Book Review: Fauci, Expect the Unexpected, Ten Lessons on Truth, Service, and the Way Forward

After seeing Dr. Fauci on televised news conferences for months on end and hearing his name bantered about by both supporters and detractors, when I saw this book on the new release shelf at my library I picked it up to hear from Dr. Fauci himself.

First of all, this book is not exactly written by Dr. Fauci per se, nor was it edited by him. It is a book of excerpts from interviews and speeches that were developed (their word) by National Geographic Books in connection with a documentary also being produced by National Geographic. This is a short read,  only 96 pages, and it reads like one of those books quickly put together after a particularly good celebrity commencement speech, such as Maria Shriver’s Ten Things I Wish I’d Known … Before I Went Out into the Real World.

Each of the short chapters is titled with a life lesson and is laid out with examples from Fauci’s long historied life as a doctor, NIH scientist, and advisor to six different presidents over eleven terms of office. The title of Chapter 4 supplies the title for the collection, Expect the Unexpected. We get to learn a bit about Fauci’s childhood, education, and career choices while the book focuses primarily on his work during the HIV/AIDS crisis. Surprisingly, the very issue that made Fauci a household name, the Covid-19 pandemic, is not even mentioned in the bio on the book jacket.

I found this book interesting but not compelling. Perhaps its abbreviated format and indirect narration made it so. Fauci recently announced that he will retire at the end of this year, and perhaps he will devote some time to an autobiography that will give us a more complete picture of this interesting man.

Book Review: Lucy by the Sea by Elizabeth Strout

Elizabeth Strout changed my life as a reader, and more importantly, as a writer. If you read my review of Strout’s Oh William, you know that I was introduced to Strout’s Pulitzer Prize winning novel Olive Kitteridge by my local librarian. While reading Strout’s masterpiece of thirteen interwoven short stories, I finally (FINALLY) came up with a plan for my own novel, an idea I came up with a long time ago but couldn’t figure out the structure I wanted to deploy. Now, I carry Strout’s stories and words around with me, a kind of mental inspiration board designed by my own personal muse, as I work on my novel.

Since reading Olive Kitteridge and its sequel Olive, Again, I have been reading my way through Strout’s back list, including I Am Lucy Barton, the first in Strout’s Amgash series, which includes Anything is Possible (Amgash #2), Oh William mentioned above (Amgash #3) and now, Lucy by the Sea (Amgash #4), Strout’s latest novel, to be released on September 20, 2022.

Strout’s latest novel, which is set during the coronavirus pandemic, will NOT be for everyone. Some of us are still too raw and wounded by the isolation, death, and economic fallout of COVID to cozy up on the couch with a cup of tea, a warm blanket, and a 300-page novel about the stress and anxiety we have all been through since March of 2020. Add to that the election of November, 2020, the BLM protests, and the subsequent political upheaval of January 6, 2021, and honestly, this book should have a few trigger warnings on the cover: miscarriage, divorce, adultery, isolation, riots, loneliness, aging, and yes, death.

Yet, I loved this book. At times, I felt like Elizabeth Strout had rented space in my head for her pandemic writing room. If you read books 1-4 of the Amgash series you know that Lucy had a terrible childhood, and that is an understatement. She is STILL carrying that baggage around, even when she packs her small purple rolling suitcase to leave NYC as the pandemic cranks up and her scientist ex-husband William insists she go to Maine with him to ride out the attack of the coronavirus. He occasionally has to remind her that he is trying to save her life. 

Once in Maine, she is a duck out of water, seemingly calm above the water but paddling furiously below it. She longs for the hustle and bustle of the city, even as she takes her daily walks along the rocky coastline of Crosby, Maine, even as she admires the beauty and majesty of the ocean. She doesn’t talk about whether she is reading much, or even writing much, unlike Strout, who managed to write this book during the same international pandemic her main character was living through. Instead of using her writing to help move her through her anxiety over the pandemic, her relationship with her ex-husband William, her grown daughters and their own marriage issues, she suffers sleepless nights, her only consolation to her angst is her near constant conversations with “the nice mother I had made up,” as opposed to her dark thoughts of her “real mother, not the nice one I made.” How sad is that?

I had what I think most would call a “normal childhood,” and I loved my mother dearly. She struggled with showing her emotions but I am sure she loved me dearly, too, but I too have my baggage, and some nights I am restless, unpacking and repacking the effects of Hurricane Katrina on my family, as well as a few personal demons that periodically visit me. Lucy at one point says, “Everyone needs to feel important.” This is yet another example of where Strout creates a character with elements that really resonate with me. As a veteran teacher with retirement on the horizon, I fear that once I am not a teacher, in my middle school language arts classroom, shaping readers and guiding young writers, will I still feel important? 

