• Hardcover: 304 pages
• Publisher: National Geographic; 1 edition (April 26, 2016)
A wry, witty account of what it is like to face death—and be restored to life.
After being diagnosed in her early 40s with metastatic melanoma—a “rapidly fatal” form of cancer—journalist and mother of two Mary Elizabeth Williams finds herself in a race against the clock. She takes a once-in-a-lifetime chance and joins a clinical trial for immunotherapy, a revolutionary drug regimen that trains the body to vanquish malignant cells. Astonishingly, her cancer disappears entirely in just a few weeks. But at the same time, her best friend embarks on a cancer journey of her own—with very different results. Williams’s experiences as a patient and a medical test subject reveal with stark honesty what it takes to weather disease, the extraordinary new developments that are rewriting the rules of science—and the healing power of human connection.
Buy, read, and discuss this book.
Mary Elizabeth Williams is a senior staff writer for award-winning Salon.com whose columns are regularly among the top viewed, commented on, shared, and cited as the best of the week. The “Lab Rat” series on her clinical trial was nominated for the 2012 Online Journalism Award for Commentary, and her essay on receiving a melanoma diagnosis is in the Harper anthology The Moment, an Entertainment Weekly “Must List” pick—alongside essays by Elizabeth Gilbert, Jennifer Egan, and Dave Eggers. She is the author of Gimme Shelter: Ugly Houses, Cruddy Neighborhoods, Fast Talking Brokers, and Toxic Mortgages: My Three Years Searching for the American Dream. A starred Booklist selection,Gimme Shelter was called “poignant and funny” (Kirkus), “a must-read” (New York Daily News), “hilariously evocative” (Time Out Kids) and “compelling” (Publisher’s Weekly). She lives in New York City with her husband and two daughters.
Find out more about her at her website.
When Trish from TLC Book Tours said she wanted to ask me, specifically, about reading this book, I almost said no. I mean, who wants to read another book about some woman they don’t know talking about her cancer. But I’ve been working with TLC for a few years now, and even though we don’t have much direct contact, I’ve noticed that Trish has an unerring knack for matching people and books, so I went against my initial reaction, and said yes.
I’m really glad I did, because it turns out that I knew Mary Elizabeth Williams from her work – Gimme Shelter is amazing, by the way – and her style is to candid and breezy and funny and snarky that I felt like reading her story was listening to one of my best girlfriends describing their experience. She was explicit enough that picturing her tumor, and understanding exactly what was going on, was relatively simply, yet she didn’t subject people to horror-movie levels of gore, and when things were turning darker or too serious, she would inject just enough humor to help lighten the moment without making it seem like there was no jeopardy, or things weren’t that dire.
It’s a tricky edge to ride.
Almost as tricky, I’d wager, as dealing with malignant melanoma while raising two daughters and reconciling with your ex-husband, which are all things Williams was doing.
Now, here’s where I share that I had a good friend – a blog buddy who was brilliant and incisive with words – who died from malignant melanoma a few years ago, just after Christmas. His last blog post describes how bad he really was, and how he and his wife had decided not to tell the kids until after the holidays. This man was a soldier. He used to send me pictures from places like Kabul, and tell me about the people he encountered. I miss our discussions. I miss his writing. Even though we never met in person – we meant to – I miss him.
So, I knew, going into Williams’ book, that ‘skin cancer’ is a lot more dangerous than people think it is.
And Mary Elizabeth Williams is one lucky woman, with an incredible sense of humor. How can you not appreciate a woman who has to have a vodka tonic and a plate of buttered popovers before her first meeting with an oncologist at Sloan Kettering?
How can you not become thoroughly engaged in a story that includes the author’s honest speculation that the most expensive part of her treatment may be bribing her kids.
How indeed? As far as I can tell, the only way you will not immediately want Mary Elizabeth Williams as your best friend is by not reading this book.
But you should read it. You should read A Series of Catastrophes and Miracles because it’s funny and honest and profoundly human.
And really, fundamentally, even though it’s about this one woman and her one experience, it’s also about all of us, and how we choose to face catastrophes, and accept miracles.
What could be more compelling than that?
Goes well with buttered popovers and hot tea (Lady Grey is my pick), but a vodka tonic is perfectly acceptable as well.
Tuesday, April 26th: Darn Good Lemonade
Wednesday, April 27th: The Discerning Reader
Wednesday, April 27th: Bibliotica
Friday, April 29th: Peeking Between the Pages
Tuesday, May 3rd: Stranded in Chaos
Wednesday, May 4th: Back Porchervations
Tuesday, May 10th: Sharon’s Garden of Book Reviews
Wednesday, May 11th: Patient #1
Wednesday, May 18th: Booby and the Beast
Thursday, May 19th: A Bookish Affair
Tuesday, May 31st: Mel’s Shelves