Diary of a Citizen Scientist, by Sharman Apt Russell, OSU Press

Reading List: Books on Nature, Cancer & Caregiving

Welcome to my every-so-often mid-week posts highlighting books on my reading stack. Some are books I’ve sought out, some come to me for review, and others are gifts.

The first one straddles the zone between science writing, nature journal, and memoir. That reach makes for a fascinating read.

Diary of a Citizen Scientist, by Sharman Apt Russell, OSU Press Diary of a Citizen Scientist, by Sharman Apt Russell, OSU Press

Diary of a Citizen Scientist: Chasing Tiger Beetles and Other New Ways of Engaging the World, by Sharman Apt Russell

Russell has always been a thoughtful writer, able to examine issues as diverse as ranching (Kill the Cowboy) and hunger (Hunger: An Unnatural History) with balance and clarity. Diary of a Citizen Scientist is her immersion into the world of those passionate amateurs who, by volunteering for research projects from astrophysics to molecular biology, are reshaping both science and how we know the world. In this, her most personal book, Russell’s writing ranges from thoughtful examination to luminous revelation that reads like William Wordsworth or Annie Dillard, the soul shivering with ecstasy:

“…I feel a joy here. I feel that brightness in the veins, in the chest,” Russell writes, describing her first collecting trip searching for tiger beetles, third-of-an-inch-long carnivores that feed as ferociously as lion packs. “I have a purpose here, surrounded by water, by light. I put down my pack with its bear spray and collecting boxes and sandwich, and I feel light and easy, and I swing my collector’s net just a little, like a flag.”

Diary of a Citizen Scientist is a journey narrative, a chronicle of a search that changes the author along the way. It’s not quite memoir, but it is that compelling. (Read the full review at Story Circle Book Reviews.)

The next two books relate to Bless the Birds, the memoir I’m deep in revising.

The first book simply appeared out of the blue in my mailbox; the second has been on my shelf for years.

Waking Up Dying, by Robert A. Duke (Good Enough Publishing) Waking Up Dying, by Robert A. Duke (Good Enough Publishing)

Waking Up Dying: Caregiving When There is No Tomorrow, by Robert A. Duke

Waking Up Dying is a candid exploration of what happens to two lives when a diagnosis of a frightening and terminal condition–in this case, brain cancer–comes out of the blue. Duke is a retired communications professional, his wife is a journalist; they’ve traveled the world together, they’re not helpless or stupid. Still, they have to fight for appropriate treatment for Sharleen, wrangle with insurance companies to have that treatment covered, and somehow take care of each other in the grueling unwinding of Sharleen’s life. The account of their journey is packed with useful information for anyone navigating our country’s often-byzantine health care system.

The Caregiver's Choice, by Elaine Long (iUniverse) The Caregiver’s Choice, by Elaine Long (iUniverse)

The Caregiver’s Choice: Find Strength and Serenity By Changing Your Mind, by Elaine Long

The fourteen chapters in this slim book by award-winning novelist Elaine Long offer advice, comfort and wisdom to those of us who unwittingly become caregivers for the people we love. The Caregiver’s Choice is a personal look at what Long learned in the decades she cared for her mother, who had Alzheimer’s Disease, and also Long’s husband, who had a heart attack in 1996, and died of lung cancer in 2003. During those years, Long realized that the choice in caregiving is deciding accept the role in a way that doesn’t make us crazy or break us, but allows us to learn and even find the joy our work. I dip into The Caregiver’s Choice whenever I want to remind myself of how to survive the caregiving journey with my sense of humor and my sanity intact.