Archive for 2015

Moving On- A Life by Oliver Sacks

December 18th, 2015 — 9:48pm

Moving On – A Life by Oliver Sacks

Screen Shot 2015-12-18 at 5.25.45 PMI never read any of his books other than this biography. I read about many of them. I don’t recall hearing him speak in person although I believe I attended one of his lectures at the American Psychiatric Association meeting. I was familiar with many of the places that he spoke about in New York, San Francisco and Los Angeles and I even had some friends and colleagues who knew his analyst, David Shengold. Although I was never anywhere near being in his league as a clinician, writer and brilliant mind, his areas of interest had always fascinated me. So I guess you can say in reading this book, I had a certain amount of kinship and empathy for him although in many ways he was miles apart from my world.

He was born in England to a Jewish family. Two of his cousins were Al Capp, the famous cartoonist and Abba Eden, a famed Israeli Prime Minister. One of his brothers was schizophrenic and we can’t help wondering if his desire to crack the code on the workings of the brain may have had its origin with that experience. Both his parents were physicians and he has early memories of hearing them discuss interesting cases. His father thought it was a shame when a case  was written up in the popular press but his mother was a great storyteller. No doubt it was at his parent’s knee that he became fascinated by case histories.

The reader of this book will benefit by his ability to tell good stories. At times he jumps around and he may lose you with the exact time sequence but that will be a small price to pay for an interesting story of a brilliant man who led his life, well lived, his way.

It was his misfortune to be born gay at a time when it was considered to be a choice, rather than an inborn destiny that we know it is today. It is sad to hear that after he had his first sexual experience, he had none for the next 35 years. It was heartwarming to see that he fell in love and was able to live a happy intimate life with a man in the twilight of his life.

In a small way, I could relate to his early fascination with the working of the brain and the scientific advances that were occurring, as he was completing medical school and making the decision to become a neurologist. This was approximately the time that I was in college in the late 1950s. I had participated in a special project where we implanted electrodes into the brain of a cat, in which we could then record after the cat had recovered from surgery and resumed it’s relatively normal life. There were situations where we could tell in advance when the cat was going to make a decision, based on the brain waves before the cat made them. It was very tempting for me because of this experience to want to choose a career in neurology but for me, clinical psychiatry beckoned and that became the direction that I took. We are all fortunate that Dr. Sacks followed his interest in the workings of the brain.

When Dr. Sacks came to the United States, he was in his ‘20s and his first stop was San Francisco where he became an intern at Mount Zion Hospital. Not only was this young doctor quite fearless on his motorcycle but he was also fearless in his self-experimentation with LSD, PCP, later known as Angel Dust and who knows what else. I am sure his experience with mind altering drugs at this time paved the way to his lifelong study of the brain and the workings of the mind.

He dropped a tidbit taking place during this time period about how he got out of the draft. I know firsthand that young doctors were subject to being drafted into the military during both the Korean War and the Vietnam War. It was in 1968 that he said that he persuaded the draft board that he was not suitable material for the draft. I wonder what this was all about.

As someone who has worked in academia, I was particularly interested in what he had to say about one of his first jobs working in a clinical research lab. He reports that on his own, he made observations that he felt merited a write-up for a journal. When he wrote his first paper and it was accepted for publication, his boss was furious and fired him and then according to Dr. Sacks used some of his data which the boss claimed was his own for another publication. I have seen similar situations where there is conflict between the young person and the father figure. I can’t help wondering what would have happened if Sacks had tried to collaborate with his boss. In later years, he described getting along well with his colleagues and sharing data and theories but on the other hand, there seems to be a certain lone wolf quality and approach to his ultimate final products. I really can’t say if he was generous in allowing co-authorships with younger colleagues when he was the famous established author.

His life in Southern California was particularly fun to read about, since he had a house in Topanga Canyon, which is near the area where I now live. He reports zooming around on his motorcycle and it was obviously quite different than it is now, trying to get around on the busy freeway. He reports that he became the doctor of sorts to the Hells Angels, as well as being a Venice Beach bodybuilder.

