The Undying by Anne Boyer #NonFiction #BookReview

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About the Book

Blending memoir with critique, an award-winning poet and essayist’s devastating exploration of sickness and health, cancer and the cancer industry, in the modern world

A week after her 41st birthday, Anne Boyer was diagnosed with highly aggressive triple-negative breast cancer. For a single mother living payslip to payslip, the condition was both a crisis and an initiation into new ideas about mortality and the gendered politics of illness.

In The Undying – at once her harrowing memoir of survival, and a 21st-century Illness as Metaphor – Boyer draws on sources from ancient Roman dream diarists to cancer vloggers to explore the experience of illness. She investigates the quackeries, casualties and ecological costs of cancer under capitalism, and dives into the long line of women writing about their own illnesses and deaths, among them Audre Lorde, Kathy Acker and Susan Sontag.

Genre-bending, devastating and profoundly humane, The Undying is an unmissably insightful meditation on cancer, the cancer industry and the sicknesses and glories of contemporary life.

 

My Thoughts

The Undying is an interesting book that blends memoir with an exploration of what it is to be a patient, and how the cancer industry is run.

I wanted to read this book because I’m drawn to books about illness and also having had loved ones die of cancer this book sounded like a really powerful read. I found this a hard book to read but it’s a fascinating read at the same time.

Anne Boyer was diagnosed with breast cancer when she was just 41 years old. She was a single mother at the time with no financial safety net so faced a very uncertain future. I don’t know a huge amount about health-care in America (I live in the UK) but I got such a real sense of how difficult navigating cancer-care there is.

Boyer also references the history of breast cancer diagnosis and treatment and looks at where we are now. It was horrifying to read of the studies that show doctors are, in some cases, over-diagnosing cancer. I knew that sometimes the protocol can be over-zealous but it seems there are times when what is happening is more than that.

I was interested to read Boyer’s thoughts around the evolution of the pink ribbon and breast cancer. Boyer gives the history of the ribbon, which I didn’t know (although I thought I did) and how it’s now being monopolised and seems to her to make breast cancer seem a light and fluffy thing rather than a very serious illness. I can understand her thoughts and feelings, especially when some places use the pink ribbon to sell things but only give the tiniest percentage of profits to charity.

‘Every person with a body should be given a guide to dying as soon as they are born.’

The parts of the book that most spoke to me though are about the language we use around cancer and I definitely echo Boyer’s thoughts. I can’t stand the phrase ‘lost the battle’, people I love have fought so hard to live and still died but it wasn’t for want of trying. Also, the idea that people have to be positive because it gives a better outcome which is not true. I’m a firm believer in being positive because it makes life easier if you can find light in the tunnel but I also believe that in the wake of a devastating diagnosis people have to be allowed to express all of their feelings. Suppressing them in order to appear positive is all about making it easier for the people around the patient and not for the patient themselves.

‘Cancer kills people, as does treatment, as  does lack of treatment, and what anyone feels or believes has nothing to do with it. I could hold every right idea, exhibit every virtue, do every good deed, and follow every institutional command and still die of cancer, or I could believe and do every wrong thing and still live.’

Boyer looks at all aspects of cancer – from how it affected her personally to how other patients differ in their opinion and approach, to the history of the disease and how it’s been viewed over the years, to how we view the patient. I cared for mum when she was diagnosed with terminal cancer and I found this book such a cathartic reading experience. So much of how I felt seeing how so-called friends stopped calling, and how family distanced themselves reflects how it was for my mum. Boyer is so honest about the things that hurt and infuriate and frustrate during the process of treatment and surgery. I felt like I had an even greater insight into what it is to face this disease after I finished this book.

I found The Undying to be a fascinating book and the writing is stunning so I’d absolutely recommend it but be mindful that it’s a tough read at times due to the nature of the subject matter. It’s one of those books that perhaps needs to find readers at the right moment for them.

I received a copy of this book from the publisher via NetGalley. All thoughts are my own.

The Undying is out now and available here.

WWW Wednesdays (13 Nov 2019)! What are you reading this week?

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WWW Wednesday is a meme hosted by Sam at Taking on a World of Words. It’s open for anyone to join in and is a great way to share what you’ve been reading! All you have to do is answer three questions and share a link to your blog in the comments section of Sam’s blog.

The three Ws are:

What are you currently reading?

What did you recently finish reading?

What do you think you’ll read next?

A similar meme is run by Lipsyy Lost and Found where bloggers share This Week in Books #TWiB.

 

What I’m reading now: 

Becoming by Michelle Obama

I’ve been so looking forward to listening to this on audio book and am so happy to say that I’m enjoying it even more than I thought I would. Michelle Obama’s life is so interesting and I can’t wait to read more.

Constellations by Sinead Gleason

I’ve only read the first essay in this book so far but I really enjoyed it so I’m very glad that I finally picked this book up.

Magic Under the Mistletoe by Lucy Coleman

I started reading this last night when I wasn’t feeling well and it’s perfect escapism. I’m sure I’m going to fly through this one tomorrow when I pick it back up!

