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

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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?”
“Squishy.”

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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Review: Furiously Happy by Jenny Lawson

 

Title: Furiously Happy

Author: Jenny Lawson

Published: Picador: Pan Macmillan Australia October 2015

Status: Read from October 03 to 04, 2015 — I own a copy   {Courtesy the publisher}

My Thoughts:

In case you are unaware, Jenny Lawson is a blogger whose brutally candid and often profane posts as The Bloggess, about living with depression, anxiety and a variety of other psychiatric disorders are wildly popular.
Laugh out loud funny, poignant and a little crazy, read this and make yourself #FuriouslyHappy

I generally choose not to rate memoirs for several reasons (but if I did, I’d give this 5 stars).

 

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Weekend Cooking: Prick With a Fork by Larissa Dubecki

wkendcooking

Weekend Cooking, hosted by Beth Fish Reads is a semi-regular post at Book’d Out.

****

 

Title: Prick with a Fork

Author: Larissa Dubecki

Published: Allen & Unwin September 2015

Status: Read from September 25 to 26, 2015 — I own a copy

My Thoughts:

Prick With a Fork is a funny, lighthearted expose of the food industry from the point of view of a disenchanted waitress turned restaurant critic.

From almost killing a stripper with a wayward steak knife to staging go slow’s to frustrate obnoxious customers, Larissa Dubecki claims she was the world’s worst waitress, unashamedly sullen, insolent, disinterested, and often hungover, yet she spent over a decade waitering in everything from cyber cafe’s to gastro pubs throughout Melbourne.

In Prick with a Fork, Dubecki details working with psychopathic chefs, hostile customers, drug addled colleagues and bartenders on the take and reveals insider secrets about illicit trysts in coolrooms, cash hidden under registers, and unpleasant uses for carrots. Her anecdotes are hilarious, though often slightly nauseating, you may never be able look your waiter in the eye again.

Salted with confessions and peppered with pathos, Prick with a Fork is a light and entertaining read.

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Review: Part of Our Lives: A People’s History of the American Public Library by Wayne A. Wiegand

 

Title: Part of Our Lives: A People’s History of the American Public Library

Author: Wayne A. Wiegand

Published: Oxford University Press September 2015

Status: Read on September 25, 2015 — I own a copy   {Courtesy the publisher/netgalley}

My Thoughts:

Part of Our Lives is a fascinating and passionate treatise on the history, culture and contribution of American public libraries by Wayne A. Wiegand.

With a focus on the perspective of ‘library in the life of a user’ Wiegand explores the important role libraries play in the life of individuals: as distributors of information and education, as a source of fiction that entertains and enlightens, and as social community spaces, debunking the notion that libraries are, or have ever been, simply ‘warehouses for books’.

Tracing the evolution of public library services, from Benjamin Franklin’s Library Company of Philadelphia established in 1732, through to the 17,219 modern public library systems more than 93 million Americans utilised in 2012, Wiegand draws on official and anecdotal sources to illustrate the value of libraries that statistics don’t always reflect.

In addition Wiegand examines issues such as access, censorship, and technology and the sway of factors such as gender, race, class, politics, and religion, that have have shaped, and continue to affect modern library services.

Though primarily a professional text, Part of Our Lives is an accessible read, I’d recommend it to bibliophiles, social historians and anyone who treasures their library card.

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Review: Yes, My Accent is Real by Kunal Nayyar

 

Title: Yes, My Accent is Real : and Some Other Things I Haven’t Told You

Author: Kunal Nayyar

Published: Simon & Schuster Au September 2015

Status: Read on September 20, 2015 — I own a copy

My Thoughts:

As a fan of The Big Bang Theory I couldn’t pass up the chance to learn more about the endearing actor who plays Raj Koothrappali, actor Kunal Nayyar.

Yes, My Accent is Real: and Some Other Things I Haven’t Told You is a collection of stories and anecdotes from his life.

It begins with stories from his childhood in India spent dreaming of kissing Winnie from ‘The Wonder Years’ and playing badminton like a champ, before moving on to his time at college in the US, his interest in acting and landing the role of Raj on the The Big Bang Theory.

Kunar also writes about his family, especially his admiration for his father, his joy at marrying his wife, and his enjoyment and respect for the cultural traditions of his country. I was a little disappointed there wasn’t more about his daily life as part of The Big Bang Theory cast though.

Kunal proves to be a sweet, genuine and self deprecating storyteller. Yes, My Accent is Real is a charming, funny and easy read.

* Please note I choose not to rate memoirs

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Review: Is This My Beautiful Life? by Jessica Rowe

 

Title: Is This My Beautiful Life?

