Review: Yumiko Kadota – Emotional Female

Emotional Female
Yumiko Kadota

“Yumiko Kadota was every Asian parent’s dream: model student, top of her class in medical school and on track to becoming a surgeon… She was regularly left to carry out complex procedures without senior surgeons’ oversight; she was called all sorts of things, from ‘emotional’ to ‘too confident’; and she was expected to work a relentless on-call roster – sometimes seventy hours a week or more – to prove herself.”

Yumiko has claimed her title of Emotional Female and taken it to the next level. As a patient, I feel most listened to when the doctor seems to actually be 1) listening and 2) can empathize. Yumiko takes us on a frankly uncomfortable journey into the Australian medical system where things are rancid and wrong to the core.

Yumiko talks about how staff would get her and another woman of Asian descent confused. Thankfully I see this practice actively changing in the university system, where students are encouraged to learn how to pronounce a person’s given name, not just call them by a nickname.

I love that Yumiko has tried to make the most of her burnout time (if that is such a thing) and found passion in a related area of teaching anatomy. She’s also returned to some surgery, and I hope that her way forward is not as painful as the past. Funnily enough I recently worked with someone who went the other way – first an anatomy tutor and now she’s in post-graduate Medicine. I can only hope that the environment has improved since Yumiko’s time as a student, but I fear that the workplaces are much the same.

I requested this book because I work with both post-graduate and first year undergraduate Medicine students. I feel as if I should know more about what it takes to ‘become a doctor’ because there is so much more ahead of them after they have finished university. I want to be able to give good advice, or at least informed advice, to students about what they hope to achieve out of medicine – and whether they have healthy coping mechanisms.

I have previously read Going Under which is a fictional account of another young woman’s training in Medicine. The original blog of that author’s post was in 2017. It doesn’t give me much home that the profession is changing its ways in regards to its attitude towards mental health and chronic overwork here in 2021. I hope that further people feel able to speak up, and perhaps change will eventually happen.

Buy this book and be part of the change we need in the Medical system. Encourage others to read it. You won’t regret it.

Penguin Random House | 2 March 2021 | AU$34.99 | paperback

Review: Andrew Faulk – My Epidemic

An AIDS Memoir of One Man’s Struggle as Doctor, Patient and Survivor
Andrew M. Faulk

“When young Dr. Andrew Faulk first learned he was HIV-positive, he was devastated for it certainly meant imminent death… Due to the rigors and stress of training, he considered abandoning his medical career. But, instead, he dedicated the remainder of his life to the fight against AIDS, ultimately participating in the care of approximately 50 patients who died, many his own peers, including his partner.”

What is there I can say about this book? It is both heartbreaking and uplifting, sad and joyful at the same time. The memoirs that I have read recently didn’t pass muster. My Epidemic does. Andrew shows sensitivity and self-awareness, and his story does bring something new to the bookshelf. To me, Andrew showed the early tenants of ‘active listening’ to his patients, even as he faced most of them going too-early to the grave. This naturally took a toll on this compassionate doctor, leading to him leaving the profession.

This is a book by a man who knows how to actively listen, who knows how to empathise and grieve, and is willing to share what story has taken place in his life so far. Personally, I felt cheated to an extent. This memoir is filled with two page summaries of patients and friends Andrew has known and nursed. I wanted more information – but perhaps to include more would have crossed the confidential patient-doctor boundary.

I particularly appreciated the epilogue on COVID-19. Thankfully, Australia has not been as hard pressed by COVID-19 as the overburdened USA healthcare system. It didn’t occur to me to parallel the two epidemics. HIV/AIDs seems to be so far in the past – I always thought of AIDs as belonging to third world countries (reinforced by other books I had read). I’ve read novels on the 1980s epidemic or current life with HIV, but they didn’t resonate with me in the same way as this memoir.

When I corresponded with Andrew and his publicist, I felt listened to and appreciated (he even addressed my beloved birdie in my signed copy of the book!). Treating your reviewer with respect for their time will always lead to a tick in my book, and lead to this book being read almost as soon as it arrived.

The gay men in my life are HIV-negative as far as I know, and I know that many are taking PReP to minimize their chances of contracting HIV. Advances in medicine such as these have changed the face of disease burdens and perhaps minimized their significance, in Western countries at least.  Thank you Andrew for bringing the AIDs epidemic back into context and not letting those brothers who were victims of this disease be forgotten.

