Friday, June 1, 2018

Review: Washington Square

Washington Square Washington Square by Henry James
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

I have only just discovered the writing of Henry James. I simply could not put this book down. There are only a handful of writers who can so successfully travel through a man or a woman's unspoken thoughts ..... thoughts of propriety, impropriety, foolish hopes, devious schemes, love and detestation. It is a book about what is never said as much as it is a book about what is said which should never be said. It describes the many little deaths we will experience as others trifle with us and as we deny ourselves moments of heroic change. It is almost miraculous to me that someone has captured the infinite inscrutability of those who live a life of the mind, rather than a life of more concrete stuffs.
I loved this book.

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Review: Berlin Alexanderplatz

Berlin Alexanderplatz Berlin Alexanderplatz by Alfred Döblin
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

Stylistically, not really my cup of tea. I have read so many other reviews all singing this book's praises. I don't get it. I have read in several places that this is "an important work". I don't get this either.

It is original, I'll give it that. It also has an artistic backbone which is very clever, so I liked that. Finally, it is an effective slice of history of the Weimar Republic. It does a good job revealing the underbelly of Berlin in the late 1920's.

However, I found myself yearning for a single declarative sentence. Maybe a little more punctuation, so you know who is speaking? The stream of consciousness thing doesn't work in a novel. Fine for poetry...but it gets cumbersome when there are chapters and chapters of it. As a reader, I felt I had to work too hard throughout to figure out what was going on.

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Review: All the Light We Cannot See

All the Light We Cannot See All the Light We Cannot See by Anthony Doerr
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Be prepared to lose some sleep - I know I did. I just could not close the book, no matter how word-drenched I felt. The story is a little bit of everything: historical fiction, beach read, magical, honest, way more than a beach read, love story, philosophy. Doerr does a spectacular job in "keeping it real". He does not address evil and kindness straight-on. Both are ever-present. Both take their fair share from the lives in the story. Life is like this. It tore at me, though. I'll remember it for a very long time.

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Thursday, January 4, 2018

Review: The Heart Is a Lonely Hunter

The Heart Is a Lonely Hunter The Heart Is a Lonely Hunter by Carson McCullers
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

I don’t know what to say about this book. I felt I had to read it; the received wisdom is that it’s one of those “important” books, and I am on a mission to read older, “important” books.

Maybe I’m too plain-thinking. Maybe I failed to spend my time noting the metaphors, political rhetoric, philosophical delineations, allusions and foreshadowings. Or maybe I was simply pierced by the utter annihilation of hope which stained every page, and so I missed all the literary stuff.

I want so much to praise this young author, only 22 when she wrote it! I guess I should have waited a few weeks to write this review, because right now I find that my own human inclination to say and think nice things has been temporarily garroted by the enormity of the sadness in this year-long slice of life in the deep South during the Depression.

Pain which is merely observed is, actually, journalistic. But pain shared is something different. There were times in my life when the 65 cent Septa bus fares were carefully set into piles for the week and without those neat little stacks, I could go nowhere. Do nothing. One financial misstep of a mere 65 cents had some serious consequences. I guess I was poor, but I did not know it. That’s because I had hope.

I cannot find the hope in this book. The privations of the people (of all colors) who live in these pages is immortal. Their impoverishment has an eternal pall. Is that the point our young author intended to make? If one has never, ever had a close encounter with poverty, I guess this would be an important book to read for the cultural literacy, etc.

The plot is clumsy at times, probably because the author wants to make a broader point on “the human condition” and she is contriving the events rather obviously to this end. The characters are very skillfully developed, but the dull torpor of their intractable hardships was enervating.

I don’t know if I agree that this is a “very important book”. I know that it is a very sad one.

My star ratings have to do with how much a book made me think, hence, the four stars here.

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Tuesday, December 19, 2017

Review: The Thirteenth Tale

The Thirteenth Tale The Thirteenth Tale by Diane Setterfield
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Reading: I gather up many words, through eyes or ears or both, while neurons put them in neat little rows with appropriate starts and stops. Thoughts and understanding result.

Reading The Thirteenth Tale: I am clobbered by the gusts of language so uncommonly perfect that there grows in my mind an anticipatory thermogenesis so potent that it partitions my heart between real life and the life breathing through each page.

This is an eerie story of both terrible scars and wounds open still, but the author’s elegance is so immense that it feels like a privilege and a luxury to hear it told and to imagine the iniquities it reveals.

This author’s devotion to the written word – her worshipful bearings to works of great literature which she blends into every aspect of this tale - is something the faithful reader will never, ever forget.


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Friday, December 8, 2017

Review: The Constant Gardener

The Constant Gardener The Constant Gardener by John le Carré
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

OK, here we go. The main topics are:

* greedy, ruthless pharmaceutical company
* savage, profit-drivien big multinational corporation
* gutless, power-hungry government bureaucrats (both British and Kenyan)
* brave, do-gooder, whistle-blowers

It was a very well-crafted story. I especially appreciated the immaculate sentences - almost all spoken by Justin. An artful who-done-it right up to the last 50 pages, I never thought about putting it down, although I grew weary of the sheer number of characters. It was fun to have so many tangential dramas for the first half of the book. I suffered from sub-plot-fatigue in the second half of the book.

