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text 2016-05-23 17:39
10 Questions (BL Meme)

I don't indulge many of these surveys on social media but, since this site actually has a subject we all take interest in, this quiz seemed more interesting to me. More like one of those short magazine features than random notes about people. Plus, unlike FB, I don't know anyone here IRL so it is more revealing. H/t BrokenTune on getting it to my eyes, and apparently Bookloving Writer for starting it.


1. What book is on your nightstand now?


Singular? HA! Primarily it's Zone One by Colson Whitehead, though it is sharing space with Native Son by Chang-Rae Lee and Hemingway's short stories which I've been chipping away at between other books and moments where I just want a complete experience in one sitting. I also keep a lot of my poetry in my nightstand and regularly reach into there. Recently I have been picking Charles Bukowski out a lot.

2. What was the last truly great book that you read?


I recently read One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest and Murakami's Colorless Tsukuru Tazaki and his Years of Pilgrimage both of which I think are great, but the last one that really floored me was The Year of Magical Thinking by Joan Didion. Her writing is always sharp and brought to one of the most basic human experiences, grief, it cut especially deep.


3. If you could meet any writer – dead or alive – who would it be? And what would you want to know?


I've wrestled with this question before since writing and personality are such different things, in fact I worry that some of the reputedly larger personalities would be off-putting to me either because of the aspect of performance or just because it would kind of cheapen the thoughtfulness that I know from their writing. Zadie Smith seems my speed. I've heard her speak before and she came across just as thoughtful and interesting as she is on the page and she seems mostly uninterested in being a personality. I feel it would be a real conversation and what could be more rewarding than that?


4. What books might we be surprised to find on your shelves?


The Tiny Book of Tiny Stories my books generally have more, you know, WRITING, but I found the little flash pieces and illustrations cathartic. 


5. How do you organize your personal library?


First I split fiction and nonfiction, then group it in a loosely chronological order, so like all the Fitzgerald books are together in the 20s and before Hemingway despite the particular release date of any given book. The contemporary works are more strictly chronological since there are more in a shorter frame. There are some pullouts, I have a James Joyce shelf, another for old looking books and a whole shelf of TBR. Also one section of small books I can fit in a coat pocket to grab when I go for a walk.


6. What book have you always meant to read and haven’t gotten around to yet? Anything you feel embarrassed never to have read?


Most books in the canon probably! If there was something I felt that strongly about I'd just go for it but I have not read any Dostoevsky yet and I have two of his books so that. Also The Road by Cormac McCarthy has just been this big part of the larger literary conversation for a while, it comes up a lot on interviews like this and I feel I ought to be a part of that.


7. Disappointing, overrated, just not good: what book did you feel you were supposed to like but didn't? Do you remember the last book you put down without finishing?


I just put down a book about the drinking habits of the presidents. It wasn't drawing a narrative it just seemed to be a collection of random drinking references for each president, but I got it as a gift and probably just because it had a cool title. I will say I thought Rabbit, Run  was really weird. Updike writes really well and I loved his short stories, but the plot was just weird, especially when he ran from the funeral, I just thought, yeah, he was going pretty literal with the title there. 



8. What kinds of stories are you drawn to? Any you stay clear of?



Difficulty. If it has a reputation of people not finishing it I'm into it. It is a challenge and I think reading is best when it is a challenge. I read a lot of books just for enjoyment too, it would be exhausting to launch from masterpiece to masterpiece, but the people, the stories, the experiences that really change your life are the ones you invest time and effort and emotion. 


9. If you could require the prime minister to read one book, what would it be?


Can I say president? Is everyone else here British? I would say George Saunders. He seems to make it a point to break down expectations, to make you sympathize with characters you don't like. He kind of breaks down the idea of a happy ending, the story structure is there but there is this kind of darkness that there is no destiny and things don't all get resolved with a nice bow. His stories are among the most directly empathetic I think. More classic works I think people can be stubborn enough to pull the wrong message from.

10. What do you plan to read next?


I just took a job at a nonprofit providing information and resources to women with breast cancer so I wanted to pick up The Emperor of All Maladies: A Biography of Cancer by Siddhartha Mukherjee and I'll be throwing myself into the subject, I always take responsibility for really getting to know my subject as much as I can.



