Friday, November 30, 2012

Books about Music and Epilepsy

   Sally Fletcher has written two books coming out of her own personal experience.  She is a musician who plays the harp and organ and she also has suffered from epilepsy.
In The Challenge of Epilepsy:  Complementary and Alternative Solutions, Ms. Fletcher shares her own challenges with epilepsy and how she arrived at-if not a cure- a method to prevent seizures.  In the first chapter she tells us that she used to suffer from ten to fifteen seizures per month that were uncontrolled by medication.  She now is seizure free and the rest of the book is devoted to explaining how she, without the help of doctors, books, or any other outside source overcame her affliction. 

The book explains the facts and myths of epileptic seizures and what we know about what parts of the brain are affected.  She devotes a couple of chapters to diet and life style habits that can affect seizures and their frequency. She delves into what is called biofeedback, neurofeedback and brain waves.  A chapter describing medication and their side affects are also listed.

After filling the reader in on the background of epilepsy- causes (unknown), medical facts and different studies of the brain, she gets to the main thrust of her book.  According to her, a person can control their own brainwaves and eventually learn to prevent seizures.

   Much of what she offers includes yoga, meditation and relaxation techniques that she asserts will raise an epileptic’s threshold so that they do not suffer a seizure.  Examples of “correct thinking techniques” are included in one chapter where she directs the epileptic to allow the body to obey each conscious thought as follows:


1.  I feel very quiet.

2. I am beginning to feel quite relaxed.

3.  My feet feel heavy and relaxed.

4.  My ankles, my knees and my hips feel heavy, relaxed and comfortable.

5.  My solar plexus, and the whole central portion of my body, feel  realxed and quiet.


There are 23 more thoughts listed that Ms. Fletcher walks you through. 


Other chapters discuss good exercise and the role music can play in healing an epileptic of seizures.


I would like to point out that I am not an epileptic and have not tried any of these techniques so cannot vouch for them.  However, the book was interesting to read and the idea of controlling one’s thoughts to contain seizures is thought-provoking. My personal advice?  Consult a doctor before embarking on any unconventional therapy.



Ms. Fletcher’s other book is Music:  Healing and Harmony.  In this book she gives a lot of information on how music affects the mind and body.  She cites many sources that show the impact music has on the development of our mind, the manipulation of our emotions and even our bodily health. 

She devotes some interesting chapters to the actual science of music, the vibrations that make up different pitches and how they can affect the brain and emotions.  She gives information on different styles of music and how they help us to become energized, relaxed, concentrate, think logically or excited.  She describes studies that have shown how music helps control ADD and ADHD as well as the immune system.

While some of her information smacks of Eastern mysticism (she talks of enhancing bodily energies by finding “chakra” points), I found the book –if not providing a lot of new information ( I have a Master’s degree in Music)- at least an interesting and useful tool for the non musical layperson. 

Disclaimer:  I received these books for free by the author.

Ms. Fletcher also records on the harp and organ.  For more information you can go to her website:


Monday, November 19, 2012

White Nights and Other Stories by Fyodor Dostoyevsky


My favorite genre of literature is classical.  My favorite time period is the nineteenth century. Favorite authors?  Russian.  Favorite Russian authors?  Tolstoy and Dostoyevsky!


When I moved to Texas several years ago, the men who moved my furniture (if boxes of books qualify as furniture) were from Russia.  I got into a conversation with one of the men about Russian literature.  I mentioned to him my predilection for Russian authors and how much I enjoyed Dostoyevsky in particular.  The man looked at me a moment, then tapped his forehead.  He said, “Dostoyevsky was crazy, you know that?”


   I don’t know if Dostoyevsky was certifiably insane or not, but his writing does seem to express the soul of a tortured individual.  But never without hope.  That is why I love his writings so much.  Dostoyevsky never shies away from writing stories about people whose ‘hearts are desperately wicked’ but, unlike secular humanist writers, he doesn’t stop with the despair.  In spite of evil circumstances and unstable, selfish people, power and hope course through the veins of each story.


