MedHum Mondays Presents: A Review of SMOKE GETS IN YOUR EYES

DailyDose_darkstrokeWelcome back to the Daily Dose and MedHum Mondays! Medical humanities has many definitions; some of them complimentary, others oppositional. My favorite, and the one we generally promote on the Dose, is this: the intersection between healing, history, and the human, broadly considered. However, there is another aspect of medicine important to our understanding of what it means to be human: the science of death.

Granted, most people probably don’t associate medicine and death; after all, isn’t death a failure of medicine? Not so. In fact, through dissection and the study of organs and tissues, medicine has gained enormous insight in the last five-hundred years (see notes about Vesalius 500). In addition, physicians once practiced “corpse medicine”–Galen actually suggested that the blood of slain gladiators could cure epilepsy. So: death can be about medicine…and it is certainly about story. Today, we are happy to present a review of Caitlin Doughty’s Smoke Gets in Your Eyes, written by anthropology graduate student Julia Balacko.

Doughty, Caitlin. Smoke Gets in Your Eyes: And other Lessons from the Crematory. W. W. Norton and Company. September 15, 2014.
Review by Julia Balacko

indexAs a scholar who studies the relationship between students and human anatomical specimens, I never stray far from discussions about the treatment of dead bodies. This aspect of my research has proven the topic of endless curiosity to many people who learn about my work. They exclaim, breathless, “You study cadavers? Organs in jars? But dead bodies are wretched, and you’re so cheery!”

That human remains should be objects of mystery, thought about strictly by miscreants with a penchant for brooding in cemeteries at dusk, is the misconception Caitlin Doughty disarms in Smoke Gets In Your Eyes: And Other Lessons from the Crematory (W.W. Norton & Company, 2014.) Doughty’s book dispels the fear of speaking about death, and encourages its readers to think seriously about how we dispose of human bodies. Doughty criticizes the sanitized approach to body disposal in the United States and other developed countries. The text holds that our reliance on funerary professionals, intensive embalming, and cremation isolates us from the verisimilitude of mortality and decomposition, as well as bars families from assisting in the disposal process.

Although Doughty frames the book as something of an exposé by turning the processes of body retrieval and cremation into public knowledge, she writes without journalistic ire towards the funerary industry that she presents. Doughty depicts her coworkers in the crematory with admiration, rather than blaming them as agents in a system that perpetuates body disposal as an emotionally bankrupt and financially costly process. Likewise, she pens descriptions of human bodies, sometimes ravaged by late-stage decomposition, with the same mélange of disgust, trepidation, and fixation as the readers feel upon glossing these passages. “Thick, spidery white mold shot out of her nose, covering half of her face,” Doughty notes about a corpse she names Padma. The author confesses that she struggled to look away, and that “until you see a dead body like Padma’s, death can seem almost glamorous.”

Though it avoids sensationalism, the book refuses to shelter its readers from the unpleasantness of cremating bodies. Doughty does not shy from her most revolting anecdotes from the crematory, including one instance of an obese cadaver whose fat bubbled out from the machinery as it burned. However, it is clear that the point of these tales is not to distress us, but instead, to reacquaint us with the realities of death. If we are to educate ourselves about the treatment of our dead, Doughty holds, we must be willing to understand that dead bodies prove paradoxical. The book draws a careful line between human remains as uncomfortably vulgar, while often far less repugnant to behold than we imagine.

Doughty’s text scarcely aims to wag a judging finger at the families of the deceased, or at the professionals who staff crematoriums. However, it does criticize the sterilization of body disposal without considering the meaning of modern funerary traditions. Doughty frowns upon the reliance on cremation and embalming, allowing family members of the deceased to allow their hands to remain clean (indeed, literally) of contact with the dead. In one chapter, Doughty writes, “viewing the embalmed body evolved as the cultural norm in the United States and Canada, but the Brits…chose a complete absence of the corpse. It is difficult to say which custom is worse.” She denounces these detached methods of displaying and discarding the body, contending that our over-technicalization of body disposal is a symptom of our ignorance towards mortality.

Here, I diverge from Doughty’s assertion. I wondered whether our contemporary, admittedly technicalized system of treating human remains has indeed become our new cultural practice in the Western world. These modes of treating the dead are not an imposition on older traditions of disposal that we must reclaim, but their own, potentially meaningful ways of dealing with the dead that reflect contemporary reliance on technological innovation. Would the rise in naturalistic funerary practices, and heightened involvement of the family in preparing the body for disposal, too quickly uproot these existing rituals?

