Sunday, May 24, 2015

Cluster Critiques

The Big Necessity: The Unmentionable World of Human Waste and Why It Matters by Rose George

Rose George wrote another book I really enjoyed and reviewed, Ninety Percent of Everything, so I actively sought out her other books and came across The Big Necessity, which in spite of its highly unattractive topic, human waste, is immensely important as disease spread by human waste kills more people worldwide every year than any other single cause of death.

In her quest to uncover the state of shit in our history and our current world, George prowls sewers, quizzes sanitary engineers and visits some of the most backward countries in the world revealing the huge, completely unsolved and deadly problem of human waste disposal. Here are a couple of disturbing facts sure to make your day:
·      2.6 billion people (4 in 10 people worldwide) do not have a toilet.
·      A child dies from diarrhea every 15 seconds (brought on by fecal-contaminated food/water).

In spite of the odious aspects of George’s investigative reporting (i.e. helicopter toilets - plastic bag, poop, throw) there are some incredible colorful stories of almost cartoonish characters whose lives are dedicated to figuring out how to make inexpensive human waste disposal available to people for whom toilets are way down on the list of priorities. In fact, George has a singular talent for turning otherwise icky and boring topics into riveting tales. Okay, so maybe riveting to people like me who are fascinated by such things. The Big Necessity is a terrific toilet tome!

A Fine Romance by Candice Bergen

Candice Bergen is the daughter of famed Charlie McCarthy ventriloquist Edgar Bergen. So what you might say. But if I say Candice Bergen – you know, “Murphy Brown,” you might say, “Oh I love her!” A Fine Romance is Candice Bergen’s life story, with a little about her emotionally detached parents, and a lot about her deeply romantic courtship and marriage to famous French director, Louis Malle (“My Dinner With Andre”), the late-in-life birth of her daughter, and her multi-award winning stint as Murphy Brown.

Bergen doesn’t appear to hold anything back. Her description of her and Malle’s dreamy and extravagant honeymoon in India, their life in Malle’s French castle, and the jaw-dropping list of regular dinner guest, i.e., Richard Avedon, Mike Nichols, Nora Ephron, Elizabeth Taylor, Lorne Michaels, etc. were entertaining and entrancing. One of the things that most impressed me however, was the almost unbelievably grueling hours required of Bergen, year after year, for her performance of Murphy Brown, and yet how very much she appreciated being able to play that part. Her life seemed to be one of such extremes – unfathomable luxury and very hard work. I found Bergen’s story funny, frank and endearing.

All The Light We Cannot See: A Novel by Anthony Doerr
I tend to be a system-bucker. If everyone else says a book is great, I raise an eyebrow and am suspicious. So I almost didn’t read All The Light We Cannot See, and that would have been my loss. I’ve also tired of books set during World War II, and yes, I know we're destined to repeat history if we don't remember it. We’re a disgraceful species. I just wish we learned from our mistakes. But some books aren’t about the setting or the historical circumstances within which they whirl. They are about ordinary people in extraordinary circumstances and, if we're lucky, the spun gold narrative the authors create around them. Such is the case with this book, which is so gracefully penned that I almost didn’t care what happened next. I just wanted to read Doerr’s enchanting descriptions of the thoughts and feelings of the characters.

I guess I should tell you what this book is about, and add that it is a charming, heartwarming story that at times feels like a fairytale. There’s WWII, and a French blind girl whose father builds a model of their Paris neighborhood so she can learn to navigate to the museum where he works. There’s a diamond with a curse. There’s a young orphan who is thrown by circumstance into the Hitlerjugend (Hitler Youth organization). And there's the slowly unwinding story of how their lives become intertwined, and the more common of war crimes - the separation from loved ones, daily fear of death, and the loss of any semblance of a future. All The Light We Cannot See is the crème brûlée of 2014 books, simple, luxurious and irresistible.

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