The Ghost Map

I lost steam for reading this one mid-way through, but slogged on because I had so much pent-up anticipation for the book prior to getting it. He lost me as soon as he digressed into the whole “hunter-gatherer turned farmer changed the world” sacred-cow of modern history. The work is a look at the history of the cholera epidemic in London, how 2 amateur scientists proved the disease was water-borne instead of the widely held “miasma” theory of bad air. John Snow pinpointed the source of the breakout at the Broad Street pump, and created the “ghost map” of deaths from a birds eye view, with circles around neighborhoods to show which water pump was the most convenient.
One of the more graphic scenes was the description of Fanny Burney’s mastectomy sans anesthetic; to depict the tenor of the medical times & to show Snow’s pioneering work in ether studies.
Johnson also goes on a blah-de-blah lovefest of the 311 system in NYC, where the city learns from its citizens on the street who are reporting data, which if critical mass is reached, becomes a topic the mayor addresses.

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American Bloomsbury

I’ve always been drawn to the mystery of the genius cluster that thrived in Concord, MA in the 19th century, briefly considering it as a topic for a dissertation while I was still flirting with grad school at Georgia State. I had a great class on American literature there– exploring Hawthorne, Thoreau, Emerson, and the rest. Was it something in the air, in the water, that drove such beautiful writing out of that area?
This book seems promising, until you’re 100 pages in and Cheever starts inserting her own thoughts and memories of Concord into the mix. It was refreshing to re-learn that the greats of American literature all lived in a small Massachusetts town together, Emerson funding the poverty of Thoreau, Alcott & others. Louisa May had a crush on both Thoreau & Emerson, Thoreau loved Emerson’s wife, Emerson & Hawthorne both lusted after Margaret Fuller.
Pretty flimsy stuff, this book. Good to whet the appetite and not much more. I am now inspired to re-read Little Women.

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Tales The People Tell In Mexico

For the last 20 years, I’ve been haunted by vivid memories of a Latino folk story about a witch who is refused food by a rich senora, who then curses the rich lady to starve no matter what she eats. I used to casually scan the shelves of my hometown library in rural Georgia, hoping to recognize the binding and learn the title of the book. I even queried bookstore employees in California, crossing my fingers that one day I’d have this book in my hands again.
A few weeks ago, I mentioned my dilemma to my librarian sister, who quickly identified the book as Tales The People Tell In Mexico. The book arrived today, and I devoured it on the commute home.
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The Rich Senora
The people sometimes tell about a certain rich Senora, whose son was the Mayor of Motul. Although she was very, very rich, this woman was also very stingy. Every day, poor people came to her door to beg for food. Every day, she sent them away with nothing.
One day the rich Senora was eating, when a very poor, very old woman came to the door and begged her for a little food. Quickly, the rich Senora threw a cloth over her plate to hide the food piled high there. Then she ordered the old woman away, slamming the door in her face. But when the Senora returned to her food and lifted the cloth from her plate- what do you think? It was crawling with snakes.
This strange event frightened her. The next day, the same old woman came to the door again. This time the rich Senora was not so quick to send her away. She looked around the kitchen for something to give the poor woman. there was plenty of meat, lots of corn and tortillas. But the rich Senora did not want to waste such fine food on a beggar. She scraped a few dry skins from an old onion and gave these to the poor woman.
“Muchas gracias,” said the beggar-woman politely. “Though these are only onion skins, I am thankful. I shall put a little chili sauce on them, and with God’s grace, I shall be filled.”
That evening the Senora suffered a gnawing hunger. In the middle of the night, she had to get up to eat. She ate five tortillas, and still she wasn’t filled. She ate ten, twenty, thirty tortillas, yet she was hungrier than when she had started. And this was only the beginning of her hunger. In the days that followed, the Senora ate and ate and ate. She could not get enough. The more she ate, the hungrier and skinnier she got. Meanwhile, each time the rich Senora saw her, the beggar-woman looked fatter and healthier.
As fast as her servants could cook the food, the rich Senora ate. Tortillas, rice, beans, eggs, meat, chicken– anything! But it did no good. Even while she ate, she wasted away to skin and bone. At last, she became so thin that she died.
As she died, two angels flew down, fluttering about her on their great white wings. The angels reached toward her, holding out something for her to grasp. What was it? Onion skins!
Even though she was a rich Senora, and mother of a mayor, she had no choice. The onion skins were the only things she had ever given to anybody. Only by their strength could she reach heaven. The rich Senora grasped the onion skins and prayed that they would hold.
The angels rose with her. They flew higher and higher toward heaven, pulling her up by the onion skins. But the onion skins were old and dry, like the ones she had given the beggar-woman. At last they broke. Even as she watched the angels fly out of sight above her, the rich Senora dropped into a never-ending sea of darkness.

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Eat, Pray, Love

Sometimes you rescue books from their dusty neglect, forgotten on the bookshelves. And sometimes books rescue you, from an unpleasant situation or state of mind. This book was the latter, my rescue, my cross country flight entertainment, my rope to salvation out of a hole of unnecessary sadness.
Gilbert skillfully deboned and skinned herself, laying her heartbreak out for all to pick over and examine. Fresh from a painful divorce and torrid love affair with the wrong guy, she flees on her “I” journey, spending a year abroad in 3 countries starting with “I” (Italy, India, Indonesia). In Italy, she eats well and nurses herself back to health, finally ending things with David via email.
Appetite satiated and glutted on earthly pleasures for four months, she then heads to India to medidate in an Ashram and find spiritual peace. At the Ashram, she struggles with quieting her mind (monkey mind… I’m well acquainted with the problem), struggles with the 182 verse Sanskrit poem (the Gurugita) that eventually transports her to the heights of spiritual grace. One final problem remains– the lack of closure with her ex-husband. So the plumber from New Zealand sets her up on the roof of the Ashram and has her work it out by summoning his spirit and letting their spirits talk through the closure.
Healed heart & mind, she heads back to Bali (Indonesia) to help the medicine man she’d found a few years prior. In Bali, she finds balance, friendship, a Brazilian lover. The moral of the story is to find the strength to change your life for the better, you don’t need to settle for 2nd rate. Perfect timing on the book choice.
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Recommended and pressed upon me by Ashlyn, the genius guru of relationship advice

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Blame it on Paris

Ah, the joys of dashing home for the weekend and devouring books you’d never be caught dead with otherwise. This book by a hometown girl about snagging her French husband despite all efforts to remain unattached, traveling the globe, working on her PhD. She introduces her Parisian boyfriend to rural Georgia, with its No Beer on Sundays!, red dirt, far from civilization, gun toting charm. Ended up being quite readable, funny in parts. I think also interesting to readers from outside the world that this is drawn upon. I couldn’t quite come to terms with her descriptions of herself as a manhunter in stiletto boots, but if not knowing the author, others should not have that same problem. Congrats to Laura on getting published, and it being a fine readable effort to boot!
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First mentioned by JK, but thrust into my needy hands by Christine

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