Rather than a failure of the book to address this issue, I believe such questions are exactly the ones Doughty hopes to raise as she opens a public conversation about death and dying. Without reflecting on an unmentionable topic, there is little space for improving prevailing practices, or expanding disposal options for human remains. If anything, Doughty’s bestselling memoir will no doubt make it safer to talk about—and maybe even to research—the dead.

More about Smoke Gets in Your Eyes and Caitlin Doughty:

ABOUT THE REVIEWER:
Julia Balacko is a second-year PhD student in medical anthropology at Case Western Reserve University. Her research addresses the cultural history and development of anatomy and dissection in American medicine. She holds an MA in Humanities from the University of Chicago and a BA in English Literature from Washington and Jefferson College.

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Fiction Reboot Guest Post! December People by Sharon Bayliss

FictionReboot2_inksmudgeWelcome back to the Fiction Reboot–and a special guest post from Sharon Bayliss, author of the December People series! Winter is upon on, and with it the curiosity of winter solstice. Many cultures have used the winter and summer solstice times as a means of marking the beginning and ending of the year. In the fictional world of the December People, however, the solstice takes on new meaning. Let’s find out how wizards deal with these astrological events! Welcome Sharon!

If you’re familiar with The December People Series, you know that the winter wizards in Destruction think the winter solstice is a big deal. It’s not hard to guess why, it is their holiday. They use the time to celebrate and appreciate darkness.

However, in most cultures throughout time, winter solstice celebrations are focused around the triumph of light over darkness. So, even if you’re not familiar with the series, you can guess why summer wizards might make a huge deal out of the winter solstice, even if it’s not in their season. In Watch Me Burn, we learn a lot more about summer wizards, but we don’t get a chance to see them celebrating the winter solstice. So, I’m going to tell you about it now…

Modern summer wizards in the western world usually celebrate mainstream Christmas traditions, but their true winter holiday is The Festival of Sol Invictus, which they celebrate from 12/21-12/23. Their celebration includes some aspects of the ancient Roman festival Saturnalia and Dies Natalis Solis Invicti (The Birthday of the Unconquered Sun).

Many believe that the date of Christmas was chosen based on the timing of Dies Natalis Solis Invicti, with the birth of the sun being appropriate symbolism for the birth of the Son of God.

Whether this is true or not, the timing of the summer wizard festivities do blend comfortably into traditional Christmas. This is helpful for summer wizards, as they can take off from work and school and celebrate at this time of year without much notice from the Mundanes. Summer wizards are naturally very social and agreeable, and are not troubled by celebrating Christmas like some winter wizards are. Summer wizards appreciate any opportunity to socialize with friends and family. And since wizards are so rare, summer wizards would rather participate in Mundane celebrations than be apart from society.

However, summer wizards celebrate several traditions that are specific to The Festival of Sol Invictus, many of which are related to traditions from the Roman Saturnalia:

  • Summer wizards do not work or go to school on 12/21-12/23. This is a sacred time to celebrate the return of the sun, and should be spent with wizards, and away from Mundane tasks.
  • On the night of 12/21, adults and children alike will fill the house with lit candles and stay up until sunrise to great the sun with rituals and celebrations.
  • They give gifts on 12/23 (the traditional gift giving day during Saturnalia).
  • They eat and drink copiously with friends and family during all three days.
  • Although it’s a time of celebration and partying, summer wizards also make time to do volunteer work and help the needy. In some ways, this mirrors the “role reversal” traditions of Roman Saturnalia where masters serve the slaves. However, modern wizards see it as more of a way to honor and thank the unconquered sun.
  • In addition to not working at their jobs, all kinds of Mundane tasks are frowned upon especially things like shopping, watching television, and video games. Instead, lots of activities and family games are planned to keep children occupied.
  • Instead of making gingerbread houses or frosting sugar cookies, children work on lots of sun themed crafts:
  • And of course, in a summer wizard house, you’ll find sun imagery snuck into Christmas decorations. If you want to know if you’re in a summer wizard house with just a glance, look at the top of the Christmas tree. If it’s a sun instead of a star, you’re probably with summer wizards.
 

Have a Merry Christmas, Blessed Winter Solstice, and a Joyful Festival of The Festival of Sol Invictus!

