humor · nonfiction · Uncategorized

NonFiction Friday: Quackery by Lydia Kang, MD and Nate Pedersen

This brief history of the worst ways to cure everything is the ideal nonfiction primer on the many ways humans have attempted to extend and enhance their lives through the years. Written by a practicing medical doctor, Lydia Kang, and historian / librarian, Nate Pedersen, the book reads like a duo of friends explaining to you the  various ways science put the cart before the horse and why we should be grateful to have been born late enough to avoid so many of these treatments.


SYNOPSIS

A tour of medicine’s most outlandish misfires, Quackery dives into 35 “treatments”, exploring their various uses and why they thankfully fell out of favour – some more recently than you might think. Looking back in horror and a dash of dark humour, the book provides readers with an illuminating lesson in how medicine is very much an evolving process of trial and error, and how the doctor doesn’t always know bests. from Book Depository.


quackery

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REVIEW

This book is divided into five different divisions. Elements, Plants and Soil, Tools, Animals, and Mysterious Powers. Each divisions covers both the history and the science behind a variety of techniques or thoughts about certain cures. Interspersed with sarcasm and dark humor, this book’s only downside is the inclination to read whole sections out to family and friends and become that person that just won’t shut up about they book they are reading.

Elements was, by far, my favorite section but that is because I am fascinated by poisons right now. In this section the authors comb through the various uses and reasoning behind using mercury, antimony, arsenic, gold, and radium. It turns out that in the past, being extremely pale but also plump was a difficult ideal to meet naturally. Apparently no one ever tried sitting inside during a pandemic and just eating through your food supply. Arsenic gave you all that and a painful death! I’ll take my lockdown and donuts please.

Plants and Soil were almost as fascinating because this section covers opiates, strychnine, tobacco, cocaine, alcohol, and earth. I knew that alcohol was used medicinally. But I had no idea that strychnine was considered an energy booster that was recommended to athletes. The 1904 winner of the Olympic marathon, Thomas Hicks, was given two strychnine doses and finished the race clearly in the throws of strychnine intoxication. Also of note, drinking water was considered unhealthy for athletes during this time.

This was also the section where I became completely annoying. After all, here is where I learned the origin of the term, “blow smoke up your arse.” Anyone over the age of 65 probably had someone blow tobacco smoke in their ear. It was a commonly recommended treatment for earaches. But, British physicians took it to the next level when they recommended a nice tobacco enema for any drowning victim. There was a whole organization dedicated to this cause! Just picture people walking up and down the banks of the Thames with their enema kits ready to pull someone out and save a life! There is no mention in this book on whether it worked (ever) but this is the fact that I just couldn’t stop taking about. Etymology, history, and science are rolled into renegade lifeguards? Yes, please!

After this section the book covers tools, animals, and mysterious powers. I enjoyed each of these sections in turn but the book had already won my heart. Although, the section on corpse medicine shouldn’t be read while eating…

It seems only fitting that, as I was finishing this book, President Trump was loudly touting the combination of hydroxychloroquine and azithromycin as a promising treatment for COVID. Meanwhile Dr. Fauci, a veteran of outbreaks dating back to the HIV crisis here in America, emphasized a need for methodical clinical testing prior to taking these medicines. I am generally not pleased with our President but I would be more than happy to celebrate his instincts being correct in this situation. However, after reading Quackery, taking a medicine on a hutch smacks of another “worst way” to cure our current crisis.

This book emphasized what I have long held dear – quality testing. I don’t want anecdotal evidence that the King’s touch cures boils. Prove it to me. One of my biggest take aways from the whole book is that it was probably a good thing that so many people couldn’t afford medical treatments for large parts of history. Because, certainly, the radium spa would set you back a pretty penny. And, in a time when blood soaked aprons were the mark of a good doctor and hand washing wasn’t a thing, I don’t know that turning to a professional did anyone much good.


Tell me, please!

If you had to pick, are you more interested in science or history?


 

humor · YA

Denton Little’s Deathdate by Lance Rubin

Tomorrow is the day I’m going to die.

I don’t mean to get all dramatic about it.

