Tuesday, February 22, 2011

The GodMOTHER- The Company She Keeps

The Company She Keeps-- Georgia Durante

Something about the mafia has always interested me.  I'm obviously not alone or The Godfather, Goodfellas or The Sopranos would never have become such massive hits.  But, as much as I may joke about my grandmother's connections to the Chicago mafia, I'd never actually want to be associated or friendly with anyone who was in the mob.

Georgia Durante obviously didn't have the same conviction.  From a young age, the former model was considered a staple in the Rochester Mafia scene.  If her story is to be believed, and I do believe her only because there are too many names in this book for her not to have written the absolute truth, then she's led a hell of a life.

We all make choices we sometimes regret, but Durante's created a life built upon regrets.  From Rochester, she moved to New York and California, all with her wife-beating, cheating, mafia-connected husband in tow.  She surrounded herself with bad people, acted as the get-away driver for various mob-related hits, and found herself in relationship after relationship with some really screwed up men.

In an effort to straighten out her life, Durante created a professional stunt-driving business and now does much of the stunt work we see in commercials and film.  Though not without obstacles, her business has become successful and she is reputed to be among the best female stunt-drivers in the world.

Durante's story is really interesting!  Many a time, I wanted to climb into the book, sit her down and say "listen, girlfriend, you don't need to go back to him." Or "He's LYING you idiot!!" But, it was fascinating to read about her choices from the perspective that age has given her.  Like The Sopranos gave us insight into the life of a mafia boss, so, too, does The Company She Keeps give us a window into the life of a beauty queen, a battered wife, and a successful businesswoman.  It's an interesting view and one worth peeping into.  Just don't let the cops know you're watching...

Tuesday, February 15, 2011

"I'm Siiii-ick..." Ah-choo!: The Uncommon Life of Your Common Cold

It's only February and I've already had the flu and two colds this year.  I don't get it!  I use hand sanitizer like it's going out of style, eat well, sleep tons, and never share food/drinks.  Why am I getting so sick???

Jennifer Ackerman has some of the answers for me.  Her book, Ah-Choo!: The Uncommon Life of Your Common Cold, looks into, you guessed it, the common cold (which, by the way, isn't one strain of a virus, but a plethora of viruses.  That's why we can get sick over and over again...)  I'm sure I'm not alone when I complain that we can put a man on the moon and yet we can't cure the sniffles.  Ackerman meets with the people who have devoted their lives to solving that very problem.  Did you know there are people who volunteer to get colds??  People sign up for studies in which they're given germs and then studied.  Sometimes the researchers give the subjects drugs to test.  Other times, the subjects are studied for the symptoms they present with, the ways in which they spread germs, or the duration of their illnesses.  In return for their suffering, they're given financial compensation.  I really hope I never need money that badly!

Ackerman also tells us how to avoid, and how to treat, the common cold.  To stay healthy, don't touch your nose and eyes.  While many germs can be passed by oral contact- which is why it's never a good idea to share drinks- colds are most commonly transmitted via the nasal and ocular passages.  If you can avoid touching these areas, you greatly enhance your ability to fight off colds.  If you're like me, however, and wear contacts, well, good luck not touching your eyes...

Ackerman's research on treating the symptoms of colds was, in my opinion, both disappointing and useful. She tells us that all those hundreds of cold remedies available at CVS really are worthless.  You'll be just as healthy without Airborne as you would be with it.  Zicam can't lessen the duration of your cold.
Advil Cold and Sinus does nothing but pile a bunch of drugs you don't need in a pill with two you do.

To treat a cold, researchers all offer the same advice:
1- Sudafed or another first generation anti-histamine.   These help dry you out.  The newer stuff doesn't work.  Claritins and Zyrtecs may help with allergies, but they won't help your cold symptoms.

2- Ibuprophen.  The sinus pain associated with colds can be much alleviated with proper pain medications.

3- Sleep.  You're much better off taking a day off work and sleeping off your cold than trying to power through.  (Wish I'd followed my own advice here.  I went to work with both my colds and, boy, was it tough going...)

4- Chicken soup.  Yes, it's true, grandma's old adage really does help.  The liquids in the soup help prevent dehydration and the nutrients from the veggies are good for your body.  And, let's face it, who doesn't feel better with a little chicken soup??

Here's wishing you all a healthy 2011 and beyond!