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text 2015-04-02 04:06
Notes on Adaptation: The Emperor of All Maladies
The Emperor of All Maladies: A Biography of Cancer - Siddhartha Mukherjee

So I just finished watching the last of the three nights of broadcasts of the Ken Burns-produced "The Emperor of All Maladies" miniseries, based on Siddhartha Mukherjee's book. 


Edward Hermann was the narrator. And in the closing images, they gave him an "In Memoriam" credit. I forgot he died. So there's a reminder that this will probably be the last new thing in which I will encounter his work. 


I'm a huge fan of Ken Burns' work. He produced this film but did not direct it. However, it is clear that director Barrak Goodman is a Burns protégée. He uses Burns' techniques but puts his own overlay on it. It's like seeing a famous painting copied in a totally different color palate. 


As an adaptation, it does Mukherjee's book a good turn. Mukherjee himself is a talking head in all three episode, somewhat reprising his lyrical prose on the "big ideas" of cancer. His work permeates the episodes, but some new pieces are added -- some on-camera case studies that are of-the-moment. 


Look, this was a fine film and a worthy adaptation. And I love Burns' work. But why this one was six hours and "Prohibition" was only four, I do not know.



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photo 2015-03-08 01:32
The Heroine Next Door - Zeena Nackerdien
The Emperor of All Maladies: A Biography of Cancer - Siddhartha Mukherjee
Speak Memory: An Autobiography Revisited - Vladimir Nabokov,Stefan Rudnicki
Men Without Women - Ernest Hemingway
Of Warriors, Lovers and Prophets: Unusual Stories from South Africa's Past - Max du Preez

Hi everyone!

I am so excited that my first book is finally in print.
My earliest memories of growing up involve sitting next to my father, as he drove a green truck filled with chattering children, to a Muslim primary school located in the whites-only neighborhood of Paarl. This prosperous South African tourist attraction and home of the Afrikaans Language monument can trace its roots of its name (Afrikaans for "pearl ') back to the description given by a Dutch colonist, Abraham Gabemma, when he saw a granite rock on one of its mountains gleaming after a rain storm. Three years later, in 1660, different Dutch settlers would give a street the same name after the oysters found in a New York river. Little did I know, as I watched my father teach overflowing classes of children the three R's (reading, writing, and arithmetic) and I learned about nature from my mother (an avid gardener), that I would one day find myself in New York City.
Had I been the meticulous diarist of my later years, the stories of analyzing geraniums for signs of viral infections and probing the plump, yellow flesh of loquats in a tree (while hiding from my mother for some long-forgotten transgression), would be chronicled in glowing detail and cross-referenced with comments from my brothers. Instead, in my incarnation as a writer and given the vagaries of lost memories, I chose to write a work of fiction that is inspired by people and events that I have had the privilege to witness over the years. Because I am South African by birth, "The Heroine Next Door," has a strong regional flavor, focusing on the pre-and post-apartheid era, before transitioning to the USA and Europe, and the impact of path-breaking infectious and non -communicable disease research on the lives of people in Africa. However, the core identity and relationship issues that the main character, Leila, struggles with are ones that resonate with me and hopefully with the readers. With that in mind, I plan on continuing to write about relationships, sometimes in the idiom of the religion in which I was raised, Islam, and to creatively meditate about my other great loves, including history, news (I am a news junkie) , education for all, and science.
Source: heroinenextdoor.com
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text 2015-03-01 20:34
The Emperor of All Maladies
The Emperor of All Maladies: A Biography of Cancer - Siddhartha Mukherjee

Has anyone read this? 


I started it last week and just finished 120 pages or so. I'm finding it interesting and easy to read but my brain is not cooperating with me. I think it might be a matter of needed someone to chat about it with me so I'm not slogging through the heavy subject all by myself.

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review 2014-11-03 03:34
The Emperor of All Maladies
The Emperor of All Maladies: A Biography of Cancer - Siddhartha Mukherjee

I've delayed writing a review of The Emperor of All Maladies because the scope of the book is so sweeping I knew that I couldn't do it justice. So I'll just jot a few notes here.


I believe all oncologists and cancer surgeons should read this book, to understand their place in the history of discoveries (and incidentally of suffering) surrounding this ancient disease. If I were a cancer researcher, this book would be a combination Bible and road map for me--albeit a map that shows only how we got where we are, and not necessarily where we go from here. In fact, I wish a book just like it were written in every medical specialty. Someone needs to write the biography of obstetrics-gynecology, the biography of hematology, the biography of orthopedics, etc.


