Wednesday, 16 October 2013

Books, nearly there!

I've now totalled 52 mind-improving books, 8 to go to make the 60-list, but I'll keep going, retirement allows the luxury of reading in bed on weekday mornings, and at almost any other time! I hope some of you find the comments useful or encouraging, some of the books, like "Gulp" don't immediately appeal, who wants to read a whole book about guts?.

 Lewis&Lewis:Tell Me Who I Am was chosen for one of my bookclubs, I probably wouldn't have picked it myself. There’s a helping writer, Joanna Hodgkin as the authors are both dyslexic. It’s the story of a pair of identical twins, with the usual weird connections between them (like, later in the book turning up from opposite ends of the world at the same bus-stop in Rota Rua). One, Alex has a serious accident at eighteen with multiple injuries including to his head. This leaves him with total loss of memory of everything and everyone except his twin Marcus, and in particular his mother. He starts with infantile speech and has to learn all tasks again, in spite of no physical weakness (The retired neurologist leaps out & says psychogenic, later acknowledged by the authors) and blackouts in stressful situations, characteristic of Non-Epileptic-Attack-Disorder. After a slow recovery and some return of independence for both boys the parents eventually die, Marcus seems to react rather callously, it then turns out that they were step children to their “father”, mother abused them, and their younger brother, herself and handed them round her friends. They were treated as servants at home and lived in an unheated annexe (remember “A Child Called It”, Angela’s Ashes” and many more?) It appears she was seriously deranged in many ways as they clear the house. Marcus told Alex none of the unpleasant aspects he’d lost, the book is the tale of his efforts to come to terms with it all. A story of triumph in the end, although I’m not sure I believe all of it. Marcus  travels the world, including Tibet in 1986 before it was really open to the West, then starts up the Fundu Lagoon luxury Hotel in Zanzibar which does really exist, maybe I’m being too cynical. Interesting and thought provoking.

      Adie:Nobody’s Child. Kate Adie is a brilliant role model as well as an entertaining and articulate writer. Herself adopted, she goes into reasons for babies and children being given for adoption, or abandoned and the terrible early history of foundling hospitals, with toe-curling death rates. She talks to many people also adopted, and outlines their tales with surprising humour for such a sensitive subject. She goes through all the questions normally asked on Official Forms, and some of the problems posed by unknown roots. Should be read by anyone interested in people.

        Carey:The Epigenetics Revolution.  This is a real revelation for anyone remembering O-level biology and simple cause-effect dominant-recessive genetics. Like anything in science, so much more complex and fascinating. I was aware of some of the strange feature, for example human cells can tell which parent gave them each of the chromosomes in a pair, you need both, a pair both from 1 parent isn’t viable. A particular fault gives Prader Willi Syndrome if it’s father’s, Angelman’s syndrome if it’s mother’s. Severe learning disability is the only feature in common. Tortoiseshell cats demonstrate the random (incomplete) inactivation of 1 of each pair, orange and black genes  are on the X chromosome, so females may have both showing in different areas, however that doesn’t explain the white bits. The most eye-opening though is a number of studies from the Dutch Hunger Winter in 1944-45. Babies conceived in this time might catch up in later pregnancy and have a normal birth weight, babies born at this time were severely malnourished with very low birth weights, logical so far. The second group remained thin all their lives in spite of adequate food, the ones catching up in later pregnancy were more likely to become obese, and have many seemingly unrelated medical problems. What’s really odd, is that their children have higher body weights too, with no change to the DNA. It’s all to do with a hugely complex and fine-tuned switching mechanism in response to external triggers, which can in some circumstances be passed on. Heretical and rather scary! Compelling for anyone curious, but not for the fainthearted or total non-scientist, a bit of background knowledge is essential, it’s a bit boggy in places.

       Roach:Gulp. Once you get used to the very American grammar, spelling and slang it’s a brilliant account of everything to do with the gut, remarkably un-squeamish about the socially delicate aspects of eating and things. It should be compulsory reading for every doctor or medical student with the belief that what we do is right! In the past whole colons were removed to prevent “toxins” being absorbed, more fringe but a little less drastic were the self administered enemas & washouts. Bacteria in rabbit guts break down cellulose into absorbable nutrients, alas too late (absorption all takes place in small intestine), so they indulge in autocoprophagia to try again. The only thing I might add was that our pharmacology professor told us that cigars per rectum were used to deaden the legs in the American civil war, a sort of primitive spinal anaesthetic. I have no idea whether it was true, maybe a new avenue for tobacco companies to explore if everyone stops smoking.

         Stedman:The Light Between Oceans is a novel chosen for our bookclub, not something I would have picked out myself, being more a fan of non-fiction or total fantasy, but an excellent book with some thought provoking dilemmas and many-faceted characters. It’s also a reminder of how dedicated a few individuals have been to our safety at sea. The Main characters live on a lighthouse island of Tasmania in the 1920, home leave every two years and a supply ship every three months. The tangled plot takes off when a dead man and live baby are washed up... I found it enthralling in its sadness, but a few humorous parts and some rays of hope.

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