BookBin2015: Still Alice


Remember in my last book review how I wrote that I was going to be writing again soon about a book that I enjoyed less than the movie? That would be Lisa Genova’s Still Alice.

Right off the bat, however, let me clarify some things about that statement. First, I think Genova’s story of well-respected linguistics professor Alice Howland’s decline from early onset Alzheimer’s disease is unflinching, devastating brilliance. I couldn’t put down the novel, no matter how haunting or painful it was to continue. As I’ve mentioned here before, Alzheimer’s took my grandmother from us slice by brutal slice, so this story was particularly upsetting at points. However, it also bore a message of determination and survival as well as a plea that we not shut out those with Alzheimer’s as though they were no longer a worthy part of our lives or the world in general. They cannot halt what is happening to them, but they continue to need the same things we all do: interaction, acceptance, love, strength, kindness.

That all being said, I don’t necessarily think I would use the word “enjoyed” in reference to this book. It’s like saying you enjoyed Sophie’s Choice. You can appreciate the craftsmanship of the story, the power of the narrative, the thematic impact. But enjoy? I don’t know about that, although I suppose the somewhat open-ended conclusion of the book and movie provide a final bit of silver lining to Alice’s admittedly ever-darkening cloud.

Finally, I would place the movie version of this book higher than the book. Why? Two words: Julianne Moore. A sublime actress, Moore brings Alice to life in ways that will destroy you. Few have deserved an Oscar more than she did for this performance. I believe she also is the reason that I ultimately rate the movie higher than the book. She lifted this character from the page and pushed her into existence honestly, eloquently, and with purest humility. She released all inhibition and gave herself to the role in a way that few can truly and convincingly do. If for Moore only, I recommend the movie more than the book, although I’m all for tackling both and doing your own comparison.

Final Verdict: In both book and cinematic form, this is a story whose value I can acknowledge. It also is a story I don’t particularly ever want to revisit.

Philanthropy Friday

Change of plans today, denizens. As we move ever closer into the holiday season, I thought I would take a moment to praise some of the old and new organizations to which I have either religiously made donations or to which I plan to donate.

I know that this is not a kind economy right now, and that things like charity donations typically fall off everyone’s radars during these lean times. However, if you can spare a few dollars and would like to put them to maximum use, here are four suggestions that receive the Loba Pawprint of Approval:

Defenders of Wildlife: In an utterly unsurprising announcement, I am a staunch animal lover and armchair environmentalist. I’ve been donating to Defenders of Wildlife since I was in college, and I continue to believe in and respect their efforts. They are consistently ranked by Worth magazine as one of the best charities in the United States, with the largest portion of received donations being put toward their protective efforts, rather than in covering administrative costs or purchasing poorly made give-aways to clog up your mailbox (like certain other charities to which I will never donate again). Defenders not only has never overwhelmed me with give-aways, they also ask me if I would rather opt out of the give-away when I do donate. I really like that. They also know me well enough that they always send me wolf-specific information when it’s time to remind me to renew my membership. They’ve been fighting to protect wildlife since 1947, which makes me think they must know a little bit about what they’re doing.

Pat Summitt Foundation: It is wrong to anthropomorphize a disease, but if you did, then Alzheimer’s would be a brutal, harsh betrayer…a Judas with a kiss that is lingering, debilitating, unstoppable, and cruel. There is nothing poetic in its deconstruction of mind and spirit, and it leaves bystanders with nothing to do but sit by helplessly and watch as the person they love is stolen from them piece at a time until there is nothing left. It needs to be stopped, and if there is anyone with the fortitude to help bring the beginning of the end to this disease, it’s Pat Summitt. I’ve already spoken my part on how I feel about Coach Summitt. If anything, I respect her even more than before, and I am so in awe of how she has yet again stepped up to the challenge placed before her with 100-percent focus and dedication. I wish I could say that I believe she can outpace this disease and add it as another win for her record books. I do believe that she will dedicate herself wholly to her offensive stance against it, and through giving her name and support to research against the disease, I believe that she will have a huge impact in bringing the support and funding needed to move that much closer to the cure.

