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text 2018-12-30 00:02
24 Festive Tasks: Door 19 - Festivus, Task 1 (Airing of Grievances)
The Red Queen - Margaret Drabble
The Rise and Fall of the Dinosaurs: A New History of a Lost World - Stephen Brusatte
Get Well Soon: History's Worst Plagues and the Heroes Who Fought Them - Jennifer Wright
The Lady Vanishes - Ethel Lina White
The Cutout - Francine Mathews
The Lake District Murder - John Bude
Candy Cane Murder - Leslie Meier,Laura Levine,Joanne Fluke,Suzanne Toren

I've been blessed with a pretty amazing reading year in which disappointments were few and far between -- so it was fortunately not difficult at all to spot the small number of candidates for my "grievances" list when scrolling back through my BookLikes shelves.  They are / were, in no particular order (except for no. 1):

 

Margaret Drabble: The Red Queen

Pretentious, artificial, historically incorrect and, most of all, monumentally self-involved.  If this is the type of book that Drabble's sister A.S. Byatt criticizes under the byword "faction", then I'm with Byatt all the way -- and that statement is far from a given where Byatt's own fiction is concerned.  Someday I'll seek out the actual memoirs of the Crown Princess whose story inspired this poor excuse for a novel.  I doubt I'll go anywhere near Drabble's writing again anytime soon, however.

Original review HERE.

 

Stephen Brusatte: The Rise and Fall of the Dinosaurs

Speaking of monumentally self-involved, this wasn't much better than Drabble's book in that particular department.  It does contain the actual bit of paleonthological information, but that bit is essentially hidden between tales of Steve the Great and his almost-as-great famous friends and acquaintances, as well as Brusatte's pet theories -- pun not intended -- and a lot of generalization on subjects that don't necessarily lend themselves to same.  (Also, Brusatte obviously loves T-Rex ... and his obsession with the Rex's "puny arms" has me wondering about the wider psychological implications of Brusatte's fascination with the big bad  boys (and girls) of dino-dom.)

Original review HERE.

 

Jennifer Wright: Get Well Soon

Our third candidate under the "monumentally self-involved" header.  Leaving aside that the book's subtitle ("History's Worst Plagues and the Heroes Who Fought Them") is a complete misnomer, this, too, is chiefly about the bright and sparky Ms. Wright and her opinions, frequently at best shallow research, and largely inappropriate oh-so-clever (NOT) quips, asides, and pop culture references.  At least two of the "plagues" mentioned in the book actually are not epidemics at all (which shows that indeterminate "medical horrors" is what Wright was truly after), and on the epidemics that do get mentioned, entire chapters of medical research and the world-renowned scientists chiefly responsible for that research don't even get so much as a passing mention.  Virtually the book's only saving grace was Wright's stance against anti-vaxxers and similar superstitious nonsense -- the sum total of which, however, would easily have fit into one of the magazine articles that Wright produces when she's not pretending she is a science writer.

Original review HERE.

 

Ethel Lina White: The Lady Vanishes

One of the rare examples where I like the movie adaptation (by the one and only Alfred Hitchcock, no less) vastly better than the literary original.  "Woman in peril" stories aren't my cup of tea to begin with, but leaving aside that I rather like Hitch's spin on the conspiracy at the heart of the book, most of all, the two protagonists (Margaret Lockwood's Iris and her "knight in shining armour", portrayed by Michael Redgrave in the movie) come across as much more likeable and believable in the screen version -- the guy in particular is nothing more than a pretentious prick in the book, for however much he's supposed to be the Hero and Iris's big savior and love interest.  All in all, Hitchcock elevated what seems to amount at best to B movie material on paper into one of his early masterpieces -- no small feat on his part.

Original review HERE.