He really seemed to come into his own once he came to New York. One might have expected him to join the full time faculty at one of the many outstanding medical schools. Instead, he decided to become the peripatetic neurologist by being a consultant to the Beth Abraham Nursing Home , the Little Sisters Nursing Home, both known as “ Manors,” among other places. It was here that he made his groundbreaking observation on post encephalitic patients who received L-DOPA and have their “Awakenings,” often temporary but revealing great insight into the workings of the brain.

His book, by the same name became a New York Times bestseller for 26 weeks and was made into a screenplay by Harold Pinter and into a great movie in which he was played by Robin Williams. This was followed by a number of other world famous books such as The Man Who Mistook His Wife For His Hat, Hallucinations and many others

In his heart and soul, it was clear that he was a storyteller. His understanding of neurology allowed him to listen and observe his patients and make insights that were not only fascinating but were important scientific advances for his time. He was also able to educate the public with his ability to write and make his case histories come alive as real people with unusual problems. He was unbelievably prolific and accumulated thousands of diaries filled with observations of his patients and of the people that he met and interacted with. He became friends and corresponded with some of the great minds of his time, such as Francis Crick (of  the DNA guys Watson and Crick) and Stephen Jay Gould as well as Gerry Edelman, author of the groundbreaking book, Neural Darwinism which Sacks explains in great detail in the biography.

Although I don’t think he mentioned it his book, I read elsewhere and that some of the subjects of his writings didn’t like that they were described in a manner in which t they could be recognized. Perhaps he didn’t get what we now call “informed consent.” He obviously wrote because of his love of the subjects he wrote about as well as because of the love that he had for these people whom he got to know.

Screen Shot 2015-12-18 at 5.26.39 PMOne of the most important subjects of his writings that he definitely had permission to write about was himself. When he severely injured his leg, he was able to write a book titled A Leg to Stand On. In his waning years, he developed a melanoma in his retina. This stimulated him to enlarge upon his earlier observations about vision and consciousness. No doubt , he developed a personal attachment to the people he wrote about but he seemed to be also writing for the personal gratification and acceptance of himself and his works. He related a situation where due to one of his books receiving bad reviews, he went through 3 months of being severely depressed .

Oliver Sacks certainly lived his life to the fullest, He received much recognition for his work. He was also recognized by the Queen of England and honored with the designation of Commander. Not only did he receive much satisfaction from his many accomplishments, but he was able to share so much of his thought process and insights with the people who read his papers and books. He passed away a few months ago (August 2015) but I’m sure that his stories and observations will live on for many generations.

Comment » | AM - Autobiography or Memoir, M - Medical

A Common Struggle: A personal Journey through the Past and Future Mental Illness and Addiction by Patrick J. Kennedy and Stephen Fried

December 9th, 2015 — 11:56pm

Screen Shot 2015-11-18 at 6.27.58 PMA Common Struggle: A personal Journey through the Past and Future Mental Illness and Addiction   By: Patrick J. Kennedy and Stephen Fried

This is a story, told in the first person of Patrick J. Kennedy. It is really two stories presented to us simultaneously. It is about Patrick Kennedy, son of Edward Kennedy and nephew of JFK and Bobby Kennedy. He has been a US congressman from Rhode Island for eight terms and was one of the staunch advocates for parity legislation, for mental illness, and addiction. Yet at the same time that he was leading the fight in the United States Congress to bring about these major changes in our healthcare system, he himself was secretly battling mental illness and addiction.

An important part of his personal story was a discussion of alcoholism in his family. Not only was the author an alcoholic but his brother, mother, and father, Ted Kennedy also struggled with this condition. It is significant that all of them except his father ultimately recognized their problem and entered various programs to help themselves. His mother battled alcoholism for a prolonged period of time and yet her condition was not recognized by family members despite the fact that they knew about several hospitalizations and treatment programs that she had undergone.

