Archive for the Non-Fiction Category

Death’s Acre by William Bass and Jon Jefferson

Posted in Lisa, Non-Fiction with tags , on September 9, 2008 by Lisa

Cross posted at Books. Lists. Life.

Death’s Acre by William Bass and Jon Jefferson

Did you ever read Patricia Cornwell’s The Body Farm? Watch Forensic Files? Bones? Death’s Acre is the non-fiction version of that. Subtitled “Inside the Legendary Forensic Lab the Body Farm Where the Dead Do Tell Tales ,” this book is about the Body Farm (as you may have guessed by now.) The Body Farm is in Knoxville, TN and is a research facility dedicated to death. The brainchild of Dr. Bass, anthropologists there study every conceivable aspect of death to determine how and when a person died.

The book is a series of chapters about various case studies beginning in 1981 with the opening of the Farm. It tells in great detail about what a person can learn from a dead body and what can and can’t be hidden. For example, it’s hard to burn a body, if a body rests on a coin, the coin will be imprinted on the corpse, maggots appear almost immediately, and the soil under a body will show traces of the body’s decomposition. Both fascinating and a little bit gross, the book held my interest and I flew through it. My only complaint is that at times it was painfully obvious that Dr. Bass was in charge of the writing as it would veer into weirdly self-congratulatory talk. I was unable to read their first fiction novel for the same reason- the writing style- so if the writing bugs you this might not be for you. Otherwise, if you’re at all interesting in the forensic sciences, you should pick it up. This book would be a nice companion to Stiff by Mary Roach as well.


Posted in Christine, Magazine, Non-Fiction, Weight Loss on August 2, 2008 by muerta

I have always enjoyed reading a magazine.  I admit that my tastes are varied, and I have purchased or subscribed to magazines for a variety of reasons.  Currently, we have no magazines arriving to the house; the internet has changed most of the way that we gather our news or information that we seek.  However, this will change soon.

Oprah “O”:  I used to subscribe, but I canceled my subscription when her articles about my favorite things were items that were equivalent in value to my weekly paycheck.  While I still enjoy catching her show when I can [I like Dr. Oz and Suzie Orman(?)], I found her magazine to be too rich for my tastes.

Glamour:  used to be a fun read for me when I had a body that could fit the clothing styles that they advertised.  I also found that working in education with handicapped children and my ability to afford to go out to “stylish” places became more limited as usually I am asleep around 10ish (unless there is a Law and Order marathon happening on TNT or my book is really good) so this subscription too became canceled.

Games for Windows:  my husband’s yearly birthday present but he got mad at them for rating more console games and disagreed with too many of their reviews.  Hence, this subscription was canceled.

Wierd Tales:  another husband subscription but he canceled it because he did not like the format as compared to the older, much more expensive editions that he periodically finds on eBay.  Well, my apologies to them that Lovecraft, et al. are no longer contributing during this modern age of horror writing.

Yankee Magazine:  I loved this magazine for many reasons.  It had an elaborate list of things to do in New England, new places to try, recipes, a great gardening section, a featured “house of the month”, and in general, many interesting articles about life in New England- everything from lobster fishing to Lyme Disease outbreaks.  It was almost pocket sized, definitely pocket book sized, and very identifiable and unique.  However, about a year ago, another company bought them, made it normal sized for a magazine, and increased the advertising to where most of the magazine was focused on people and what they were selling.  No more articles of interest regarding the “Rhode Island Beach Frisbee Dog Catching Contest” or the Children’s Museum in Cape Cod.  With this more modern make-over, I canceled my subscription.  I liked the cozier feel of the old magazine.

After all, it was one article in Yankee magazine that taught us how to really use our Weber grill with accuracy and that alone made it very worth while.

Connecticut Magazine:  subscribed for a year and then canceled when I found out that people were paying reporters to get into the magazine.  It always focused on upscale places, or had rankings of who is the best dentist or doctor, or what is happening in the insurance industry.  There was little human aspect to the magazine; it was all about money being made in Connecticut.  I was hoping it would be a nice support for my loss of Yankee Magazine but sadly, it was not.

