World of Wonders-a book review

World of Wonders is not about medicine, at least not human medicine. Although there is a chapter about the Southern Cassowary, Casuarius Casuarius,  a bird that can and does kill people. All chapters are named for and describe a variety of common, familiar animals and plants-

WORLD OF WONDERS

In Praise of Fireflies, Whale Sharks, and Other Astonishments
by Aimee Nezhukumatathil
illustrated by Fumi Mini Nakamura

I frequently review health books on this blog, but you might not call World of Wonders a medical or health book. But if you’ve read some of my other book reviews, you realize I use that designation rather loosely. 

Oh Aimee Nezhukumatathil teaches English and Creative Writing in the University of Mississippi’s MFA program. Born in Chicago to immigrant parents ,she has lived in Kansas, Arizona, Ohio,Iowa, New York, and Florida. Now she lives in Oxford, Mississippi with her husband and children.

CHICAGO PUBLIC LIBRARY
CHICAGO PUBLIC LIBRARY

(The photos I’ve used in this post are from my personal albums, not from the book or connected to it.)  

The health/medical connection in this case stems from the author’s parents, Paz and Mathew.  Both of Ms. Nezhukumatathil’s parents worked in healthcare during her growing up years. She dedicated this book to them. Now retired, they live in Florida and raise oranges.

Sometimes her parents lived apart, while working in different states.Her father, an immigrant to the United States from India, worked long hours as a respiratory therapist in a neonatal intensive care unit, NICU, at Good Samaritan Hospital in Phoenix, Arizona.

Yet every weekend we headed for the hiking trails of Camelback Mountain. I never saw any other Asian American there; I don’t know if my father noticed…I didn’t know anyone else’s dad who took the time to do this with his kids. 

During one assignment, the author and her sister lived with their mother in Kansas-on the grounds of a mental hospital. As a Filipina foreign-born psychiatrist, she treated mentally ill persons, some of whom “hurled racist taunts and violent threats” against her regularly. 

We lived on the grounds of the mental institution, something no kids had done in decades, and the school district had to create a bus stop just for us. When I climbed the steps, I imagined myself a narwhal, with one giant snaggletooth-a saber-to knock into anyone who asked if my sister and I were patients there. 

Other than that, World of Wonders is not about medicine, at least not human medicine. Although there is a chapter about the Southern Cassowary, Casuarius Casuarius,  a bird that can and does kill people. All chapters are named for and describe a variety of common, familiar animals and plants-

  • Peacock Pavo cristatus
  • Monarch butterfly Danaus plexippus
  • Firefly Photinus pyralis
  • Octopus-Octopus vulgaris
a monarch waystation to aid the butterflies' migration
a waystation in Oklahoma for monarchs on the annual migration

But she also describes in detail strange, unique creatures I had never heard of. 

  • Axolotl Ambystoma mexicanum
  • Touch-me-not Mimosa pudica
  • Narwhal Monodon monoceros
  • Catalpa tree Catalpa speciosa
marine animals in an acquarium
marine life at the Shedd Acquarium, Chicago

In the essay Flamingo, Phoenicopterus ruber,  she reminisces about her freshman year in college when she and her girlfriends would go out dancing with an assortment of young men. 

We were like flamingos flying long distance, mostly at night. So many kidnappings happen in the dark, when we think we are safe, in a routine, in a place where “bad things like that” just don’t happen. When a flamingo flies in daylight, it does look comical, its long legs dragging down under the fluff of feathered torso.

Someone called the police to say they found her body the next day at a local park. 

Aimee is enamored over the Corpse Flower, Amorphophallus titanum, known for its “seriously foul smell.” She  dated a man who “didn’t wince when I said inflorescence.” He wanted to see a corpse flower for himself despite it being a plant whose smell is similar to 

what emanates from the bottom of a used diaper pail, a tin of sardines, and blue cheese salad dressing left out in the August sun

Since he was the only man who ever expressed such an interest,and who did in fact take a road trip with her to see a corpse flower, it’s not surprising he’s now her husband.

Throughout the essays (as the chapters were originally published) Aimee weaves stories about her life with her knowledge and insights about the unique plants and animals she loves to discover and explore. Sometimes it’s hard to tell where one leaves off and the other begins, as this excerpt from the essay Red-spotted Newt, Notophthalmus viridescens

I look back at the many moves my family made during my childhood and I begin to understand the red-spotted newt more clearly. (it) spends years wandering the forest floor before it discovers a pond to finally call home. When you spend as long …in a search like this, you grow pickier, more discerning…

Illustrated by Fumi Mini Nakamura

As much as I enjoyed the prose, the illustrations by artist Fumi Mini Nakamura would be worth buying the book . The drawings complement the writing perfectly. Fumi was born in Japan and at 12 years old moved to the United States where she and her family lived in Northern California. She graduated from San Jose State University with a BFA in Pictorial Arts.

Aimee Nezhukumatathil’s website

Aimee has won numerous awards for her poetry. This book was the Barnes and Noble Book of the Year 2020, which is how I found it, while browsing in the store.

 In these mini memoirs, Aimee wants to convince us that our lives are not that different from the other living creatures with which we share this planet. By discovering the unique features of these non-human beings, we may better appreciate the diversity of earth’s human inhabitants.

In its pages she invites us to join her in discovering a World of Wonders.

Don’t take my word for it ; listen to the author explain why she wrote this book and hear her read an excerpt.

exploring the HEART of a World of Wonders

a statue of Dorothy and Toto from the Wizard of Oz
Like Dorothy in the Wizard of Oz, Aimee is not in Kansas now.
This statue is in a park in Chicago.

