Voice from the Planet edited by Charles Degelman

An eclectic collection of short essays from every corner of the globe, this anthology follows its successful predecessor, the first Voice from the Planet. True to its raison d’etre, the anthology varies in range, showing the differences inherent throughout the world both in diversity and in writers; authors are both seasoned, and neophytes, and the stories cover everything from the devastation of surviving 9/11 to the mystery that is the Bulgarian fire dancers. Expertly edited by Harvard alumni, these essays and in particular, their authors serve a lofty purpose in that any proceeds from the sale of this book will be donated to the international medical humanitarian organization, Doctors Without Borders. Knowing that makes the reading all the richer and it is already a very rich experience, each story as diverse as a fingerprint and well worth the time taken to read this interesting volume.

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Both Feet on the Ground: David Beckham, An Autobiography

After all the articles and profiles that have been written about David Beckham, arguably the best soccer player to ever come out of the British Isles, more specifically England – one might be forgiven for wondering if hearing him tell the tale of his life, both as an athlete and as a man, is worth a read or not.

Both Feet on the Ground is a straight-forward memoir from a professional athlete who has soared from the absolute zenith, up in the rarefied air where very few ever find themselves, down to where he has found himself on more than one occasion, swooping low enough to scrape his knuckles and his self-esteem.

Beckham’s description of his early days in soccer and his respect for the coaches and managers that saw him on his way, are articulate and heartfelt.

His sense of self and family is well articulated as he talks about his Mom and Dad and his sisters, and how he grew up, with soccer being a central theme in his life always.

There is an undercurrent running throughout the book;  a boy from London’s humble East End barely dared to dream about being a member of the exalted Manchester United soccer club, never mind going beyond that and hoping to captain England’s team in the World Cup; and when both of these things happened there was no-one more surprised than the central player – David Beckham.

Beckham’s remarkable story is told with a refreshing sense of modesty, candour, and naturalness,  that makes his extraordinary life seem very real.

His description of his nervousness over meeting the love of his life, Victoria “Posh Spice” Adams, could be any young man’s love-story. It’s only over-the-top because the two people involved are David Beckham and Posh Spice.

In fact, no matter how elaborate the details or trappings, all the vignettes Beckham shares about his wife and family, ring true, when he recounts his feelings.

When he talks about having to ride with his eyes kept tightly shut on a small plane to Ireland – the place of their nuptials –  so he won’t see his bride-to-be’s wedding dress – and then sit for a further twenty minutes on the tarmac once they land there, while the gown is bundled away – every husband, or soon-to-be husband – instantly relates to this ritual. And is immediately taken by the fact that even the great David Beckham had to dance to the wedding piper, when it came to not seeing his bride’s wedding dress before the big day.

Beckham’s recounting of kidnapping threats, and his sleeping in the room with Victoria and his new son Brooklyn the night of the baby’s birth, when he slept on the floor with his head pressed up against the hospital room door because, “…you can’t ever know…” gives the reader a glimpse of the security headaches this man must be faced with all the time.

Never mind the headaches, the fear of something happening to his loved ones, must be enormous.

The naturalness with which Beckham relates details of his personal life extends to his life on the soccer field as well.

The reader gets a feel for the intense love the man has for the game and for the country he represents when he plays in the World Cup. Even after some of England’s more rabid fans treated him abysmally after 1998’s disastrous red-card send-off in the game with Argentina, Beckham’s love for his country never wavered.

There are a few lines however where he speaks to the unreasonableness of some fans, especially those that spoke with vitriol and spewed poison that concerned his wife and son; he said, after all at the end of the day,  it was just a game. A huge admission some might say, for an elite athlete.

Woven into the telling of this mega-celebrity’s day to day life, are some of Beckham’s personal high notes.

Aside from the professional and well-known peaks, such as captaining England’s World Cup team, Beckham shares some lesser known triumphs.

He talks about a young girl who he and Victoria have befriended, Kirsty Howard, a child who has raised enormous amounts of money for the Francis ouHou House Children’s Hospice. Beckham’s description of this special child and the friendship he and his wife share with her shows more of his sensitive side.

Throughout the book, the reader is reminded that David Beckham might be a terrific soccer player but that he has just as many foibles as the rest of us, and the one doing the reminding is Beckham himself.

The reader also gets a sense that Beckham is a decent human being. The few times he mentions philanthropic endeavours seem more to garner attention for the charities or causes themselves, then to laud his involvement.