Dostoyevsky never preaches, yet God is written on every page.  His presence is declared as it is in nature.  To compare, read a story written by a secularist, such as Anton Chekov or Albert Camus or just about any 20th century writer.  The difference is striking.  Their characters are left adrift. At the end of the story you’re left asking, what was the point?  In Dostoyevsky’s stories, no matter how hard life becomes, no matter how wickedly a person acts there is the sense that God is still holding them in the palm of their hand.


 White Nights and Other Stories is a collection of short stories with Dostoyevsky’s trademark peculiarities.  Each story keeps you guessing with many twists and turns in the plots and events. 


His stories are darkly psychological in nature.  Often, he has the reader following the rambling thoughts of the protaganists giving us a first person account of how the hero perceives his environment and how he reacts to it. The first two stories, The Honest Thief and An Unpleasant Predicament show this- the first as a man wrestles with his conscience over a theft he has made and the second when a man from an upper class crashes the wedding of his subordinate.  He doesn’t shy away from putting his characters in awkward situations and we suffer with them as they struggle to extricate themselves.


Some of his stories are simply zany from a superficial view but contain a message that exposes certain facets of Russian society.  In Another Man’s Wife, we’re led on a merry chase with a man who suspects his wife of infidelity.  He follows a man he believes is her lover, only to enter the wrong door and ends up in the apartment of a strange woman.  While trying to explain his presence to the startled woman, her husband can be heard climbing the stairwell.  In order to avoid a confrontation, the man hides under her bed.  To his surprise he finds another man already hiding there.  You’ll have to read the story to find out how it all resolves.

In The Crocodile, an ambitious business man visits an animal exhibition and falls into the crocodile pit where he is gobbled up by you know what.  He does not die, however, and refuses to be rescued as he believes that living in the crocodile will increase his standing in society.  He even insists that his wife join him.  While these stories seem crazy, a larger picture of 19th century Russian culture and values is drawn.

Bobok is about a man who dies and is buried in a cemetery but remains conscious.  He lies in his coffin listening to the conversations of all the other dead people.  We, of course, listen too, and hear some very interesting stories from people who came from all walks of life but are now lying together in a grave yard.

The title story, White Nights is about a man whose character must have been inspired by Dostoyevsky’s own impulsive, passionate nature.  The man falls in love and wishes to marry a lonely young woman confined to a life of living with her grandmother.  The woman is waiting for her lover, who has promised to return and marry her on a certain day.  The time is approaching and the woman is losing hope.  Will the man return?  Who will she marry?  Or will she get married at all?


Each story pulls the reader in and arrests them until the end.  I don’t believe anyone will be able to put down the book in the middle of any of these novellas.   If you’re a lover of Russian classic literature and especially Fyodor Dostoyevsky, you will enjoy this collection.





Sunday, November 11, 2012

The Greater Journey: Americans in Paris by David McCullough


   David McCullough has written a brilliant chronicling of Americans who traveled to Paris in the 19th century.  Before reading his book, I never realized how many famous Americans lived in Paris and how living there impacted their careers.

     In the 1830’s Oliver Wendell Holmes, Samuel Morse and John Fennimore Cooper kicked off the migration.  Call me ignorant, but I didn’t know that Morse was an artist.  He spent countless hours in the Louvre painting and receiving commissions stateside for his work.  Cooper wrote many of his most important novels there.  Holmes and many other American medical students studied medicine.

     The invention that Morse is most famous for, the telegraph and the code named after him, was conceived in Paris.  Later, P.T. Barnum and his famous Tom Thumb toured the city to great acclaim.  The pianist and composer Gottschalk spent many years performing in Paris.

     Other artists that came were John Singer Sargent, James McNeil Whistler and Augustus Saint-Gaudens.  Mary Cassatt, who became good friends with Edgar Degas, was the only American accepted into the Impressionist fold. 