As the world went on lock down, many felt listless, wandering from room to room in sweats, watching CNN on repeat, learning how to Zoom, trying to work from home. If Lucy by the Sea wanders around a bit, like all of us during lock down, I’m okay with that. If Lucy rehashes all the pains and pangs of her life, and Strout rehashes bits and bobs of other story lines, I’m okay with that. As a relatively new–but avid–fan of Strout’s, I’m okay with it all, as long as she keeps writing.  

(Thank you to NetGalley and Random House for the advanced e-book.)

Family Food Traditions

In mid-December, I added a bag of mixed nuts – in their shells – to my holiday shopping list. My husband, the shopper in the family, called to verify, “Do you want salted or unsalted?” I tried to explain that you rarely find nuts salted while still in their shells. Finally he understood and brought me a bag of mixed nuts – still in their shells – unsalted of course. They were dumped into my fluted snowman pie plate. I searched high and low for my little metal nutcracker but it was nowhere to be found. It was always in the white lazy susan utensil holder on my counter top. 

My mom always had a bag of nuts in their shells in a bowl around the holidays. I can remember sitting with my dad, sharing the nutcracker, passing it back and forth, cracking and peeling walnuts, almonds, pecans, and whatever else was in the bag. Somehow, dumping those nuts in my snowman bowl means the holidays have officially begun, and I am whisked back to that activity with my dad. 

We all have food traditions that we inherit from our parents, and for those who are lucky, from our grandparents. Three of my four grandparents died long before I was born, and I have only limited memories of my dad’s mother who died a month after my sixth birthday. “Big Mama,” as she was called even though she was pretty small, would give me a little treat if I ran the gauntlet from the driveway to her door without crying. Many a day I was pecked by the rooster in her yard, which always won me a few squares of a Hershey Bar, because it was my favorite candy at the time (still love them), but also because a square of “chocolate flavored” ExLax could be mixed in with the real thing and I would fall for that every single time. Is it just the south (or perhaps just Louisiana) that a person’s overall state of health is judged by whether you had a bowel movement today?

Another food tradition was sharing an avocado with my dad. He would cut it in half and twist it, taking out the pit, and putting each half on a saucer. He would drizzle a little olive oil and red wine vinegar in the little hole, sprinkle it with salt and pepper, and hand me a saucer and a spoon. We’d have that as our “salad” before dinner. No one else in my family liked avocados so that was always our shared treat. I still eat mine that way today, and I never fail to think of my dad when I do, symbolically offering up the other half to his memory. Boy, do I miss him.

My mom’s favorite snack wasn’t something I liked, so I never had a handful of Cheez-Its on a paper towel, which she liked to balance on the arm of the sofa while she watched Ellen in the afternoon. I don’t know for sure if I dislike Cheez-Its or not, but the overly cheesy smell of them in the box put me off so I’ve never actually tried one. Anyway, I have too many things on my list of snacks that I love (too much) to add anything new to that list. 

Afternoon coffee was a big thing in my parents’ home, especially if one or both of them had taken a nap. Coffee was always made fresh post-nap. Sooner or later, my dad’s sister, my Aunt Helen, would drive up, or my dad would call her and tell her to come over for coffee. Something was always found to be put out with the coffee, a few store-bought cookies, some pretzels, or if we were lucky, a slice of cake my cousin Penny had baked. We also had fresh coffee after dinner most nights, when my mom would have an extra piece of French bread, with butter and a little jelly, and if no bread was left, she’d have a few Chips Ahoy chocolate chip cookies, with a light smear of butter on top of each one. Don’t gasp, just try it. Store-bought cookies need all the help they can get, and my mom believed a touch of sweet butter was just the thing. Boy, do I miss her.

Somehow, though, the Cheez-It gene skipped me and went straight to my younger daughter, who shocked me when she requested a box of them when I asked her what snacks to buy for her trip home this Christmas. Rest assured they were purchased; she could have asked for dust from the moon’s surface and I would have found a way to have it here for when she arrived. She had not been home since Christmas of 2019, as fear of covid forced us to cancel her trip home Christmas of 2020. Her asthma put her in a higher risk category, and as much as we missed her, we just wouldn’t take that chance. Of course we Facetime’d and Zoom’d all of this time, but loading up the kitchen counter with her favorite snacks was a small price to pay for actually hugging her and holding her close. Thank you science, it was because of her two doses of Moderna and the more recent booster, that we felt safe enough having her fly in from Los Angeles. We are back to Facetime and Zoom for our visits, with hopes of seeing her again in person this summer.

Speaking of that younger daughter, a few days in during our Christmas visit, an Amazon package arrived for me. Inside, a complete set of nutcracker tools. Even though she doesn’t sit and crack and peel nuts with me, she ordered this set for me, and now these new (and much improved) tools will remind me each holiday season of her as well as my dad. Boy, do I miss her.