This autobiography leaves one with the satisfying feeling that in no matter what kind of celebrity circles David Beckham finds himself, he is a grounded individual with good values and a wonderful sense of self.

A refreshing read about a very famous person who has had much misinformation written and published about him but who seems to have landed with aplomb and, with Both Feet on the Ground.

Both Feet on the Ground by David Beckham

Perennial Currents (and imprint of Harper Collins Publisher)

Handle with Care by Jodi Picoult

As with all of her novels, Picoult manages in “Handle with Care” to present the reader with a moral dilemma so authentic and poignant that one is left wondering just what they would do if they were to find themselves in a similar situation.

Charlotte and Sean O’Keefe are the parents of Willow, a child who is bright, funny and – it turns out, chronically ill with “brittle bone” disease, a disorder that shows up in utero if the obstetrician knows enough to look for it. And therein lies the crux of the matter; Charlotte’s obstetrician is also her best friend, Piper.

By the time Willow is old enough to know what is happening, and the bills are becoming insurmountable, the O’Keefe’s are given some untenable choices. If they want to bring Willow up with the kinds of medical equipment that will make her life bearable, where will they get the money? It seems they might have to sue their doctor, a lawyer tells them. How can they bring themselves to do that?

With the deft hand that Picoult wields so ably, she tells this story from almost every major player’s perspective.

We learn of the turmoil Charlotte is in as she realizes how life will be for Willow if the money runs out, and she knows, no matter how much Sean works, it will never be enough to pay for a child with the needs of one with osteogenesis imperfecta.

Of course things are further complicated by Sean’s unwillingness to see the impossibility of their situation. In fact, their marriage becomes imperilled because of their differing views about the pending lawsuit.

Amelia, Willow’s older sister, tells a story by turns humorous and heart-breaking. As is the case in many families with a child who is seriously ill, Amelia is a lost soul – she has problems of her own, but doesn’t feel she can bring them to anyone with her sister so ill.

Of course both Piper, the doctor; and Sean, Willow’s father – offer different perspectives yet again as the story weaves in and around the many hospital visits Willow experiences – and the reader learns just what a devastating disorder this is, one that causes bones to break both in and out of the uterus, and from things as simple as turning over in bed.

With meticulous attention to detail, Picoult has done careful research and the reader is given great quantities of information but in an interesting format that never seems to intrude on the actual story.

An interesting addition to this particular book and one  that might not have worked with a lesser author but Picoult seems again, to have found a way to blend  into the book in a workable way, are the recipes that occur throughout.

Charlotte loves to bake and in the book, Picoult uses the intros to whatever Charlotte’s baking almost as an analogy to something that is going on in the story, before giving the actual recipe. It’s a lovely addition to a book rife with seriousness.

All in all, after sixteen novels, “Handle with Care” is one of Jodi Picoult’s finest efforts yet.

Handle with Care

By Jodi Picoult

Atria Books a Division of Simon & Schuster 2009

Freakonomics by Steven D Levitt and Stephen J Dubner

Not wanting to be swayed by all the ballyhoo surrounding this book, I put off reading it until it was finally released in paperback, then finally broke down and bought it.

After starting to read, much to my surprise, I read it right through. A book basically about economics, no matter what anyone else has said, was grippingly interesting enough, to read cover to cover, in one sitting.

To those who have griped about the lack of theme or focus in this book, I say, shake your head, put aside your preconceptions and read it again. Leavitt is not your typical economist and that’s what makes this book so accessible and brilliant, not to mention eminently readable.

He has quantified data previously thought unquantifiable and measured effects that other economists have declared immeasurable. A rogue economist, Levitt admits to being outside the norm especially when it comes to economy and that’s what makes his work so revolutionary and so interesting.

The meeting of Levitt and Dubner, a New York Times Magazine author and journalist looking to do a profile on the young, economist at the University of Chicago with elite degrees from Harvard and MIT, plus multiple awards, was as serendipitous as it was inspired.

Dubner, researching a book about the psychology of money, had been interviewing a number of economists and was less than charmed with economist-speak – a language unto itself and not easily translated into good copy.

Leavitt’s idea’s were particularly inventive and his knack for expressing them refreshingly accessible.

At their first meeting he was almost embarrassingly self-deprecating about what he perceives as his lack of economic mathematical chops saying at one point, “I don’t know much about the field of economics…I’m no good at math…I don’t know a lot of econometrics, and I also don’t know how to do theory…”

It is this type of refreshing candour and straight-forward writing that makes “Freakonomics” such a good read.