One of the most revealing insights about his father that he revealed in this book is how Ted Kennedy was traumatized by the tragic death of his three brothers, JFK, Bobby Kennedy, and his oldest brother, Joe Jr., who was killed in World War II. An additional major trauma for Ted Kennedy was the death of the young woman in Chappaquiddick, an incident well covered by the press.

It was not a simple pathway for the author to recognize his own problems. Even after a period of therapy with Psychiatrist Peter Kramer, author of the well known book (Listening to Prozac). Kennedy felt this treatment was helpful but did not eliminate his addiction problem or allow full acceptance of his bipolar condition. He vividly described how he would convince himself that he didn’t have any problems if he didn’t drink in public or take “illegal” drugs.

Patrick Kennedy served in the Rhode Island legislature and was elected as the youngest member of the US Congress in 2004 during a period that his addiction and mental illness was hidden from the public. It was also pretty much hidden from himself.

His colleagues in the US Congress ultimately became aware of his attempts to hide his drinking problem. Kennedy describes an important event for him when in 1996, Minority Leader, Dick Gephardt, offered him the prestigious chairmanship of the Congressional Campaign Committee on the condition that he stop drinking. This made him realize how he was denying that he had a problem that was known to others.

It wasn’t until 2005 that he publicly admitted that he was suffering from a mood disorder that was being treated by a psychiatrist. While his own struggle continued, he became more effective in his advocacy in the US Congress. One misconception he believed had to be clarified concerned Nancy Reagan’s “Just Say No” campaign against drugs. He felt that this missed the main point that addiction is not something you can simply say no to, just as you can’t say no to cancer. It is a disease and by implying you can just say no stigmatized people who have the genetic propensity to have this disease.

As much as the story of Kennedy’s recognition of his own illness of addiction and mental disease and how he battled it is quite enlightening, the battle for a definitive bill in the US Congress is just as revealing.The events leading up to the 2008 Wellstone and Domenici Mental Health Parity and Addiction Equity Act are quite interesting and complicated. They are also quite personal to Patrick Kennedy. It took place at the time that he was relapsing to alcohol and painkillers and also was having an exacerbation of his bipolar condition. While Patrick Kennedy was one of the leading champions in the House of Representatives for this legislation, his father, Ted Kennedy, was a major supporter of this bill in the US Senate. This was also at a time that the senior Kennedy was dying of a brain tumor. Compromises had to be made in the bill and the Senate was reluctant for the legislation to be as comprehensive in various aspects and details of the bill as was wanted by the House of Representatives. There also was a question how the legislation would deal with the new surge of mental health problems occurring in soldiers returning from the war. There was a concern that it should cover PTSD as well as addiction in the returning servicemen. Patrick Kennedy described the dramatic moment that his dying father came to the senate floor to vote for the final version of the bill to the applause of the US Senate.

Even with the passage of this extraordinary legislation, the battle for adequate parity for healthcare support was far from over. The proof and the success of this landmark bill would depend on the implementation by the federal and state governments and certain local rulings are expected to eventually reach the Supreme Court. The 2016 presidential race can certainly also be expected to impact the success of implementation of this legislation. As of this writing, it appears that the Republican candidates may be reluctant to support the implementation of this legislation and provide funding for new programs.

Patrick Kennedy decided to leave the United States Congress in 2010. Since departing from Congress, he has continued to be a leading advocate to bring about implementation of the 2008 legislation for mental illness and addiction. In this regard, among many other things, he has worked with two important organizations in which he plays very active roles. The Kennedy Forum ( gathers experts in mental health and addiction and holds important conferences that they hope will ensure implementation of the 2008 legislation. They are also committed to promoting a translation of neuroscience into the preventative and treatment interventions for mental health and addiction. The second organization in which Patrick Kennedy is involved is One Mind (, which is dedicated to the promotion and support of “brain health” and creating a fast track for treatment. Their current focus is on new approaches to treat and cure PTSD but they look forward to applying solutions for all brain disease including depression, Parkinsons, ALS, dementia, Alzheimer’s disease, and addictions.