About the author:

Sharon Bayliss is the author of the dark wizard family drama, The December People Series. When she’s not writing, she enjoys living happily-ever-after with her husband and two young sons. She can be found eating Tex-Mex on patios, wearing flip-flops, and playing in the mud (which she calls gardening). She only practices magic in emergencies. www.sharonbayliss.com Amazon Facebook Twitter

Semi-finalist in the Kindle Book Review Awards and #1 category bestseller in coming of age fantasy.

About Destruction:

David Vandergraff wants to be a good man. He goes to church every Sunday, keeps his lawn trim and green, and loves his wife and kids more than anything.

Unfortunately, being a dark wizard isn’t a choice.

Eleven years ago, David’s secret second family went missing. When his two lost children are finally found, he learns they suffered years of unthinkable abuse. Ready to make things right, David brings the kids home even though it could mean losing the wife he can’t imagine living without.

Keeping his life together becomes harder when the new children claim to be dark wizards. David believes they use this fantasy to cope with their trauma. Until, David’s wife admits a secret of her own—she is a dark wizard too, as is David, and all of their children.

Now, David must parent two hurting children from a dark world he doesn’t understand and keep his family from falling apart. All while dealing with the realization that everyone he loves, including himself, may be evil.

About Watch Me Burn:

David Vandergraff lost his home, his job, and contact with his oldest son, but remains determined to be a good husband and father despite being a dark winter wizard.

His resolve is tested when a flyer for a missing girl–who happens to be a summer witch–begins to haunt him. David believes a spell needs to use him to save her, so he follows the magic’s command and looks into her disappearance. His teenage daughter Emmy resents him for caring so much about a random stranger. But when she uncovers some disturbing evidence close to home, she begins an investigation of her own.

David and Emmy quickly learn that the mystery is not only about a missing girl they barely know, but a deeply personal story that impacts everyone they care about. As their world crumbles, they fear the warning may be true—never mess with summer wizards, because the good guys always win.

Enter to win!! Get a paperback of your choice of Destruction OR Watch Me Burn. International entries welcome. Also join The December People Winter Celebration for more giveaways!!

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MedHum Monday Presents: Body Horror and Medicine in Maplecroft

DailyDose_darkstrokeWelcome back to the Daily Dose–and a cross-over post about fiction and medicine. A few weeks ago, we invited Hanna Clutterbuck-Cook (Center for the History of Medicine of the Countway Library, Medical Heritage Library) to talk about Lizzie Borden’s trial (see Lizzie Borden Took an Axe). Today, she has returned to talk more about the Maplecroft novel that uses this tale as it’s starting point. The horror of this novel isn’t all science fiction–it’s frequently medical in nature.

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As I discussed in my first post about Maplecroft, people in the town of Fall River are changing: their bodies altering into something inhuman and, as time goes on, inhumane. A good portion of the story is taken up with figuring out exactly what the contagion is, and how it spreads, but the essential terror of the situation remains: if you are touched by whatever this is (and part of the fear is not knowing how that might happen), you will change. You will be forced to change and, in the end, no character really escapes although some of them still appear to be as they were. However, this is not the only place in the novel where Priest draws on medicine to inform her story.

Throughout the novel, one of Priest’s narrative trio is Emma Borden, Lizzie’s older sister, an invalid suffering — apparently though it is not made specific — from the late stages of consumption. She’s frequently bedbound, almost always housebound, and almost always in need of her sister’s help to move. On her bad days, she coughs blood.

Emma Borden’s physical weakness is a continual theme in her chapters of narration; there’s barely one that doesn’t mention her frustration at not being able-bodied. In this case, the body-related horror is almost entirely her own; the other narrators, Lizzie and Owen Seabury, are sympathetic — and, in Lizzie’s case, directly caregiving — but they don’t seem to experience any particular distress related to Emma. She is simply Emma, who has been sick for so long that it seems as though she has always been that way. Given the nature of the other events in Fall River, too, Emma’s malady is reassuringly normal: she has a known, quantifiable condition. Her symptoms are recognizable and intelligible. They may not be curable, but then neither is she on the quick downward path to bodily transformation or death. Despite her apparent frailty, though, Emma is a resilient character.