Review: Joram Piatigorsky – The Speed of Dark

The Speed of Dark
Joram Piatigorsky

“The Speed of Dark reveals how the author, his mother the daughter of the French Rothschild banking dynasty and his father a world-renowned cellist, broke the chain of his lineage of art, music and banking to establish an important career in science. ”

Just because you can write, that doesn’t mean you should write. Equally, even if everyone else in your family has written a memoir, that doesn’t mean you need to. There needs to be something unique or exciting, some motto that someone else can gain from your life. This book had none of this.

I started off dead bored with this book, and it didn’t improve from there. First, Piatigorsky describes both his parents – one a renowned cellist, the other an expensive Rothschild. Then, we slowly saw his progression through science, from a beginning scientist through to a renowned lab head. Somewhere in that progression I lost patience with the book offering me something interesting and new, and I just started skipping/skimming pages.

I got nothing from this memoir. I wasn’t overcome by feelings for someone who overcame insurmountable odds. Also, forgive me for saying so, it’s just another “white man” memoir, and that’s certainly not something we need in the current climate. He has money to spare, which although he describes how he tried not to rely on this crutch, it’s blatantly clear that he could do whatever he wanted because he had the family to back it up.

I am a molecular biologist of sorts (mainly I teach), so that’s why I decided I’d review this book. Sadly, it didn’t give me anything interesting. Perhaps I should have gone with his fiction or other non-fiction choices? It’s too late now, I’m completely browned off and too disappointed to keep reading. I’m sad I wasted my precious reading time on this book.

I received a complimentary copy of this book for review.

Review: Janet LoSole – Adventures by Chicken Bus

Adventures by Chicken Bus
Janet LSole

“Embarking on a homeschooling field trip to Central America is stressful enough, but add in perilous bridge crossings, trips to the hospital, and a lack of women’s underwear, and you have the makings of an Adventure by Chicken Bus.”

Part guidebook, part travel diary, this book explored backpacking with two young children in tow – and that it can be done! One thing that made no sense to me was that the family had a whole heap of debt, and basically had nothing at the end of their trip. Yet they were sure their jobs would still be there when they got home? I couldn’t imagine going overseas with so little cash that a flight out might actually could have been impossible. Also, the last chapter jumps forward a year, and I felt cheated that I didn’t hear about how they readapted to living in a Western society.

What I would have liked to read more about was about the author’s ability to converse in Spanish. Were other backpackers like themselves also fluent in Spanish to get around Costa Rica and the other Central America countries? I’d love to take this trip myself, but I’d be worried about not speaking the local language.

This book could have been longer, with more details and I still would have been happy. The writing is engaging, and the number of stories told were all very interesting. It’s clear that the author takes pride in her writing, and practices her skill diligently (we hear hints of her writing in this book). Other people have called for photos to be included, but I don’t think they are essential. LoSole describes the environment so well, I didn’t need any additional visual cues.

The Chicken Buses reminded me of travelling in Jeepneys in the Philippines. They hardly stop, and somehow the driver manages to take passengers’ payments while driving! There’s no respect for road rules either. I found it slightly entertaining that the author remained terrified of driving there, when it’s really just a way of life. A big coach I was travelling on in the Philippines literally scraped a wall in a tunnel, and just kept driving!

A very enjoyable read, and I’d highly recommend it to anyone considering travelling overseas, homeschooling/unschooling their kids, or someone who just wants to live vicariously through others.

Review: Ernman and Thunberg – Our House is on Fire

Our House is on Fire
Ernman and Thunberg

“When climate activist Greta Thunberg was eleven, her parents Malena and Svante, and her little sister Beata, were facing a crisis in their own home. Greta had stopped eating and speaking, and her mother and father had reconfigured their lives to care for her. Desperate and searching for answers, her parents discovered what was at the heart of Greta’s distress: her imperiled future on a rapidly heating planet.”

I fully admit that I don’t follow politics and I specifically ignore the news because I find it quite depressing and frustrating. Thus, although I was aware of the ‘Greta phenomenon’ happening, I wasn’t really aware of the specific circumstances about it. This book won’t give you those either. What it will provide you with is a thoughtful commentary by Greta’s mother on some of the challenges of raising a neurodiverse child.

What did annoy me was the focus on Greta’s mother (whose name I still don’t remember) and her status as a celebrity. I’m really sorry, but I have no idea who you are, and why you might be important. I respect you for being accepting of your neurodiverse, eating disorder and autism-having offspring. But you aren’t the only person with that particular combination of problems. I feel like this book was marketed as being about Greta, but it wasn’t focused enough on her. Maybe borrow it from the library, it’s not worth buying (unless you are then going to pass it around to different people).

This book actually made me feel a bit more guilty about not making better choices for the planet. I had sunk into a ‘enough’ mindset, rather than thinking about how I could improve. I have the cash flow to afford to shop more responsibly, but I don’t always make that choice. This book could serve as a good reminder that we can do more, and that it’s not completely hopeless to try to save the planet.