Patrick Kennedy does not bemoan problems. He is clearly a man not only with a vision but with plans and solutions. He concluded his book with a scorecard of how we should rate our public officials who have the opportunity to pass legislation and make changes. Also at the end of the book, he had a section for people who are dealing with their own mental illness and addiction. He tells them not to be alone in this struggle and how important it is to get treatment. Finally, sandwiched in this book was a series of photographs of many well known members of his family. It brought back many memories to this reader of the great accomplishments of many members of the Kennedy family and of the tragic events that they experienced.

It should be noted that at the time that Patrick Kennedy wrote this book, he was three and a half years sober. He has shown that he is a very accomplished and insightful man. I believe we are going to hear a great deal about him in his advocacy. He has provided in this book a valuable historical account of the reasons to fight for the proper care of mental illness and addiction. I am sure he has a bright future and many people will benefit by his skills and his passion.

Comment » | AM - Autobiography or Memoir, MHP - Mental Health/Psychiatry, P - Political

Deported Colonel a.k.a. Gringo Cabron by Laura Jeannette Gau

October 25th, 2015 — 1:49pm

Screen Shot 2015-10-25 at 11.10.18 AMDeported Colonel a.k.a. Gringo Cabron by Laura Jeannette Gau Stone

This book is meant to be a historical account by a woman who lived in Panama with her family during the reign of tyrannical dictator, Manuel Noriega. She refers to herself in this book as Jenny. The author’s actual name is Laura Jeanette Gau Stone. She is married to United States Army Colonel, Charles Stone. He was the American liaison to the Panama government in the 1980s. The United States at that time had initially been friendly to Noriega and his government until the Americans under President George Bush decided to use military force to remove Noriega from office.

The time period of this book was during the Noriega regime 1983 – 1989. The focus is mostly on Jenny and Chico (the nickname for Colonel Stone) as well as their their family which consists of three daughters. The story is written like a novel but it appears to be the true account of their life. We see how the Doberman (the Panama’s government version of the Nazi storm troopers) have no hesitation in arresting anyone, beating them or taking them off to prison where they can be tortured and killed. Yet the people tried to live a normal life working, sending their kids to school, and going to church. Periodically, there would be protests by groups of people who would try to hold peaceful demonstrations wearing symbolic white shirts. They were called the “Crusaders”. It seems as if the people were hopelessly naïve as Doberman and other designated government troops would frequently charge in and injure and arrest the protesters squashing their attempts at self-expression and opposition. Two of Jenny and Chico’s children at one point were arrested in such activities but fortunately,Chico was able to get them released although their car was destroyed. Chico gradually undergoes a metamorphosis in this thinking from being a loyal soldier who did not initially accept the inhumanities of the oppressive government that he was advising. He eventually was exiled to the United States while his family continued to live in Panama.

The book serves the purpose of educating the readers such as myself about the oppressive lives that the people in Panama had to live during this time. It showed how people could endure such oppression that they could not control and persevered to raise their children with an awareness of the situation but yet some semblance of normality. The gradual revelation of Colonel Stone in realizing the tyrannical nature of the Noriega regime probably is similar to the realization by the U.S. government that they could no longer support that dictator. Noriega was captured during the overthrow of his government and now has spent more than 20 years in prisons, in the United States and Panama.

As revealing and as enlightening as this book has been to me, it has little merit as a good read. While the author’s style is perky, it is quite repetitious. It does not provide the interesting background details that a Doris Kearns, or a Robert McCullough or other author of important historical events would have given. Nor does it have an intriguing plot that makes you not want to put it down that a good historical novel might have. While it is written as a  historical novel and  it is supposed to be the true account of the author’s real experiences. However most of the time, it seems more like a diary where the everyday boring details have not been removed.

2 comments » | AM - Autobiography or Memoir, HI - History

Ally: My Journey Across the American-Israeli Divide by Michael B. Oren

September 18th, 2015 — 11:03pm

Ally: My Journey Across the American-Israeli DivideScreen Shot 2015-09-18 at 5.56.52 PM

By: Michael B. Oren

The author is the former Ambassador from Israel to the United States who served 2009-2013 and currently is a member of the Knesset, the Israeli Parliament.