I saw this book while Christmas shopping and I just couldn’t resist buying it for myself. I love gallows humor and this book certainly didn’t disappoint. Of course, the fact that Denton Little’s Still Not Dead was shelved right next to it reassured me how the first book would end.

dentonlittle's

SYNOPSIS


Denton Little’s Deathdate takes place in a world exactly like our own except that everyone knows the day on which they will die. For Denton, that’s in just two days—the day of his senior prom.

Despite his early deathdate, Denton has always wanted to live a normal life, but his final days are filled with dramatic firsts. First hangover. First sex. First love triangle—as the first sex seems to have happened not with his adoring girlfriend, but with his best friend’s hostile sister. (Though he’s not totally sure—see, first hangover.) His anxiety builds when he discovers a strange purple rash making its way up his body. Is this what will kill him? And then a strange man shows up at his funeral, claiming to have known Denton’s long-deceased mother, and warning him to beware of suspicious government characters. . . . Suddenly Denton’s life is filled with mysterious questions and precious little time to find the answers.

Denton Little’s Deathdate from Amazon.

REVIEW


Poor Denton. Imagine trying to fit so many firsts into a time period that means they will also be your lasts. But Denton doesn’t have time to feel sorry for himself. When he wakes up hung over (on Schnappes no less, barf) and alone in a bed that isn’t his just two days before his Death Day does he lay there dwelling on it? No. He pulls himself together in a way only a person who understands that time is truly limited can.

As Denton tries to replay the prior evening he gets more and more confused. Watching him try to piece everything back together with his best friend Paolo are some of the funniest moments in the book. I mean, who amongst us has been either hung over, confused about what has happened to their life, or both? But Denton doesn’t have time to ponder or leave these things unresolved. He only has two days.

Certainly, with the discussion of death there must be some poignancy. Even though in Denton’s world nearly everyone knows their Death Day from an early age, there is still uncertainty as to how it will happen and exactly when during the day your death will occur. That small amount of unknown creates the panic that we all feel when we contemplate death – how do we want to be remembered? How will we spend those last precious few moments?

And I must mention that watching his step-mother deal with loosing her son was difficult for me. This changed the book from a straight humor book to something with more depth and I was frequently sad for her (after all, she doesn’t know about the second book!). What kept it from being too maudlin was my excitement in seeing her reaction when Denton survived.

There was romance, mystery, intrigue and humor. But the best part was the pure loveliness that is Denton. As a character I just really liked him. He loved his family, was connected to his friends and community, and at such a young age was a genuinely good person. I can hardly wait to see how his adventure will continue in the next book.


Tell me, please!

Do you enjoy Gallows Humor?


 

Audio Book · fiction · humor

Today I Will Be Different by Maria Semple

I was surprised by how much I loved Where’d You Go Bernadette? and so when I saw that Marie Semple had a new book out I knew I would read it. I was even luckier to have the opportunity to enjoy the audiobook version of this book because the narrator, Kathleen Wilhoite, did an amazing job capturing the feeling of all of the characters. Perhaps that is why she also narrated Bernadette!

todaywillbedifferentIn Today I Will Be Different Eleanor Flood, her famous husband, Joe, and her son Timby live in Seattle. Eleanor and Joe are New Yorkers and atheists. While Joe has found grand success as a sought-after hand surgeon in Seattle, Eleanor has been struggling to fit into their community and especially with the parents at Timby’s school. She begins the morning by setting small obtainable goals that she feels will make today different. She makes a promise to herself to shower and get dressed, to take her son Timby to school and then attend her poetry lesson, and to initiate sex with her husband. But before she can quietly change her day in these small ways her son Timby plays sick. That small change in her plans, unintended by Eleanor, alters the course of her life dramatically.

Maria Semple delivers, in Eleanor, another complex female character that I could not help but connect with deeply. Her problems may be first-world ones but they are so common that if you can read this book and not see women you know then you either; (a) don’t know any women or (b) you aren’t paying attention. Eleanor’s quick wit and self-deprecating sense of humor furthers my love of this character and keeps the story moving. As Eleanor and Timby work through their day we see the subtle (and not-so subtle) layers of Eleanor more and more clearly. Much like Where’d You Go Bernadette there are twists and turns. But, for me, the characters drive this story and Eleanor will stay with me much longer than any the plot.

The narrator for this audiobook has a wonderfully gravelly voice that captures both the New Yorker feel of Eleanor as well as the other characters, especially Timby, perfectly. Perhaps it is because I just finished The Princess Diarist but her voice reminded me of Carrie Fisher’s. This is also a short audiobook, only about six and a half hours, and it goes too quickly.