And Emma is often furious; not only has her body become this thing that she has to haul around with her, that transforms her physical life into one of pain and restriction, but it has also traps her mind, forces her to construct an elaborate alter ego in order to interact with the larger world. In Emma’s case, the larger world means something more specific: she wants entry to the scientific and academic world, a path made difficult to her even in good health because of her sex. In this instance, then, her illness forces her into creativity: she makes up a (male) persona to allow her to interact with academia through the post. Here, too, in a narrative sense, illness — specifically, Emma’s illness and the choices she has made to grant herself a life outside that illness — is a major plot driver. One of her long-time postal correspondents proves unexpectedly susceptible to a sample of sea-life Emma sends to him; his actions are the main drivers for action outside of Fall River and, eventually, the catalyst for the crisis of the story. Emma’s illness, then, acts in a kind of veiled fashion to spread illness to others and nearly bring destruction back on herself.

If you would like to read more about the history of consumption itself (tuberculosis), have a look at the Harvard page on the history of contagion: here. Interested in the history of the TB vaccine? Try the History of Vaccines blog.

As a final thought, if Maplecroft appeals to you, then I welcome you to the grand world of Mythos horror: you will never look at sushi the same way again.

Stereoscopic views in and around Fall River

Stereoscopic views in and around Fall River

 

ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Hanna Clutterbuck-Cook works processing history of medicine collections at the Center for the History of Medicine of the Countway Library and as the Project Co-ordinator for the Medical Heritage Library. In between times, she’s an Irish history scholar, a crochet enthusiast, and a F/SF/Weird/Horror devotee. Find her at @CrowGirl42

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Friday Fiction Feature

FictionReboot2Hi all and welcome back to the Friday Fiction Feature! We have a very festive feature for you today. All the holidays I (with The-All-Knowing-Google’s help) could think of for the rest of the year! Dig out your party hats and broadswords, because we’ve got candles, goblins, spies, frigid winters, the dream of some real heat, and (most importantly) Presents!
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Solstice by P.J. Hoover

SolsticeFirst, we’ll start of with a non-religion specific holiday: the Winter Solstice. Not typically considered a holiday, the Winter Solstice is an important one, and, I argue, one which deserves much more celebration. Think about it: the Winter Solstice marks the shortest day of the year. Since the end of summer our days have been getting shorter and shorter, colder and colder. But, the Solstice marks the days when they start stretching out again. The days start getting longer because the sun is visible longer, the more sun we get, the warmer it gets, the warmer it gets the sooner I can feel my toes again! I say we start paying more attention to the solstice: the day which marks the (slow, so very slow) return of heat!
To start us off thinking warm thoughts, here’s Solsticea story centering on the heat we’ve all been dreaming of! (Granted the heat is a byproduct of an apocalypse, but you know what, after more than two decades of Minnesotan winters, well…)

Piper’s world is dying.
Each day brings hotter temperatures and heat bubbles that threaten to destroy the earth. Amid this global heating crisis, Piper lives under the oppressive rule of her mother, who suffocates her even more than the weather does. Everything changes on her eighteenth birthday, when her mother is called away on a mysterious errand and Piper seizes her first opportunity for freedom.
Piper discovers a universe she never knew existed—a sphere of gods and monsters—and realizes that her world is not the only one in crisis. While gods battle for control of the Underworld, Piper’s life spirals out of control as she struggles to find the answer to the secret that has been kept from her since birth.

Hershel and the Hanukkah Goblins by Eric A. Kimmel & Trina Schart Hyman

Hershel and the Hanukkah GoblinsHershel and the Hanukkah Goblins is a classic Hanukkah tale of the well-known hero Hershel who explains all the important traditions and customs of the holiday as he… Oh all right fine, this isn’t a classic holiday tale, but come on! Goblins! Just think of it: you prepare for the holidays by bringing out your seasonally decorated broadsword, covered in holly and sharpened to a razor’s edge, it is stored next to all the wrapping paper and goblin traps. You teach your kids Hanukkah carols like “Never forget to check under the house” and “Don’t believe their lies.” Or maybe they turn out to be friendly. Who knows. So long as there’s goblins. (I just really want there to be an upbeat holiday with goblins..!)

A traveler rids a village synagogue of goblins. (See, that’s all the description you get. Now don’t you prefer my ‘classic tale’ version with “‘Go Slay It On The Mountain” carols?)