Now, I confess that I have succumbed to reading People Magazine in Doctor’s offices (will Tom and Kate survive?  What about poor Suri?  Will Brittany ever lose her baby fat?  and Poor Shaina Twain for her husband’s love affair!)  and about once or twice a month I will buy Star Magazine which I a). love the crossword puzzles because I can actually do them, and b). the girls at the high school love to read it when I am done so it gets recycled around.  Sometimes, I am even able to get the girl’s involved with helping me on the crosswords which makes it fun because it becomes more of a learning/current events activity than just sitting around.

I have also read Women’s World periodically but it tends to make me feel older and seems more focused to organizing your life, your kids, your family, your work, your schedule and lose 10 pounds at the same time!  It has not much in the way of living with an oppositional-defiant dog, a cat who barks, a husband who lives for gadgets and games, and a woman who merely deals with hot flashes by covering herself with wet clothes and fans.  I am getting “older” but I am not ready to admit it.

So for about a year, our house has been subscription-less.

Until now.

I made the decision to join Weight Watcher’s online, and with that, I decided to subscribe to their magazine as well.  I figure it will help me stay the course since I am not a meetings sorta person, and will keep me interested in ideas and redundancy of “I lost weight, you can too” without having to sit around listening to people whine/complain/talk about successes or failures in person.  I am too sarcastic and too blunt, and I suspect that I could hurt someone’s feelings so best to allow me to sit by my computer and track on my own.

So, now this house will have a subscription once again arriving to its door.  I am thinking about getting a second one, about green living and organic foods, but I don’t want to get ahead of myself.  I guess I would only do it if it was on 100% recycled paper.  It only makes sense that way.

P.S.  The new 2009 IKEA catalog just arrived today.  Now, there is interesting reading as I am starting to redo the dining room this month!  WooHoo!

TBR Challenge: A Long Way Gone:Memoirs of a Boy Soldier by Ishmael Beah (2007)

Posted in Gina, Non-Fiction, TBR Challenge on July 16, 2008 by Gina

A Long Way Gone was possibly the hardest book I have ever read — emotionally speaking that is.  I am fearful that I will not convey the beauty and the brutality of this book with this review.  I will try so that Ishmael’s story can reach others- because it is a story in need of hearing.  

From the front/back flap:

This is how wars are fought now:  by children, traumatized, hopped-up on drugs, and wielding AK-47s.  Children have become the soldiers of choice.  In the more than fifty violent conflicts going on worldwide, it is estimated that there are some 300,000 child soldiers.  Ishmael Beah used to be one of them. 

What does war look like through the eyes of a child soldier?  How does one become a killer?  How does one stop?  Child soldiers have been profiled by journalists, and novelists have struggled to imagine their lives.  But it is rare to find a first-person account from someone who endured this hell and survived.

In A Long Way Gone: Memoirs of a Boy Soldier, Ishmael Beah, now twenty-six years old, tells a powerfully gripping story:  At the age of twelve, he fled attacking rebels and wandered a land rendered unrecognizable by violence.  By thirteen, he’d been picked up by the government army, and Beah, at heart a gentle boy, found that he was capable of truly terrible acts.  At sixteen, he was removed from fighting by UNICEF, and through the help of the staff at his rehabilitation center, he learned how to forgive himself, to regain his humanity, and finally, to heal.

This is an extraordinary and mesmerizing account, told with real literary force and heartbreaking honesty.

This book floored me.  I was amazed at this boys story.  By the time I had finished this book, so many different feelings were brought up from within me.  I was horrified what war had done to the country of Sierra Leone.  You expect that war will be atrocious.  You can even allow that one side may be malicious.  However, both sides of this war acted with such inhumanity and brutality that I can barely recognize them as human at all. 

I was shocked at how normal people reacted to the war.  It was horrible what Ishmael and his friends were subjected to by just regular people who were also fleeing the war.  This was probably one of the most saddening aspects of the book.  Normal men were willing to kill children because they feared these boys; this makes me sad and frightened for our world. 

