Thursday, May 9, 2013

Read This: Still Alice

I know book review posts are probably not among my most popular posts, but as an avid reader, when I stumble upon a great book, I almost feel obligated to spread the word - especially since so many friends come to me for book suggestions.  I read Still Alice, by Lisa Genova, in the span of 3 days of a week that I spent 26 hours CFA studying - so that says a lot for how good of a book it was as clearly I had a very busy weekend.  (Special thanks to Emily for mailing me her copy of the book!)  In this book, we meet Alice Howard, a prominent professor of psychology at Harvard University.  She is 50 years of age and has started to become a little bit forgetful.  It starts with small things like losing her phone charger, or not being able to recall a word she wanted to use during a presentation - small moments of forgetfulness that she chocked up to the aging process.

But then one day, at the end of her run in an area she is very familiar with, she finds herself lost.  She can not place where she is or which way she should turn to go back home.  This spell lasts for a couple of minutes before everything comes back into focus and she finds her way home.  She ends up visiting her GP who tests her for a wide range of things but finds nothing wrong. But Alice knows in her gut that something is off so she insists on seeing a neurologist and is diagnosed with early onset Alzheimer's.

In the book, we follow along on her journey through this disease.  At times, it made me uncomfortable or anxious to read this book because the author does such a good job of making the reader feel what Alice is feeling - the frustration, the embarrassment, the fear over what is to come, the shame. 

The book is a work of fiction, but the author has a PhD in neuroscience from Harvard University, so while it is fiction, it is also reality.  The book brings up a lot of decisions that someone suffering from this disease, and their offspring, will have to make.  Issues such as whether children of those with early onset Alzheimer's should be tested for the genetic mutation that causes early onset Alzheimer's.  Questions like whether you should reproduce if you know you have this genetic mutation as your offspring would then have a 50/50 chance of also having this genetic mutation.  It brings up issues like the fact that there is sadly a sense of shame and private nature to this illness. Instead of a battle that is waged in public against diseases like cancer, the battle against this disease is a quiet, private one.

Over the course of reading this book, it took on a personal meaning for me as someone close to me, whose story is not mine to tell, is dealing with this as their parent has early onset Alzheimer's.  It breaks my heart to read this book and see how the disease will progress and to know that this person in my life will have to go through all of this.

While this book is fiction, I think it has a purpose.  The earlier that Alzheimer's disease is detected, the sooner they can start treatment and the slower a person will (hopefully) regress.  In Alice's situation, the doctor's initial diagnosis was that the forgetfulness was a side effect of menopause, but because of Alice's insistence to see a specialist, she was accurately diagnosed.  The book is sort of a call to arms to ask questions and follow your gut if something really feels off.  After all, when it comes to our health, we have to be our own advocates.

So if you are looking for a moving, powerful book - read this.

Have you read this book?  When is the last time you read a book that really impacted you?


Kelly (She Wears a Red Sox Cap) said...

I'm so glad you loved this book as much as I did. I agree it was a hard read, but I think the author did a good job making it not just super depressing throughout- I found the storyline with her kids to be a really interesting one too.

Also, I personally LOVE your book reviews! and always appreciate any book suggestions from you.

Amber @ A Little Pink in the Cornfields said...

I really want to read this book. A good friend of mine is going through something very very similar with her mother. When I met her mom at my friends wedding in September, I was immediately heartbroken. I cannot imagine how hard this would be and I pray that those close to me never have to suffer through this, but I know that is not likely.

I love your book recommendations as well! Book posts are always among my favorites. :)

Nora said...

Haven't read this one yet; just reading what you wrote about it makes me all weepy! I hear it's amazing and considering I've liked every book you've recommended, I'm sure I would like this one, too.

Those Who Save Us really impacted me and also The Promise of Stardust that I reviewed earlier this year. That book, just wow. Similar in that it makes you think about what would you do if something were to happen (such as be pregnant but in a vegetative state), living wills, family planning, ethics, morals, religion. It had it all. I couldn't put it down, it was so good. Also one of those books that makes you uncomfortable.

I always enjoy book review posts. I'm a book nerd like that ;)

Stephany said...

I think I have this booked marked as "to-read" on Goodreads, but I've stayed away from it because really emotional and hard subject matter like this is tough for me to read. But as hard as they are for me to read, they also wind up being some of my favorite books (A Thousand Splendid Suns is one of those).

I love book review posts, but they tend to be my least commented posts, too. Ah, well! They're fun for me. :)

J and A said...

I loved this book!! I could not put it down. Ir was heart wrenching but very eye opening too.

Jeanie said...

This sounds like an excellent book, Lisa. And you're right -- it's powerful when a book makes you feel uncomfortable. A testament to the writing to put you in the character's shoes. I would certainly add it to my list.

Melissa said...

I have had this book on my shelf to read for YEARS and have been waiting for a good review to pop up and push me to read it. I'm going to try and get to it after your review!

Abby said...

I definitely want to read this. I work with a LOT of people and families with dementia/alzheimers' and it breaks my heart. Weekly I will see a husband care for his spouse he dementia with the most delicate love, and she doesn't even know his name anymore. I've had many moments where I've had to excuse myself from the room because my eyes fill with tears.

It is such a heartbreaking disease. My heart hurts for your friend who has a family member going through this.

I pray our developing world with strong research can somehow come up with a cure for alzheimers during our time!

Jolene - EverydayFoodie said...

No, I haven't read it ... the last book that I read that really impacted me was probably "Natural Cures they Don't Want you to Know About."

The Many Thoughts of a Reader said...

I loved it. It was tough to read. Dementia runs in my family and well it fucking sucks. That's the easiest and best way to describe it. It sucks.

Megan W said...

I love book review posts! I'm a teacher and this is definitely on my summer reading list!

Amber said...

I have wanted to read this book for a long time and I think my mom owns it. I will add it to my list! That is so interesting that it's actually a work of fiction. I always used to think this book was a true story or a memoir.

Kyria @ Travel Spot said...

You told me it was good, so I put it in my book queue! I can't wait to read it! I have been reading more non-fiction lately, so have been kind of slogging through it, but it would be nice to have something that really captured my interest for a change!