I hope you enjoyed exploring the World of Wonders with me. Please consider purchasing a copy through BOOKSHOP.ORG. (This is an affiliate link.)

Bookshop.org is an online bookstore with a mission to financially support local, independent bookstores. They believe bookstores are essential to a healthy culture and they are dedicated to the common good. Bookshop.org donates a portion of every sale to independent bookstores.

Thanks for following this blog. If you’re visiting, I would love for you to start following Watercress Words : use the form to get an email notification of new posts. Don’t worry, you won’t get anything else from me. I also want you to find and follow me on Facebook, Pinterest , Instagram, and LinkedIn .

Dr. Aletha

Dying with Ease- a book review

Dr. Spiess doesn’t suggest that confronted with terminal illness we refuse treatment and give up. He advocates thinking about and planning for the dying process long before we develop an illness that might be fatal.

This is at least the fouth book about death I have reviewed. I didn’t plan to, but it just happened. Maybe because of what Dr. Atul Gawande wrote in his book Being Mortal, another book I reviewed.

Death may be the enemy, but it is also the natural order of things.

Atul Gawande, M.D.

In this instance, I was approached by the publisher , FSB Associates, asking if I would review the book, and offered a complimentary copy. Otherwise, I was not compensated for my review. The book links in this post are affiliate links which may help support this blog financially.

Dying with Ease by Jeff Spiess, M.D.

A Compassionate Guide for Making Wiser End-of-Life Decisions
Dying with East-a book

In the introduction, author Dr. Jeff Spiess explains his purpose for writing this book.

my primary hope is for you, dear reader, to become more informed and at peace regarding your own dying.

Jeff Spiess, M.D.

Dr. Spiess doesn’t suggest that confronted with terminal illness we refuse treatment and give up. He advocates thinking about and planning for the dying process long before we develop an illness that might be fatal.

His book reviews the challenges of the dying process, and guides us in making choices that make it smoother and with ease.

Let’s review the titles of each chapter with a brief description of what each contains.

1. Dying in America

Here he proposes a definition for what is a “good death”; it’s one that matches the wishes of the dying person and their family.

2. I’m Going to Die? What Can I Do?

In this chapter he explains Advance Care Planning

  • Advanced Directives
  • Durable power of attorney for healthcare
  • Do Not Resuscitate-DNR
  • Physician Orders for Life Sustaining Treatment
  • Artificial Nutrition and Hydration

3. Hospice

In this chapter he reviews the history of hospice care care and explains the basics of palliative (rather than curative) care

4. Suffering

Most dying persons want to minimize suffering so Dr. Spiess lists ways to do so, some of which are controversial and even illegal in some states.

  • Palliative sedation
  • Voluntary stopping eating / drinking
  • medical aid in dying
  • voluntary euthanasia

5. It’s My Life, Isn’t It?

Here he discussed autonomy , bioethics, and the legal system using past high profile cases as illustrations, those being

  • Karen Ann Quinlan
  • Brittnany Maynard
  • Theresa Schiavo
"To every thing there is a season" Bible verse with fall color leaves
from Ecclesiastes 3

the time of peril, what St. John of the Cross called the “dark night of the soul,” … both tests the validity of one’s faith and initiates that essential process of incarnation

page 109

6. What’s God Got to Do With It?

Here he talks about “Religion, Spirituality, and the End of Life. He finds many people turn to religion when faced with death and sometimes that is not an altogether positive experience. However, he denies being anti-religion saying,

many find religious traditions to be sources of profound comfort and meaning. …it has been so for many friends, relatives, and patients, and also because it is true for me.

page 109

He finds it essential to differentiate religion as primarily a matter of intellectual assent to doctrines and beliefs, or whether the essense of a person’s faith has become understood and embodied in their being.

photo by DJ Thomas, Lightstock.com

7. What Does It Feel Like to Die?

In this chapter he invites the reader to do a guided exercise to encounter the inner experience of dying. Putting pen to paper you will answer a series of questions about your life. Then you review it as you finish reading the chapter. I did the exercise and found it enlightening and sobering.

8. Envisioning Your Own Death

Here he expands on the idea of Advanced Care Planning introduced in chapter 2. He adds such steps as

  • Know the rules (insurance coverage)
  • Disposition of your body
  • Disposition of “stuff”, making a will
woman sitting in a cemetery
photo from the Lightstock.com collection, an affiliate link

9. What’s It All About, Anyway?

Dr. Spiess concludes with a true story about a wife’s journey to finding meaning after her young husband’s unexpected death.

living well increases the likelihood of dying well

page 161

Conclusion

After the obligatory Acknowledgments this book has

  • Discussion Questions which seem most appropriate for personal reflection . There is one question based on each chapter.
  • Notes, which are chapter specific
  • An extensive Bibliography
  • An Index
  • Brief Author bio

Jeff Spiess, M.D.

Dr. Jeff Spiess

Dr. Spiess started in medicine as an oncologist, cancer specialist, then transitioned into palliative and end-of-life care as director of a hospice. His website, https://drjeffspiess.com/, offers a complete bio, audio interviews, his blog posts, social media links, and form to join his email list.

exploring the HEART of life and death

Thanks for following this blog. If you’re visiting, I would love for you to start following Watercress Words : use the form to get an email notification of new posts. Don’t worry, you won’t get anything else from me. I also want you to find and follow me on Facebook, Pinterest , Instagram, and LinkedIn .

Dr. Aletha

cheesy-free faith-focused stock photos

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