Oren’s journey to this position as Israel’s representative to the United States and the man who was one of the key advisers to Israel Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu began when he was growing up in a Jewish family in West Orange, New Jersey. He was bullied then as a child and experienced antisemitism at a young age. At the age of 15, in 1970, Oren visited Israel with a Zionist group where he met Yitzhak Rabin in an encounter which he describes as a life changing event.

He went on to complete college at Columbia and received a master’s degree. He then immigrated to Israel in 1979. He came back to the United States to get a PhD at Princeton. He was married in 1982 to an American woman who also made Aliyah. They went on to have three children.

Oren’s commitment to Israel was more than an intellectual and emotional one. He joined the IDF (Israeli Defense Force) and served as a paratrooper in the 1982 war and saw serious combat. He then worked with the underground in the Soviet Union and was arrested by the KGB. During the Persian Gulf War he was the Israeli liaison to the United States Sixth Fleet. In the 1980s and 1990s, he taught at Hebrew University in Jerusalem and at the university in Tel Aviv. He served in various positions in the Israeli government, and in 2006, was a visiting professor at Harvard and at Yale.

Oren has written numerous articles and a few important books including New York Times listed best selling books titled Faith and Fantasy, the history of America’s involvement in the Middle East and Six Days of War, an historical account of the Six Day War. He also wrote two novels.

So in 2009, when Netanyahu, the Israeli Prime Minister appointmented Oren as Ambassador, he was already a seasoned government advisor as well as a respected historian. He considered himself a dual citizen of Israel and the United States. If fact, he described a very painful moment when he had to give up his US citizenship in order to become Israeli Ambassador to the United States. He vividly described his emotions seeing his passport voided.

Mr. Oren obviously must have kept a very complete diary as he goes on to document his life for the next four years in great detail. The reader has the feeling that the author is reliving the experience moment to moment, telephone call to cellphone call, car ride to plane ride, and so many very personal meetings. He essentially takes the reader up to the door of the Oval Office in the White House as he steps back to sit with the other most senior advisers as President Obama and Prime Minister Netanyahu hold their personal meetings. There are so many stories of this four-year period which essentially chronicles the delicate situation in the Middle East and the interaction between Israel and the United States.

I came away from this book feeling that Oren was a very loyal Israeli who still loves America. I thought that despite at times his critical view of some of the actions of the United States, he sincerely believed that his first country would always have Israel’s back.

As Oren currently serves in the Knesset, it would not surprise me if he did not someday move up and become part of the top leadership in Israel. This could lead to another important book to allow historians and people like us to gain further insight into the relationship between these two great allies.



3 comments » | AM - Autobiography or Memoir, HI - History, P - Political

The Rent Collector by Camron Wright

July 21st, 2015 — 1:00pm

The Rent Collector by Camron WrightScreen Shot 2015-07-21 at 10.06.45 AM

In the past year, I have read various novels about countries, cultures and life experiences that were immensely different than anything that I knew about. This included the fate of orphan children who were shipped throughout the United States, the plight of Mexican immigrants in this country, the difficulties that the Jews and France experienced during World War II, the bizarre life of living in North Korea, the American-Indians living in this country during the 17th century. This novel presented still another perspective of which I was unfamiliar and did not fully appreciate. That is living on a gigantic garbage dump in modern day Cambodia where a person might live with his family in a shack with a tarp as a doorway and no electricity. On top of that, the families would eek out a bare subsistence by picking through the smoldering garbage piles to find any items that they could sell for a small amount of money to buy food which was mostly rice, so their families could survive until the next day. While the details of the story were fiction, the characters in the book were real and there were actual photographs of them at the end of the book.

Yet the novel was much more than a revelation of how some people might live today in Cambodia or the historical and political circumstances behind this travesty. Camron Wright has told a story that reflects the potential humanity that can exist in any life circumstances. He focuses on the tradition for literature to convey meaning, love and hope throughout the ages in a multitude of cultures.

