Writing book reviews aren’t really my thing, maybe partially because my relationship with reading has always bounced back and forth between being obsessed and wanting to read all the time to then going almost a year before I pick up another book. But when I came across A Series of Catastrophes & Miracles by Mary Elizabeth Williams, I loved it so much I just had to share.
The way I found the book was really random. I was reading one of Kate Baer’s curated tweets posts and she included a tweet by Mary Beth about getting played that I thought was hilarious so I decided to check her out and follow her on Twitter because she seemed to have some pretty funny tweets and I thought she would be entertaining. Her profile must’ve mentioned her book, so I requested it from the library. When it came in, I wandered down to the library on my lunch break one day before walking to grab some lunch and was so intrigued by it that I started it as I stood in a hot and tiny little restaurant waiting for my to go order for what felt like forever (probably because I was hangry) and I was hooked. I read it on some of my lunch breaks, I read it while my kid was taking a bath each night, and when I got to the last few pages I wanted so badly to finish reading it that I read it by cell phone flashlight while in bed trying to get my son to sleep.
Now let me clear, my first impression of the author was that she made me laugh a few times but I knew good and well when I looked up her book and saw that the subtitle included cancer that this was not a book to expect to laugh my way through. But Piper Kerman’s comment about the book (printed on the cover) kind of sums it up perfectly: “When you laugh and cry at the exact same time, you know you are reading an amazing survival story”. I loved it because it felt real, in a way that this was a person very authentically sharing her physical and emotional experience with cancer – and not just her own diagnosis and treatment, but others in her life too.
In fact, I think what hit me hardest in her book was the number of people she knows who have been diagnosed with some type of cancer. And think about it – I’m guessing that almost all of us know somebody who has experienced that diagnosis too, right? Whether it be a co-worker, a friend, or a family member it’s just unfortunately a very common thing I think. For me it includes two aunts who had breast cancer, my mom had a scare that turned out fine, and then my father-in-law had throat cancer. Throughout the book the author references reactions of others around here, from friends she thought would always be there drifting away to one of her friends showing her support by sending her a *language alert* fuck cancer t-shirt. And it really got me thinking, which friend would I be? I hope it’s the friend who doesn’t shy away for fear of not knowing what to say, and instead picks out the completely inappropriate t-shirt.
Another big theme of the book that I found really interesting was the treatment she received through a clinical trial and I don’t think I’m spoiling anything because clearly she lived to write the book, but the treatment worked with astounding results. So if you like the chances of a good laugh, a good cry, and a peek inside the really great things modern medicine can achieve then I would definitely recommend this book!