Tuesday, February 8, 2011

Mockingbird: Harper Lee's Story

I loved To Kill A Mockingbird the moment I started the book!  I loved the characters, the story, the messages. Atticus Finch is such a wonderful role model; Scout is the type of kid I wanted to be.  I wanted a Boo Radley in my neighborhood (I may have gotten my wish after all these years...)  The story was so vivid and real; I always wondered how much of the story was based on Ms. Lee's real life.  (And, yes, she is Ms. Lee to me.  She's the epitome of a southern lady; referring to her in any other manner would be, to me, a sign of disrespect for my favorite author.)

Mockingbird: A Portrait of Harper Lee answers a lot of my questions.  Although there are no first person accounts from Harper Lee herself, the author Charles J. Shields, researched her life so thoroughly that he left little to question.  Lee has had a fascinating life; much of her childhood made its way into her novel.  From friendship with Truman Capote to her experiences in New York City, it would be easy to imagine that she lives the high life after publishing one of the most cherished books of the Twentieth Century.  Instead, Ms. Lee has spent the majority of her life immersed in her small Alabama hometown living with her older sister and attending the yearly church bazaar.  Her life is small and compact and, by all accounts, she loves it.

Mockingbird describes Ms. Lee's childhood, illustrates her process for writing and publishing her beautiful story, and details how the book changed the world, for no one more so than Ms. Lee herself.  I've always wanted another Lee novel and Mockingbird explains why it never came to fruition.  More than that, though, Mockingbird tells us what happened to the real Scout when she grew up.  And, just as I always imagined, she grew up to create a wonderful life for herself, her own way.

Tuesday, February 1, 2011

Sheer British, Sheer Fun-- Sheer Abandon

I've never been an Anglophile.  Though I enjoy a spot of tea, find British Humor (or Humour) wonderfully entertaining, and found the greatest boot shop in the world in London, I've never put much thought into immersing myself in the culture.  I know that may seem odd, as many of my favorite books are written by British authors and set in England (Atonement, Gurnsey Potato Peel, Saturday, One Day, etc...) So, I suppose I shouldn't have been surprised that i was so wildly entertained by Sheer Abandon, a novel by Penny Vincenzi.  Nonetheless, I found myself rapidly immersed in the story and was genuinely disappointed when I finished the book.

Sheer Abandon is the story of 3 women, Jocasta, Martha and Clio, who meet at age 18 on a post-high school trip to far East.  Although they had the best of intentions, they don't remain in contact after their trips and instead meet up again by chance sixteen years later.  As is the case in books like these, all three are incredibly successful and beautiful and everyone around them is equally successful and beautiful.

The book was not, in my opinion, very believable.  Everyone falls in love, everyone has a happy ending (well, almost everyone...) and everyone makes the right choices at the right time.  I usually hate books like these (Jodi Picault, I'm speaking to you) because life doesn't work that way.  Actions have consequences and in stories like these, those consequences are always positive.  Usually that frustrates me.

For some reason, I liked Sheer Abandon in spite of-- or perhaps because of-- it's flawed positivity.  What struck me most about the story was the ability of the characters to forgive and to act so welcomingly towards people they barely knew, or those who had wronged them.  As a person who is not easy to get along with and one who expects her friends to give of themselves as much as she is willing to give to them, I found these women to be completely fictionalized.  However, for some reason, I was willing to suspend my belief and even my criticism, a feat much more rare than it should be.  I liked that these women opened their hearts and their homes to others, I liked that they forgave so quickly and I liked that they so easily empathized.  While I normally want to throw the book out the window when I read about characters who are so ridiculously unrealistic, I actually wished to be more like them.  I credit Vincenzi; her writing is easy enough that I enjoyed suspending reality for a bit.

Vincenzi also gives us an intimate portrait of London in a way that many other English writers haven't.  She immerses the reader so thoroughly in the British culture that I actually found myself telling Andrew that we should put the groceries in the boot of our car.  I felt as if I was an official Brit.  All of the sudden, I wanted to listen to the BBC and eat blood pudding, well, minus the blood pudding... and the BBC...

The point is- Sheer Abandon will never win awards for it's story line, nor will it change any lives.  But, we need books like this from time to time.  The opportunity to read a light book that is well written is a welcome change from some of the heavier books out there.  I highly enjoyed my literary visit to the UK and recommend you all travel there as well.