Wednesday, March 23, 2016

Nevermore: First Ladies, Appalachians, Still Alice, Lives Left Behind, and One Second After

This week, our Nevermore readers decided to revisit First Ladies:  Presidential Histories on the Lives of 45 Iconic American Women by Susan Swain.  Based on a yearlong C-SPAN history series, which featured interviews with fifty of the nation’s most prominent histories and biographers, First Ladies offers an intimate and insightful look at the lives of the presidential ladies.  It looks deeply into their lives, scrutinizing the social expectations they faced and the changes they made, and provides a close-up historical look at some of the most fascinating women in the country.  Our Nevermore reader said it was a fascinating book.  He liked that it gave him unexpected insight into the lives of these women—such as how Eleanor Roosevelt established the precedent of first ladies having a cause to support, or how Mary Todd Lincoln was confined to an asylum for a number of years, or how Ida Saxton McKinley was subject to epileptic fits and her husband would carry a handkerchief to cover her face—and he highly recommended it to other readers.

Next, our readers discussed Mountains of the Heart:  A Natural History of the Appalachians by Scott Weidensaul.  Weidensaul, who has spent a number of years as a naturalist, studied the geology, ecology, climate, evolution, and history of the Appalachian Mountains.  His book offers unrivaled insight into history and significance of Appalachia—and its people.  Reading the 20th anniversary edition of Weidensaul’s work, our Nevermore reader greatly enjoyed reading Mountains of the Heart—and he even went out and bought his own copy.  One of the best qualities of this book, he said, was that Weidensaul falls in love with Appalachia.  He pours out his love for the mountains onto the page, telling readers about the qualities that make the area so extraordinary.  It’s obvious the author loves his work and loves the local area, and it’s a refreshing experience.

Our Nevermore group also looked at Still Alice, a novel by Lisa Genova.  Alice Howland is a cognitive psychology professor at Harvard and a world-renowned expert in linguistics.  She’s proud of the life, the reputation, the family she’s managed to build; however, when Alice finds herself becoming disoriented and incredibly forgetful, she discovers she has Alzheimer’s disease—a diagnosis that will change her life forever.  Our reader said Still Alice was a heartbreakingly beautiful novel.  “It’s very good, very moving,” she said, because it offers insight into the progression of a disease that affects millions of individuals and families.  It’s a tragic story that’s sometimes difficult to read, on emotional level, but it’s a wonderful novel with a poignant story that’s sure to make an impact.

Additionally, our Nevermore readers looked at The Lives They Left Behind:  Suitcases from a State Hospital Attic by Darby Penney and Peter Stastny.  Willard Psychiatric Center in New York—alternatively known as Willard Asylum and Willard State Hospital—closed its doors after more than a century in use.  More than 50,000 patients were admitted to Willard since its creation in 1869, and nearly half of the individuals who stepped through their doors died there.  In this poignant, jarring biography, Stastny and Penney explore the lives of Willard’s patients, examining the suitcases that were found when Willard closed in 1995 and offering insight into the lives of patients who were devastatingly stripped of their identities after their subsequent admission to the hospital.  Our reader found The Lives They Left Behind to be a fascinating book, because it offered such a wealth of information and, more importantly, portraits of patients, offering an in-depth social history of the patients who sometimes spent their entire lives at Willard.  She continued, saying it was a great book for anyone interested in the history of psychiatry and the medical/mental health profession.

Last, Nevermore explored One Second After by William R. Forstchen, a local author from Asheville, North Carolina.  John Matherson is content with his life:  he has a job he enjoys, two wonderful daughters, and a community that could rival a Norman Rockwell painting.  And then power mysteriously goes out—along with phones, internet service, and every technology-reliant device.  An Electro Magnetic Pulse, an EMP, has put the lights out across the entire country, leaving the United States in the dark.  That leaves John with some tough decisions to make for his family, especially since his youngest daughter, Jennifer, is a Type 1 diabetic and his community is on the precipice of disaster.  Our reader was pleasantly surprised by Forstchen’s novel, calling it a very interesting survival story.  Although she’d only finished approximately half of One Second After—and she wasn’t entirely sure where the story would lead—she was excited to read more.

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