NFL Films producer and debut author O’Brien offers a frank, firsthand account of his and his family’s journey with autism, starting with his son’s early childhood diagnosis.
The author had a lot going for him when his twin children, Grace and Frederick, were born in 2001. He and his wife, Bernadette, had a strong, loving relationship and a supportive extended family; he was also enthusiastic about his sports-producer job and fatherhood. But as time passed, concerns about Frederick surfaced. At first, the O’Briens assumed that he was just a late bloomer, but by the time he was about a year old, they realized that he wasn’t connecting emotionally with people. After countless evaluations and interventions, Frederick was diagnosed with the dreaded “A word.” His autism, along with a degree of mental disability, translated into a lifelong need for constant assistance and supervision. This book, however, is not a simple or predictable inspirational story. Instead, it recounts the complications and nuances, both logistical and emotional, of living in a family with a special needs child. The intense work never ended, and it took an undeniable toll; O’Brien reveals many negative emotions, including jealousy (of neurotypical families), anger, and sadness, and he describes frustrating attempts at “normal” family dinners and theme-park excursions, during which the family felt the glares of the uninformed. But the book also includes good measures of joy and revelation, showing the family’s rocky journey to acceptance and their improbable adoption of an infant son from Ethiopia—an event that turned out to be a well-timed gift to all the family members. The author packs the book with anecdotes, often told with wry wit, which make his story highly tangible. He also shares abundant insights, including spiritual perspectives and thoughts on the benefits of being Frederick’s father. There are a few text-formatting issues, including some unnecessarily boldfaced type, but they don’t detract from the overall quality of the read.
An honest, riveting work about living with autism that will enlighten and offer hope to readers.
A debut novel explores the complex story of an old house and those connected to it.
In 1894, local businessman Wilhelm Winkler purchases an impressive new property on Summit Avenue as his family home. His wife, Sophie, and daughter, Ellen, marvel at the house’s state-of-the-art facilities, including electric lighting and a flushing toilet. Fast-forward to the modern day, and Carole Browning, an attorney, learns that she has inherited a century-old property from an estranged great-grandfather, Henry Winkler. Along with her husband, Carlos, a cartoonist, she visits the house to find it in a state of dire disrepair (“It looked, Carole thought, like a cartoon haunted house, something Carlos would draw. Compared to the beautiful homes around it, it was like an ugly bruise”). For Carole, adopted at the age of 2 and with no knowledge of her ancestral line by birth, the house is a powerful reminder of the family she never knew. Her initial reaction is to distance herself from this emotional burden. Carlos, however, is eager to begin renovations, and, in doing so, all manner of secrets are revealed. The skillful layering of narratives, comprising the stories of the four generations of Winklers who have called the dwelling home, reflects vividly how a property can be inscribed and reinscribed by the lives of its inhabitants. For Carole, coming to know the house on Summit Avenue may lead her to better understand herself. This compelling novel creatively imagines the microhistory of a family in an unnamed Midwestern city. Through what is essentially a history of everyday life charted across several generations, it is possible to sense America as a changing nation. Morlock is acutely aware of this perpetual state of decay and renewal in his writing: “Like people, old houses wear down, and like people too, it seems, fall out of favor with age. In the sixties and seventies especially, Summit Avenue was abandoned by the well-off in favor of the newer suburbs sprouting like weeds in all directions.” This strong grasp of history is further bolstered by the author’s consistently sharp, elegant prose and a spellbinding ability to craft realistic flesh-and-blood characters, the fates of whom truly matter to the reader.
Warmly nostalgic without giving in to saccharine oversentimentality, this intricate tale chronicles an absorbing and affecting family journey across generations.
Through interviews, portraits, essays, and photos, this large-format book explores the role of Jewish ancestry in the work of more than 70 leading American photographers.
Wolin (The Jews of Wyoming: Fringe of the Diaspora, 2000), a commercial, editorial, and documentary photographer, noticed that any list of influential American photographers would include many Jewish names and wondered why: “What could bearing Jewish ancestral roots possibly have to do with the skills involved in being a photographer?” This book, the result of her five-year project investigating the question, includes interviews, family photos, Wolin’s portraits of her subjects, and (in a separate section) an iconic example for each, presented in a large, generous format. “The Claim of a Jewish Eye,” an essay by Alan Trachtenberg of Yale University, discusses problematic issues inherent in such a project, though in a way that raises more questions than it answers—as when quoting other writers’ claims about difference: Jewish photographers are funky and restless, Gentiles “more settled.” Trachtenberg calls these claims “raffish” and “dazzling,” but they could also be labeled vastly, unhelpfully oversimplified. Some of Wolin’s subjects, especially those who experienced pressure to assimilate, see little or no connection between a Jewish background and their artistry. But for those who do perceive a link, the Jewish experience of being an outsider—someone who is necessarily watching others—is significant, both as a stance from which to observe and because photography was, like many other arts, a profession open to Jews. Also important, they say, is the Jewish intellectual tradition of humanistic questioning and interest in existential problems. The entries, arranged alphabetically, offer an intriguing range of opinions, styles, eras, and insights together with large, beautifully reproduced photographs. Reading photographers on their own work delivers the book’s most intriguing moments. For example, Joel Meyerowitz comments that “Photographing is about the potential meaning of things that are at loose in the world....Intuition is a form of mysticism,” while for Toba Tucker, “Photography is my great identity. The camera is the answer.”
A rich, well-documented collection for students of photography and Jewish culture.
This cycle of poems focuses on Palamedes, credited with inventing letters of the Greek alphabet and dice.