 

Francine Matthews: The Cutout

Not strictly a disappointment, as I was a bit skeptical going in anyway; however, it had an interesting premise and started well and thus got my hopes up to a certain extent -- only to deflate them pretty thoroughly, alas, before it had really gotten going.  Totalitarian political machinations in a post-collapse-of-the-Wall Europe may have sounded interesting when the book was written in the early 2000s -- and sound even more up-to-date these days, in fact -- but it would have required a different writer to pull this off convincingly.  Matthews has no understanding of Germany, German society and politics, nor that of the Eastern European countries where her book is set (if she ever lived in Berlin or any of the book's other main locations, she obviously had virtually zero interactions with anybody other than her American intelligence colleagues), and unfortunately, name-dropping half a street atlas' worth of names of tourist sites and major traffic arteries is no replacement for a believable reproduction of local atmosphere. Similarly, not one of the characters is anything other than a two-dimensional cipher, and by the time the book reaches its end, it degenerates into the cheapest of cheap spy thriller clichés once and for all.

Original review (of sorts) HERE.

 

Honorable mentions:

(Or would that be "dishonorable mentions"?)

 

John Bude: The Lake District Murder

I already used this for the task of finding something redeeming in an otherwise disappointing book (International Day of Tolerance / Door 6, Task 1), so I won't formally use it again in this particular context -- besides, unlike the five above-mentioned books it didn't actually make me angry ... it just fell flat of what it could have been.

Original review HERE.

 

Joanne Fluke / Laura Levine / Leslie Meier: Candy Cane Murder

A huge disappointment only considering how popular these three ladies' books are (particularly so, Fluke's) -- ultimately, I guess this was nothing more than a confirmation of the fact that cozy mysteries aren't actually my kind of thing (with the sole exception of Donna Andrews's Meg Langslow series).  Of the three entries, Meier's was by far the weakest, but I neither cared particularly for Fluke's nor ultimately for Levine's, either -- though in the sense of "amongst the blind, the one-eyed man is king", Levine's was the strongest entry in an overall weak threesome.

Original review HERE.

 

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review 2018-09-29 00:59
A plague on ALL your houses!
Get Well Soon: History's Worst Plagues and the Heroes Who Fought Them - Jennifer Wright

Previous Updates:

 

Antonine Plague

 

Bubonic Plague

 

Dancing Plague

 

Small Pox

 

Syphilis, Tuberculosis, and Cholera

 

Leprosy, Typhoid, and Spanish Flu

 

 

Encephalitis Lethargica

 

There is still no cure for EL, and its rise and subsequent disappearance is still regarded as something of a mystery.

 

I have heard of this before but only in the obscure and morbidly fascinating sense, think more horror movie than documentary. The unknown-ness of this one draws me and repels me away. Reading about how it affected people's personalities, bodily functions, and sent them into comas is frightening. 

 

If you are interested in following a line of thought on interrelated diseases, though, some scientists today think that EL is related to streptococcal bacteria, so that’s a fun thing to consider when you get strep throat.

 

I have never heard and this and can I just say WHAT?!? Reading about how adult's showed after effects of Postencephalitic Parkinson’s disease which led them to L-dopa as a cure and how it initially worked, the woman waking up from a coma years later and thinking it was early 1940s when it was late 1960s, was wild. I think this "plague" was added to just scare the crap out of everyone as there is still no known cure but I guess it hasn't made any more appearances? This is one I'm going to have to investigate further because how freaking wild that it seems to suddenly appear in 1916 and disappear in 1920s. I guess I'd put my bet on Aliens.

 

Lobotomies 

 

Somewhere between 60 and 80 percent of lobotomies were performed on women, despite a greater percentage of men being institutionalized.

 

This probably shouldn't have been included in a plague book but it is important to discuss, so I'll allow it. I'm against lobotomies, so I had no problem how the author discussed Freeman, the physician behind the start, procedure, and craze of them. The accounts of how he went about them, snipping here and there, until he got the desired amount of not quite comatose in patients, is horrifying and rage inducing. 

 

A charismatic demagogue was elevated and trusted because he was captivating and because researching facts, as well as listening to dull doctors who have done their homework, is hard and time-consuming. 

