league of denial

Last summer, I listened to the excellent audiobook version of League of Denial by Mark Fainaru-Wada and Steve Fainaru. With football season upon us, I thought it would be a good time to take a look back at this one. Edited from Goodreads:

“Professional football players do not sustain frequent repetitive blows to the brain on a regular basis.”

So concluded the National Football League in a December 2005 scientific paper on concussions in America’s most popular sport. That judgment, implausible even to a casual fan, also contradicted the opinion of a growing cadre of neuroscientists who worked in vain to convince the NFL that it was facing a deadly new scourge: a chronic brain disease that was driving an alarming number of players—including some of the all-time greats—to madness.

League of Denial reveals how the NFL, over a period of nearly two decades, sought to cover up and deny mounting evidence of the connection between football and brain damage.

If you read my little slice of the internet here, you know I’m a rabid Green Bay Packers fan. My mother grew up in De Pere, in a house just a mile from Vince Lombardi’s house. Lombardi frequented my grandparents’ church. My grandparents went on dates to games. We have coveted, hard-to-get season tickets. As a fan, as someone who cares and is curious, I decided to read League of Denial. I already knew there are health consequences to playing contact sports, but I had no idea just how disturbingly deep the CTE controversy goes in the NFL.

League of Denial exposes the fraud of “safety” in football, from the physically violent way the game is played to attempting to solve the CTE issue with advances in helmet construction and technology, from medical teams to owners to the highest levels of administration. It was just like how Big Tobacco convinced everyone for the longest time that smoking cigarettes was safe. There’s no helmet that can keep the brain from experiencing trauma and damage inside the skull when a player is hit, whether it’s football, baseball, boxing, or anything else.

The amount of research and countless interviews that went into League of Denial is staggering. I know Brett Favre is concerned and vocal about his own future health regarding CTE, and the distressing experiences of football greats like Troy Aikman and Dan Marino in this book really bring home CTE’s seriousness, as well as the NFL’s denial and inaction. The most disquieting story, though, is the life and tragic downward spiral of four-time Super Bowl champion Mike Webster. He was from Wisconsin, where he grew up on a farm, rooted for the Packers, and was a center for the Badgers in college at UW-Madison. It’s a very typical Wisconsin upbringing that hits close to home for me.

This is a compulsively readable book. The only downside of the audio is I’m sure I missed out on a photo section on paper. I haven’t been able to denounce and boycott the game, primarily because the Packers are such a huge part of my homestate’s culture and my family’s bond and history. But I’m paying closer attention for sure to this issue and how the NFL handles it going forward. As a sports fan, and particularly a football fan—one with a conscious—I’m glad I read this informative book. It serves as a warning for exactly how more and more rampant CTE will become each year, and makes the reader question why we as a society are so obsessed with a sport that mimics war and glorifies violence.

Listened to audiobook in July 2016.

reading recap: june 2017

I’m back in Singapore after the most wonderful, fun visit to see family and friends in Wisconsin last month. I’ll post about that soon, but in the meantime here’s my (late) monthly reading recap for June:

  • Going Clear (audio) … Lawrence Wright, read by Morton Sellers
  • How to Speak Midwestern (ebook) … Edward McClelland
  • The Emperor of All Maladies … Siddhartha Mukherjee
  • Janesville: An American Story (audio) … Amy Goldstein, read by Joy Osmanski

Not much because of my trip, which was expected. I hardly ever get much reading done while visiting family. But these four books were all really interesting and enjoyable. I’m not sure I can even choose a favorite or stand-out; I would recommend them all. The Emperor of All Maladies was on my list for a very long time, though, followed by Going Clear. I’m really happy I finally read them; they were long but worth every minute. I knew as soon as I heard about it I had to read Janesville, about the economic fall of the formerly booming industrial town in my home state, and luckily I was able to get the audio from the library without a wait. How to Speak Midwestern is a fun, brief look at the subtle differences in Midwestern accents, and was a really nice way to get in the mood for my trip back home.

