you're not edithThe English student in me cringes whenever someone says, “Let’s read an essay” because in my mind, the term “essay” is still equated with the five-paragraph, three-reasons-why type essays that you had to write in high school. When I was flipping through Allison Gruber’s You’re Not Edith, a book exclusively filled with autobiographical essays, I noticed that instead of the traditional format, her essays read like chunks of a story broken apart for relief, flashback, comedy, and a wide variety of other purposes. I started reading You’re Not Edith and discovered that I was in fact reading an autobiography with much shorter chapters, something that my brain found easier to digest because there were breaks where I could stop if I had to go do something else and I found that I was able to finish this book much quicker than I was other books. Books containing autobiographical essays have begun to grow on me.

In You’re Not Edith, Allison Gruber reflects upon her entire life as she’s experienced it so far. Just like in her life, Gruber takes risks when she explodes her life into these essays for readers to dissect. She pulls no punches as she describes how she tried to use her fascination with Diane Fossey to help her win her girlfriend in high school or how she was diagnosed with breast cancer as she was teaching at the collegiate level. Gruber is a hilarious writer who speaks with shocking candor and isn’t afraid to tell the truth about her struggles with cancer and how she figured that even though she wouldn’t allow others to take care of her, she would still be able to care for Bernie, a little dachshund who didn’t fit her perfect ideal of the Edith dog, but ended up being exactly what she needed.

I encourage you to pick up this book to check out her feelings on weddings, her father’s mental problems, and how she came into her own through music, drama, English, and many other interconnected things.

its not about perfect“When the odds were against me, I was always at my best.” When she retired at age 19, Shannon Miller did so as one of the most recognizable gymnasts in the country. The winner of seven Olympic medals and the most decorated gymnast, male or female, in U.S. history, Shannon tells a story of surviving and thriving in It’s Not About Perfect.

A shy, rambunctious girl raised in Oklahoma, Shannon fell in love with gymnastics at a young age and fought her way to the top. In 1992 she won five Olympic medals after breaking her elbow in a training accident just months prior to the Games. Then, in 1996, a doctor advised her to retire immediately or face dire consequences if she chose to compete on her injured wrist. Undeterred, Shannon endured the pain and led her team, the “Magnificent Seven,” to the first Olympic team gold medal for the United States in gymnastics. She followed up as the first American to win gold on the balance beam.

Equally intense, heroic and gratifying is the story of her brutal but successful battle with ovarian cancer, a disease from which fewer than fifty percent survive. Relying on her faith and hard-learned perseverance, Shannon battled through surgery and major chemotherapy to emerge on the other side with a miracle baby girl. Her story of trial, triumph and life after cancer reminds us all that its life’s bumps and bruises that reveal our character. From early on in her career, Shannon knew that life wasn’t about perfection.

In this incredible and inspirational tale, Shannon speaks out so as to be seen and heard by thousands as a beacon of hope. (description from publisher)

First of all, don’t attempt to read the last third of The Fault in Our Stars by John Green in public. Find somewhere quiet and private so that you can read uninterrupted (because you won’t be able to stop) and where you can sob without alarming others (because unless you have a heart of stone, you’re going to cry) On the other hand, don’t let that warning scare you off – this book is also laugh-out-loud funny. It’s raw and honest and sweet and poignant and you’ll come out the other side a little different for it.

16-year-old Hazel Grace Lancaster has never been anything other than terminal since her diagnosis; treatments have extended her life, but there is no cure. She no longer attends school, her best friends are her parents and she has to carry an oxygen tank with her at all times. Her path is set. Then Augustus Waters – hot boy she meets at Cancer Kids Support Group – bursts into her life, and that path takes on new and completely unexpected turns both heartbreaking and hilarious. A life well lived isn’t defined by quantity; it’s defined by quality.

Hazel and Augustus find common ground beyond their illness; they laugh and bicker and watch movies together and share adventures. They fall in love. They grapple with big questions and support their friends and each other. They live the days they’re given. “It is a good life, Hazel Grace” says Augustus. And it is.

The plot here is not particularly groundbreaking or unusual – the probable outcome is fairly predictable – but the characters and their stories will keep you riveted and will stay with you long after you put the book down. Hazel and Augustus are amazing of course, but the supporting characters are also wonderful, especially their friend Issac and Hazel’s parents. There is no romanticized stereotype of the “brave cancer patient.” The people here are real – funny and sad and inquisitive and so angry, struggling with the Big Questions but also not waiting around for death. I don’t know anyone that hasn’t been touched by cancer or other serious illness in their life – either yourself, a family member or a close friend or maybe all three – and you’ll recognize these emotions as real and honest. This book takes on the fear and the unknown, acknowledges them and then does battle with them. It’s a battle well worth joining.

 

The audiobook, The Last Lecture by Randy Pausch,  read by the author,  is bittersweet because he and the audience know his time is short. A computer professor who is aware that he has less than a year to live wants to leave his children and students a legacy of the principles, ideas and beliefs he has gathered over the years.

In this lecture, “Really Achieving Your Childhood Dreams,” Pausch is brutally honest about himself and his disease, yet he never loses his sense of humor.

Parenthood, marriage,education, science and Walt Disney are all examined. He is not falsely modest, and attributes his success to being able to learn from others and his mistakes.

It makes you wonder – what lessons you would impart to the next generation?

October is National Breast Cancer Awareness Month. The month is promoted by a coalition of national nonprofit organizations, professional medical associations and government agencies, with the purpose of raising breast cancer awareness, sharing information and providing screening services.

Breast cancer is the second leading cause of cancer death (after lung cancer) in women; more than 170,000 women will be diagnosed and more than 40,000 women will die from the disease this year. It is estimated that 2 million women living in the United States today have been treated for breast cancer.

Besides a healthy lifestyle and early detection through regular exams, the best way to fight breast cancer is to educate yourself. If you or someone you know has fought or is fighting the disease, the Davenport Library has many books that may be helpful including:

Breast Cancer: the complete guide by Yashar Hirshaut

The 10 Best Questions for Surviving Breast Cancer: the script you need to take control of your health by Dede Bonner

After the Cure: the untold stories of breast cancer survivors by Emily Abel

Cancer is a Bitch or, I’d Rather by Having a Midlife Crisis by Gail Konop Baker

Pretty is What Changes: impossible choices, the breast cancer gene and how I defied my destiny by Jessica Queller

Choices in Breast Cancer Treatment: medical specialists and cancer survivors tell you what you need to know by Kenneth Miller