Santa’s Kwanzaa by  Garen Eileen Thomas & Guy Francis

Santa's KwanzaaI have always believed that everyone, no matter their race, religion, location, whatever, should miss out on the opportunity to come into the family room on a Winter morning to open a box of socks. (Probably good presents too, but the socks seem more universal). Whether you celebrate Christmas, Hanukkah, Kwanzaa, or The Great Noodle Monster’s half-birthday, why not mix some holiday-of-your-choice cheer with a pile of presents under whatever obnoxiously large living room decoration you like best!
In keeping with this philosophy, Santa’s Kwanzaa features a man who is not often given many presents and who is too busy to celebrate most winter holidays, who is finally given the chance to celebrate! (Again, not the most in-depth exploration of the holiday, but I thought Santa deserved to celebrate a fun holiday himself once in a while!)

Santa Claus returns from a long night of delivering Christmas presents to find a Kwanzaa surprise at his North Pole home.

New Year’s Bloody Eve by J.M. Barlog

New Year's Bloody EveWho says Halloween gets to monopolize all of the horror? Halloween, summer camp, dark and stormy summer nights. Pshaw. You know what would be really impressive? Running away from the serial killer in three feet of snow. Instead of having to sneak back in the house to get your cell phone or girlfriend, making that risky run for something useful like the pair of snowshoes you forgot inside. No one ever gets the opportunity to hide from the maniac behind a snow drift or cleverly conceal themselves in a hastily made snowman. And I think Jack Torrance is the only one to be thwarted by improper winter clothes. That is, until now! Thanks to New Year’s Bloody Eve, we finally get to see some off-season slaughter! (Sadly, I don’t think there’s any parka-wearing psycho in this book, but at least it’s a step in the frigid direction).

It’s all fun and games … until bodies start to disappear.
While home for the holidays from Stanford, Andrew throws a New Year’s Eve bash for his girlfriend Julie and nine of their friends at a vintage Hollywood Hills mansion. The spacious old place provides a perfect venue to party hearty and catch up with old friends who have drifted apart.
But concern turns to fear when friends start inexplicably disappearing. Are they being punked by their friends? Or is there something very terrible happening here? Fear turns to terror when their innocent night of drinking and fun becomes a harrowing, desperate fight for survival. Can they hang on through the night? Will any of them live long enough to ring in the New Year?

The Heat of Ramadan (Ecktsein & Baum Trilogy #1) by Steven Hartov

The Heat of RamadanNow, I’m not quite mean enough to leave you thinking about snow and sub-zero temperatures (also Google neglected to tell me the date for this one–come on Google, I was counting on you to make me look smart!), so we’ll jump ahead a few months to a warm holiday!
Just think about it folks: all the snow has melted, there’s no more biting wind, no more invisible ice-patches, no more shoveling. The Heat of Ramadan takes us through the beauty of a summer holiday. You can go outside, enjoy real sunshine, dodge bullets without getting a face full of snow, track down enemy agents without leaving footprints… Hmm. Suddenly the snow doesn’t look so bad. Downright lovely.

The Heat of Ramadan is Hartov’s first espionage novel and the opening salvo of a trilogy still in high demand today. Hailed as “a smashing debut” by Publishers Weekly, it introduces Israeli Military Intelligence officers Eytan Ecktsein and Benjamin Baum, in pursuit of the master terrorist Amar Kamil. Beginning with Eckstein’s tragic assassination of the wrong man in Munich, the story races across the Continent as Kamil in turn hunts down every member of the Israeli team, finally culminating in a face-to-face struggle in Jerusalem. Best Selling author Jonathan Kellerman said: “This is no techno-thriller concocted by some armchair generalissimo. This is the real stuff.”

Happy Holidays!

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Friday Fiction Feature

FictionReboot2_inksmudgeHello and welcome back to the Friday Fiction Feature! Tabatha here again to spread some holiday cheer! (No, not that holiday. It’s still November, hold your horses!). I’m back after a brief “AAaaaahhhh Finals is coming aaaahhhhh!” break, and I’m ready to guide you back through the world of holiday fiction (p.s. I’ve just spent a lot of time wading through the world of holiday fiction: trust me, you’ll need a guide). Since we missed the build-up to Thanksgiving last week, instead we’re going to celebrate it in conjunction with the broader holiday season. So, grab some egg nog or hot cider, & get ready to explore the exciting world of November holidays!
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Holiday 1: Thanksgiving 

Yes, yes, I know Thanksgiving was yesterday. But, my dedicated readers will know that not only did I clearly not just forget the holiday, but also that I am not including it now to make up for my earlier mistake! Oh no, perish the thought. I always do these things on purpose! (provided I can find a suitable excuse). Thanksgiving was pushed to today so we will be able to celebrate it as part of a larger recognition of the holiday season!