Penguin Random House | 4th March 2020 | AU$32.99 | paperback

Review: Rita Therese – Come

Rita Therese

“Rita Therese is a 25-year-old sex worker, artist and writer based in Melbourne, Australia. She entered the sex industry at age 18, and has worked as a stripper, porn and as an escort. She currently works as an escort under the alias Gia James. She has written for magazines like Frankie, Vice and Penthouse Australia, and had a monthly sex and dating column for Sneaky magazine.”

I wanted this to be new and innovative, but in the end I actually felt disappointed. I’ve read a similar novel/memoir in the past that still stuck with me. What really frustrated me about this was that it had a ‘fearless new talent’ but the writing itself wasn’t that amazing. It seemed to reply on shock factor, and speed, in order to keep the reader interested.

Arg! The biggest irritation for me was the way that the timeline endlessly jumped around. The novel seems to open at the end, where Rita has already lost her two older brothers to suicide. But then it jumps between when she is just starting out as a topless waiter through to being a porn star, and then back to working at a brothel. Honestly I wasn’t sure what was going on. Maybe some more informative chapter headings would help? I wasn’t sure if her abusive relationship was before her rape or her brothers’ deaths, or something else. It made it hard for me to follow the storyline.

Some of the things that Rita tells you how to do are honestly really gross, and probably not very healthy for your biological workings! I am slightly worried that some people might think of this as a ‘how to’ in terms of getting into sex work, and take some of the things she’s described as good things to try at home. If you’re looking at getting into kink or exploring your own sexual side more (nothing wrong with that!) perhaps I could suggest Oh Joy Sex Toy? As the name suggests, this comic takes a light hearted approach to reviewing sex toys, discussing kinks and quirks, and also takes on sexual health.

One of the few things I appreciated about this book was that Rita does touch on the fact that she attended therapy to help her cope. But I’m not sure her ‘alternative’ lifestyle should be blamed at all for her personal failings. Not all sex workers are drug-riddled alcoholics? If you’ve looked at an AMA, or watched You Can’t Ask That you’ll know that sex workers can have healthy sex lives as well as working.

An interesting exposé that provides an ironically happy and sexual read that will last you at least as long as a night out at a club (and make you think about what the dancers are doing in the ‘spare time’ they have). Remember that sex workers are people too, and that they are all different. There’s nothing wrong with this book, I just wish it was a bit better organised.

Allen & Unwin | 31st March 2020 | AU$29.99 | paperback

Review: Lucia Osborne-Crowley – I Choose Elena

I Choose Elena
Lucia Osborne-Crowley

Lucia Osborne-Crowley was on track to be an Olympic gymnast. She knew her body intimately and knew where she was going. On a night out age 15 she was violently raped, setting off a chain of events that lead to a life of chronic illness.

This memoir almost moved me to tears with the hopelessness and frustration that leaked out of its pages. How could no-one help Lucia when she was obviously in so much pain? Surely bleeding from the vagina should always be treated as serious. I guess that this was some years ago, when endometriosis and Crohn’s Disease were poorly understood, and even more poorly treated.

The statistics that Osborne-Crowley provides the reader with are unsurprising. Men tend to get help/pain relief faster than women, and their complaints tend to be taken more seriously. Yet which gender is it that goes through childbirth? Women are more resilient in my opinion, and Osborne-Crowley has done a fantastic job of making her story accessible and increasing awareness about trauma recovery.

Unlike Foul is Fair, this memoir deals with the subject of rape gracefully and sensitively. Rape is a triggering subject, but this book doesn’t dwell on the rape, instead depicting This reads so smoothly it could almost be fiction – yet I only wish that this was fiction because then Lucia would not have had to go through such hell.

I’d recommend this book both for people who have experienced similar trauma, and those that haven’t. It is a relatively gentle and pleasurable read that highlights both the importance of coming to terms with trauma through counselling and reading literature. Fantastic non-fiction.

Allen & Unwin | 18th February 2020| AU$16.99 | paperback

Review: Thea Hayes – A Country Nurse

A Country Nurse
Thea Hayes

“Thea Hayes spent twenty years living and working on Wave Hill Station in the Northern Territory. She arrived as a twenty-two-year-old nurse from Sydney, but when she left in 1979 she was married with four children and eager for her next adventure.”

This is more like a teaser rather than a collection of stories. Although the chapter headings lead me to believe that each chapter would be its own little narrative, instead the narrative seemed to jump around a lot. There’s too much packed in, and not enough details.