 

This quote, I can't tell you how much I feel this quote down into my soul right now. Reading about how women who were listed as menopausal or hysterical, by doctors that didn't even converse with them but rather their husbands and given over to Freeman for lobotomies had me fighting tears. This chapter was all about making sure there are committees, watchdogs, or the like in place to stop charismatic, mad medical field individuals from dazzling people with their "science".

 

Polio   

 

Well, herd immunity works for most diseases only if about 80 to 90 percent of the population is vaccinated. With some diseases, like measles, a 95 percent vaccination rate is necessary.

 

Again, vaccinate your kids. 

 

I have to say, I'm not sure I knew Polio came from contaminated water or food, kind of like typhoid. That is how well we eradicated it, I didn't even know what caused it!  The author talked about live virus and killer virus vaccines and the rivalry between Salk and Sabin to get there. I've heard of Salk before because of how he used unwittingly mental health patients for clinical trials, which the author mentioned but after saying he should be considered close to a saint. I'm not quite there on him but I'm a grey shades person and as long as you mention the shitty aspects I don't have a problem stating all the good he also did. Seems wild in today's atmosphere of people dying because the price of their insulin is too much money that he didn't patent his vaccine but I'd like to read more on the legalities of if and how he could have. 

 

My favorite part of this section was the focus on how representation matters and how FDR gave hope and pride to fellow Polio survivors. 

 

 

Those who had AIDS survived because they, like Mr. Crumpton’s No Nose’d Club for syphilitics, founded groups like the Gay Men’s Health Crisis and ACT UP to fight for their right to live. They supported one another. They protested. They yelled. They made people extremely uncomfortable.

 

I'm not a scientist or in the medical field, so there was definitely new information for me to gain from reading this. I went in thinking this was going to be a drier, informative read but realized very early on that my expectations needed to be changed. This is more of a coffee table book where casual readers can just pick it up and learn some interesting facts that will either make them popular on trivia night or send them down a drier text reading rabbit hole. 

 

The author has a sarcastic, pop culture heavy tone that could turn some people off as we discussing real horrible deaths but I'm a bit of a gallows humor gal myself, so except for a couple times, I wasn't put off or offended. I do think the pop culture references are going to date this and age it out of future circulation. 

 

All in all, I learned some facts, was intrigued to research some, and enjoyed this more surface look into diseases. This book is not for experts in the field but the average person could definitely get something out of it. However, if you're an anti-vaxxer, you'd probably get huffy over the author's constant reminder that you should probably reevaluate your thinking (I completely agree with her). 

 

 

 

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review 2018-09-28 05:20
Some Rambling Thoughts: Get Well Soon
Get Well Soon: History's Worst Plagues and the Heroes Who Fought Them - Jennifer Wright

Get Well Soon: History's Worst Plagues and the Heroes Who Fought Them

by Jennifer Wright

 

 

 

A humorous book about history's worst plagues—from the Antonine Plague, to leprosy, to polio—and the heroes who fought them

In 1518, in a small town in France, Frau Troffea began dancing and didn’t stop.  She danced herself to her death six days later, and soon thirty-four more villagers joined her.  Then more.  In a month more than 400 people had died from the mysterious dancing plague.  In late-nineteenth-century England an eccentric gentleman founded the No Nose Club in his gracious townhome—a social club for those who had lost their noses, and other body parts, to the plague of syphilis for which there was then no cure. And in turn-of-the-century New York, an Irish cook caused two lethal outbreaks of typhoid fever, a case that transformed her into the notorious Typhoid Mary and led to historic medical breakthroughs.

Throughout time, humans have been terrified and fascinated by the plagues they've suffered from.  Get Well Soon delivers the gruesome, morbid details of some of the worst plagues in human history, as well as stories of the heroic figures who fought to ease their suffering.  With her signature mix of in-depth research and upbeat storytelling, and not a little dark humor, Jennifer Wright explores history’s most gripping and deadly outbreaks.