The Great Thanksgiving Escape by Mark Fearing

The Great Thanksgiving EscapeThe first Thanksgiving book is perhaps a little below our demographic’s average reading level, but I believe it belongs here because of it’s universal appeal. Who among us has not looked forward to the holiday season, to the driving, to the visiting, to the dozens and dozens of relatives, and to the “Oh crud what was her name again? Sue? Sharon? Aunt Katie?”, to the swarm of young cousins/nieces/nephews/grandkids running all around the house, to the …delicous foods, and thought what only The Great Thanksgiving Escape‘s protagonists have dared to do: “I bet I could sneak out the back door…”?

It’s another Thanksgiving at Grandma’s. Gavin expects a long day of boredom and being pestered by distantly related toddlers, but his cousin Rhonda has a different idea: make a break for it — out of the kids’ room to the swing set in the backyard! Gavin isn’t so sure, especially when they encounter vicious guard dogs (in homemade sweaters), a hallway full of overly affectionate aunts, and worse yet, the great wall of butts! Will they manage to avoid the obstacles and find some fun before turkey time? Or will they be captured before they’ve had a taste of freedom?

‘Twas The Night Before Thanksgiving (Bookshelf)
by Dav Pilkey

'Twas The Night Before Thanksgiving (Bookshelf)Our next Thanksgiving book is also a little below our average reading level because…well good Thanksgiving books are hard to find! (However, if you want some trashy holiday romance, I can hook you up) But don’t worry, this one is also a good Thanksgiving read. Besides, think how jealous your colleagues will be if you get to tell them you read two entire books over the holidays which weren’t for homework or research. They’ll be baffled!
Continuing the theme of holiday capers, we’ve got ‘Twas The Night Before Thanksgiving to give us another thrill of sneaking, stealing, and general behaving badly. (Don’t worry, we’ve got some grown-up books coming up next!)

The incomparable Dav Pilkey adapts Clement Moore’s classic Christmas poem to tell his wacky Thanksgiving tale. The day before Thanksgiving, eight boys and girls take a field trip to a turkey farm. They have fun playing with eight exuberant turkeys but are shocked to learn that Farmer Mack Nuggett plans to kill all the turkeys for Thanksgiving dinners. So the children decide to smuggle all the turkeys home, and all their Thanksgiving dinners become vegetarian this year. The turkeys’ lives are saved!

Holiday 2: Black Friday 

Now that Thanksgiving is officially over, we can move on to the next holiday in line! And what is this next holiday you ask? Nope, not Christmas. Nor any of the other ‘Happy Holidays’ inclusive dates, it is Black Friday!*
*Official Disclaimer: The FFF is in no way promoting or admonishing Black Friday. Mostly I’m just complaining because my big sister is making me get up early.
Black Friday really is a holiday like any other: many look forward to it for weeks, planning how they will spend the day and where they will go. Everyone spends more money than they want to, and many gather together with family & friends to pursue their own expression of the day. Some of you are objecting, saying ‘Tabatha, I don’t celebrate Black Friday. It’s awful.’ Well, my answer is that you do celebrate it: you celebrate a significant date by staying warm indoors and taking some time to appreciate your less fortunate [read: stuck shopping at 5 am] friends and neighbors. And like all good family holidays, celebrants end up uncomfortable, tired, wishing they could go home, and planning to do it all again next year…for some reason.

Black Friday by Jeffery Martin 

Black FridayOur first book as we switch between the holidays is Black Friday, a collection of short stories guiding us through the holiday season, with everything from Thanksgiving to New Years. It is filled with heartwarming tales of The Keep, where families gather together on the holidays to share good food, good friends, love, and fighting off a continual apocalyptic nightmare.

In the mountains of East Tennessee lies the town of Elders Keep. Things aren’t exactly right in the Keep, and as the town heads towards the holiday season, the evil force that lives within the woods comes pulsing to the forefront.
It’s all downhill to New Years, and no one in the Keep is safe.
This collection of eight short stories is your invitation to join the citizens of Elders Keep as they make their way through a harrowing holiday season.
Only the dark and twisted mind of Jeffery X Martin could create a town where humor and terror live side by side in such harmonious agony.
Welcome to Elders Keep.
If you lived here, you’d be dead by now.

