Friday, May 24, 2013

Cloud Atlas

Cloud Atlas
By David Mitchell
Reviewed by Stephanie
5 out of 5 stars

I can find no fault with Cloud Atlas. 

Because of that I have had a difficult time coming up with this review.  This book could have gone all wrong, its premise could have easily tipped this book over the edge into gimmick but David Mitchell pulled this off seamlessly.  It blows my mind.

This book is six very different stories, occurring in different time periods that on the surface have nothing to do with each other.  Yet they have everything to do with each other.  

In 1850, a lawyer crosses the pacific during which he falls seriously ill and is treated by a doctor on board with unusual methods.
n 1931 a young composer of questionable morals works his way into the house of an old, formerly great composer who, due to late stage syphilis has lost his edge.   During his time there he writes his masterpiece.

In 1975 an ambitious reporter working for a gossip rag goes after a big story that makes her a target.
Present day, an older gentleman working in publishing finally finds success, after working his entire life, with a book with ties criminal types.  He soon finds trouble as well.  In an attempt to find a safe place to lie low he ends up in a retirement home against his will.

In the near future, people are cloned and are genetically engineered for slave labor.   They are called fabricants, and one fabricant, Sonmi 451 starts to think outside of the box.  When she does all hell breaks loose.

Far into the future, we find Zachry living in Hawaii just as people did in the distant past, in tribes and in huts and with zero technology.  Language itself is even breaking down.  He meets a young woman that shows up on a ship that still has technology.

Zachry’s story is the center of the book and is the only one that is told completely without a break.  All the rest are told up to a certain point and then they break and start with the next story in order.   Once we hear Zachry’s tale we move backwards and hear the conclusion to the earlier stories to end up where we started, on the ship crossing the Pacific.  It’s a bit like an onion.

All of these stories could have been written by different authors.  You have an historical novel, a crime mystery, a comedy, a sci fi and an apocalyptic novel all mashed up and connected. 


People do the oddest things in the name of winning

Moonwalking with Einstein
By Joshua Foer
Reviewed by Stephanie
4 out of 5 stars

I’m a competitive person. A few years ago I would have added the word “very” in front of competitive; I’ve mellowed as I’ve aged but I remember the lengths I went to in order to be the best at whatever I deemed important.  I’m fairly certain I would not go to such lengths to win a memory competition.

Joshua Foer thought it was a dandy idea…..

Joshua found himself in the world of competitive memory when he decided he wanted to do a journalistic book about the subject and the people in it.   Apparently, and I didn’t know this, there is a world competition for memory.  These people memorize long lists of numbers, decks on top of decks of cards, poetry….ect, all to repeat what they remember to some judges in hopes of winning.  My question was why?  What purpose could this possibly serve?  Who needs a skill like this and when would one have the need to memorize 20 decks of cards?

As the author points out in the book, we no longer need to remember much of anything these days, all our electronic gadgets serve as our external memory.   When was the last time you memorized a phone number?  Pretty close to “a really flippin long time ago” I would guess. 

To accomplish the mind boggling feet of, say, memorizing the order of cards in many set of cards in just minutes, they use the technique called mnemonics.  What this is, is making a visual backdrop for each card, or number, or object and putting them in ‘memorable’ situations doing strange things……and apparently the raunchier the better.  Trust me you don’t want to know what his mind had conjured up for Bill Clinton and a Watermelon, but I will never forget it.

Competition got the better of Foer, and he went from writing a book about memory competitors to being a competitor himself.   He wanted the American memory championship bad!    So bad he resorted to wearing blacked out goggles with small holes in them to see whatever he studying and to wearing earmuffs  to minimize distractions. 

That's dedication.

Beautiful Boy: A Father's Journey Through His Son's Addiction

David Sheff
Houghton Mifflin Harcourt
Reviewed by: Nancy
4 out of 5 stars


What had happened to my beautiful boy? To our family? What did I do wrong? Those are the wrenching questions that haunted every moment of David Sheff ’s journey through his son Nic’s addiction to drugs and tentative steps toward recovery. Before Nic Sheff became addicted to crystal meth, he was a charming boy, joyous and funny, a varsity athlete and honor student adored by his two younger siblings. After meth, he was a trembling wraith who lied, stole, and lived on the streets. David Sheff traces the first subtle warning signs: the denial, the 3 A.M. phone calls (is it Nic? the police? the hospital?), the rehabs. His preoccupation with Nic became an addiction in itself, and the obsessive worry and stress took a tremendous toll. But as a journalist, he instinctively researched every avenue of treatment that might save his son and refused to give up on Nic.

Beautiful Boy is a fiercely candid memoir that brings immediacy to the emotional rollercoaster of loving a child who seems beyond help.

My Review

I never understood the appeal of meth. It’s made in clandestine labs using an array of chemicals that are flammable and hazardous to your health. The drug is highly addictive and has dangerous side-effects. Your teeth fall out, your jaw collapses, you get those ghastly sores and ulcers, your cheeks become hollow, and your eyes are sunken in. And that’s only on the outside. On the inside, your brain looks like Swiss cheese, you become paranoid, irritable and even violent.

At one time, cocaine was my drug of choice. No fancy paraphernalia, no needles, and it’s a plant derivative. The high doesn’t last as long and if I want to stop, there are no physical withdrawal symptoms. Plus, it had the added benefits of keeping my weight down at its lowest, making me the life of the party, and acquiring more friends than I knew what to do with. So it has to be healthier for you, right? Who was I kidding?

My job performance suffered, I became paranoid, I was hardly eating at all, and I slept only sporadically. There were nosebleeds, jitters, dry mouth, running nose, and depression. There was the scary emergency room visit for an asthma attack during a party where drugs, alcohol and cats were rampant. My neglect to mention my drug use to the doctor treating me nearly caused me to have a heart attack.

One morning I woke up and decided enough is enough. My love affair with the drug was over as quickly as it started. Since that day, I never touched the stuff again.

I’ve read stories about drug addicts, but none told from a parent’s perspective. Nic Sheff, a college student in his early 20’s, continues to battle his addiction. This is a beautiful and painful story told by his dad. He’s not a perfect man and he’s made a lot of mistakes, but there was never a doubt in my mind that he loves his son dearly. Through the ups and down of Nic’s addiction, his dad’s constant worries and fears ultimately affected his health until eventually he sought the help he needed and learned to create healthy boundaries.

I’m looking forward to Nic’s story – what made him start using, his relationship with his parents and siblings, and the effects his parents’ divorce had on him.

All I can say is I’m glad I don’t have kids. 

Also posted at Goodreads.