“I do not think these many self-help efforts, as important as they are, can conceivably prevent these outcomes on more than a very limited scale and always in quite special situations, and I even feel a bit bewildered that a point like this needs to be made in the United States in 1995.” page 163
Amazing Grace: The Lives of Children and the Conscience of a Nation by Jonathan Kozol. Perennial, HarperCollins, New York, first published 1995, my edition 2000. Adult non-fiction, 286 pages. Not leveled. NOTE: There are many books with the title Amazing Grace. Also, the initial note explains that there are some differences between editions – I read the paperback version.
A sociological narrative of how drug use and AIDs, among other things, impacted one community.
Kozol attempts to cover many topics within these few hundred pages, touching on racism, classism, AIDs, poverty cycles, medical inequalities, drugs, politics, systemic injustice, religion, childhood, environmental racism, the justice system, hunger, bureaucracy, homelessness, cancer, and other topics. Needless to say, he doesn’t cover all of them fully.
This book and the vast popularity of it on initial publication likely informed many of the more recent, better coverage of these topics, and for that I am grateful. But Kozol meanders through many things without ever making any points, or systematically documenting any particular issue. It’s neither commentary nor journalism, and surely not academia.
“And I think, what must it be like to be raised by well-meaning strangers who may love you but who do not speak your language, or know who you are, or have anything but an outsider’s intellectualized and generalized understanding of your culture and people, and of your life for that matter.” page 76
In a Rocket Made of Ice: the Story of Wat Opot, a Visionary Community for Children Growing Up with AIDS by Gail Gutradt.
My edition Vintage Books, Penguin Random House, New York, 2015 (originally published 2013).
Nonfiction/memoir, 322 pages.
Traveling retiree Gail Gutradt made a chance connection that sent her to volunteer in this community with an initial five-month commitment. The experience was so moving that she returns again and again, finding a deep love for Cambodia and a personal passion for improving the lives of children affected by HIV/AIDs.
Notice I say “children affected by”, not “children with”, because that’s one of the interesting parts about Wat Opot – the community is open to any children and many adults whose lives have been affected, whether they themselves are positive, a sibling or parent is, or if one or both parents have died from AIDs. That’s an important aspect of this community surviving in Cambodia, where family connections are crucial – families can stay together, dying parents can know that their children are well cared for and gently transition them, and siblings are not separated based on HIV status.
“Mollie was one of the last people to see Anna before she vanished.” p. 8
Killers of the Flower Moon: The Osage Murders and the Birth of the FBI by David Grann.
Vintage Books, Penguin Random House, New York, 2017. Originally published Doubleday, 2016.
Nonfiction, 377 pages including notes and bibliography.
Lexile: 1160L .
AR Level: 8.8 (worth 14.0 points) .
Through an unusual turn of events, in the 1920s the Osage people became astonishingly rich. Unable to stomach an autonomous American Indian tribe, the United States government appointed “guardians” who would watch over their every purchase, and white settlers moved in to the area with ridiculously overpriced goods and services. And then came the murders. Many were focused around one family, and the FBI eventually got involved in their case.
Normally I read books about more Northern tribes because that’s where we live and travel most often, but after passing through Oklahoma, the Osage interested me. If you are looking for a book about the Osage, this one keeps coming up, so when I saw it at Target I decided to give it a try.
“Nursing homes have come a long way from the firetrap warehouses of neglect they used to be. But it seems we’ve succumbed to a belief that, once you lose your physical independence, a life of worth and freedom is simply not possible.” p. 75
Being Mortal: Medicine and What Matters in the End by Atul Gawande.
Metropolitan Books, Henry Holt & Co, New York, 2014.
Nonfiction, 282 pages.
Because his parents both immigrated to America from India, Gawande didn’t have much first-hand experience with aging or mortality – the elderly members of his family were a continent away, being cared for by others. He certainly didn’t learn much about it from his medical school classes. Then he came face-to-face with the reality of American aging through his grandmother-in-law and patients, and decided to raise some questions about end of life-care and the meaning of life, and death.
