Review: A Thousand Naked Strangers by Kevin Hazzard


Title: A Thousand Naked Strangers: A Paramedic’s Wild Ride to the Edge and Back

Author: Kevin Hazzard

Published: Scribner January 2016

Read an Excerpt

Status: Read on January 07, 2016 — I own a copy   {Courtesy the publisher/netgalley}

My Thoughts:

A Thousand Naked Strangers is an interesting and fast paced account of Kevin Hazzard’s decade long tenure as a paramedic in Atlanta, Georgia.

At age twenty six, after just eight months of a part time course Emergency Medical Training, and a brief period spent at a rather disreputable private ambulance service ferrying around chronically ill and nursing home patients, Kevin finds himself riding shot gun in a 911 ambulance with a near burnt out partner, responding to calls in some of the worst areas of Atlanta.

EMS is the greatest show I’ve ever seen, except its not a show, it’s all real. No, it’s more than that -it’s reality distilled and boiled down to its essence. It’s life and (hopefully) death, and unlike the general public, I’m invited and allowed to wander freely amid the debris. So send me anything.”

Hazzard details his first few months on the job as he grows in confidence as an EMT, enjoying the novelty, despite a frustrating rotation of partners. However, it’s not until he is teamed with Chris, a career medic, that he begins to view his job as a calling, and decides to upgrade his qualification to become a paramedic, eventually joining the sought after Grady Trauma service.

Hazzard punctuates his narrative with sometimes bloody and often bizarre vignettes of injury and tragedy, severed toes, shattered skulls, choking dogs, angry drunks, and shirtless crack heads. Squeamish readers may not appreciate Hazzard’s descriptions or his dark sense of humour that medicos are famed for, but I admired his candor.

“I just put my hand in brain”
“What’d it feel like?”

Eventually Hazzard’s service begins to take an emotional toll, it is a stressful, often thankless job and eventually the adrenaline fades.

A Thousand Naked Strangers is a gritty, thrilling and compelling glimpse into the world of a paramedic.

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Review: The Prison Book Club by Ann Walmsley


Title: The Prison Book Club

Author: Ann Walmsley

Published: Oneworld December 2015

Status: Read from December 31, 2015 to January 02, 2016 — I own a copy {Courtesy Allen and Unwin}

My Thoughts:

In The Prison Book Club, journalist Ann Walmsley shares the story of the eighteen months she spent as a volunteer with Book Clubs for Inmates, a fledgling project that began at the Collins Bay Institution, a medium-security penitentiary in Kingston, Ontario that has now grown into a successful nationwide program.

Walmsley was understandably reluctant when her friend, Carol Finlay, asked her to support the Collins Bay book club, several years before she had been badly traumatised when she was violently mugged outside her London home. She has little recollection of the first meeting at Collins Bay but decided to return, taking strength from her late father’s (a former judge) advice, “If you expect the best of people, they will rise to the occasion.”

For eighteen months Walmsley joined inmates in Collins Bay, and later the Beaver Creek Institution, to discuss selected fiction and nonfiction titles including The Cellist of Sarajevo , The Book of Negroes , The Boy in the Moon: A Father’s Journey to Understand His Extraordinary Son, Dreams from My Father: A Story of Race and Inheritance and The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society. Walmsley recorded the book-club discussions and conducted regular one on one interviews with a select number of prisoners who also kept diaries for her, not only about their thoughts on reading but also aspects of their daily lives. It is this material she draws on to tell the story.

I admit to being surprised that the literary titles chosen engaged the men so much. I enjoyed the discussion and insights of the prisoners, even though I was unfamiliar with several of the books. The program is an excellent initiative that seems to offer tangible benefits to the prisoners that choose to participate. What particularly struck me was Walmsley’s recognition of the way in which reading seems to encourage the development of empathy, something I have long believed to be true.

I was less interested in Walmsley’s musings about nature and felt perhaps that she could have better explored the contrast between the book club made up of her affluent friends, and the prison book club, beyond the menu and setting.

Overall I found The Prison Book Club to be an interesting read, I really admire the program and I’m heartened to learn that Australian prison’s are encouraged to establish book clubs for inmates. I’ve also added a few books to my own reading list as well including The Zookeeper’s Wife: A War Story and Alias Grace

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