I loved his telling of his first trip to the United States, specifically to New York City.  He describes the New York that he expected,

My conception of New York City came from rap music.  I envisioned it as a place where people shot each other on the street and got away with it; no one walked on the streets, rather people drove in their sports cars looking for nightclubs and for violence.”

He was shocked with the truths of New York City.  It was the first time that he’d seen snow or experienced winter with its extreme cold and shorten daylight hours.  He says upon his arrival,

“I knew the word ‘winter’ from Shakespeare’s texts and I thought I should look up its meaning again…I felt my skin tighten, I couldn’t feel my face, and it seemed my ears had fallen off; my fingers hurt, and my teeth chattered…I had never in my life felt this cold.  How can anyone survive in this country” 

I would recommend everyone read this book simply because everyone should know that atrocities like this happen in our world.  It is this knowledge that can help us prevent them in the future.  

There are those who dispute Beah’s account.  I have no proof either way on the validity of Beah’s account.  I felt that I should inform readers of the controversy surrounding this book.   

 You can see the other TBR Day participants here.




Sickened by Julie Gregory

Posted in Christine, Mental Health/Mental Illness, Non-Fiction on July 4, 2008 by muerta

Quite possibly the scariest book on child abuse that I have ever read.

“Sickened” is a story about Munchausen by Proxy Syndrome (MBP) where a young girl is subjected to her mother’s persistent cries that her daughter is sick and the frequent doctor’s appointments and tests that the child must undergo.  However, the nature of the illness is that the parent deliberately injures or sickens the child so that the doctor’s think that something is wrong, and end up doing tests and surgeries that are completely unnecessary, often painful, and force the child into a position of complete submission and complacency to the abusing parent’s will.

The child trusts the parent that the medicine will make them better, when actually, the parent is making them sicker to maintain their dominance over child, family and doctors.

Julie is another candid writer.  Her description of her family history and life, her own emotions and physical pains, and her sudden realization of what was actually happening make for a great descriptive story about how her life was lived before doctor’s (and family and friends) realized that a parent could actually do this to a child.

The psychological makeup of her family is beyond frightening; her mother makes Mommy Dearest look tame but the book brings you inside how psychology and medicine need to work together.  It also effectively proves that child abuse is not just limited to physical beatings, but there is an emotional and mental aspect that more often is ignored than assisted.

Like Wasted, realize that the author does not spare words in describing what happened in her youth.  But as MBP is a frequently missed diagnosis and is most likely more prevalent than we realize, it is a great book for spreading awareness of the disease and helping the medical profession to recognize that “doctor shopping” may have a hidden meaning.

Wasted by Marya Hornbacher

Posted in Christine, Mental Health/Mental Illness, Non-Fiction on July 4, 2008 by muerta

I have read this book before, and rereading it, I picked up many things that I had missed during the first read.  This impressed me, as when rereading a book, I often put it down after a few pages because I think “oh, I read this already.”  This time I thought, “Oh, I remember this part” and was thankful.

Marya suffers first from Bulimia and then later from Anorexia Nervosa, and beautifully explains her transition between the diseases, her moments of success, and her moments of failure.  She writes of how these diseases develop, progress, and her own thoughts while she slowly starved herself to death.  She discusses all the typical topics– relationships with therapists, parents, friends, issues of abandonment, issues of consumerism, issues with death– but handles each in a unique way that helps you to truly understand how a person could simply say “I deny myself nurishment.”

She speaks of being scared, and to me, that strikes home the hardest as one deals with a physical or mental illness.  It is fear of the unknown that makes everything that much worse, and in anorexia, the sufferer knows the ultimate outcome of the disease- get better or die.  It opens the reader’s eyes to understanding that it’s not just as simple as “getting better,” but rather, defeating your own demons as well as the demons that surround you.

This book is not for the feint of heart.  She writes candidly.  But if you ever wondered or witnessed the progression of this disease (or any mental or physical disease), Marya narrates it well.  It is a good read for understanding how fear truly can dictate or life and actions.

Helping Me Help Myself by Beth Lisick

Posted in Lisa, Non-Fiction with tags , , on June 29, 2008 by Lisa

Crossposted at Books. Lists. Life.