What makes the book an important read, as well as a good read, is partly explained by one of the awards received by Professor Levitt. He is the recipient of the John Bates Clark medal, awarded to the most influential economist under the age of forty.

Little wonder then that “Freakonomics” posits scenarios that have the reader running the gamut from

intrigued to amused to educated to baffled and back again. More than anything, one is left thinking over what they’ve been reading long after they put down the book.

Just what are these scenarios that leave readers mulling over what they’ve read?  Baldly stated, they don’t sound all that earth-shattering.

The book has been out in hard-cover for some time so I don’t believe I will be giving away any spoilers here by talking about some of the specifics. However, if you have reached this point in the review and really don’t want to know what the book is about, stop here. Just go out and get the book would be my advice at this point, it’s well worth the money and the time.

Back to the meat of the book. Leavitt, with Dubner’s able help, examines, for example how and why teachers cheat in the classroom. Surprising? Perhaps not. But the why of it, and the logistics? Interesting, especially when the extrapolations are done. Add in the comparison to why Sumo wrestlers cheat and you can see where things might get very intriguing. They do.

“Freakonomics” has been said to to show through story-telling, anecdotes and example, that at its very base, economics is really the study of incentives, how people get what they want – particularly when other people want  or need the same thing.

The book is about the riddles of every day life with a new slant on what those riddles might mean for all of us, solved or unsolved, from an unorthodox yet brilliant, economist’s point-of-view. All in all, quite a romp of a read.

It was recently announced that  “Super Freakonomics” is almost ready to be released in hard cover. Bravo.

Darkness Visible: A Memoir of Madness by William Styron

William Styron’s “Darkness Visible: A Memoir of Madness” is a slim volume (84 pages) recounting in first person, his deeply personal struggle with crippling depression, the events leading up to his battle with the illness, and many of the terrors surrounding that time.

In language befitting the Pulitzer Prize winning novelist, Styron articulates the hell of depression with stark beauty, comparing many facets of his bleak existence with the optimistic happenings of everyday life going on all around him, and his desperation at being unable to enjoy even the simplest things.

After seeing Styron interviewed on a talk-show, and hearing him say, long after publication of this book, that it had garnered more attention than any of his other novels, Sophie’s Choice and the Confessions of Nat Turner included, combined – he went on to say, as flattering as it was, it puzzled him somewhat and he was growing a little tired of,  “…hearing about that damned depression book…”

He said it jokingly, but it made one wonder, all the same; at least it made me wonder.

I was one of the readers who loved that book and loved him for writing it. In fact, coincidentally, at the time I saw Styron being interviewed; I was attempting to write a short note to him, thanking him for writing “Darkness Visible” and also, trying to tell him why it was such an important book and what it meant to me.

In the end, I decided to forget about the interview and proffer my gratitude to Styron anyhow. I did tell him that I hoped he didn’t mind receiving one more plaudit for his “depression book” trusting that his famous sense of humour was intact.

Why did I feel such a need to write to this author?

Styron’s “Darkness Visible”, in addition to recounting in vivid detail the darkness of depression and the depths of despair, talks at length about his reluctance to be hospitalized, and about staying too long on the wrong medication.

In my own sorry state, I remained straddling the abyss far too long, avoiding hospitalization with an irrational fear that bordered on paranoia.

After reading “Darkness Visible”, a book written about a situation very similar to my own, and penned by an author I greatly respected, it was as if I had received tacit permission to enter the hospital.

Styron does not sugar-coat hospitalization, far from it, but he does present it as a viable option. For someone like me, that was all it took. I thought he should know how helpful his little book had been.

Some months later, I received this in the mail:

Dear Ms.I

I was very touched by your eloquent letter. I’m so glad my experience – especially the part concerning the hospital – could have been valuable to you. Your words make me glad I wrote the book and I’m grateful for your thoughtfulness.

Sincerely,

William Styron.”

 

By the time I received his note, I was on my way out of my own depression. Had I not been, I’m sure reading William Styron’s very kind words would have helped immeasurably.

As it is, I treasure them still and have the note pasted in the front of my copy of “Darkness Visible”, a tiny tome about depression and the darkest stages of the human condition.

More importantly, in the end, the book is about living through depression, and how almost everyone does, something it is hard remember when one is in the throes of the illness.

For that alone, the book is worth reading and re-reading.

 

This review is also available at https://www.chapters.indigo.ca/en-ca/books/darkness-visible-a-memoir-of/9780679736394-item.html?ikwid=Darkness+Visible+by+William+Styron&ikwsec=Home&ikwidx=0