Cooperstown Crier - Your Source for Hometown News - Cooperstown, Baseball Hall of Fame

Book Notes

March 3, 2011

Book Notes: Author's loss is reader's gain

Several weeks ago I wrote a column praising a novel by Frank Deford called “Bliss, Remembered.” Deford is best known as a sportswriter for Sports Illustrated but his elegant prose can transfer to any subject matter. After one of my friends read the column he recommended one of Deford’s older titles from 1983 that was totally unrelated to sports. It ended up being the most touching, heart-wrenching book I’ve ever read.

In “Alex: The Life of a Child,” Deford describes the life and death of his daughter Alex, who suffered from cystic fibrosis. She lived a little more than eight years. The premise was so sad I didn’t think I could make it through the entire book. But my friend told me the ending was uplifting so I hung in there. It was worth every page that I read and every tear that I shed.

For those that don’t know, cystic fibrosis is a chronic lung disease that usually affects young children. It causes a thick, sticky mucus to build up in the lungs and digestive tracts and can often result in death at an early age. For a child to be inflicted with the disease both parents must carry the defected CF gene and usually don’t know it. When Deford wrote his daughter’s story most children with CF died in infancy.

Today there has been enough advancement in research and treatment that many sufferers survive into adulthood, and even marry and have children. In one sense the title of Deford’s book is a bit misleading.

The narrative is about more than just Alex. She was a brilliant little girl who had a zest for life, and a maturity that extended well beyond her pre-adolescent years. But her life is only part of the story.

Deford leaves no stone unturned. He discusses what it’s like to be the parent of an adorable child who is condemned to die at an early age. He and his wife had to literally pound Alex every morning to get the mucus out of her lungs. That routine was followed by a half hour of medication that they often had to coax Alex to take. Then there were the unscheduled visits to the hospital that often became routine.

Can you imagine having to “torture” your child every day of her life? Or dropping everything to rush to the hospital?

Or the “guilt” that would consume most parents even if they unknowingly carried the gene that afflicted their daughter? It’s no wonder that the stress of dealing with childhood maladies such as cystic fibrosis can destroy even the best of marriages.

And how about the reaction of the healthy siblings who grow up with a lack of attention while still instinctively being the protector and idol of the younger sister?

How do parents make sure they’re not forgotten, or, when the time comes, to tell them that their sister has died?

It’s all very heavy duty. Fortunately, the book is not all about death. It focuses as much on life and how Alex made the most of it. While she had to deal with an hour of “pounding” every morning, and an additional half-hour of medication, her parents made every effort to see that she lived as normal a life as possible. She traveled, played games, and attended school regularly. You cannot help but love Alex. There are so many instances that leave you tearyeyed simply because she was a magnificent human being.

If her mother ever grew sad and was about to lose her composure Alex would deliberately become difficult and obnoxious to get her mother refocused. Once, when her father was about to cry during a painful procedure to repair a collapsed lung, she made the doctor stop for a minute so she could wipe the tear from her dad’s eye.

For Deford, writing “Alex” must have been a catharsis.

He was able to relate the difficulties that a family with a disabled child must face yet could deal with because of the joy their child brought to their lives. I know several people with disabled children in Cooperstown and they all seem to have an upbeat and appreciative attitude towards life. When you think about it it’s really not surprising. People with disabled children never take things for granted. For those of us fortunate enough to have perfectly healthy kids this book will make you appreciate that fact even more.

Deford suffered a personal loss 30 years ago, but by sharing Alex with us turned it into our gain.

We can all be grateful for that.

THANKS to Fred Doubleday for recommending the book and donating it

Text Only
Book Notes
  • New rowing book is best read of year One of the fortunate things about being a librarian is that you get unsolicited opinions on books you wouldn't ordinarily read. One of our patrons told me about a book that would have flown under my radar if she hadn't mentioned it (in fact, she bought it for the library). It turned out to be the best book I've read this year.

    August 21, 2014

  • Despite good reviews some movies disappoint Sometimes a popular movie can be difficult to evaluate. It may be a hit at the box office, receive great reviews, and earn multiple Oscar nominations. But what if it didn't really do it for you? How do you rip a film that clearly appeals to the masses? I faced that dilemma with one of the top grossing releases of 2013. I guess I learned that everyone has different tastes.

    August 14, 2014

  • Comparing HOF, Coop, now and then The Baseball Hall of Fame is celebrating its 75th anniversary this year and it's amazing how much the Hall has grown since it first opened in 1939. An estimated 48,000 fans journeyed to Cooperstown to watch the induction ceremonies two weeks ago. The annual Hall of Fame weekend has become a major tourist attraction as floods of Hall of Famers and ex-big leaguers descend on the village to celebrate, reminisce, and sign autographs (for a fee). It's all quite a change from its humble beginnings in 1939.

    August 7, 2014

  • Biography of Neil Armstrong shines light on space program We just celebrated the 45th anniversary of the first lunar landing. We all remember Neil Armstrong, the first man to walk on the moon, uttering those famous words, “One small step for man, one giant leap for mankind.â€� It was an exciting time for our country and the world. There was talk of a mission to Mars by 1980. Instead, we haven’t been to the moon since 1972 and manned space exploration has become an afterthought. What happened?

    July 31, 2014

  • Early 'blahs' sometimes hide a gem There are often films that sound rather "blah" when you first notice them and have no interest in seeing. It's usually due to the preview either being really stupid or the producers wanting to avoid giving away too much of the plot. If it's the latter category you must be careful. Sometimes there's a gem of a movie hidden behind the facade.

    July 24, 2014

  • 'Moneyball' author tackles Wall Street with 'Flash Boys' Have you ever read a book that feels like it's in a foreign language? It covers a subject you know is important and figure at some point it will all make sense. What do you do when that doesn't happen? Obviously, the easiest solution is to toss the book aside. But what if the underlying message is something you "get" and don't want to give up on? I faced that dilemma recently.

    July 17, 2014

  • MacNeil reading highlights novels Several weeks ago I had the good fortune to attend a talk by Robert MacNeil at the Guilderland Public Library. MacNeil is best known as the former co-host of the MacNeil/Lehrer NewsHour on PBS. He retired in 1995 but has continued to write both fiction and non-fiction. His talk at Guilderland focused on two of his novels, "Burden of Desire" written in 1992, and its sequel, "Portrait of Julia," which was published last year.

    July 10, 2014

  • 'The Monuments Men' shows important history World War II continues to hold a special place in the hearts of readers and movie goers. The reasons are many but much of it can be traced to the endless number of storylines from that conflict. There is literally a treasure trove of material that keeps emerging. The latest example is the movie, “The Monuments Men.â€�

    July 3, 2014

  • Authors not afraid to think like freaks Conventional wisdom is something we automatically take for granted. It can be something as simple as assuming there is no cure for the common cold or political polls being a good indicator of who will win an election. Common assumptions of course can be wrong but we usually just accept them as fact. However, in many cases it would be much better to think "outside the box" and consider an alternative way of looking at the world.

    June 26, 2014

  • Book goes further into Armstrong's lies There hasn't been a shortage of elite athletes that have fallen from grace in recent years. Most of them have been baseball players who have been caught using performance enhancing drugs (PEDs) and then lying about it. Golfer Tiger Woods fell from his pedestal because of extra-marital affairs. He has yet to regain his previous aura and perhaps never will. But the loudest crash of all came from cyclist Lance Armstrong who was not only a liar and a cheat but ruined other people's lives in the process.

    June 19, 2014