Books We Like and Dislike

Email your own entries with brief comments to Sandy Putnam at

Rad Art: A Journey through Radiation Treatment – Written and Illustrated by Sally Loughridge.  Published by the American Cancer Society 2012.  – When I had breast cancer in 2010, painting helped me endure and heal emotionally. During the time between my diagnosis and the start of radiation, I experienced a rush of powerful emotions, which I could not always name. By creating a small painting every day after my treatment, I hoped I would find solace, distraction, and release. Each five-by-seven-inch spontaneous painting was made in twenty minutes or less. I did not want to think too much. The paintings themselves were not intended to be art per se; rather, the process of creating them was the critical element in my coping strategy. This sequence of thirty-three paintings, together with corresponding log entries has become a book, published by the American Cancer Society.  Rad Art recently won the 2012 Gold Medal in the national Association TRENDS All-Media Contest, book category.  It is available through,,, and other sellers.Sally Loughridge Busch (Sally Blakeslee), 1/25/2013

Multiple Submissions by Vivian Jarrett Harrower:  Celebrating Canadian women authors – and others–Since I’ve been living in (my native) Canada since I returned here from Massachusetts in 1975, I don’t know how widely some of our wonderful Canadian women authors are known in the U.S.  I’ve belonged to a book club for over 15 years now.  Our ‘mandate’ is to read mainly books by women authors, and we’ve never run short of interesting titles, both fiction and non-fiction. I’d like to share some suggestions.

Probably Canada’s best-known living female author is Margaret Atwood (The Handmaid’s Tale, The Robber Bride and a long list of others).  Our group recently read Jane Urquhart’s Sanctuary Line. She’s also a prolific author, including The Stone Carvers and A Map of Glass. Her novels are mostly set in Ontario. Newfoundland features in Donna Morrissey’s work (Downhill Chance, Kit’s Law), while Sharon Butala (the non-fiction Wild Stone Heart) writes on Saskatchewan.  The late, great Margaret Laurence created a fictitious community in Manitoba based on her childhood home.  Louise Penny writes murder mysteries set in a small Quebec village.  Linda McQuaig writes on politics and economics in Shooting the Hippo and, more recently, The Trouble with Billionaires, which points up the source of some of the fury unleashed in the global Occupy movement (and offers some ways forward).

Not all of our reading is of Canadian authors.  We’ve read about women in India, China, and Afghanistan, First Nations women, women who’ve made history (including Gloria Steinem and Hillary Clinton), and other women who are critiquing the current economic reality.  Margaret Heffernan’s Willful Blindness analyzes the way individuals, corporations and nations choose to ignore warning signs, often leading to disastrous, large-scale consequences. – Vivian Jarrett Harrower, 4/23/2012

The Book Thief by Markus Zusak. Wonderful novel narrated by Death. 9-year-old Liesel, the book thief, endures the ravages of Nazi Germany. Words have the power to sustain her; words from a tyrant have the power to destroy her world. I discovered this in an airport kiosk a couple of years ago, read it and loved it. I later discovered it has been on the New York Times for a very long time classified as a young adult novel. – Kathy Young McGhee, 3/21/2012

S, a novel by John Updike in the form of letters from S to her family and friends as she makes her way through divorce from her M.D. husband, travelling, joining an hilarious ashram in California, trying to take a spiritual attitude toward the loss of her beautiful Connecticut (I think) home and all its wonderful furnishings, china, silver, etc., and dealing with her ex-husband, daughter and mother as she changes. This book has me howling with laughter, but oddly, very few of the women in my book group here in Michigan liked it at all. They took it seriously, I think. Don’t do that! Amazon has copies now. – Susan Higgins Dushane, 8/23/2011

The Emperor of All Maladies: a Biography of Cancer by Siddhartha Mukherjee. – This book won the Pulitzer Prize this year for Non-Fiction.  This wonderfully written “biography” lays out the complicated history of cancer research up through the 20th century and explains the political and cultural environment that linked the cure for cancer with the space project.  The details can be sobering, as when the author, a physician, describes the trials using a cocktail of meds to take a patient to the edge of death in order to kill off cancer.  Sometimes, in the process, the patient died or contracted a different opportunistic cancer brought on by the meds themselves.  Sometimes, the patient lived on.  Mukherjee is so even-handed that the reader will never again think, “Why don’t they do something about cancer?” – Joanna Headstream Ecke, 6/2/2011

The Scarlet Professor: Newton Arvin: A Literary Life Shattered by Scandal by Barry Werth – This book chronicles a period shortly before our arrival at Smith when Newton Arvin, literary critic and Smith professor, was arrested for lewd acts in a public restroom and possession of pornography. Smith colleagues and administrators, names you will recognize, came to Arvin’s defense and lent him moral support. Werth delves into Arvin’s contributions to the literary world, his relationships with Truman Capote and others, and his life after the scandal. I was left to wonder what his life would have been like were he teaching at Smith today and openly gay. Werth manages to make the reader sympathize with Arvin, who was far from brave through the crisis, readily naming other “co-conspirators” under police questioning. The book is an excellent portrait of this brilliant and tortured man. – Barbara Tuggle Fetting, 5/30/2011