Black Friday by B.Y. Rogers 

Black FridayOur next book posits an interesting question. What if Black Friday were initially a ploy to destabilize the American economy? What if Black Friday was supposed to flood the market with the entire holiday budget of the entire American shopping population on one day, and send the stock markets into a tailspin? What if those saboteurs didn’t realize that the economic system was actually made up of wizards in caves who send us nonsensical sheets of numbers? (Really, have you ever tried to figure out that whole economy/stock market/mutual funds/other economic-y-sounding-words? I’m telling you, the only sensible explanation is that it’s wizards, and anyone who claims to understand is either spellbound, or lying). What if this grand ploy to destroy the entire shopping system of Christmas failed, and only succeded in destroying my Thanksgiving-night sleep?

An angry teenager, his identity lost in the social system of American justice, finds purpose and direction as a member in the New World Army. His assignment? Begin the destruction of the United States economy. It starts in your hometown next November 23, 2012. Are you ready? Black Friday is a microcosm of the world’s perception of and reaction to American avarice and cultural dominance.

And the next holiday is…

Nope! Not today! Thanksgiving is barely over, and Black Friday (obnoxious excuse for a holiday that it is), is not finished yet! And international holiday law dictates that you cannot begin one holiday until you finish the last one! (I’m looking at you November-1st-Christmas-decorators!). You’ll just have to wait until next week to celebrate the next major holiday: Presidents’ Day!

Happy Holidays!

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MedHum Monday: Reviewing Jonathan Eig’s BIRTH OF THE PILL

DailyDose_darkstrokeWelcome back to the Daily Dose and MedHum Monday! Today we present a review of Jonathan Eig’s latest book, The Birth of the Pill.

Eig, Jonathan. The Birth of the Pill: How Four Crusaders Reinvented Sex and Launched a Revolution (W. W. Norton, 2014).

Review by: Anna Jane Clutterbuck-Cook, of the Massachusetts Historical Society.

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Birth of the Pill

Journalist Jonathan Eig (author of Get Capone and Opening Day) has produced an engaging group portrait of four major players in the development of the birth control pill: activist Margaret Sanger, financier Katharine McCormick, research scientist Gregory Pincus, and ob/gyn John Rock. Drawing on extensive research in both manuscripts and published sources, Eig’s narrative traces the development of the first commercially-produced birth control pill, Enovid, from a 1950 meeting between Margaret Sanger and Gregory Pincus to the FDA approval of Enovid as a hormonal contraceptive in 1960.

Roughly chronological, with background and epilogue material on all four protagonists, The Birth of the Pill implicitly makes the case that scientific and social paradigm shifts — in this instance a reliable, discreet method for women to control where, when, and with whom they got pregnant — are made possible due to the heroic efforts of individuals tirelessly laboring to achieve the impossible. It is an appealing, if somewhat glossy, account of change over time: Who among us doesn’t enjoy a good triumph-over-the-obstacles tale? And Sanger, McCormick, Pincus, and Rock are complex individuals whose life stories provide rich opportunity to explore and explicate the world in which they lived. Eig has taken an admirable stab at assembling a coherent narrative out of the lives and actions four highly individual people who worked together toward a common goal (the creation and adoption of hormonal contraception) despite their differences.

For a reader new to the subject, The Birth of the Pill provides a solid biography-centered account of events, with a selected bibliography to prompt further reading; for the reader who has a strong background in this history, Eig’s narrative will likely provide little new insight. For example, in 2003 the PBS program American Experience aired a documentary, “The Pill,” that traces more or less the same narrative arc, with the same cast of historical figures. (You can watch the full hour-long program free on YouTube; yay public broadcasting!) In addition, a number of historians of women’s and medical history — several of whom serve as talking heads on “The Pill” — have done excellent work on the history of reproductive technologies and rights during this period. I would encourage readers of The Birth of the Pill to supplement their study with — to name a few recent works — Ellen Tyler May’s America and the Pill: A History of Promise, Peril and Liberation (2010), and Heather Munro Prescott’s The Morning After: A History of Emergency Contraception in the United States (2011), and Bodies of Knowledge: Sexuality, Reproduction, and Women’s Health in the Second Wave by Wendy Kline (2010).