It made me want to see Kenya, though. The descriptions were pastoral, poetic and perverse and at some point I think I actually tasted the heat from the dry, cracked earth.

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Tuesday, November 28, 2017

Review: The End of Alzheimer's: The First Program to Prevent and Reverse Cognitive Decline

The End of Alzheimer's: The First Program to Prevent and Reverse Cognitive Decline The End of Alzheimer's: The First Program to Prevent and Reverse Cognitive Decline by Dale Bredesen
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Before summarizing Dr. Bredesen’s matchless research on treatment protocols for aggressive cognitive decline, I need to recap where we stand as a country in the face of this disease, which threatens the stability of our medical systems, our communities, and our family units.

We all know someone who has survived cancer, but no one knows a single person who has survived Alzheimer’s. There is no treatment for it. After a diagnosis, there is a clear message conveyed – You are not going to get better. This is the beginning of the end. It will probably be awful.

In America, only two medications are currently prescribed to “slow the decline of neural degeneration”. (Everything else offered is a knock-out pill of one kind or another.) If you know someone in the throes of neural degeneration, you also know that slowing things down and prolonging the exquisite decimation of this human being’s neural real estate, is no blessing.

No new Alzheimer’s drug has been approved since 2003. That’s 15 years of nothing. We are making great strides in cancer and in molecular biology, generally. Meanwhile, death by dementia is rapidly increasing. It robs victims of their humanity – sometimes over decades – it terrorizes and bankrupts their families, and we have no effective treatment. What? While the technology industry makes startling advances in Artificial Intelligence almost weekly, we have stood by and watched the human intelligence of our seniors wither away appallingly. This situation seems ghoulish to me.

You have likely heard neuro-specialists parroting the amyloid plaque hypothesis. In fact, only those toeing the amyloid line can get funding for their research. Meanwhile, amyloid plaque is also found in the brains of perfectly healthy individuals. Amyloid is only one piece of a very complicated puzzle. Scientists and doctors investigating the root causes of cognitive decline and braving the icy waters of non-amyloid based research are mostly ignored.

In this book, Dr. Bredesen addresses the other pieces of the dementia puzzle and lays out his protocol, which has helped many hundreds of people reverse their cognitive decline.

This book is 70% understandable to the average reader (like me) and 30% rather technical and sciencey. There were two chapters I had to read twice and, yes, I took notes. His protocol is rooted in lots of common sense but there are many supplements he recommends, after the patient has had extensive blood work done so that there is a detailed, personalized blueprint of the patient’s overall metabolic flexibility (or lack thereof). He connects his reader with support groups (which I have visited) where extensive help is offered in determining your cognitive health – he calls this a “cognoscopy”.

My best take-aways:

1. Exercise almost every day. Sweat. Make it count. 30 to 45 minutes. This stimulates BDNF (brain-derived neurotrophic factor) which supports new neuron growth.
2. Stop eating sugar. It is poison for neurons.
3. Protect your sleep. 7 to 8 hours of quality sleep is imperative.
4. Vitamin D3!!! Take it. (Or, be outside in the sun without sunblock every day, if possible. No, not for hours. No, don’t let yourself fry.)
5. Fresh, organic vegetables with every single meal, and lots of them.
6. Lots of good fat – coconut oil, avocados, fatty fish (like salmon), nuts, and grass fed beef or chicken, but in small servings
7. Eliminate gluten.
8. Get your BMI in a good range.
9. Exercise your brain by challenging yourself, move around throughout the day, and get out and socialize.

The supplementation he recommends is rather extensive and it is keyed to your health blueprint. You need to follow through on extensive bloodwork in order to know exactly how much inflammation your body (hence your brain) is dealing with and where you stand with insulin sensitivity. These two things – inflammation and insulin senstitivity – are dire enemies of cognitive health. And environmental toxins….he spends plenty of time talking about this, too.

He urges those with cognitive decline to try to maintain a mild state of ketosis by eating lots of fat, some protein, but very little carbs. This makes the brain use fat as its main source of energy, which optimizes cognitive health. This is a widely-accepted practice and many people without any cognitive decline at all eat a ketogenic diet for better performance in life.

Dr. Bredesen’s entire program is called ReCODE (Reversing Cognitive Decline). His results, which he details in the book, have been astounding. I have personally joined some of the online groups using his protocol – it is the real deal. It does not look easy. It looks like a big commitment. It looks like work.

In chatting with one of my kids about this, he said: “Well, easy choices – hard life. Hard choices – easy life. Right?” Right….

If someone you love is battling cognitive decline, read this book. Do not wait for a new drug because anything new is going to be targeting only ONE of the many things which cause cognitive decline. You want a solution with addresses the whole mess.   Acting early has changed the outcome for many.


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