Helping Me Help Myself: One skeptic, ten self-help gurus, and a year on the brink of the comfort zone has a great premise. On New Year’s Day Beth Lisick wakes up and takes stock of her life. She’s not so happy with where she’s at professionally or personally and she’s looking for a way to get back on track. Initially full of disdain for self-help books, she decides to read one each month and fully commit herself to it’s guidelines. She starts off in January with Jack Canfield’s The Success Principles. She’ll eventually work her way through Steven Covey’s Seven Habits, Suze Orman, John Gray, Julie Morgenstern, 1-2-3 Magic by Thomas Phelan, Julia Cameron, Deepak Chopra, a cruise with Richard Simmons and a night with Sylvia Browne.

As the subtitle would suggest, she’s pretty skeptical that all this will help her solve her problems. She disdains the idea of a life coach like Canfield. She spends (literally) the last of her money on a two-week trip to Italy. She sees Chopra as “spirituality lite.” She is funny and sarcastic and makes fun of just the right things. She goes on a Richard Simmons cruise and falls in love with the man himself. (Honestly, the Richard Simmons chapter makes the whole books awesome. I find myself a little in love with him now as well!) At the end of the year, Lisick feels a bit smarter, but watching her journey I’m not convinced that she really learned anything. I am also not totally convinced she was completely honest with us- she continues to tells us again and again how very broke she is, but still manages to spend money on things like a trip to Italy. It seems like some aspects of her life are a bit exaggerated to make for a better story. Despite this, I still found the book to be enjoyable, and would recommend it to anyone looking for a very light memoir.

Thicket: Alabama Redefined June/July 08 issue

Posted in Gina, Magazine, Non-Fiction, South on June 4, 2008 by Gina

Our household has been getting a free sample subscription of a new Alabama magazine for a few months.   The magazine is called Thicket.   I have enjoyed the two issues that we have gotten.  So much so, I am considering subscribing to it when our household never actually subscribes to ANY magazines.  Sure we get some as gifts.  But we don’t subscribe and haven’t for years.  

The name Thicket is catchy.  It  comes from the Native American origin of Alabama.  al-a-bam-a: from the Choctaw alba (meaning plants) and amo (meaning to cut); to clear the thicket.  It isn’t a huge magazine only about 80 pages.  But it is full of articles about our great state.  I counted nine actual articles.  (Which is far more page per page than the Glamour that the flight attendant passed to me during our flight out of Rhode Island last weekend.) 

There is an excellent article on Patricia Barnes aka Sister Schubert.  If you haven’t had a Sister Schubert roll then you are missing something great. You should go directly to you grocery store to see if they carry them (in the freezer section.)   (I personally like the rolls wrapped around the little sausages best.  Patricia’s favorites are the orange rolls….which I also can attest are awesome.)  In the 1980’s, Patricia had a small side catering business.  She donated eight pans of her rolls to a church fundraiser in 1989.  Two years later, in 1991, the church had preorders for 300 pans.  By 2000, she sold the company, where she and her husband still work, for $40million.  The article was very interesting. I especially enjoyed the part where the mayor of a struggling Luverne, AL wooed her to open her first large bakery in his town.  Also, interesting was the part about how she and her husband have chosen to give back to the world from the wealth they have worked for. 

Thicket also has the staples of these types of magazines.  It has a few book and music recommendations.  It has a calendar of events for the state.  Anyone interested in the 4th Annual Gulf Coast Hot Air Balloon Festival in Foley or The Alabama Blueberry Festival in Brewton or possibly the Hank Williams Festival of Georgiana is more your cup of tea.   The photos in the magazine are beautiful and truly embrace Alabama at its best.

My favorite part of Thicket has to be the human interest mini-articles (some not much more than a paragraph.)  I fell in love with Chris and Gary Wheeler or Locust Fork.  They are a couple who retired from their jobs with the Postal Service and quilt together.  They are pictured with their quilts.  One is hers. One is his.   I love a man who can quilt! 

I love this magazine.  I am an Alabamian.  This magazine just puts the greatness that is Alabama in the forefront of people’s minds.