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Culture Watch



By Kristin Hannah
Published by St. Martins Press, ©2008; Hardcover, 479 pp

I wish I liked the genre that has become known as “chick lit.” I cannot help being distressed by its distinct likeness to soap opera, which for me is a prompt turn-off.

My disappointment in this particular book may be generational. If you are under 55, you may enjoy every minute of it. There is some good writing in here, and a long tale that covers the lives of Kate and Tully, beginning with the day Tully and Kate make friends at age 11. It continues through their school years and early careers, through Kate’s marriage and Tully’s stardom, to Kate’s death. Perhaps it will make a successful girlfriend movie.

If chick lit is your thing, you will love it. Alas, I didn’t.


The What, When, and Why of Normal Memory Loss
By Martha Weinman Lear, © 2008
Published by Wellness Central/Hachette Books

Martha Weinman Lear, journalist, editor, and author of the best-selling Heartsounds, has written a book that will, no doubt, become dear to the hearts of those of us over forty years old. Her easy style and humor, along with her impressive research (interviews, literature, medical records) make this new book a must-have for anyone concerned about lapses of memory, especially if those lapses seem to increase with every additional year.

Lear addresses memory problems from just about any angle one can imagine. A look at a few of her chapter headings is indicative:

  • “The Name Problem”
  • “So When Isn’t It Normal?”
  • “Gender Differences”
  • “Things We Never Forget”
  • “Flash Bulb Memory” (“Where were you when Kennedy was shot?”)

She even touches on memories one can describe but not truly recall, such as the self-protective memory of pain; you don’t actually feel it again, even if you remember that it existed.

There is a clear, detailed definition of what constitutes memory. According to the experts, says Lear, memory is divided into three types: episodic, semantic, and declarative memory. Each division has many branches and sub-branches, all of which are described in detail.

Lear does a great service in her discussion of Alzheimer’s disease, and she provides a side-by-side list of normal memory lapses versus lapses that indicate Alzheimer’s. I’m sure that I am not the only senior who will be greatly relieved by her information.

Her tips to aid memory are inventive and encouraging. And while her detailed description of what happens as we age is hardly encouraging, it somehow helps to realize that (a.) we aren’t the only ones experiencing the process, and (b.) that there are some fairly simple things we can do to fight back, even if we can’t yet reverse it. Using outside help like sticky notes or Google is just a start, and as she says, “God knows what’s ahead”.

Perhaps the most encouraging information comes in her section on what is in the works for the Botox Generation. “Smart pills” are just the beginning of her predictions. She also dangles possibilities like invasive procedures using electricity and chemistry, as well as genetic interventions and brain implants. The latter prospect gives this reviewer the willies, but I doubt I’ll be around by the time somebody decides to try it.

Here’s some comfort food for your brain. Lear lists the five most common lapses of memory in persons over 40 as:

  • Where did I leave my glasses?
  • What was I just saying?
  • What did I come in here for?
  • What did I ask you to remind me about?
  • What’s her/his name?

    Like most of us, I don’t enjoy hearing my own problems described as “common.” But if that explains the hour I just spent trying to remember where I set my purse, I’ll take it.

    Thank you, Martha Weinman Lear, for helpful information administered with a dash of humor and lots of good sense.


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