I finished reading Roxane Gay’s phenomenal memoir Hunger on the plane ride back a few days ago. Next on my list are It by Stephen King in anticipation of the new movie coming out in September, as well as Al Franken, Giant of the Senate and Chris Hayes’s A Colony in a Nation. I also hit 80% of my reading goal for the year already… maybe time to bump it up once more?? Possibly! No matter what I feel good that I’m going to have a record year for reading.
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reading recap: march 2017

I had another prolific month of reading! It’s really nice to be back in a groove after so many blah months. I’m trying to catch up on books I’ve had forever and not buy new ones, and I’m doing okay with that, better than in the past. My audiobook reading has skyrocketed, though. Without a regular 8-to-5 I have tons of time to listen at home and on bus/subway rides. These ten books makes my 2017 total 27 already—more than halfway to my Goodreads goal of 50 for the year, so I may raise that soon enough!

  • Americanah … Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie
  • The Stranger in the Woods (audio) … Michael Finkel, read by Mark Bramhall
  • When Breath Becomes Air … Paul Kalanithi
  • The Last One (win) … Alexandra Oliva
  • Psycho (audio) … Robert Bloch, read by Paul Michael Garcia
  • Brown Girl Dreaming (audio) … Jacqueline Woodson, read by author
  • Get in Trouble: Stories … Kelly Link
  • One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest (audio) … Ken Kesey, read by Tom Parker
  • Hidden Figures (ebook) … Margot Lee Shetterly
  • Mom & Me & Mom (audio) … Maya Angelou, read by author

One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s NestWhen Breath Becomes Air, and The Stranger in the Woods were my favorites read in March. I loved Americanah, but I finished right before Adichie’s controversial interview comments came out, so I’m still sort of reconciling my feelings about it in retrospect. There were some really great stories in Get in Trouble, too, and Psycho was fabulous. I really wanted Hidden Figures to live up to all the grand hype, but for me it fell flat. The parts about the women themselves and their lives were excellent, but you have to wade through lots of textbook-like technical chapters that bored me. I still want to see the movie, though.

Okay. I think if I’m going to be getting through this volume of books (or close to it) each month, I’m going to have to get back into individual posts. It’ll be good for me, another project to keep me occupied!

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still alice

Still Alice by Lisa Genova has appeared in my recommended lists on Goodreads for years and has received rave reviews. Now with the movie out I figured I should give it a chance. From Goodreads:

Alice Howland is proud of the life she worked so hard to build. At fifty years old, she’s a cognitive psychology professor at Harvard and a world-renowned expert in linguistics with a successful husband and three grown children. When she becomes increasingly disoriented and forgetful, a tragic diagnosis changes her life—and her relationship with her family and the world—forever.

Still Alice didn’t live up to the high accolades for me. I never connected with Alice or any of the other characters. The writing was just a bit too clinical in parts, like, interruptions in the action to explain scientifically what was happening in Alice’s brain instead of the reader experiencing it through Alice. Know what I mean? And I don’t want to spoil it, but Still Alice doesn’t quite convey the sheer devastation an illness such as Alzheimer’s will wreak on a person’s lives and family. While the usual emotions and reactions one expects upon this diagnosis were expressed—like frustration, anger, confusion—the book merely stayed at the surface, just touching on certain actual, harsh realities of a disease such as this without going the full mile on them. It all ended a little too conveniently for me. [Hover-over spoiler]

I felt the secondary characters were all rather one-dimensional, for example we only really learn one aspect of their lives and personalities (acting, baby-making, or… I can’t even remember what the son did. Something in medicine). They weren’t very likable either, just came off as ungrateful and self-absorbed. Honestly, and this will sound so awful of me, I know: I didn’t find Alice to be particularly likable, either. Not terribly unlikable, though. I just didn’t connect with her, so the deterioration of her memory didn’t affect me like I expected or hoped. This could be me—books where the protagonists are well-off and act rather entitled are not really my cup of tea. [Hover-over spoiler]

All that said, there are some excellent, affecting scenes in Still Alice, especially once you get into the last third of the book, like when she starts doing things twice in succession without realizing it (introducing herself to someone, repeating her input on a presentation at work), when she gets lost in her own house, and when she is losing recognition of her daughter. I thought Alice’s list of basic questions to test out how she’s regressing throughout was one of the most potent features of the book.

