Wednesday, May 30, 2007

The Woman at the Washington Zoo

The curse has finally been lifted! It's been hell going without a book. I checked out The Woman at the Washington Zoo by Marjorie Williams a couple of weeks ago, thumbed through it, but it has been sitting on my bookshelf since. So a day or two ago, I looked at my bookshelf and "The Woman..." caught my attention. Marjorie Williams wrote political profiles for The Washington Post and Vanity Fair. She wrote about people like Barbara Bush and political columinst Mary McGrory. She also wrote a weekly column for Slate, the online magazine.

The essays in "The Woman at the Washington Zoo" are about so many different things, from politicial figures to assisted suicide, gender to family life, and also cancer. Williams was diagnosed with liver cancer in 2002. The doctors told her she only had months to live, but she went on to live for another three and a half years.

Most of my favorite essays in the book are in Part 3: Time and Change. There is no way that I can put into words what this book has come to mean to me. But I will try. I'm a typical reader, starting with the beautiful introduction by Williams' husband, Timothy Noah. But then I went to the back of the book, which is so unlike me, and started reading. Hit by Lightning: A Cancer Memoir is my favorite essay. Williams tell of the first sign: Her son, Willie noticing that she lost weight. She tells how it should have been a sign of something wrong, but admits that she's like most American women and "yearning for thinness is so deeply a part of me that it never crossed my mind that weight loss could herald something other than good fortune." She also tells of the second sign, a lump in her abdomen, going to different doctors for an answer, before finally receiving one: liver cancer that was stage IV (b).

So many times I felt like crying for Williams. But instead I laughed at her good (and bad) jokes, marvelled at her play of words, and her honesty with describing life and knowing that soon, very soon you will die. It's my newest favorite book.

If you don't like my post, read the book anyway.

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