One of the main characters in the book is the story teller of this novel, Sang Ly. We meet her as a married woman with a small sick child who was trying to survive in this horrendous environment. The other main character is Sopeap Sin or the rent collector, a seemingly mean old woman who collects the rent from these poor people who live in the immediate area surrounding this gigantic garbage dump. We learned that she has a poignant and complicated history. Among the many facets of her background is that she has great knowledge of literature. She accepts Sang Ly’s invitation to teach her to read and the plot takes off from there. On one hand, this is a simple beautiful story and yet on the other hand, it is as complicated as the hidden meaning of great literature and the secrets of our dreams deep in our hearts.

Comment » | FG - Fiction General

A Constellation of Vital Phenomena by Anthony Marra

July 5th, 2015 — 1:54pm

Screen Shot 2015-07-05 at 11.38.49 AMA Constellation Of Vital Phenomena By Anthony Marra

Despite universal raves about this book, I found it, at best, a very well written depressing book about a piece of Russian history I know very little about and still am not very motivated to study further. It does however capture the inhumanity that existed in the late 20th and early 21st Century and in this case focuses this damning searchlight on the Russian Government and a subset of its people. Such disregard for people who are of a different origin obviously is not exclusive with the ethnic group involved in this book. Sadly, we see similar antagonistic behavior in the United States if you scan today’s headlines although not acted out on the widespread scale that we found in the pages of this novel.

The centerpiece of this book is a small village in Chechnya. History tells us that the Russian Federation invaded this country in the 1990s to prevent it from leaving the Soviet Union. We follow a handful of characters throughout this book. One is eight-year-old Havaa who flees with a neighbor after the “Feds” killed her father and burnt her home down. The neighbor is a doctor who asks the surgeon of a nearby hospital to take the girl in if he will work helping out at the hospital. Fleeing refugees seem to be the most common patients at this hospital and they appear to either die or have amputations of their limbs from injuries, frequently with dental floss for suturing, since the hospital is chronically short on supplies. The new doctor is also short on medical skills but is a good artist. So he draws portraits of the deceased patients, which get hung in the local town as more or less death notices and memorials to them.

While the tone of this review may seem flippant, that was not the mood of the book. The author clearly tries to convey the caring that the people had for each other. Refugees roaming from one city to another were given rooms to stay overnight by local residents although they could only pay a symbolic pittance. On the other hand we are given graphic descriptions of how a person can be tortured by the government and how someone could ultimately become an informer who turns in just about all his friends. We also learn what a father might do when he learns that his son is such an informer.

The time span of this book is relatively short but it is greatly expanded by the author’s use of flashbacks. Mr. Marra has a way with words and metaphors that is captivating but the characters are somewhat in the shadows. One of the tests I give myself to see if a book has made a distinct impression on me is to see if in my mind I could cast a movie with known actors and actresses. In this case they didn’t stand out enough for me to do it.

Comment » | FH - Fiction Historical

Season Of The Witch by David Talbot

June 23rd, 2015 — 4:41pm

SEASON OF THE WITCH BY DAVID TALBOTScreen Shot 2015-06-15 at 10.18.45 AM

If you have ever lived in San Francisco (as I did for one year in 1965) or perhaps visited the city and have fallen under its magical spell then this book is for you. This is especially true if your connection occurred between the 20-year period of 1965 to 1985. This may also apply if you identify with the social movements or news events that originated or were closely connected to The City by the Bay.

Here is a partial list of the fascinating people, places and events that were described in great detail in this very interesting book:

Haight-Ashbury, giving birth to the Grateful Dead, Janis Joplin, The Human Be In, the Hippy Revolution, Summer Of Love.

Jerry Rubin, Abbie Hoffman, Timothy Leary, Runaway Children, Beatnik Society, Free Clinic, rock concerts, and Bill Graham.

San Francisco Chronicle, Herb Caen, Mobey Grape, Openly Gay Community, The Cockettes, Finnochios, STD, LSD, CIA, Susan Atkins, Charles Manson, Sharon Tate, Hell’s Angels, Rolling Stones, and Mick Jagger.

