Recommended Reading For Winter 2012-13


Cover of Hogan Gorman's book Hot Cripple
Hot Cripple: An Incurable Smart-ass Takes on the Health Care System and Lives to Tell the Tale
By Hogan Gorman
2012 – Perigee Trade, 272 pages

Gorman’s memoir Hot Cripple should be required reading for anyone who believes the U.S. has the greatest health care system in the world. This book is sure to be an eye opener for those who have never suffered a severe health crisis without adequate medical insurance. And don’t assume that visits to the emergency room will even begin to address the care and help you will need. Indeed this comes as a shock to Gorman who tells a tale that is by turns harrowing and hilarious.

In 2004, Gorman was pursuing a career in acting in New York City. Like most actors, she waited tables to pay the bills and as is often the case with waitress jobs, she had no medical insurance. She didn’t earn enough to pay for insurance herself, but as a young, healthy and physically fit woman in her twenties, she hoped that she wouldn’t need it in the immediate future. Unfortunately she was wrong.

On the way to work one night, Gorman is hit by a Mercedes driven at great speed - in reverse! – down a one-way street. Luckily at least ten people were there to summon help since the people in the car that hit her only screamed at her to get up. This was impossible, considering that Gorman’s head crashed through their rear window before she was thrown ten feet. In fact, the injuries to her head, spine and legs were severe and long lasting.

The treatment she initially receives at the emergency room is shockingly negligent. Because she has no medical insurance, she literally has to plead with the doctors for a CAT scan. But even after it shows trauma to the head, Gorman is sent home in extreme pain. Barely able to walk, Gorman next tries to make an appointment with an orthopedic specialist recommended by the ER doctor, but learns that without insurance the office won’t make an appointment for her until she gets a lawyer to file no-fault papers.

While Gorman was lucky to live in one of twelve states that actually has no-fault, “in New York, no-fault only covers up to fifty thousand dollars of medical bills and prescriptions, and with the price of health care and the severity of my injuries, I could fly through that pretty fast.”

In constant pain and barely able to walk, Gorman has to wear both a neck and a back brace. She can no longer work as a waitress, and “with the amount of pain I am in, I can’t work anyway; they don’t seem to be paying people these days to lie around and moan in agony.” With her savings depleted and her credit card maxed out, Gorman has no choice but to seek help from the social welfare system.

Embarrassed to have to apply for welfare, Gorman’s experience with the social welfare bureaucracy doesn’t make her feel any better. Issued food stamps, Gorman discovers that she is allowed $141 dollars a month, which breaks down to $4.70 a day for food. As she puts it, “The poverty diet beats the shit out of Jenny Craig any way you cut it.” Sadly she is far from alone. In 2012, 44 million people were receiving food stamp benefits – many of them children or the elderly.

Gorman writes: “I am starting to realize that most of us walk a tightrope in this country. It just takes one illness, one more kid, one lost job, or a split-second traffic accident to shatter the delicate balance of your life, and before you know it, you are a welfare queen. And this welfare queen has one friggin’ ugly picture on her food stamp card. Poverty isn’t pretty at all.”

All this may sound like
Hot Cripple is a painful and somber read. But Gorman finds the dark humor in her frustrating situation every step of the way. Irreverent and sassy, Gorman is as witty detailing the musical playlist she wants for her fantasy funeral as she is describing her one failed attempt to have sex while recovering from her injures. When she goes under the knife for knee surgery, she spies a stereo in the operating room and worries “If they put something foul on like Coldplay, when they are filleting my knee, I could possibly flatline on the table.”

Kudos to Gorman for finding humor in the arduous experience, but what she endured at the hands of the health care system, insurance companies, social welfare system and the courts is no laughing matter. Gorman is however amazingly resilient. Four years after the accident, she took her painful and frequently humiliating experiences and turned it into a one woman show called
Hot Cripple (The title comes from a remark shouted at her on the street as she limped by a guy wearing purple hair.)

Within two years, she was performing her show to sold out houses and a publishing contract soon followed. Yet even while she was writing the book, Gorman still hadn’t earned enough money to receive medical coverage from the Screen Actors Guild.

All this should explain why she was so relieved that six years after her accident, the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act was signed into law. Often derisively referred to as Obamacare, “the law will guarantee that people can get more affordable health insurance, even if their employer does not insure them …and prohibited insurers from denying coverage or charging more because of a person’s health. This law requires individuals to have insurance, which spreads the cost of care among the healthy and the sick, which will ultimately bring down the cost of insurance…It will also extend Medicaid to more people who can’t afford to pay for insurance and close the doughnut hole for people on Medicare.”