Author: Jessica Rowe

Published: Allen & Unwin September 2015

Status: Read on September 13, 2015 — I own a copy   {Courtesy the publisher}

My Thoughts:

Is This My Beautiful Life? is the memoir of Jessica Rowe, best known as an Australian television news presenter, and ambassador for the organisation beyondblue.

Jessica Rowe writes candidly about her unsettled childhood as a result of her mother’s bipolar disorder, her legal battle with network Ten, the hurtful criticism leveled at her by the public and media, the loss of her job at Channel Nine, and her struggle to conceive via IVF. But it is her battle with post natal depression after the birth of her first child with 60 minutes journalist Peter Overton, that is the focus of this memoir.

Challenged by breastfeeding, uncertain about her instincts as a mother, and exhausted by the demands of a newborn, Jessica found herself overwhelmed. She is honest and open about being unable to admit to her increasing distress. She writes of her fears of developing a mental illness like her mother, of her feelings of failure, and her reluctance to reach out for help, despite the support of her husband and family.

Offering encouragement, sympathy and comfort to women who may find themselves struggling with ‘having it all’, Is This My Beautiful Life? is an open and touching read, addressing an important subject that affects around 1 in 7 Australian women.

*Please note I choose not to rate memoirs.

Available to purchase from

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Review: $2.00 A Day: Living on Almost Nothing in America by Kathryn J Edin & Luke Shaeffer

 

Title: $2.00 A Day: Living on Almost Nothing in America

Author: Kathryn J Edin and Luke Shaeffer

Published: Houghton Mifflin Harcourt September 2015

Read an Excerpt

Status: Read on August 30, 2015 — I own a copy   {Courtesy the publisher/Netgalley}

My Thoughts:

In October 2014, ACOSS released a new report revealing that poverty is growing in Australia with an estimated 2.5 million people or 13.9% of all people living below the internationally accepted poverty line. Of those, 603,000 or 17.7%, are children.

And as politicians whine about the increasing costs of the welfare system (from the suite of their tax payer funded five star hotel room) and the media whips middle class society into a frenzy by highlighting the worst examples of the minority who abuse the system, the Australian government is considering implementing a program similar to America’s model of SnAP.

What $2.00 a Day: Living on Almost Nothing in America shows is that the American welfare system, and specifically the reliance on the SnAP program, fails to provide for or protect its most vulnerable citizens. It looks generous on paper but in practice, but it leaves families without access to cash, vital for everyday life. Without cash they are unable to use public transport, pay bills, buy underwear, or school supplies, without having to resort to trading SnAP for half its worth on the dollar, selling blood, collecting cans, or illegal activities, such as prostitution, all for a few dollars.

Statistics show that the number of American families living on $2.00 per person, per day, has skyrocketed to 1.5 million American households, including about 3 million children, and the authors introduce the reader to eight families who are struggling to survive on incomes of $2.00 per person, per day or less.

The causes of such extreme poverty are complicated. ‘Get a job’ cries the middle classes, but with scarce unskilled work opportunities and exploitative employers, the answer is not that simple. Modonna worked as a cashier in one store for eight years but when her register came up $10 short after a shift she was fired, and even though the store later found the money, she received no apology nor an invitation to return to work. Unable to keep up with her rent she was evicted and she and her teenage daughter were forced into a homeless shelter, and despite applying for hundreds of jobs, Modonna remains unemployed.

And what of the children? Tabitha is one of thirteen children. She grew up with one set of clothes, sharing a mattress with seven of her siblings in a three bedroom apartment. They often went without food especially when their mother found it necessary to trade some of the SnAP she received, at almost half its value, for cash in order to pay the electricity or water bill. In tenth grade a desperate Tabitha agreed to sleep with one of her teachers who offered her food in exchange in for regular sex. In her junior year she was forced to leave home when she intervened in a fight between her mother and her abusive partner and the man issued Tabitha’s mother an ultimatum. Now eighteen she is finishing high school and has a place to live thanks to a boarding school scholarship, but she will graduate in a matter of months and though she’d like to go to college, there is no money to do so.

There are no easy solutions to the kind of poverty experienced by Modonna and her daughter, or Tabitha and her family, but its clear the current welfare system is failing. Without cash, many families have no hope of escaping the cycle of poverty, or surviving the experience without deep physical and emotional wounds. The authors argue for sensible reforms that would go some way to alleviating the plight of those living on $2.00 per person, per day.

This is an eyeopening and important book that will challenge your preconceptions of poverty, welfare and the poor. It is much harder to blame or condemn the homeless or unemployed (or dole bludgers in the Australian vernacular) for their circumstances when you understand the challenges they face.