Gawande has an interesting perspective on mortality and his second-generation-immigrant perspective gave him an insight into other methods of dealing with age that helped him turn a critical eye on how we deal with it here in America. This book reminded me of Another Day in the Death of America in that way – it takes a subject that most Americans wouldn’t even think twice about, and presents it to everyday readers.
“To him it was his highest obligation and a duty of his faith to educate his children so that they could share their knowledge and serve their communities.” page 27
The Dressmaker of Khair Khana: Five Sisters, One Remarkable Family, and the Woman Who Risked Everything to Keep Them Safe by Gayle Tzemach Lemmon.
Harper Perennial, Harper Collins, New York, 2012 (first published 2011).
Nonfiction, 270 pages including extras.
Lexile: 1090L .
AR Level: not leveled
The story of one young woman and her five sisters who stayed in Kabul and started a home dressmaking business under Taliban rule that not only provided for their family, but also allowed them to teach other women sewing and positioned them to be leaders in Afghanistan’s economy.
I’d been traveling and was hoping to visit a specialty gift shop to pick up some diverse books, only to find it closed, so I found a nearby library. The library wasn’t so diverse, but had extremely cheap books, so I purchased a bunch for under $1 total, including this one.
“I have come to believe that her life was ruined not by septic shock or noncompliant parents but by cross-cultural misunderstanding.” page 262
The Spirit Catches You and You Fall Down by Anne Fadiman.
Farrar, Straus, and Giroux, New York, my edition 1998 (first published 1997).
Nonfiction, 341 pages +reader’s guide.
This is the story of a severely epileptic Hmong girl and the family and doctors who wanted what was best for her but disagreed about what that was. It’s also the story of the Hmong people in America, and their experiences with the medical establishment.
This is technically a re-read. However, I didn’t remember much, so it was like reading a new book. The primary story in this book is Lia’s life and the friction between her family and the medical staff caring for her, but it has a wide scope.
“On the few occasions when someone did challenge the study directly, a defender invariably pointed out how long it had been going on, how much work the PHS had invested, and how science would benefit if the study continued.” page 173
Bad Blood: The Tuskegee Syphilis Experiment (New and Expanded Edition) by James H. Jones.
The Free Press, Simon and Schuster, New York, 1981, my edition 1993 expanded reprint.
Adult non-fiction, 297 pages including notes and index.
The true story of the Tuskegee syphilis experiment reads like a work of fiction.
Normally I don’t read horror, but I’ll make an exception for non-fiction. This was a chilling read, made all the more horrific by the fact that it occurred in my own country in the fairly recent past. Sadly, some accounts of the racism and prejudice present in this study read like they could be happening today.
“Yet here she was, three months later, with a full-fledged tumor. Either her doctors had missed it during her last exams – which seemed impossible – or it had grown at a terrifying rate.” page 17
The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks by Rebecca Skloot.
Broadway Books, Crown Publishing Group, Penguin Random House, New York, 2010.
My edition 2011, some portions published as early as 2000.
Nonfiction, 381 pages including notes, index, and reading group guide.
Lexile: 1140L .
AR Level: 8.0 (worth 18.0 points) .
Henrietta Lacks had an usual type of cancer. Cells from this cancer were able to become the first immortal cell line and have been invaluable to many scientific discoveries and advancements in the past century. But Henrietta was also a working-class black woman whose family was not informed of the existence of this cell line, and who died misdiagnosed. This book manages to tell three stories: the story of Henrietta and the Lacks family, the story of her famous and scientifically important cells, and the story of the reporter’s own experiences interacting with the family.
The movie tie-in cover tricked me. I needed to grab a Target pick quickly, so I grabbed this book without realizing it was one I had flagged as do not purchase/obtain from friend or library. As you can tell, reading this book was something I was conflicted about, and after finishing it, I remain deeply conflicted and uncertain if I can recommend it (though I know a great deal more about the HeLa controversies than I did before reading this).