Writing Bliss

"If they do not write the kind of books we want to read, we shall have to write them ourselves." -C.S. Lewis


February 2016

Book Review: Still Alice by Lisa Genova


I want to open this review by saying that I read this for my book club because our March theme will be “Page to Screen.”  My challenge to participants was to read a book that has been made into a movie, then watch the movie.  Compare, contrast, and just make general observations.  I wanted to watch this movie when it was nominated for a few Academy Awards last year, and I have every intention of watching it.  My review today is strictly on the book.

This book, as most people know, is about a woman who, just after turning 50, is diagnosed with early-onset Alzheimer’s Disease.  Alice Howland is a professor at Harvard University; clearly she is incredibly smart.  Her brain is wired to think far beyond the scope of most people.  This makes her diagnosis all the more tragic.

Before I get into the body of the story, I must mention that I listened to this book on audio, and was initially excited that it was narrated by the author.  I was slightly disappointed because Lisa Genova is an author, not an actor, and her reading was not that lively.  Her writing, however, was exquisite.  Her artful way with words really made the read pleasant.  I loved the idea of weather’s “flirtation with winter,” and the description of the cafe that had been “serving the chronically caffeinated long since before the invasion of Starbucks.”  More importantly, Genova was able to convey deeper emotions and true understanding of the mind of someone suffering such a debilitating disease.  When Alice first goes to the doctor, before they know what’s wrong with her, the doctor refers her to get an MRI.  A bran scan, Alice thinks, implies that they are concerned it may be cancer.  She refers to the potential tumor as a “predator,” and what better way to refer to any disease, really.  Diseases are predators, preying on the human body and making them weak.  It is a tragic reality.  The author touches the topic of cancer again later, after Alice has been struggling with the Alzheimer’s for a while.  Alice blatantly wishes she had cancer.  Cancer is something you can fight, with radiation and chemotherapy.  People rally around you when you have cancer, and they support you.  People with Alzheimer’s just get sympathy, pity, and there’s nothing to fight.  It just slowly takes away your consciousness.  This is a terrible and terrifying thought.

There are also three very impactful scenes I’d like to discuss.  They’re not necessarily spoiler scenes, but if you plan to read the book or watch the movie and don’t want to know what happens at all, you may want to stop reading here.  The first scene takes place at the grave site where Alice’s father is buried.  She knows she has the disease at this point but she hasn’t told her husband, John, yet.  Alice breaks down.  She is crying so hard that John goes to comfort her.  She does not mourn her father, who was a life long drunk and responsible for the car accident that killed her mother and sister years before.  It is  literally the toll that the burden of knowing she has Alzheimer’s Disease has placed on her shoulders.  I’m driving in the car when I’m listening to this and I’m yelling at the CD, “Tell John!  Right now is your chance, just tell your husband!”  A simple request, it may seem like, but Alice has always been independent and her husband is not only her partner in life, but also her intellectual equal.  This refusal to tell John is a matter of pride, but not in the way one would expect.  She fears losing his respect.

There is another scene where John and Alice are sitting together in the doctor’s office and they’re discussing the genetic mutation that has caused Alice’s disease, for which she has tested positive.  She asks if there is a chance that her kids will have the same mutation.  This is a heavy topic of conversation.  Should her adult children get themselves tested?  What about her oldest daughter who is trying to get pregnant, will this affect Alice’s grandchildren?

The last scene, and in my opinion the most powerful, was when Alice holds her twin grandchildren just after their birth.  Her daughter, Anna, tested positive for the genetic mutation, which means at some point in her life, Anna will suffer her mother’s fate.  The doctor’s were able, however, to remove the mutation from the cells which were implanted in Anna during in vitro treatments.  Alice holds her granddaughter, recognizes that it is her grandchild, then asks, “Will they get this disease like me?” Her daughter tells her they will not.  That is the most amazing moment in the whole book.  Living long enough to see one’s grandchildren is a tremendous blessing, but living with Alzheimer’s and not knowing if you’ll recognize them is scary.  Alice knows the child is her grandchild and can be at peace knowing they will never suffer like she did.

I absolutely loved this book, and I know it’s still early, but I’m pretty sure this book will be making my Top 5 at the end of the year.  This book had a powerful message that is relevant to all ages and every generation.  It raises awareness of a brutal disease with no cure.  This disease takes away what many cancer patients, even if they lose their fight with the disease, have still maintained until the end; peace of mind.

Writing as a Community


In honor of NaNoWriMo last November, the Iredell County Public Library that I work for in North Carolina partnered with Mitchell Community College to create the first ever community novel.  We created a group of writers who were patrons and staff of the library, and students and staff from the college.  We organized our thoughts, constructed a vague outline for what we wanted to accomplish in the book, and then, chapter by chapter, each person wrote the story.  To many people this sounded strange.  “Is it an anthology?” was the main question we received when we told people about the project.  I suppose it made sense to assume we were constructing a collection of short stories written by different authors.  Instead, we chose the challenge of writing a full, complete novel with each chapter being written by a different person.  Each character was created by the author of that chapter, and no one knew where the plot would turn next until it was written.

I can tell you right now, as co-coordinator of this project, this will NOT happen in our next novel.  While I loved the idea of having each person write a chapter, there was too much confusion about where the book was heading, and it wasn’t until the two weeks before we sent the book for printing that we really came up with a solid conclusion.  This will be much more organized in the next book.  But the wonderful thing about this project is that it was our FIRST and it was successful.  I am so proud of this book, and more importantly, what it stands for.  This book encompasses community purpose and togetherness.  It displays teamwork and collective learning.  Were there mistakes?  Sure, but even the most seasoned authors make mistakes.  Were there things I would like to plan differently for next time?  Of course, but that is the whole purpose of this project.  There was a wide age range of participants, and that alone proves that you’re never too old to learn something.  We had published authors and novices involved, which proved that anyone can accomplish something when they set their mind to it.

So what was the book about, you may want to know.  The synopsis was simple enough; we wanted to keep the story local to entice library patrons and students at the college to feel invested in the story.  We changed the name of the town, but anyone with a basic knowledge of Statesville, North Carolina can understand where the book takes place.  The setting is the old Playhouse Theatre (which has long since been torn down) in the early 1980s.  The protagonist is a young girl who was born and raised in the town, but left for New York City to pursue a career in film.  When she arrives back home to settle the estate of her parents who died in a car accident, she discovers she inherited the Playhouse Theatre.  The main character and her sister then embark on an emotional journey to learn more about each other, appreciate the importance of family, and embrace a sense of community neither of them have felt before.  The story takes some unexpected turns, visits from mysterious people of the past, and hopefully, conveys an essential message to the readers.

For our first book, I must say I am quite proud.  Copies of the book, Renovations, are available for purchase through Amazon here, and the royalties of the online sales will go the Iredell Friends of the Library in support of our next project, which we hope to make annual.  The book will be available for purchase and officially launched on Friday March, 25 at the Doris Betts Literary Festival at Mitchell Community College where the authors will also be signing copies.  For people who are local and can pick up a copy in the library, copies will be available at a discounted rate with your library card and 100% of those sales will go toward the project.

Please share this post because I think more libraries and communities should participate in these types of projects.  The library in Topeka, Kansas is in their fifth year of their community novels and are a huge success.  Communities need people, and people need communities.  This book is positive proof of the power of that union, and I cannot wait to lead the next project.



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