I picked out this book somewhat randomly at the library—I say "somewhat" because I had never heard of it, but I immediately gravitate towards anything that addresses death, dying or funeral practices. This book was a bit different from others I've read in the "death" genre, but it was a fascinating look at what happens right before and as someone is dying.
The book comprises mostly first-hand accounts by family members, caretakers and people who have had near-death or actual death experiences (people who have experienced clinical death, usually during a heart attack). I'm not at all a religious person, but I don't rule out some sort of afterlife mostly because I try to keep an open mind about things that can't really be proven. Despite reading many books on the subject, I haven't yet really experienced death very closely, and I had no idea that so many people have similar end-of-life experiences, including visions of loved ones, sudden clarity and an overwhelming sense of peace and purpose. I definitely don't want to die, but after reading this book I am slightly more comforted that when the time comes—for me, as well as for the people I love—that it won't necessarily be the end, but just the next step in a larger journey.
This was another somewhat impulsive library pick, but I was immediately engrossed in this true story of America's opiate epidemic (and corresponding heroin boom). I grew up in Ohio, where a large portion of this story takes place, so it hit close to home—but even if you've been oblivious to the rise in opiate and heroin addiction (and resulting overdose deaths) this is an essential read.
Quinones switches quickly between telling the stories of addicts, doctors, heroin dealers and the pharmaceutical industry and weaves all of the pieces together seamlessly. It's an extremely complicated problem with no obvious solution, but it's a riveting story that is crucial to understanding the current state of our country.
This was my first time really getting into a Stephen King novel—if you don't count abandoned attempts at both It and Pet Semetary when I was younger—and it didn't take me long to realize why he's so popular. I'd seen Misery the movie a long time ago, so I knew the basic plot points, but that didn't prevent me from feeling all of the suspense, stress—and misery—that accompanies Paul Sheldon's imprisonment by his "number one fan," Annie Wilkes. It was impossible for me to not have Kathy Bates and James Caan in mind while I read the book, and it's a testament to casting that they fit so seamlessly with how King describes them. It's a gripping novel that is gruesome, clever and suspenseful—probably the perfect introduction to King as a writer, and I won't wait years again before reading another of his books.
I picked up this book in the gift shop of The Ringling in Sarasota, right after we saw The World's Largest Miniature Circus. I have always been interested in all things circus-related, but I especially love reading about a place or subject after seeing it—kind of like reading the reviews after I've seen the movie. The Circus Fire is the true account of a horrific fire that tore through the Big Top during the July 6th, 1944 matinee performance in Hartford Connecticut, killing 167 people and injuring hundreds more. There were thousands of people in attendance—mostly women and children—and people died in all sorts of horrific ways. Some reviews I read criticized this book for being too graphic in describing their injuries, but I mostly found it to be a fascinating and well-researched account of a truly tragic event. The canvas Big Top had been waterproofed with a mixture of paraffin and gasoline, and ultimately Ringling Bros. / Barnum and Bailey were found liable, although the source of the fire (and the identity of some of its victims) remains a mystery.
Interesting fact: The first place that the circus played after the fire was The Rubber Bowl in Akron!
There's a quote on the cover of Between the World and Me by Toni Morrison, declaring this book to be "required reading," and I don't think that's an overstatement. Ta-Nehisi Coates framed this book as a letter to his teenage son, and it's a short read but a devastating one. Much like I think that Being Mortal should be read by everyone who ever plans to grow old and die (or knows someone who will), Between the World and Me should be read by anyone and everyone who ever plans to have contact with another human being outside of themselves.
It wasn't an uplifting read, but the world is not a perfect place (and some people are forced to learn this faster than others). This isn't the book to read if you'd like to feel great about the world, but perhaps those that struggle the least need to start listening to someone like Coates the most. As James Baldwin famously said, "Not everything that is faced can be changed, but nothing can be changed until it is faced."