Yes, I included that lengthy quote because if this law remains intact, by 2014 no one in the country should have to go through what Gorman and so many countless Americans – including my own family members – did. And if you still don’t believe that this country does not need a radical change in the health care system, either you have been remarkably lucky -- or you haven’t yet read
Hot Cripple.

(Sharon Pisacreta, December 2012)

Cover of Signs of Life by Natalie Taylor
Signs of Life: Finding the Best In Yourself During The Worst Life Has To Offer
By Natalie Taylor
2012 – Broadway, 320 pages

Pregnant with her first child, Natalie Taylor is a 24-year old woman with a happy marriage and a fulfilling job. Then her husband is killed in a freak accident, and her world implodes. Torn by grief, anger and shock, Taylor has to find a way to make sense of what has happened, not only for herself, but for her son who will be born in just a few months. Nothing can assuage her grief, nothing makes sense, nothing really comforts her. Nothing, that is, until she happens upon a few pages in J.K. Rowling’s Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows. From then on, Taylor searches for - and often finds – the solace and meaning she needs in books, a fitting remedy for a woman who teaches high school English.

Based on a journal that Taylor kept during this time,
Signs of Life covers the first year following her husband’s death. Each chapter examines a month during that year of grief and recovery, along with whatever reading material gave her insight. She begins with her welcome discovery in The Deathly Hallows of two epigraphs Rowling included, along with the scene in King’s Cross where Dumbledore tells Harry to pity the living, not the dead. Taylor writes, “I read “King’s Cross at least fifteen times. It is the only thing that makes sense to me.”

Sometimes the books that enlighten her are first-time reads, others are ones she revisits, frequently when assigning them to her English students. Before the tragic loss of her husband, Taylor didn’t think she had much in common with Gatsby. “But this year I feel like Gatsby and I have a whole lot more in common. We both had a dream. We both pictured our lives working out in certain ways…But like Gatsby, there comes a moment when it settles in that all the things we’ve pictured will never happen…For both of us, the dream dies almost as quickly as it came. You can’t reinvent the past.”

Her literary inspirations occasionally come from unlikely sources. Mario Puzo’s
The Godfather affirms the importance of family. The Corleones “love each other, they want to protect each other, and they would die for each other. They’re not that different from my family once you look past the money and the guns.” Other events – like the birth of her son - are so wondrous she can find no literary equivalent, but she does a pretty good job at expressing that wonder herself in just a few paragraphs.

Although Taylor discovers valuable insights in everything from Emily Dickinson’s poetry to Shakespeare and Sarte,
Signs of Life is much more than a young widow’s Cliff Notes. The books and poems she meditates on are just launching pads to an examination of life, loss and love. With remarkable honesty and skill, Taylor has written an enjoyable and inspiring memoir. And after finishing Signs of Life, don’t be surprised if you find yourself reaching for Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows just so you can read the King’s Cross scene once again.

(Sharon Pisacreta, December 2012)


Cover of Snowmen At Work by Caralyn and Mark Buehner
Snowmen At Work
By Caralyn Buehner, Illustrated by Mark Buehner
2012 – Dial, 32 pages
Age level: 3 and up

If your children believe that snowmen simply stand in the front yard all day worrying about the day they’ll melt, then Snowmen at Work will reassure them that snow people have plenty to do when no one is watching. The fourth book in the Buehners’ bestselling Snowmen series, this latest edition is just as delightful – and informative -- as the others.

While the other Snowmen books by the Buehner husband-and-wife team showed us what snowmen did at play, at Christmas, and year round, this recent 2012 release focuses on the jobs that snow people engage in once the sun goes down. From owning a pet shop that sells snow puppies, working in a toy factory, fixing sleds, and delivering pizza (frozen, of course), children will be amused at just how many jobs snowmen can do. There are even snow librarians, magicians, truck drivers, bakers and firefighters. And don’t forget about the snow dentist who replaces missing teeth of coal for other snowmen.

As always, Caralyn Buehner’s rhyming verse is both silly and charming, and Mark Buehner’s illustrations are filled with humor -- along with hidden pictures. So the next time your child builds a snowman, this book will be the perfect thing to read later that night. It will set both of you to wondering about just what job your own snowman does while you’re sleeping.

(Sharon Pisacreta, December 2012)

December 2012 - January 2013