One of my fellow reader/reviewers over at Booklikes had stated that this book read like a compilation of blog entries, written by "an overconfident twenty-something with an only superficial grasp of history and medicine and science."  I seconded that statement, because the writing style in this book is extremely informal, with a lot of opinionated side-quips, and tons of speculation masquerading as scientific fact or historical data.  I'm not saying that this book doesn't have anything to offer, but to be honest, it doesn't offer what it seems to have been marketed to offer: a look at history's worst plagues and the heroes who fought them.  Instead, I feel like the title should have been changed to something along the lines of "Some Sensational Stories About Plagues, Medical Horrors, and History that Interested This Author."

The book is very Anglo-centric, focusing mostly on how these plagues affected America or the European nations.  But a cursory search of, say, leprosy, shows that this is a disease that impacted, and still impacts, hundreds of countries never mentioned in this book.  Wright's focus, however, was the leper colony of Moloka'i and the story of Father Damien.  While I didn't mind reading about the wonder who was Father Damien, this chapter on Leprosy left a lot to be desired.

Much like a lot of her other chapters, Wright doesn't dwell very long on the science of each plague, and instead spends a good amount of time on tangents and speculative asides.  In fact, she doesn't spend a whole lot of them with the plagues themselves, because a lot of her side tangents, some of which have nothing to do with the plague (re: Comoddus's incestuous lusts circa 'The Antonine Plague') take up more pages than were necessary.

After the first couple chapters in this book, I realized that I'd have to change my mindset before continuing on.  The writing style wasn't what I'd been expecting, and even up to the end, still wasn't a writing style that worked for me.  There were too many of those opinionated side-quips, too many random and ill-used pop culture references, and a lot of times, Jennifer Wright will insert her own imagining of how she would recreate certain parts of history if left to her devices.

 

I'm always trying to rewrite the scripts for history, the way some people must mentally rewrite the scripts for disappointing episodes of their favorite television shows.


First of all, yes I can relate to mentally rewriting scripts for disappointing episodes of a favorite television show; and at least Wright is aware of her own habits.  Of course, I also don't try to sell my rewritten scripts as fact in a popular science book, currently worth $12.99 via Kindle.

As I think I might have mentioned in another update, this book tries too hard to be informal and personal by adding random pop culture references, and short humorous (?) commentary, possibly in an attempt to lighten the mood of the context.  After all, this is a book about devastation and tragedy, with millions of deaths and a lot of suffering communities and nations over history.  I'm never opposed to dark humor, but you have to do it right.  At some points, Wright DID manage to make my lips quirk, but other times, I just didn't quite understand her humor.  The timing always felt off, or the insertions felt awkward.  Whatever it was, it didn't work for me.  And a lot of times, I didn't understand the connection--I grew up in America, but I've never been big on the pop culture trivia.

She also inserted exclamations almost everywhere!  Even when said exclamation probably wasn't warranted!  A lot of her opinions were exclamations!  A lot of her speculations and asides were exclamations!

But they failed to really do the job of being exciting or surprising in their exclamation point usage.

If it is one thing I will say in favor of this book, it's that Jennifer Wright truly DOES seem passionate about the subject and each plague's impact on human life and society.  Her stance on vaccinations, hygiene, sanitation, general health... all good points to emphasize.  Her stance on behaviors towards humankind and the diseases that afflict us is sincere--the message not to treat people badly just because of the disease is a good one.  Being kind, supportive, and understanding is a message I think needs to be put out there more often.  We don't become afflicted with something deadly as a punishment from some higher judgment--diseases don't pick and choose who they affect, and pathogens aren't discriminatory.

As a popular science book, she could have focused more on the science and medicine of these plagues she is show-casing.  But show-casing is really what she is doing in this book, choosing specific stories that seem to interest her about each plague rather than giving more details about the specific plague itself.  Truly, the only chapter I felt had the most sincere presentation was the 'Smallpox' chapter, but unfortunately, she didn't tell me anything I didn't already know.

