Every once in a while I read a book that challenges my perspective on life and forever changes me. Natural Causes was one of those books, and I think it should be required reading for anyone living in a body that will eventually die (aka, everyone). Ehrenreich, who holds a PhD in cellular immunology, begins by explaining that now that she's in her 70s, she's come to the realization that she is "old enough to die," meaning that she has chosen to forgo any unnecessary medical treatment and preventative screenings. This shouldn't be a revolutionary idea, but it seems so in our culture that has evolved to fear and delay death at seemingly any cost. Ehrenreich's views on medical interventions and the facts on screenings such as mammograms and colonoscopies—which are costly and probably do more harm than good—were fascinating, and the chapter on what it means to die was nothing short of life-changing for me.
I wanted so badly to like this book, but to be honest by the end I was just skimming over the long passages to pick out the (increasingly scarce) interesting tidbits. Inconvenient People has an interesting premise—stories of people falsely accused of being mentally ill, committed to asylums against their will and the legal issues surrounding such commitments—but the book could have probably been half as long. Wise is overly wordy and the stories started to get redundant, but her descriptions of the horrible conditions and treatment in poorly-run English asylums made wading through the rest of the unnecessary details almost worth it.
This was one of those books that was so obviously perfect for me that it was recommended to me by several people after I had already put it on my library hold list. I'm forever fascinated by Roosevelt Island and the horrors that occurred there when it was Blackwell's Island, a home for the city's most derided residents—the poor, sick, mad and criminal. Horn's writing reads like a book report at times, but colorful composition isn't really necessary when the real facts are as horrifying and sordid as what happened in the island's lunatic asylum, charity hospital, workhouse and penitentiary.
Manhattan Beach: A Novel, by Jennifer Egan
After David and I took a bike ride to the actual Manhattan Beach, I put this book on hold at the library. Before it was available, I started seeing it everywhere and it was chosen as 2018's One Book, One New York, so I was expecting to be blown away. This was my first book by Egan, and it started off good but eventually I lost interest and by the time I finished I was actively annoyed. I felt like I had been duped by the hype and I genuinely don't understand why this book received so much acclaim. The premise of a daughter haunted by the sudden disappearance of her father was interesting enough, but I just didn't really care at all about any of the characters. Egan's old-timey dialogue was distracting and the details felt overly researched. New York readers don't need a book to unite us in our collective annoyance—the subway does a great job of that on its own.
I'll Be Gone in the Dark: One Woman's Obsessive Search for the Golden State Killer, by Michelle McNamara
I put this on hold before they caught the Golden State Killer, but having a real suspect in mind made it even more of an interesting read (remember, I love spoilers). It also made it even more heartbreaking that Michelle McNamara died tragically before the publication and subsequent arrest, especially because she was so right about so many things. Her passion and obsession with tracking down the GSK—and the fact that her rebrand of the killer formerly known as the East Area Rapist most definitely helped generate buzz and keep people on the case—made this book even better than if it had been just a straight report of the facts (which on their own are the stuff of nightmares).