As a reader with some background in the subject, I was particularly struck by the women and other marginal figures who haunt the periphery of Eig’s tale. We are introduced fleetingly to characters such as M.C. Chang, a Chinese biologist whose research was central to the development of hormonal contraception; Lizzie Lipman Pincus, Gregory Pincus’ mercurial wife, and his daughter Laura — an early user of the pill and a field researcher in Puerto Rico; the Puerto Rican women whose participation in early trials provided data necessary for FDA approval on the U.S. mainland; female inmates of the Worcester Asylum, also used as (involuntary) subjects; women and their doctors who used Enovid for “menstrual regulation” knowing full well it prevented ovulation and thus precluded the possibility of conception (in the early years of Enovid’s marketing, suppression of ovulation was listed as a “side effect”).

These stories are not the stories that Eig set out to tell, and perhaps the sources are not there to tell them. However, I found myself troubled by the centering of two white male scientists, and two high-profile white women, to tell the story of an endeavor that relied so heavily on the labor and bodies of the marginalized. I wanted someone to have spent as much time as Eig did imagining conversations between Sanger and Pincus imagining the discussions had between Puerto Rican women and the staff of their birth control clinics. Eig does acknowledge, repeatedly, that the development of the birth control pill represents a failure of medical ethics by today’s standards for research involving human subjects, despite its successful outcome and post facto confirmations of long-term safety. Yet his overall narrative felt like more of a reinscription of heroic lab-coated paternalism than a deep exploration of the costs (some of our) forebears had to pay for the relative freedom today’s fertile couples have to enjoy the pleasures of sexual intimacy without the fear of undesired or mistimed procreation.

Scholars in the fields of women’s history and history of reproductive medicine will likely want to read this new history for the sake of completeness; its biographical narrative may also provide a hook for undergraduates and the interested public reading in this area.

REBOOT | DOSE recommendation: Worth Reading

ABOUT THE AUTHOR: Anna Clutterbuck-Cook is a historian, librarian, and writer who serves as reference librarian at the Massachusetts Historical Society and is currently researching mid twentieth-century Christian understandings of human sexual diversity. She lives in Jamaica Plain, Massachusetts with her wife, two cats, and over one thousand books. You can find her online at thefeministlibrarian.com.

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Monday Writing: Re-visioning

copyright: Brandy Schillace (for "Fear of the Dark")

copyright: Brandy Schillace (for “Fear of the Dark”)

You might say that today’s post is not entirely genre specific. It applies as easily to the Reboot as the Dose, as much to fiction writing as to work in the medical humanities or elsewhere. We all must revise.

Before you scream in horror (and sometimes I do, no lie), a word about what this word means: See. Again. And again. And again. This is a far cry from editing. It means going over the same ground and figuring out 1. is this fruitful? 2. is this necessary? 3. is this “right”? On some level, I think we dislike revision because it opens the prospect that hours of work will be thrown out, uprooted, cast aside. We worked on that sentence or section for hours–now it’s not going in? And the older the writing is, the more it has matured unchanged, the harder that process becomes. Re-writing the last chapter is never as difficult as revising the first one; it’s got roots into the eternal abyss of originary thought. We may as well shift the earth on its axis.

But to be honest, the prospect of  tossing out and starting new isn’t the most troubling thing for me. See, that kind of revision is actually more like “seeing new” than “seeing again.” It’s the spark of novelty that drives creative power (and has thousands scribbling away right now for #NaNoWriMo). But how many of those new-penned novels will be brought back to the table for the much more tedious work of refitting, refashioning, re-reing?

Some will. Some won’t. But this November, I’m not writing new. I’m revising old. A three-book series, yet unpublished, has been drawing to a close–and I am suddenly facing the prospect of revising Book One to match the more substantial tone and depth of Two and Three. I know, you’re really supposed to write a book, sell it, then write the next one. I didn’t do it for the Jacob Maresbeth Chronicles, and I’m not doing it for this series, either… We all have our methods, and apparently it takes me three books to sort a story arc. I’m a long-form thinker. But that also means I’m a long-term revisioner. Bless my editor at Elliott & Thompson for a saint.

And so. Here’s to seeing again. Here’s to the hard work of digging in old trenches with new spades. Here’s to those on the other end of the novel, or the essay, or the monograph–picking away for hours at the same old lines. I leave you with Oscar, as he said it best:

I have spent most of the day putting in a comma and the rest of the day taking it out.’  — Oscar Wilde

 

 

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