James Baldwin and the 1980s: Witnessing the Reagan Era by Joseph Vogel

I’ve been really enjoying this book this week and at the time of writing this post only have 20% of it left to read so I may well have finished it by the time this post goes live. This is such a fascinating book, I recommend it if you’re a James Baldwin fan.

 

What I recently finished reading:

The Death of a President by William Manchester

I’ve been listening to this on audio for the past couple of weeks and have found it such an interesting look at the short period leading up to the assassination of John F. Kennedy, and the few days following his funeral. I recommend this to anyone who is interested in this period of history.

Chavs: The Demonisation of the Working Class by Owen Jones

I can’t stand Owen Jones so I’m not sure how I ended up buying this book on Audible but I’m actually glad I did. It’s an interesting look at how society views the working class. There is definite bias in the book but it’s still a book that gives you something to think about.

The Dark Side of the Mind by Kerry Daynes

I’ve been so looking forward to this book and I’m pleased to say it didn’t disappoint. The author relates insights into patients and illness that she has encountered during her career as a forensic psychologist. I recommend this one as it’s so interesting but also very readable.

The Undying: A Meditation on Modern Illness by Anne Boyer

This was a hard read because of the subject matter but it was also really interesting. The author has a lot to say about the way we look at cancer and cancer patients, along with the campaigns run around the illness. I will review this one once I’ve had time to mull over my thoughts on it.

David Jason: My Autobiography by David Jason

I’ve had this book on my TBR ever since it first came out six years ago but I finally read it this week and I very much enjoyed it. It covers most of David Jason’s life from his childhood through to Frost. I’ve got his next memoir on my TBR so I’m tempted to start that soon!

I Carried a Watermelon by Katy Brand

This book was such a fun, nostalgic read and I really enjoyed it. I will be reviewing it soon but can already say that if you love Dirty Dancing then this is a book for you!

 

What I plan on reading next:

Bowie’s Bookshelf: The Hundred Books That Changed David Bowie’s Life by John O’Connell

This is both a Non-Fiction November pick and one of my NetGalley must-read books plus it’s a book I’m really keen to read so I’m hoping to get to this one in the coming days.

The Five by Hallie Rubenhold

I’d hoped to pick this book up last week but didn’t quite get to it but it’s definitely next up from the audio books on my Non-Fiction November TBR and I’m so looking forward to this one.

Deceit and Self-Deception by Robert Trivers

This is another of my Non-Fiction November TBR picks and I’d really like to make a start on it this week. I have tried to read this once before and failed but I’m still keen to read it so now is the time!

The School Friend by Alison James

I’m continuing on my quest to catch up on my NetGalley reads before the end of the year and this book is up next on my list. I think I’m going to love this one!

 

What have you been reading this week? I’d love to hear. And if you take part in WWW Wednesdays or This Week in Books please feel free to leave your link below and I’ll make sure to visit and comment on your post. 🙂

 

Non-Fiction November 2019 TBR Books!

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Nonfiction November 2019 runs from 28th October to 30th November 2019.  This year’s hosts are Katie of DoingDewey, Rennie of What’s Nonfiction, Julz of JulzReads, Sarah of Sarah’s Bookshelves and Leann of Shelf Aware.

They’ll be posting a discussion question and link-up on the Monday of each week.  Check out this post for the schedule and prompts.

 

I love joining in with Non-Fiction November each year. I do read a reasonable amount of non-fiction throughout the year anyway but it’s great to have a month where I focus on reading more non-fiction than fiction. I’ve really struggled to pick my TBR this year as I have so many books on my TBR that I want to read so I’ve tried to pick a wide range and hope that I’m in the right mood to read most of them during the month! Ultimately I’ll just be happy to read more non-fiction than fiction throughout November.

 

So without further ado here is my TBR!

 

Firstly I have a few non-fiction books that I’ve been sent for review so I’m putting those on my list:

 

Bowie’s Bookshelf: The Hundred Books that Changed David Bowie’s Life by John O’Connell

I was thrilled to get approved to read this book from NetGalley as I’ve been a huge David Bowie fan since I was a young child and think learning more about his favourite books will be so interesting.

Constellations by Sinead Gleason

I’ve wanted to read this book ever since I read a very moving article in the newspaper about Sinead and one of the stories in her book. I’ve had this book on my NetGalley for a little while now and really do want to make it a priority in November.

The Undying: A Meditation on Modern Illness by Anne Boyer

I got this book on Read Now on NetGalley a few weeks ago. It might be a book that is too much for me to read but this is a subject that I generally want to read more about so I’m hoping I can read this one.

 

Chase the Rainbow by Poorna Bell

I’ve shamefully had this book on my review pile for over a year so I really want to make it a priority this month. The subject matter is around mental health and suicide so it won’t be an easy read but I think it’s an important book.

How to be Human: The Manual by Ruby Wax

This is another book that I’ve had on my review pile for a while now and I’m still really interested to read it.