Joseph L. Alioto, Good Earth, Vincent Hallinan, SLA (Symbinese Liberation Army), Cinque, Bill Harris, Patty Hearst, Zebra Murders, Zodiac Serial Killer, Asian Law Caucus. Margo St. James, Hookers Liberation, Lenny Bruce, Ken Kesey.

George Moscone, Harvey Milk, Dianne Feinstein, Willie Brown, People’s Temple, Jim Jones, Jonestown, Guyana, Dan White , assassinations at City Hall, Edward DeBartolo, Joe Montana, Bill Walsh, HIV and the AIDS epidemic.

Although this book leaves at the end of the AIDS epidemic, we know this is just 20 years of a small but important part of the history of this great city. David Talbot, in my opinion, has earned the title of Story Teller Supreme for San Francisco. He told it like it was and what a story it has been and continues to be.

At the conclusion of this book, we are also treated to a section with photographs of some of the important players in the history of this great city that were described. These photos and the narration that accompanies, each one of them are a special dessert to the great meal this book has been.

Comment » | HI - History, Uncategorized

Out of Mind by Sharon Draper (Guest review by Leo – age 11 1/2)

June 15th, 2015 — 12:14am

Review of Out of My Mind by Sharon DraperScreen Shot 2015-06-15 at 12.12.04 AM

Guest review written by Leo  age 11 1/2

Out of My Mind is about an 11-year-old girl named Melody who has Cerebral palsy.

“I can’t walk. I can’t talk. I can’t feed myself or take myself to the bathroom. Big bummer,” she tells us on page 1. Because Melody can’t speak, many people assume she isn’t smart. In fact, Melody’s brain works like anyone else’s. She is exceptionally smart, clever and a trivia expert.

At school, Melody is in a special education class, where she doesn’t learn much most years. Then, the school starts an inclusion program where all the kids in Melody’s class get to participate in a “normal” class once in awhile. Melody is really excited about this, but when the class starts, a couple of kids aren’t very nice to her, and some of the others ignore her. But one girl named Rose sits next to Melody, and they become friends. Melody likes having a friend, yet sometimes she still feels left out. The inclusion program is a little frustrating for Melody because when she knows the answer to a question (which is a lot of the time) she can’t say it. Through all the challenges Melody is still glad to be part of it because she gets to learn so much more than she did before.

The rest of the book shows how Melody sees the world. It shows the relationship between Melody and her parents and family. Also, the book shows how Melody’s next-door-neighbor, Mrs. V. pushes Melody to do the “unspeakable.”Out of My Mind talks about the many stereotypes and assumptions people make about someone who has Cerebral palsy.

I definitely recommend this book if you want to read something completely different. It really shows the way someone who has a disability or many challenges feels, and how they conquer those challengesOut of My Mind is like no other book I’ve read; it makes me realize that there are so many things in life that are far more complicated than we think,

Out of My Mind is the winner of the 2015 Wildwood Medal



Comment » | C - Recommended for Children, FG - Fiction General

The Rosie Project by Graeme Simsion

May 23rd, 2015 — 9:58pm

The Rosie Project by Graeme SimsionScreen Shot 2015-05-23 at 9.57.53 PM

Dr. Don Tillman is a professor of genetics in Australia where the book is set. It is his voice that tells the story. It does not take long to realize that it is probably the voice of a person with Asperger’s Syndrome. Don, while obviously quite brilliant, lacks the ability to socialize and empathize with other people. At least so it seems. His only real friends are Gene, a faculty member in the Psychology Department and his wife, Claudia, who is a clinical psychologist. They have an open marriage as Gene attempts to have sex with a wide variety of women from all over the world (putting pins in a map marking each conquest). Gene and Claudia are loyal friends of Don and do their best to advise him how to get along with people.