I would love to see this movie and think it may be one of those books that actually translates better on film. (And I love Julianne Moore 🙂 )

Read from April 22 to May 2, 2015.

the girl with all the gifts

The last month and a half (yeesh) I have been listening to The Girl With All the Gifts by M. R. Carey during my rehearsal commutes. I started it mid-October as something to put me in the mood for Halloween, and despite the long period it took for me to get all the way through, I really enjoyed it. From Goodreads:

Not every gift is a blessing…

Every morning, Melanie waits in her cell to be collected for class.

When they come for her, Sergeant Parks keeps his gun pointing at her while two of his people strap her into the wheelchair. She thinks they don’t like her. She jokes that she won’t bite, but they don’t laugh.

The Girl With All the Gifts is a groundbreaking thriller, emotionally charged and gripping from beginning to end..

I think that everyone by now knows the “spoiler” on this one—”jokes that she won’t bite” is basically the giveaway that Melanie is a zombie. Or is she? This character was so much more, and this book was not what I was expecting at all, in the best possible way.

The Girl With All the Gifts unfolds beautifully and terrifyingly from a limited view of the world (through Melanie’s eyes, her cell and makeshift classroom in a bunker at first) to how we have come to this point in human history. I loved that Carey has a carefully thought-out, original explanation as to what wiped out humanity, when most zombie stories omit such details. The four main characters aside from Melanie—Justineau, Caldwell, Parks, and Gallagher—begin as broad stereotypes but as the story progresses, each reveals individual personalities and self-histories that create tangible depth in each of them. Melanie’s innocence, above all, is fascinating and kind of horrifying at the same time. And I loved the ending! It went further and expanded to more than I could have ever guessed.

I really wish it hadn’t taken me so long to get through. I feel like I missed a few parts on audio, and that very well is just my own fault for taking so long. I suspect that if I had been reading it on paper instead of listening on audio, I could have (ahem) devoured The Girl With All the Gifts in about a week. I will probably end up buying a paper copy and rereading eventually. It’s a thrilling, fast-paced, engrossing novel and I definitely recommend to fans of post-apocalyptic horror!

Listened to audiobook from October 18 to December 9, 2014.

five days at memorial

I recently finally read one of the books from my 2013 retail therapy bender, Five Days at Memorial by Sheri Fink. From Goodreads:

In the tradition of the best investigative journalism, physician and reporter Sheri Fink reconstructs five days at Memorial Medical Center and draws the reader into the lives of those who struggled mightily to survive and to maintain life amid chaos.

After Katrina struck and the floodwaters rose, the power failed, and the heat climbed, exhausted caregivers chose to designate certain patients last for rescue. Months later, several health professionals faced criminal allegations that they deliberately injected numerous patients with drugs to hasten their deaths.

It took me forever to get through this one, and it took me forever to write this review! I’m not sure what the deal was with Five Days at Memorial for me. This kind of subject matter is usually right up my alley—survival, tests of humanity and society, etc. I just had trouble becoming completely immersed. I may have been in a bit of a slump in September, though—my schedule and workload really amps up when summer ends, and I admit to being overwhelmed with the shift this time. Anyway, it was interesting and well written enough for me to finish.

I found the first and last thirds to be especially fascinating, first the harrowing situation the people found themselves in, and finally the tense legal battles. The middle section dragged for me, and I can’t quite put my finger on why (my “real life” stuff could easily be the culprit). I remember noticing quite a bit of repetition, but it did make sense to repeat some things in context (differing accounts of the same act, etc.).

Fink’s research is exhaustive and apparent, and for the most part fair and balanced. The book delves deeper into the history of the hospital, the lives of the individuals involved, and the aftermath of the disaster than I would have ever expected. However, I’m not sure it was entirely without bias… it could just be how I read it, but I felt like Dr. Pou was portrayed at times as heroic and other times was demonized for her alleged actions.

I learned so much about disaster preparedness for places like hospitals, and I did get a sense that the doctors and nurses truly were doing everything they could to help their patients in the face of little resources. I did appreciate that Fink doesn’t drive home any specific conclusion or “lesson” here, especially on the topic of human euthanasia. The main point, I think, is that life is not all black and white, strictly right or wrong—it is all grays and subjective and feelings, and that’s what these people faced during Katrina in Memorial. It’s a great read—powerful, gut wrenching, informative, and thought provoking. I definitely recommend it, but only when you have the time to really dig in (unlike me, ugh)!

Read from September 7 to 28, 2014.