Suffice it to say, this is how I like my non-fiction. Mukherjee presents a rigorous, thorough "biography" of cancer from Egypt in 1600 BCE (the first recorded cancer, a breast cancer) to the present day. He delves into every aspect of the disease--historical, political, social, clinical, scientific, cultural--but he does it all fluidly, keeping a fairly straight chronology of the disease and science through time.


I learned so much. Which is to say, in the course of the book I came to realize how little I know--how little we as human beings know--about cancer. It's hard not to feel a bit hopeless at the task that faces us. Every cancer is unique in its genetics; in each case we have to know which of the many switches in the cell's DNA is the accelerator that's stuck, and which is the brake that's missing? And every cancer is unique in how it spreads in the body. For instance, I had always assumed, as many early researchers apparently did (hence the popularity of ever more disfiguring radical mastectomies in the 1970s), that breast cancer spreads somewhat radially before it leaps to lymph nodes. I used to proclaim, "If I get breast cancer, I'll choose a mastectomy just to be safe." I was surprised at how fundamentally impaired that logic is. Lumpectomies finally make sense to me in Mukherjee's hands: if a cancer is the type that stays relatively contained, a lumpectomy does the job of removing it. If a cancer is the type that spreads through the lymphatic system, a mastectomy--no matter how radical--might not help.


I learned about how the "War on Cancer" legislated by Richard Nixon was doomed, given that when it was launched in the early 70s, the science of cancer was still in its infancy. The mechanisms of a healthy cell becoming malignant, the genetics, and the methods of metastasis were as yet undiscovered. The goal of eradicating cancer was based on a lack of understanding of the scope of the problem: there is no single cure, the way penicillin was the cure for infection--each cancer must be understood on its own, and the treatment tailored to it.


I was unaware of just how much the early history of chemotherapy was characterized by a sort of trial-and-error science. With advances in genetics, some recent drugs have been developed by predicting the effect they'll have on the biology of the tumor, but many of the initial drugs came from a "flood it with poison and see if it works" methodology (first in the petri dish and then in the human body).


The evidence against smoking. This was one of the most riveting parts of the book for me: the scientific, political, and cultural connections drawn through the decades between cigarettes and cancer. He does a good job of discussing the propaganda campaigns of the tobacco companies, the lawsuits, and the obfuscation of what should have been overwhelming health data. While I knew that my mother's generation smoked more than mine did, I had no idea that in 1953 the average American smoked ten cigarettes a day. Every single pre-teen needs to be taught the science and statistics behind cigarette-induced cancer in the powerful way that Mukherjee describes them. Cancer rates of all kinds (not just cancer of the lungs) along with heart disease are so unequivocally tied to cigarette use, it's incredible to me that anyone still smokes. Mukherjee presents data that shows the education of young people is beginning to fail again, as the number of teen smokers has climbed in the last decade. With increased smoking in this generation, the statistical gains in health will diminish again to pre-1970s levels.


A lot of the book focuses on Dr. Sidney Farber, an awkward, formal man who made the political war on cancer possible, along with the wealthy socialite and medical philanthropist Mary Lasker, through their high-visibility "Jimmy Fund." I wasn't sure to what extent Farber was overrepresented in the book; Mukherjee received his training at the Dana-Farber Cancer Institute in Boston, and it's there that he conceived of the idea of a biography about cancer. (The book seems to have been a catharsis for him--a way of relieving the daily strain of such an emotionally difficult career.) Certainly Farber was an important figure in the popularization of the cause, and made advances in acute lymphoblastic leukemia, but a lot of words are devoted to him, and relatively fewer to more recent researchers who have figured out pathbreaking genetic sequences and other molecular details (Harold Varmus, Bert Vogelstein, and others)--people who have changed the level of sophistication of our attack on cancer, who will make non "trial-and-error" successes possible. 


In sum. Remember how disappointed I was with the scientific flimsiness of Susan Cain's Quiet: The Power of Introverts, and the lack of thoroughness and ambition of Caitlin Doughty's Smoke Gets in Your Eyes? Well, Mukherjee's Emperor of All Maladies is the standard-bearer for adult non-fiction for me now.

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