But the rest seemed to hinge greatly on some sensational aspect of each disease: Syphilis and the rotting noses, Tuberculosis and how people glamorized it, for examples.

Then there were the chapters on 'Dancing Plague' and 'Lobotomies,' which, in honest truth, I don't see as counting as true plagues.  Lobotomies as a medical horror I can see, but this is a book about plagues, so if she truly wanted to write a book about medical horrors that included a chapter on lobotomies, she should serious reconsider the title to her book.

I can see this book interesting a lot of people, if only because it DOES present a lot of tidbit information that many might find intriguing.  In some instances, you DO find yourself wanting to learn more, from a much more detailed, well-informed source.  In some chapters, she DOES manage to tell me things I didn't already know, although I would confirm her facts from my own research if inclined to do so.  For the most part, this book is, at best, an overview, which I feel would have been better off in a blog format, where expectations might be a bit lower than as a book you had to pay for.

 

 



 

Flat Book Society - September 2018 Read

 ~*~*~*~

 

Halloween Bingo 2018
(anything related to the end of the world, doomsday cults, or a post-apocalypse world)

 

**This book was approved by our Halloween Bingo hosts for the Doomsday square, and by default, the Creepy Raven Free Space.**

 

 

Source: anicheungbookabyss.blogspot.com/2018/09/some-rambling-thoughts-get-well-soon.html
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review 2018-09-24 08:34
Get Well Soon: History's Worst Plagues and the Heroes Who Fought Them
Get Well Soon: History's Worst Plagues and the Heroes Who Fought Them - Jennifer Wright

I finally finished this one.  The delay was a combination of being on holiday, and needing to put some space between my experience of this book and the experience of others, as I was starting to feel like I was losing my objectivity regarding my feelings about this book.

 

So, my feelings: Get Well Soon was poorly sub-titled and marketed.  As a popular science book, or a popular history-about-science book, it fails.  As an introductory anthropological and cultural survey of how society has historically reacted to epidemics and pandemics, I think its excellent.

 

Furthermore, while I like her writing style a lot, it is polarising.  Jennifer Wright is a 30-something author whose voice is informal, irreverent and snarky.  She writes the way friends - good friends - talk when they don't have to behave themselves.  She uses this no-nonsense voice to sometimes share her thoughts about topics that are themselves, polarising.  

 

So this is a book that isn't going to appeal to everyone.  It particularly isn't going to appeal - at all - to anyone looking for a more sober, scientifically-focused exploration of the topic.  After reading the whole thing, I'm pretty sure it was never meant to, at least, not from the author's perspective.

 

"If you take nothing else away from this book, I hope it's that sick people are not villains."

 

This is a recurring theme from start to finish.  Wright's objective seems to be to focus a spotlight on humanity's reaction to mass illness throughout history, whether good or bad.  Her hope in doing so is that perhaps those who read this book will learn from history rather than doom themselves to repeat it.  She does this is the frankest, bluntest possible way, with a lot of snarky humor.

 

In this objective, I believe she succeeds.  I think those of us who could be labeled as 'prolific readers' or those who voraciously devour their favorite subjects, might lose perspective on how well-informed, or not,  most people today are.  Society today is at least as divided as it's been at almost any other time in history, and a good deal of opinion is shaped via the internet, a source we all know can be about as accurate as a round of the telephone game.

 

In this context, I think the book is fantastic.  Jennifer Wright seems to be a popular author of columns in various newspapers and magazines; if even a handful of her fans from Harper's Bazaar, et al, read this book simply because she wrote it, and they come away having learned something they didn't know before they started, or thinking harder about their responsibility in society, then Wright will have succeeded where others have failed.  (And yes, I'm generally pessimistic about the world I live in - my country is being run by an orange lunatic; I think I'm entitled to a bit of pessimism.)

