It’s only the middle of January. I can still enthrall you with the books I read over the holidays, right?
I did a lot of reading “out of genre,” as they say (as in not in the genres I write). And I can recommend each and every book. I’m not great at writing reviews—it takes too much brain power—so I’m posting the book covers and links to the authors’ websites and the back cover copy. That way, if something catches your eye, you have a clickable way to find out more.
Yes, I know I’m the epitome of graciousness. Send me chocolate for Valentine’s Day and we’ll call it even.
First up, a memoir. A “Kimoir,” as the author, Kim Stagliano, calls it: ALL I CAN HANDLE: I’m No Mother Theresa (A life Raising Three Daughters with Autism).
I met Kim on-line a few years ago, on an old ChickLit writers listserv. She was writing somewhat of a mystery novel, if I recall. Her personality popped out at me. So when she sold her memoir about raising her three daughters with autism, I knew I’d want to buy it. I was helped along by having read Running with Scissors by Augusten Burroughs. I loved that book, so bought Wolf at the Table, another of Burroughs’s memories. Because Kim had mentioned Burroughs’s brother, John Elder Robison, penning a memoir about having Asperger’s Syndrome and I’d become interested in Kim’s battle with autism through the listserv and her blog, I bought (and loved) Robison’s book, Look Me in the Eye. Well, I couldn’t read Burroughs’s books and Robison’s book and then not read Kim’s book, could I?
I really enjoyed her memoir. Right now, autism and vaccines are in the news again. I don’t personally know anyone with autism, or anyone who has a child with autism (that I know of, although I suspect I did know a person or two with Asperger’s Syndrome when I was growing up), so I’m not taking sides in that debate. Don’t try to get me to.
Whatever your position on the vaccines and their influence, Kim’s memoir is worth a read. She has a great sense of humor, and she’s a mother bear warrior. I have to admire her mettle.
About ALL I CAN HANDLE:
How one woman raises three autistic daughters, loses one at Disneyworld, stays married, has sex, bakes gluten-free, goes broke, and keeps her sense of humor.
“Dr. Spock? Check. Penelope Ann Leach (Remember her?)? Check. What to Expect When You’re Expecting? Check. I had a seven-hundred–dollar Bellini crib for God’s sake!” So begins Kim Stagliano’s electrifying, hilarious tale of her family’s journey raising three daughters with autism. With her funny, startling, and illuminating first book, Stagliano joins the ranks of bestselling memoirists like David Sedaris and Augusten Burroughs. With her willingness to lay everything on the table—family, friends, and enemies to basement floods to birth days to (possible) heroin addictions—she eviscerates and celebrates the absurd.
Whether she’s going commando to rescue a daughter from a potentially embarrassing situation or accidentally stealing electric fans, she and her family are seemingly always on the edge of a Stagtastrophe. From her love of Howard Stern to her increasing activism in the autism community and exhaustive search for treatments that will help her daughters, she explores her life with vigor and humor. Always outspoken, often touching, and sometimes heart breaking, Kim Stagliano is a powerful new voice in comedic writing—her “Kimoir” (as she calls it) will be a must-read for everyone within the autism community. More than that, it’s the debut of a new voice that will entertain everyone who reads it.
ALL I CAN HANDLE released in November, 2010 from Skyhorse Publishing. If you enjoy memoirs, check it out!
From Kim’s book, I progressed to STILL ALICE by Lisa Genova. STILL ALICE is a novel about a 50-year-old woman faced with Early Onset Alzheimer’s Disease. It’s an excellent read, whether or not you know someone struggling with EOAD or regular ol’ AD, or various forms of dementia.
About STILL ALICE:
Still Alice is a compelling debut novel about a 50-year-old woman’s sudden descent into early onset Alzheimer’s disease, written by first-time author Lisa Genova, who holds a Ph. D in neuroscience from Harvard University.
Alice Howland, happily married with three grown children and a house on the Cape, is a celebrated Harvard professor at the height of her career when she notices a forgetfulness creeping into her life. As confusion starts to cloud her thinking and her memory begins to fail her, she receives a devastating diagnosis: early onset Alzheimer’s disease. Fiercely independent, Alice struggles to maintain her lifestyle and live in the moment, even as her sense of self is being stripped away. In turns heartbreaking, inspiring and terrifying, Still Alice captures in remarkable detail what’s it’s like to literally lose your mind…
Reminiscent of A Beautiful Mind, Ordinary People and The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-time, Still Alice packs a powerful emotional punch and marks the arrival of a strong new voice in fiction.
What’s interesting about STILL ALICE is that it began as a self-published novel, then was picked up Pocket Books, a major publisher. That doesn’t happen very often. I’m so glad it happened in this case. You can read about Genova’s self-publishing endeavor on the FAQ page of her website. Like it says on her website, this book is a novel, but it reads like a memoir. That’s part of what makes it so fascinating. Genova’s second novel, Left Neglected, about a working mom who suffers a traumatic brain injury, has just been published. Oddly, I can’t seem to find a central website for Genova. Instead, she has websites devoted to each of her books. Here’s the link for STILL ALICE again.
Finally, I read HER FEARFUL SYMMETRY by Audrey Niffenegger. Youngest Son bought it for me for Christmas, and I ate it up. I enjoyed The Time Traveler’s Wife (also by Niffenegger) when I read it last year. But I adored HER FEARFUL SYMMETRY. There’s headhopping all over the place, so if you don’t like headhopping, this might not be the book for you. However, it’s not a romance, where headhopping is often frowned upon (because it can have the effect of distancing you from the characters, and in romance you usually want your reader in the hero and heroine’s minds as much as possible). HER FEARFUL SYMMETRY is a literary novel. So the omniscient point of view works. And the ghost story element is ultra cool.
About HER FEARFUL SYMMETRY:
Julia and Valentina Poole are twenty-year-old sisters with an intense attachment to each other. One morning the mailman delivers a thick envelope to their house in the suburbs of Chicago. Their English aunt, Elspeth Noblin, has died of cancer and left them her London apartment. There are two conditions for this inheritance: that they live in the flat for a year before they sell it and that their parents not enter it. Julia and Valentina are twins. So were the girls’ aunt Elspeth and their mother, Edie.
The girls move to Elspeth’s flat, which borders the vast Highgate Cemetery, where Christina Rossetti, George Eliot, Stella Gibbons, and other luminaries are buried. Julia and Valentina become involved with their living neighbors: Martin, a composer of crossword puzzles who suffers from crippling OCD, and Robert, Elspeth’s elusive lover, a scholar of the cemetery. They also discover that much is still alive in Highgate, including—perhaps—their aunt.
When the cover copy says the girls are twins, it doesn’t mention that they are mirror image twins, and I wondered if there is such a thing. Apparently there is, although one twin having her heart on the right side of her chest, like in the book, is rare.
My husband’s mother is a fraternal twin (two eggs). Her mother was a twin (I don’t know if she was identical or fraternal) who was pregnant 3 times and had 5 babies. Yes, two sets of fraternal twins. Only her first pregnancy made one baby. I find that mighty interesting, so the concept for HER FEARFUL SYMMETRY grabbed me. I’m now looking forward to Niffenegger’s next book.
What interesting books have you read lately?