Sunday, July 24, 2016

Book review: Still Alice by Lisa Genova

Well-crafted books are the product of careful research. How do you conduct the research for your books? Do you interview experts? Or do you draw from the body of knowledge you've obtained?

Lisa Genova, author of Still Alice, attended Harvard University.
Alice Howland, protagonist of Still Alice, is a professor at Harvard University.
Lisa Genova holds a Ph. D. in neuroscience and is an online columnist for the National Alzheimer's Association.
Alice Howland has early-onset Alzheimer's.

Another scientist may have written this book with a sense of detachment, but not Lisa Genova. She is skilled at bringing us deep inside Alice's mind. We not only learn what it's like to have Alzheimer's, but we also experience it.
Struggling with lose and isolation, Alice 'typed the words "early-onset Alzheimer's disease into Google. It pulled up a lot of facts and statistics.
There are an estimated five hundred thousand people in the United States with early-onset Alzheimer's disease...
 She added the word "support" to her Google search and hit the return key. 
She found forums, links, resources, message boards, and chat rooms. For caregivers...
What about support for the people with Alzheimer's disease.' (p. 208-209)
Alice discovered that there simply weren't any. So she created one. 

I had a similarly frustrating experience, in August 2013, when I sought support to deal with anxiety. I'm an adult with dyslexia.
'Anxiety is the most frequent emotional symptom reported by dyslexic adults.' link to article
My anxiety is heightened when I engage in social activities. 
'Individuals with dyslexia may have learned that being in the company of others places them at risk for making public mistakes and the inevitable reactions that may ensue. It makes sense, then, that people with dyslexia have become withdrawn...or become social isolates.'
link to article 
Not wanting my anxiety to limit my social engagement, I sought help. An Internet search brought me to the Association of Learning Disabled Adults or ALDA. Their website was engaging and informative. I had a deep sense that I'd found what I needed. My email drew a quick reply.
"Due to insufficient funding, next month we will be forced to remove our website and cease offering services."
I was on my own. Left to develop my own strategies, I sought the help of on-island (I live on remote island off Canada's west coast) health care professionals. I combine Rescue Remedy with meditation and Tia chi.

And my secret weapon against anxiety... enter Bim

"Bim" photo by Leanne Dyck

Some days are better then others. I remain plugged in to emotions. When feeling strong, I engage. When not, I don't.

The physically challenged may not need to explain the hurdles they face. The neurodivergent? Ah, we are a horse with a different rider. 
'I have good days and bad. On the good people and even my family use it as an excuse to think that I'm perfectly fine, even making this up.' (p. 220 - 221)
I've encountered this type of thinking in my life regarding dyslexia. For example, I've been told, by people who are intending to be supportive, that I simply have low self-esteem. (Low self-esteem may be a product of dyslexia.) And so the implied message is that I don't really need extra support. I should just try harder. But as an University of Winnipeg professor said, "Would these people expect a person in a wheelchair to climb a flight of stairs?"

Lisa Genova ends Still Alice with a speech. In the speech Alice Howland says, ' "I encourage you to empower us, not limit us... Help us develop tools to function." ' (p. 253)

I concluded Rising Above Expectations, an essay I wrote for the anthology My Gutsy Life, with a poem...

I need you to know that I am capable -- 
even when I show my inability

I need you to have faith that I will be able to pick myself up when I fall.

I need you to let me show you what I'm capable of --
before you help me

I need you to shout at the top of your lungs, "Yes, you can!
If not now -- someday; if not without me -- with me."

I need you to believe in me, even when -- especially when -- I don't.


Lisa Genova writes:  'I spent a year querying literary agents... [When] the last agent...said, "No thanks." I said, "Okay, then. I've had enough of this. I'm self-publishing." '

Click this link to read more about Still Alice's journey to becoming a published book.

Next post...
Sunday, July 31
I've been invited to spend a fun afternoon with friends and so the next post will be published three hours early (around 2 PM PST)
Book review:  University professor Don Tillman is a special kind of man seeking a special kind of woman.
You:  Huh, I wonder what book she's going to review?
You:  Hey, I know that book. It's...

  Picture Books in Canada
The mission of The Willow Awards is to promote reading by granting a "Willow Award" to the Canadian and/or Saskatchewan book(s) voted by Saskatchewan students to be the best of those nominated in designated categories for a specific year.
In an effort to encourage participation by all children, regardless of level at which they are reading, three awards have been established.
The Shining Willow Award for books written for young readers [younger than grade 4] 
-Willow Awards website 

Sharing my author journey... 

You may recall that one of my Summer projects was to revise 

several picture book manuscripts. I'm pleased to report that all goes well with that project--only one left, in fact. 
The problem I'm encountering over and over again is that I simply didn't understand where to begin. Thanks to the research I've done on writing picture books I now understand that every single word has to contribute directly to the story. Picture books are short because the intended audience's attention span is brief. The first paragraph must introduce the protagonist and the theme/story question.

More:  Picture Book self-editing checklist