 

I'm not one of her magazine/newspaper fans.  In fact it wasn't until after I'd started this that I realised I'd ever read anything by her before.  I'm also quantitatively better read, if not qualitatively (some would argue), and I can say that not only did I enjoy this book a great deal, but I learned more than I expected to.  For example, I had no idea that the Spanish Flu wasn't actually Spanish, but probably American, and I had no idea that it killed so many Americans.  Granted, most of my knowledge of the Spanish Flu comes from British fiction, but it's a testament to the horrifying effectiveness of government censorship during WWI that you still don't read about it in American fiction, and this is a disease that killed in one month more Americans than the US Civil War.  I'd also never heard of Encephalitis Lethargica, and sort of wish I never had.  Even on the diseases I knew more about, Wright managed to impart something new for me, and in at least 2 chapters, left me misty eyed over the power people have when they choose to be selfless.

 

As a popular science book meant to tackle a complicated topic in a palatable way, this book is a fail; there's not nearly enough scientific discussion or data here to qualify this as such a book.  But as a popular, cultural overview of the way societies throughout history have succeeded or failed to handle epidemics when they happened and the importance of rational, humane leaders and populace in times of crises, I think Wright succeeds very well.

 

The tragedy of this book is that it's marketed to the very people who are bound to be disappointed by it and likely don't need its message, and the people who might gain the most from it are likely to pass it by because they think it'll be too boring and dry.

 

I read this for The Flat Book Society's September read, but it also qualifies for the Doomsday square in Halloween Bingo.

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review 2018-09-15 04:33
Get Well Soon by Jennifer Wright
Get Well Soon: History's Worst Plagues and the Heroes Who Fought Them - Jennifer Wright

Since I came so late to the party with this one, I knew enough from other people's updates that I needed to adjust my expectations somewhat. This wasn't a survey of plagues over the centuries with discussions of symptoms, causes, and societal effects of various contagious diseases. It was a chattier discussion that liked to use a lot of exclamation marks and throw in cultural references and attempts at humour.

 

Some of the chapters were more interesting than others, but I slowly became more and more appalled by the blithely American-centric attitude that went so far as to refer to some countries as "core" countries and some as "periphery". Now, she never actually defines what constitutes a "core" country versus a peripheral one, so I'm not exactly sure what she means here (it's not like she's even talking about a particular industry where core might mean countries strongly involved in that industry)...it's really just not a term I've ever encountered before and it makes me wonder what kind of circles the author moves in where she wouldn't think that she needed to define it because it was so commonly used.

 

It also makes me wonder whether part of the reason she disliked John Snow so much wasn't because he was a tee-totalling vegetarian but because he was British? I realize she was probably aiming for a humorous angle when commenting on the various people involved in her plagues but a lot of her comments just came off as silly. As she approached the modern day "plagues", the book became more and more American, too.

 

I will say that Wright at least comes down against the anti-vaxxers, but viewed against the rest of the book, I just don't feel that that merits raising my rating even by half a star. I didn't mention it in an update, but I'm also skeptical of her coverage of the Antonine plague because she runs two plagues together and then claims that they continue to deplete the Roman empire to the point of failure over another hundred years.

 

I recommend Medical Detective aka The Strange Case of the Broad Street Pump by Sarah Hempel if you want to read a slightly less hostile account of John Snow's detective work. Elentarri's review has a more extensive list of alternate books to read.

 

To end on a more cheery note, here's a doctored up Huggins (I hope Broken Tune doesn't mind the appropriation):

 

 

 

Previous updates (with [hopefully] helpful summaries:

Page 2 (first core country rant, longevity rant, and modern viewpoint rant aka the introduction)

Page 11 (cholera in Roman times rant and other Roman stuff)

Page 25 (picturing ostriches as really big geese)

Page 44 (the dangers of bathing in the middle ages)

Page 113 (the dangers of drinking raw milk, or, the problem with viewing the past through a modern lens)

Page 123 (reference to Jenny Lawson)

Page 125 (more on "periphery" countries)

Page 206 (judgement against those who do not race balloons)

 

Oh, and I'll be counting this towards the Doomsday square in Halloween Bingo.

 

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