“…the question we have to ask ourselves is, Whose side are we on? can our desire for, and sense of, community induce those of us with resources to come alongside the extremely poor among us in a more supportive, and ultimately more effective, way?”

 

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Review: The Simple Act of Reading Edited by Debra Adelaide

 

Title: The Simple Act of Reading

Author: Edited by Debra Adelaide

Published: Random House June 2015

Read an Excerpt

Status: Read from August 25 to 27, 2015 — I own a copy   {Courtesy the publisher/Netgalley}

My Thoughts:

“The idea for this book was simple, as simple as the act of reading itself: how compelling it is when authors write about books, other authors or just moments in their reading lives that have been significant for them.”

Edited by Debra Adelaide, The Simple Act of Reading is a collection of short personal essays from twenty one of Australia’s celebrated writers.

Luke Davies writes of childhood correspondence with Herge, the author of TinTin. Joan London praises The Watch Tower by Elizabeth Harrower, while David Malouf recalls the first time he read Jane Eyre. Catherine Keenan shares the joy of her young daughter cracking the code of the written word, and Anita Heiss writes of discovering her love for reading when studying for her doctorate in her late twenties.

I recognised myself in several of the essays, I was just like Kate Forsyth describes herself, in ‘Books are Dangerous’;

“When I was a child, I was such a bookworm that I troubled and bewildered even my very bookish parents. I would borrow six books at a time from the local library, and have read them all by the following day. I used to walk home from school reading. I would become so absorbed in the book that I would walk past my turn-off, and some considerable time later look up, finding myself blocks away from home. I’d miss my stop on train journeys. I would not hear my name being called in class. I would read so late at night that I could hear the kookaburras’ weird cackle as I reluctantly turned the last pages.”

In fact little has changed :)

The Simple Act of Reading is an engaging collection that will appeal to book lovers everywhere.

And this, from Sunil Budami in ‘In Your Deams’ is the perfect retort for the question oft asked of bookworms;

” So, if you can recall the question: if we forget most of what we read, then why do we read? You might as well ask why we dream, or live at all, given how much we forget of our dreams and lives. Yet just as I cannot imagine being alive without dreams, I couldn’t dream of living without reading.”

All profits from The Simple Act of Reading will be donated to The Sydney Story Factory

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Review: No House to Call My Home by Ryan Berg

 

Title: No House to Call My Home: Love, Family, and Other Transgressions

Author: Ryan Berg

Published: Nation Books August 2015

Status: Read on August 20, 2015 — I own a copy {Courtesy the publisher/netgalley}

My Thoughts:

I recently binge watched America’s ABC Family series The Fosters, a one-hour drama about a multi-ethnic family mix of foster and biological teenaged kids being raised by two moms. In one of the later seasons, a main character is remanded to a residential foster home and one of the teenage residents in the home is transgender. Though his story is told quite broadly over one or two episodes, it stuck with me, and so my interest was piqued when No House to Call My Home by Ryan Berg came up for review.

No House to Call My Home is a book that illustrates the struggles of Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transgender and Questioning (LGBTQ) youth of colour in America’s foster system. While the challenges for youth in foster care are numerous, the problems LGBTQ youth face are often compounded by their struggle with gender, sexual, racial and cultural identity. Berg states that 70% of LGBTQ youth in group homes reported experiencing violence based on their LGBTQ status, 100% reported verbal harassment, and 78% of youth were removed or ran away from placement because of hostility towards their LGBTQ status.

The stories in this book offer readers a glimpse into the lives of the LGBTQ youth of colour Berg worked with in two residential units serving the LGBTQ foster youth in New York City. Focusing on a handful of characters, Berg shares their uniformly harrowing stories, often involving histories of childhood physical and sexual abuse, neglect, poverty and victimisation. Now aged between 14 and 21 (21 being the age at which foster children are released from the system) Berg and his colleagues battle to help these youths manage a myriad of issues, including addictions to drugs and high risk behaviours, to improve their chances at living healthy and fulfilling lives.

The stories are affecting, the children’s mixture of bravado, naivete, hurt and hope are difficult to read, but I think as a result I am better informed and more understanding of their circumstances. Sadly, most of the young people that we are introduced to in No House To Call Home will age out without the means, skills or opportunity to find stable housing or get a job with a livable wage.

No House to Call My Home is an accessible read for an audience curious about the issue of LGBTQ youth in foster care. I imagine it also would have value for social workers, school counselors, foster carers and LGBTQ youth advocates.

 

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