as an attending arranging for hospice, thus honoring a patient's desire to die at home rather than in hospital. Chen skillfully weaves her stories around commentary on the social, cultural and philosophical issues surrounding death and the medical response to death. An introduction and epilogue bookend the text and 46 pages of extensive notes and bibliography complete the book.

Although Chen claims to have slowly and painfully awakened to the fact that patient needs extend well beyond good technical care, in fact one sees Chen emerge as a caring physician even from her initial patient contacts in medical school. Chen speaks more to her role as an Asian-American than to being a woman in a male-dominated field, but she clearly has what it takes to succeed in this extremely competitive field, including a good dose of compulsiveness and an incredible work ethic.

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About Alice

Trillin, Calvin

Last Updated: Mar-29-2007
Annotated by:
Wear, Delese

Primary Category: Literature / Nonfiction

Genre: Memoir

Summary:

This slim volume is Calvin Trillin’s tribute to his wife Alice, not only his muse and his first and most critical reader but also a figure well known to his readers. First written as a long essay in The New Yorker, the book is a slightly expanded version that chronicles their relationship, their family life, her many and varied interests, her illness—lung cancer—that first appeared in 1976, and her death in 2001 waiting in the heart failure unit of a hospital, her heart having been damaged by the radiation treatment 25 years before.

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Reading Lolita in Tehran

Nafisi, Azar

Last Updated: Feb-15-2007
Annotated by:
Duffin, Jacalyn

Primary Category: Literature / Nonfiction

Genre: Memoir

Summary:

The author reminisces about her experiences teaching English literature in Iran before, during, and after the revolution and the Iran-Iraq war. Chronology is not important and the book opens near the end of her sojourn in Tehran. A small group of young women who met when they were University students gather in her home to read and discuss English literature. They wear western clothes, remove their veils, and eat sweets. Some have been in prison. They conceal their simple purpose from fathers, husbands, brothers, because their gathering to read Western fiction would be construed as an act of defiance.

In four sections, two named for twentieth-century novels and two for nineteenth-century authors--"Lolita," "Gatsby," "James," and "Austen"--Nafisi constructs a series of flashbacks that describe the events of late 1970s to the 1990s in the inner and outer world of an academic woman. The books and writers used in the section headings have walk-on parts or starring roles that jar in this ostensibly alien context. Yet, they work surprisingly well for the women students, stimulating them to think in new ways about the situation in which they find themselves. Conversely, as the students assimilate the English and American writers into their world, we learn more about their Iran.

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Down from Troy

Selzer, Richard

Last Updated: Jan-05-2007
Annotated by:
Coulehan, Jack

Primary Category: Literature / Nonfiction

Genre: Memoir

Summary:

Richard Selzer’s memoir is subtitled “A Doctor Comes of Age.” The book is structured around childhood memories, interspersed with stories from more recent times. Selzer’s father, a general practitioner in Troy, New York, serves as the focal point for most of his early memories--a commanding figure of warmth and goodness in his son’s life: “If I have failed to describe father… it is because none of his features did him justice. I should have had to mention wings in order to do that.” (p. 152)

While his father brought science into Selzer’s life, his mother represented the world of art. She was an amateur singer with a “small pure soprano voice” (p. 15), as well as being the doctor’s wife. After the doctor’s death from a massive heart attack when Selzer was 12 years old, his mother had numerous suitors, at least some of whom she eventually married. When he went to college, she began a life-long practice of writing her younger son (Selzer has an older brother William) weekly letters, including such advice as “Rise and flee the reeling faun,” “You do not take enough chances” and “You must learn to be absurd.” (p.227)

Toward the end of Down from Troy, Selzer writes of his parents, “Of all the satisfactions of my life, the greatest is that I have at last fulfilled each of their ambitions.” (p. 251) This is in reference to his having practiced both surgery and writing. He goes on to enumerate the many unexpected similarities between the two professions. The book ends with a narrative that brings together narrative and medicine, the story of a retired surgeon who reaches out to help a young man dying of AIDS.

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