In these poems, some previously published, Anderson (Songs of Bethlehem: Nativity Poems, 2014, etc.) takes the few surviving references to Palamedes from ancient texts and tells his story. According to mythology and surviving fragments from sources including Euripides, Plato, and Ovid (but not Homer), Palamedes was a Greek, the son of Nauplius and Clymene. He reputedly invented dice and 11 consonants in the Greek alphabet, and he notably made an enemy of Odysseus after exposing his stratagem to avoid the Trojan War. In one version of the story, Odysseus writes a fake letter that gets Palamedes stoned to death as a traitor. Paradoxically, the creation of writing is Palamedes’ doom. And though the miracle of written language is that it withstands living memory, almost nothing inscribed about him survives. Anderson conjures a vivid life for Palamedes that fully explores these paradoxes and others. The author’s voice ranges flexibly from lyrical to conversational, as when Palamedes’ brother tells him his efforts are futile: “Palamedes, stop.... / Before you finish this book of alphabet / A thousand poets will have sung what you want to write.” These strong lines, seeming both inevitable and surprising, are characteristic of Anderson’s poems. This effect can be emphasized by rhyme, as in “Sea Language of Palamedes,” in which the Greek imagines fleeing Earth’s demands for his grandfather Poseidon’s realm: “On a sea horse, I will ride the surf and breathe salt air. / Warriors, if you want to go to war, walk there.” The collection is deepened and complicated by several sequences in which figures address and respond to each other. Palamedes replies to Odysseus’ reluctance to leave Ithaca, not seeing his own danger to come: “Here you will rot like fruit in ripe manhood / While we write on the walls of Troy.” In his poems, Anderson beautifully considers the ghosts that haunt language.
A rich, thoughtful collection that generously breathes life into its ancient subject: very fine.
In her latest picture book, Dehghanpisheh (#BabyLove: My Social Life, 2016, etc.) shows the life of a curious child through the frame of the cellphone used to take his photo—until he gets his hands on the device.
The hero of the #BabyLove tales, now a tanned toddler, obviously has a mother who loves him. While he’s creating his art, she’s taking a photo of his paint-splattered smock. (The dog, with paint-dripped ears, looks less impressed.) After the art lesson, there’s reading and toy time, followed by a drumming session. Each shot features a view of the boy framed by his mother’s phone. Mother and son take a smiling selfie together, posting it to friends with the hashtag #mommyandme. With so much activity around the phone, it’s no surprise that the boy wants to experiment with it himself, so when Mommy leaves it on the counter, even though he knows better, he picks it up. First, he pretends he’s making a real phone call; then, he starts taking selfies. His huge smile shows how much fun he’s having: “I hold a button, and then say ‘Cheese.’ / I click, click, click, click with such ease.” When he hears Mommy coming, though, he drops the phone and makes a run for it. But rather than becoming angry, Mommy takes time to look at the photos with him, showing him the parts of his face in each shot as well as family pictures. And as Mommy looks at these photos, she realizes just how precious time with her wee one is. When they return to playing together, Mommy puts the phone down so she can fully engage with her son. With simple rhyming phrases that scan well and the author’s enticing illustrations, the volume should surely appeal to young readers, who have almost certainly been told not to play with a parent’s phone. But the book works on another level as well: the boy teaches his mother a valuable lesson about mindfulness. After perusing the old photos, she tells her son: “These moments with you, / I love and treasure.” This stirring story reminds busy parents that even though those photos they take show how much they love their children, there’s joy and wonder in leaving the technology behind.
This poignant and entertaining tale about a playful toddler aimed at young lap readers works on a much deeper level for parents.
America’s medical system faces severe and worsening problems under ObamaCare and can only be cured by a revolutionary turn toward public health insurance, according to this exposé.
Geyman (Souls on a Walk, 2012, etc.), a medical school professor and former editor of the Journal of the American Board of Family Medicine, argues that while the number of uninsured has dropped because of the 2010 Affordable Care Act, spiraling costs and a decline in quality have left many Americans with unaffordable, inadequate, and insecure health care. He notes that tens of millions still go without insurance; that soaring deductibles and copayments mean that even insured patients often face crippling bills or have to forgo needed care and drugs; and that out-of-network fees and other fine-print gotchas result in huge unanticipated costs that still bankrupt families. Meanwhile, he contends, insurance companies have reduced their coverage and drastically restricted patients’ ability to choose their own hospitals and physicians, requiring them to drop their longtime doctors in favor of strangers and endure long waits because shrunken provider networks don’t have practitioners who can treat them. Geyman pulls no punches in detailing the failings of ObamaCare, but he’s equally hard on the market-based reforms of Republican opponents of the system (“If the Republicans have their way, individuals and families might pay less for skimpy insurance products, but would pay much more for necessary health care”). Instead, he fingers profit-driven health care as the root of the problem and advocates a Canadian-style, single-payer National Health Insurance program funded entirely by the government and delivered by private, not-for-profit hospitals and doctor groups. Geyman’s lucid and very readable (though sometimes repetitive) treatise has plenty of statistics to back up his arguments. But its heart is a series of individual health care horror stories wherein ordinary families find that ObamaCare promises of affordable treatments, universal access, and a choice of providers prove to be hollow. (One patient Geyman profiles was slapped with a $117,000 bill when an out-of-network consulting surgeon he had never met was called in while he was unconscious during a neck operation—a fee his insurer refused to pay.) The result is a smart, savvy analysis that shows the human cost of a broken system.
A compelling, hard-hitting indictment of U.S. health care and half-measure ObamaCare reforms.