Don undertakes two projects, which allows the reader to learn about how he thinks as well as getting some insight into human nature. The first is The Wife Project. For this, Don makes a questionnaire of all the characteristics he believes he would want in a wife. With the help of Gene, he is able to distribute this questionnaire to a wide variety of women. Factors that are evaluated are things such as smoking, drinking, eating habits, body mass index (BMI) and many others. No one really measures up to score very high in this questionnaire in Don’s quest to meet his life partner. Don does meet Rosie through Gene, who although she does not meet the criteria set out in the questionnaire but with whom he does develop a friendly relationship. Rosie was initially believed by Don to be a bartender but turns out to be a PhD student working in a bar to earn extra money.

It is with Rosie that he develops a second project known as The Father’s Project. It seems that Rosie was unhappy with the man who was known to be her stepfather because he did not deliver on his promises including a childhood hope to go to Disneyland. Her mother died when Rosie was a young girl and things that her mother told her before she died gave her reason to believe that her biological father was actually someone in her mother’s medical school graduating class and had impregnated her at the time of a reunion celebration. There was a picture of all the attendees at this celebration and Rosie and Don embarked upon The Father’s Project where they attempted to track down all these men and surreptitiously obtain samples for DNA analysis, which Don as a genetics professor could do in his laboratory.

Readers of this book blog as well as my psychiatry blog and movie blog would have noted that I have written about the not so uncommon quest to connect with an unknown biological relative, after many years and sometimes a lifetime of no contact with them and no knowledge who that person may be. ( see psychiatry blog about this subject  ) This theme also shows up in movies ( see movie blog about this subject which will links to several movies ) and books as well as this one and in clinical cases as illustrated in my psychiatry blog. As Don and Rosie team up with The Father’s Project, we appreciate how Don intensifies an interest with Rosie. He begins to question many of his assumptions about relationships and his own feeling.

No matter how well a person may fit, the diagnostic criteria for an entity whether it be a narcissistic personality, bipolar disorder, major depression, Asperger’s syndrome or any other entity, there are human qualities that affect the ability for everyone to care for another person, fall in love and have an ability to change. This interesting delightful and enlightening story clearly makes this point.

I understand there is a sequel book by this author, titled The Rosie Effect as well as a movie currently being made. If you like this book as I did, you probably will want to check these out.

1 comment » | FG - Fiction General, FR - Fiction Romance

The Orphan Train by Christine Baker Kline

May 12th, 2015 — 1:47pm

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Between 1854 and 1925, there were regular train excursion transporting more than 200,000 orphans from the East Coast to the Midwest in search of people who would take in these orphans. There would be posters displayed in small towns announcing the impending visits of this train with orphans available for adoption. Couples who wanted a child because they could not have one, or because they wished to make an addition to their family, or perhaps because they needed workers to help in the field or their business, would come to the train station to check out the orphan children. These children may have been abandoned because of poverty or the death of both parents. Sometimes, there were dire circumstances of how the parents died, such as we learned about in one of the characters in the book where most of her family was killed in a terrible fire in New York City and there was no one to care for her. There was an organization that kept custody of the children until they could find a suitable person or family who would care for them. Unfortunately, for some of the children, they would end up in indentured slavery. Many were forced to work in the farm fields or do menial tasks such as spending many hours as seamstresses. The expectation that these children would be sent to school was often not followed by the people who took custody of them.

This novel follows a few orphan children who were on one of these orphan trains and tells the story of happened to them. It is quite difficult to view these experiences through the eyes of the orphan children. We see how a child would feel being on display for acceptance or rejection. This story also looks at the powerful, perhaps universal need to search out or locate a biological parent or child that through various circumstances has had no contact with their biological relatives. The desire to meet that person and maintain a bond with them is very powerful and has complicated psychological and perhaps biological determinants. I have written about this topic elsewhere.( click here to see article)

The author, Christine Baker Kline has done her homework and studied the history of the real orphan trains and read many of the writings of the riders of these trains who were now in their ninth or tenth decade of life. Through her interesting and well constructed story, she has enlightened us about an important piece of history as well as providing insight into human relationships.

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