Penny Lane: This is another new addition to my list, brought to my attention by someone else I respect and admire…and ironically, another Pat. This time, it’s that zombie-bashing, phaser-firing, mind-reading stunt actress extraordinaire, Patricia Tallman. I learned about this foundation by reading Tallman’s recent memoir, Pleasure Thresholds and decided that it needed further investigation. The foundation’s California-based centers provide therapeutic residential services, foster family placements, transitional housing, and outpatient mental health services to more than 1,400 abused and neglected children and youth. Tallman has been a long-time advocate of Penny Lane’s efforts, even starting her own “Be A Santa” program in 1998. Hint, hint…it’s the perfect time of year to help with the Be A Santa program.

RAINN: This is the other organization to which I have donated since college. I first learned about them through their founder, Tori Amos. She started RAINN as a way to respond to the many fans who reached out to her with their own stories when she stepped forward as the survivor of sexual assault. This is another close to the top of the list of Worth magazine’s highest-ranking U.S. charities, with 92 percent of every dollar donated going to helping victims of sexual violence, educating the public, and improving public policy. It’s also another charity that doesn’t overwhelm you with give-aways or pester you with repeated mailings. I receive regular e-mails, but the only time I ever receive postal mail from them is when I haven’t made a donation in a while. Additionally, as far as I can tell, they have never sold my contact information to any other organizations or affiliates. I really respect them for that.

There you go. If you can give something, please do. If not, that’s okay, too. And if you want additional recommendations, just look to the right of the screen, under the heading “Give It Up, For Good.”

“You Don’t Know What I’m Capable Of.”

I know a little bit about what she’s capable of. She’s been the head coach of the University of Tennessee’s Lady Vols since 1974. During this time, her coaching skills have brought UT 1,037 victories; her teams have only been defeated 196 times. She’s led the Lady Vols to the Final Four 18 times—more times than any other men’s or women’s college basketball coach—brought home championship wins from 8. She coached the U.S. women’s basketball team to a gold medal in the 1984 Olympics…one notch better than the silver medal she won as a member of the team during the 1976 Olympics. Many of her girls have gone on to walk in her footsteps as coaches in their own right. Some have carried her lessons inside them through their own trips to Olympic victories. Some continue to wield the skills she helped them hone, onto WNBA courts across the country. More importantly? Every one of the eligible athletes who played for her went on to graduate with a degree. She’s made certain of that.

And these are just the “big” stats. There’s lots more to her beyond what I carry around in my weird noggin.

You know me, denizens. I’m not much for sports or stats. But Pat Summitt has always amazed, inspired, and humbled me. She is a remarkable role model and, pardon my feminist streak for a moment, if she was a man in charge of a men’s college or NBA team, with the same set of stats that I just quoted, her name would be synonymous with the game itself, on the lips of every basketball fan from the Bay of Fundy to the Gulf of California.

Regardless of this lack of deserved ubiquity, the facts cannot be disputed. Summitt holds the record for the most wins of any college basketball coach, man or woman. She’s brought home more NCAA championships than any other women’s basketball coach. She was part of the inaugural inductees to the women’s basketball hall of fame, she’s in the basketball hall of fame, she’s received the ESPY award for coach of the year, she’s got roads, gyms, and courts named after her…

…and now she’s announced that she has the early stages of Alzheimer’s. She’s 59 years old.

My heart hasn’t stopped breaking ever since I first heard this news.

I know what this disease is capable of. I know how cruel, how unrelenting, how unmerciful it is. How it can rob the grace and intelligence of even the strongest wills. I’ve also already had my heart broken once before, with NC State’s Coach Jimmy V. I hate to link Valvano and Summitt, since I think that Summitt has many, many more years ahead of her…perhaps even enough time that doctors will finally find the key to stopping or slowing this disease. I only mention Valvano here because of one of his most memorable quotes: “Don’t give up…don’t ever give up!”

I hope Coach Summitt fights this with every ounce of the resolve that she carries in ample supply. I hope she never gives up. And I hope that every girl who has donned the orange of the Lady Vols, who has been pushed to their limits and beyond, who has been brought to tears and finally to triumph, and who has left the University of Tennessee that much more remarkable as an athlete and as a woman never forgets that it was Summitt’s fire that helped to forge them.