 

Then I went through my non-fiction audio books and spotted a handful that I’m really keen to listen to:

 

Becoming by Michelle Obama

I got this book on audio as Michelle Obama reads it herself and I’ve been wanting to listen to it ever since it was first published. I think this will be a fab listen so I’m really looking forward to this one.

The Five: The Untold Lives of the Women Killed by Jack the Ripper by Hallie Rubenhold

I’ve heard so many great things about this book so it’s high on my priority list for the month ahead. I think it really focuses on the women and their lives rather than how they died so I’m fascinated to listen to this one.

 

Three Women by Lisa Taddeo

This is another book that I’ve been so keen to get to and I keep hearing such good things about it so I really hope I can get to this one this month.

The Death of a President: November 1963 by William Manchester

I’ve wanted to read this book for a long time but it’s really hard to find second-hand at a reasonable price. I think it was out of print when I looked for it so when I spotted it on Audible I immediately spent my credit for that month. It’s a really long book so I’m not sure I’ll get to listen to all of this in November along with all my other reading but I hope to at least start it.

 

Next there are the non-fiction ebooks that I’d like to get to:

 

Deceit and Self-Deception:  Fooling Yourself the Better to Fool Others by Robert Trivers

This book has been on my TBR for around three years and my interest in it has never waned. I do feel intimidated by it for some reason so I keep putting off reading it. I really want to make this a priority this month to at least get a chunk of it read as it does sound so fascinating.

A Mind of Its Own: How Your Brain Distorts and Deceives by Cordelia Fine

Ever since I’ve had my medical condition I’ve been fascinated by how the brain works and how it can distort things, and also how we can over-ride this. So this book caught my eye in a kindle sale recently and I’ve been so keen to read it.

The Dark Side of the Mind: True Stories from My Life as a Forensic Psychologist by Kerry Daynes

I couldn’t resist buying this book when it was recommended to me as I’m fascinated by psychology and this looks like my kind of book! I’m really keen to read this one so it might even be the book I pick up first for Non-Fiction November!

Selfie: How We Became So Self-Obsessed and What It’s Doing to Us by Will Storr

I’ve had this book on my TBR since it was first published and I’m still really intrigued to read it so hopefully I’ll finally get to read it this month!

Feel Free: Essays by Zadie Smith

I’ve added this book to my TBR as I think it will be good to have a book os essays to dip in and out of throughout the month. I love Zadie Smith’s fiction but have never read any of her non-fiction so I’m really keen to read this one.

Brainstorm: Detective Stories From the World of Neurology by Suzanne O’Sullivan

I really enjoyed Suzanne O’Sullivan’s previous book It’s All In Your Head (which I read while in hospital recovering from neurosurgery!) so when I spotted she had a new book out I had to buy it. As I said about Cordelia Fine’s book earlier in this post I’m fascinated by the mind and what it can do so I think I’m going to love this book too.

Misogynies by Joan Smith

I bought this book on a whim very recently and am really looking forward to reading it. I think it’s a slightly older book on this subject but it still sounds so fascinating and I’m keen to get to this one.

Turning the Tide on Plastic: How Humanity (And You) Can Make Our Globe Clean Again by Lucy Siegle

This is a book that I really want to read soon as I’m working really hard on reducing my plastic in my home but I feel like I now need more guidance on how to reduce it further. There are some things that feel impossible to change but I know there will be ideas out there. I’m hoping this book is the one I need.

Lost Connections: Uncovering the Real Causes of Depression – and the Unexpected Solutions by Johann Hari

I read another of Johann Hari’s other books a year or two ago and found it really interesting so this one really stood out to me. I think there has been some controversy over this book but also some good reviews so I’m keen to see what I think.

How Music Got Free: The End of an Industry, the Turn of the Century, and the Patient Zero of Piracy by Stephen Witt

I recently watched a documentary and the author of this book was on it and I thought that I’d look the book up. When I went to buy it it turned out I already owned it! So I decided that was a sign that I should read it soon!

 

And finally the print books:

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Amusing Ourselves to Death: Public Discourse in the Age of Show Business by Neil Postman

This is a book that I’m desperate to read but haven’t managed to purely because the type is so small I haven’t managed it. I’ve got yet more new glasses for reading recently so am hoping I can finally read it this month. I want to read this one because I LOVE Roger Waters’ album Amused to Death and this book apparently inspired the title and some of the themes on that album.

Mansfield and Me: A Graphic Memoir by Sarah Laing

I bought this book a year or so ago and am so keen to read it. It seems perfect to put on this TBR as it will be a different format of non-fiction for this month.

Watching the English: The Hidden Rules of English Behaviour by Kate Fox

This is another book that I’ve been so looking forward to and it looks like it might be both interesting and fun. It’s a bit of a doorstop though so I might struggle to read all of it this month but I will do my best to get to it.

 


 

Are you taking part in Non-Fiction November this time? What’s on your TBR for the month? Have you got any good non-fiction recommendations for me based on my TBR?