If you enjoyed Maria Semple’s first novel you are sure to enjoy Today Will be Different.


Tell me, please!

If you read this book, what did you think?

If not, what are some of your favorite female characters?


fiction · humor

Surprise Me by Sophie Kinsella

I always enjoy Sophie Kinsella’s books. I have even featured her in an Author Obsession spotlight. Most people know her for her Shopoholic series but I vastly prefer the books she has written outside of Becky Bloomwood’s insatiable thirst for things. I didn’t even know Kinsella had a new book coming out until I ran across it in the Indigo bookstore in Montreal. It is the lone fiction book I purchased in my Canadian travels.

surprise_meSurprise Me is the story of Sylvie and Dan. They have been blissfully coupled for ten years, they have twin girls and they are so in sync that they can predict each others meal choices and finish one anothers sentences. All is idyllic. Except, of course, it can never stay that way. After a visit to their doctor they are told they could live another sixty-eight years. The realization that they will be eating together and sleeping together for that much longer fills them with panic. They decide (well, mostly Sylvie decides) to embark on Project Surprise Me to shake up their predictable routine. But not all surprises are fun.

The magic of Sophie Kinsella lies in her ability to redeem her character from the tailspin of poor choices they make in the first half of each story and present you with a reformed character that you adore by the end of the book. This may be a predictable formula but it never stales since Kinsella always manages to make me cheer and applaud as the characters eventually climb out of the mess. This particular story went a step farther and I found myself gasping aloud in surprise at one of the plot points. I went so far as to make a friend read the book so we could have the following conversation.

Me, “(Character redacted to avoid spoilers) was the absolute worst right?!?”

Friend, “The worst.”

Me, “But could you believe…???!!!??”

Friends, “NO.I.COULD.NOT.”

I admit that there were moments I wanted to strangle or slap Sylvie. It is difficult to explain why without spoiling some of the finer moments, but she just struck me as too fragile to be a true fictional friend. Dan had his moments with me as well. And just when I wondered how this was going to end, Sophie Kinsella worked her magic and gave me another fantastic read.


Tell me, please!

Have you read Sophie Kinsella’s books?


humor · nonfiction

Why Not Me? by Mindy Kaling

why-not-meI read (and was very entertained by) Mindy Kaling’s first book, Is Everyone Hanging Out Without Me? (and Other Concerns). Her second book Why Not Me? was a delightful and hilarious look at the developing woman that is Mindy. I really enjoyed that she recognized that we can continue to grow and change as people even after we leave college and get our first jobs if we are introspective and willing to work. Plus, some of that growing is hilarious.

I laughed (really really hard) at some of the essays especially the one highlighting her Hollywood grooming tips and tricks. To quote the fantastic Micah McCain, “I told you it was a wig!” Side note: have you seen his parody of Beauty and the Beast? Watch it here at Bonjour Girl.

And, of course, she created an immediate kinship between the two of us when she talked about some of her insomnia inducing concerns.  Don’t worry Mindy, absolutely no one knows how much natural gas actually costs.  You can attempt to use the Apples to Apples comparison chart but it will just raise more questions than it gives answers. In the end we all get overwhelmed and just pay the damn thing before they take our heat away.

Beyond being hilarious and willing to show her readers some snippets of her life, this book asks an important question, “Why not me?” When I first saw the cover I thought she was asking, “Why is everyone else getting a turn and not me?” And this might be because she is posed half way in the door like everyone’s sibling interrupting an activity. But what she really is asking is more like, “Why the hell not me you dumb lazy jerk?” while she closes the door to her office and gets back to work on one of her many jobs.

Her final essay bears the same title as the book and it is that piece that will probably stick with me forever.  I will forget about her faux pregnancy Spanx (Nope. I won’t. That was amazing.) and I might not remember which is her favorite McDonald’s value meal, but I will remember the importance of that question. When challenged to grow as a person and change something about your life we are encouraged to ask “Why not?” instead of “Why?” Mindy Kaling takes this question one step further. When a job needs to be done or an opportunity arises it is not “Why me?” but “Why not me?”

From now on, I think this will be my rally cry. Continue reading “Why Not Me? by Mindy Kaling”