Short Takes

Short Takes: Book reviews, in brief

February 9, 2013 

Nonfiction

How to Beat the Casino: Humorous Systems Revealed

Cory “The Oracle” Marcinuk, Create Space Independent Publishing, 198 pages

Cory “the Oracle” Marcinuk has written an amusing book, “How to Beat the Casino,” about gambling – casino, blackjack, horse racing, roulette, craps and other kinds. His style flows easily. “This book is not politically correct,” he writes. “It’s intended to be honest, funny, sarcastic, rational, and entertaining when discussing the perils of gambling.”

First published in 2010, the book provides entertaining historical tidbits. In referring to “Blackjack,” he says that the writer of “Don Quixote,” Miguel de Cervantes, mentioned it in an earlier book. Under “Baccarat,” he points out that it was an aristocrat’s game that has now trickled down for hoi polloi. If you ever have heard about “Craps” but didn’t know anything about the terms used, this is a book for you. “Keno” gives a statistical chart that lists “potential hits, odds, and corresponding percentages of casino hits.” “How to Beat the Casino” is available on Amazon.com with a preview feature. You might want to check it out.

McClatchy Newspapers

Brain on Fire: My Month of Madness

Susannah Cahalan, Free Press, 288 pages

Susannah Cahalan’s last thought before her body gave in to a terrifying seizure was a combination of Gwyneth Paltrow, eggs and meat. “My arms suddenly whipped out straight in front of me, like a mummy, as my eyes rolled back and my body stiffened,” she writes. “Blood and foam began to spurt out of my mouth through clenched teeth.”

In 2009, her body began to attack her brain, causing her to spiral into insanity. In “Brain on Fire,” Cahalan documents a disease that took her from talented newspaper reporter to quiescent vegetative state and back, all in a few months time. She became paranoid and delusional, she slurred her words and drooled, her tongue hung out of her mouth and she lost her memory. She devolved into something like a schizophrenic paralytic.

The subtitle of the book is “My Month of Madness”; however, the sickness really spans seven, and parts of the book make it feel like more. Chapters at the end, mostly containing details of her recovery and her thoughts at the time, could have been shortened or even omitted, since they don’t pack the same punch as the first three-quarters of the book. It takes nearly a dozen of the finest doctors and around $1 million in medical expenses at New York University’s Langone Medical Center to diagnose and treat Cahalan’s rare disease, which isn’t revealed until after a plethora of tests, a series of incorrect diagnoses and a gruesome four-hour brain biopsy.

“Brain on Fire” is a courageous account of an unimaginable tragedy, written with grace despite vulnerability. It’s hard to believe that Cahalan could compose a book after losing everything her brain commands, motor skills and all. But in this book’s strong writing and storytelling, it’s easy to see that Cahalan has found her spark again.

Tampa Bay Times

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