This doesn’t have the personal details that I need to be entranced by a book. I wanted to hear about Thea’s personal connection with some of her palliative care patients, or a stronger link to her customers in the shop. Even her brush with cancer seemed indifferent, and I didn’t actually care about her family members enough to remember their names. I also felt that her views on Australian Aboriginal treatment were quite antiquated and not well informed. If they aren’t how she saw them, she should do something about it!

My mom was a nurse, and she collects nursing fiction (she’s also impossible to buy presents for!). Thus I’m always on the lookout for more fiction that she might enjoy. Would I normally fork out $29.99 for this book? No, I definitely wouldn’t. Maybe if someone was potentially interested in nursing stories, but enjoyed a loose narrative by a nurse, this would be a book for them.

Allen & Unwin | 7th January 2020 | AU$29.99 | paperback

Review: Kenneth Ring – Waiting to Die

Waiting to Die:
A Near-Death Researcher’s (Mostly Humorous) Reflections on His Own Endgame
Kenneth Ring

“During his many years researching the near-death experience (NDE), Dr. Kenneth Ring was concerned with answering the question, “What is it like to die?” In this book of fifteen sparkling and delightfully witty essays, his question becomes more personal, “What is it like waiting to die?” More specifically, what is it like for an octogenarian who has spent half his life studying and writing about NDEs to face his own mortality? ”

I was offered this book to review, and I was attracted to it because the author writes and researches near-death experiences (NDEs). Cool! I thought to myself. I’ll get some interesting insights from this book of essays. The earlier essays were entertaining and informative, and I enjoyed reading them. As I went through them however I enjoyed them less. Perhaps I just don’t relate well to an aging man with prostate problems?

I’ve never feared death, so NDEs don’t freak me out. I think for someone who might be facing death presumably sooner than I would appreciate it! Growing old is a process, and I suppose dying of natural causes is also. The thing that resonated with me the most was that Kenneth reflects on being one of his last friends standing! Old age kills off your friends and family.

Something else the book raised for me was the research into near death lucidity, where people with dementia or similar mental losses suddenly revert to their old selves when dying. A fascinating concept that I would like to read more about for sure. I’m interested to read more of Kenneth’s professional work, even if ultimately this collection was not for me.

I’ve never been one for reading books of essays, any more than I like short stories. I like to have something really meaty to sink my teeth into. So that might have been one of the problems with this book. I think that different people are going to get different things, and not all of them are going to enjoy or appreciate all the essays. I’m on vacation right now, so I’m going to be releasing it into the wild. I hope that someone else enjoys it more!

Review: Elena Dunkle & Clare Dunkle – Elena Vanishing

Elena Vanishing
Elena Dunkle & Clare Dunkle

Elena doesn’t have anorexia or an eating disorder or anxiety. She just carefully controls what she eats to make sure that she maintains the right number. When she doesn’t know what that number is, she can’t think straight – and she certainly can’t trust a psychologist to help her think straight either.

This is the true story of Elena’s recovery from anorexia as well as some of the causes and compulsions that underlie her disorder. What I found striking about this novel was that Elena is a caring person by nature, and yet she can’t care for herself. The root of the problem doesn’t become apparent until later in the book. We think that perhaps her sister has something to do with it, but ultimately that isn’t it. While I would have liked to know more about her sister, I also respect the family’s privacy.

Wow, the guts it must have taken for Elena to write this book with her mother. This is a memoir – so don’t expect it to be an easy read. What it is, is a raw and painful read that pulled at me and made me feel physically ill with Elena at the same time. I felt everything with her intimately. I’d like to read the memoir of Clare Dunkle now so that I can see the other side and perhaps get a bigger picture. It feels a little wrong of me to be so invested in personal aspects of their lives, but at the same time I’m so grateful to them for letting the reader in.

From the beginning of the book it was painful for me to read. If you have or have had an eating disorder or OCD you should think very carefully about reading this book as it has the potential to be really triggering. It’s not the rosy picture of recovery from an eating disorder that many fiction novels have – this is both deeply horrifying and reassuring at the same time. I’m not sure how to explain that exactly, but I guess it’s that the person themselves must be ready to change and that the science behind eating disorder treatment is constantly changing.

It’s horrifying to me that some people who need help won’t receive it because their insurance won’t pay. That someone with a life-threatening condition can just be kicked out if they can afford treatment. Would a hospital just toss someone out if they needed a heart bypass to survive, but they couldn’t pay? It seems like they wouldn’t – but anything that is perceived to be a personal problem or self-created problem like an eating disorder or mental illness doesn’t come under the same category of care. It’s not good enough, even if I don’t have a solution.