Reviews: e-books and audiobooks - on shepherding, albinism and journalism
Why Dan Brown shouldn't have made an albino monk a sharpshooter, how tough a farmer's life can be, and what newsreader Tom Brokaw thought when he was diagnosed with cancer
James Rebanks shows us farm life in a way that readers who only do pastoral from a distance will find unsettling. Telling of sheep farming in England’s Lake District, he focuses on work, disease and death, an honour system among shepherds and a way of life that follows an oldfashioned system. (Generations of his own family have been farmers.) That said, Rebanks is perhaps not a typical farmer: he says “being a bit northern and weird” was one reason he was accepted into Oxford University. Indeed, Rebanks was so poor at handwriting that he typed – with one finger. We also learn what happened to farmers during the foot-and-mouth epidemic of 2001: Rebanks, whose farm in the fells was one of the last culled, writes that Herdwick sheep were at grave risk of being wiped out, but the government didn’t understand because “to them a sheep was a sheep, a farm simply a farm” – not something precious on the edge of destruction. The Shepherd’s Life is an emotional account of the work and history of people who, Rebanks says, get forgotten in the modern world.
The Shepherd’s Life by James Rebanks (Flatiron Books) e-book
If Dan Brown had done his research, he would not have made the albino monk Silas a sharpshooter. Readers ignorant of the fact will discover in The Edge of Normal that people with albinism lack pigmentation also in the eye, which affects their vision. Hana Schank recalls how early fears about her daughter Nora's sight led to the realisation that the child never made eye contact. A paediatrician suspected, and a neuro-ophthalmologist confirmed, albinism, a condition that afflicts one in 17,000 people. Schank's Kindle single tells how, even as a baby and despite being legally blind, Nora wore sunglasses outdoors because the light hurt her eyes. The author also describes how, on connecting with others affected by albinism, she would compare whether they had more or less pigment than her daughter, leading her to conclude: "We didn't have it so bad." Giving hope, she tells of how technology, for example the iPad, is rapidly improving the lot of the less-sighted because it easily allows fonts to be enlarged to a comfortable size.
The Edge of Normal By Hana Schank (Amazon Digital Services) e-book
Even the lucky succumb at some point, a message that American television journalist Tom Brokaw underscores from the start of a memoir whose focus is his multiple myeloma diagnosis two years ago aged 73. After suffering persistent backache, which he had ascribed to his active lifestyle, he was told he had a cancer of the plasma cells in his bone marrow. The disease was "treatable but not curable", and his life expectancy was five years. In a similar no-nonsense way a doctor gave him the news, Brokaw tells of his treatment, the importance of family support and how much control he lost over his body. Narrated by Mark Bramhall, whose calm, authoritative voice passes for one of a news reader, Brokaw recalls seminal points in his career, the most challenging of which were stories about the September 11 attacks. Listeners will learn from this book and warm to Brokaw. They will also come to understand how expensive cancer care can be: the chemotherapy drug Revlimid can cost US$524 a pill.
A Lucky Life Interrupted By Tom Brokaw (read by Mark Bramhall) Random House Audio (audiobook)