     In addition to the artists, architects, and musicians, important politicians left their mark.  Elihu Washburne was the only international diplomat who stayed in Paris during the political upheaval and wars during the 1870’s.  He helped protect and provide for many native and foreign people caught in the crossfire. 

    We don’t just learn of the Americans’ accomplishments but of their lives:  how they spent their free time, the sort of friendships they made, their characters and personalities.

     McCullough does a meticulous job gathering notes, letters, and diaries.  His bibliography takes up almost a quarter of the book.  His writing is fluid and eloquent.  This is no dry recitation of facts but a vibrant, breathing, compilation of the different lives and events that shaped Paris and the Americans that lived there.  Reading The Greater Journey paints a vivid picture as rich and voluptuous as an oil painting by Cezanne.  One can see and experience a Paris of the past.  The only way anyone will be able to do so now.

    For anyone interested in history and how one culture is shaped by another, this book is highly recommended.

Further links:

Cleopatra: A Life

Or buy on Kindle for $9.99



Sunday, November 4, 2012

Cleopatra: a Life by Stacy Schiff

      Cleopatra is one of the legendary figures out of history that we hear about but may not necessarily know much about.  I had read about her in the works of Josephus.  Shakespeare wrote about her and so did some French romanticists. Elisabeth Taylor glamorized her and others have vilified her. Other than that I was fairly ignorant about this “Queen of the Nile.” 

    Stacy Schiff writes a colorful, if not very objective, biography of one of the most famous-or infamous depending on your viewpoint- historical figures.  In her book, Cleopatra: a Life, she attempts to weed out the legend and get at the heart of who this woman really was.

     It’s interesting that Schiff starts out her book by declaring that most historicists throughout the ages had a biased opinion against Cleopatra rooted in the age old sin of chauvinism.  Sure, she murdered her own family members in her quest for power.  Sure, she slept with powerful leaders of the Roman Empire.  Okay, and maybe she poisoned a few hundred prisoners in order to get just the right sort of elixirs to use on her enemies. Hey, she had a country to maintain.  What’s a poor girl to do? 

    Ms. Schiff’s prejudice for her subject is exposed in an especially revealing response to a question in an interview printed at the end of the book.  After blasting all those rotten men for relentlessly attacking Cleopatra just because she was a woman, the interviewer asks her why a woman, Florence Nightingale, referred to Cleopatra as a “disgusting woman.”

    Ms. Schiff answers the question thus: 

     By the time Florence Nightingale got her neurotic hands on Cleopatra, she had been mangled beyond recognition by both history and literature.  For their own political reasons, the Romans needed her to be a femme fatale who seduced Mark Antony and lusted after Rome.  Shakespeare took it from there.

     Neurotic hands?  Uh, maybe Ms. Nightingale found someone who would murder her own family members and poison hundreds of people disgusting.  Does Ms. Schiff not find that disgusting?  My advice to Ms. Schiff is not to fall in love with your subject if you want to be taken seriously.  And, by the way, I find it somewhat chauvinistic to assume that because a writer is male he can only have nefarious reasons for writing about a female historical figure.  That’s called presuming motives.

     In fact, after establishing that it is practically impossible to know the true Cleopatra, we are then expected to take Ms. Schiff’s word for who she says Cleopatra is.

     Still, I have to say that I found Cleopatra: a Life to be engaging, interesting and a book that finally put a definitive face on someone I had never taken the opportunity to examine before.  Frankly, I don’t know why Ms. Schiff takes the ancient biographers denigrative portrayal of Cleopatra so personally.  She accuses Josephus of hating her, but-having personally read Josepus’ account- I didn’t see where Cleopatra got special treatment.  The times were brutal and so were the leaders of the era.  Josephus makes her out to be a typically manipulative power monger. Schiff admits the same in her own account.  Besides, it’s nothing compared to his description of Herod Antipas.  Yeesh.  No wonder Joseph fled to Egypt with Mary and baby Jesus.  What a monster.

     In Ms. Schiff’s book we follow Cleopatra as she climbs to power in Egypt and how she carefully maneuvers herself and her country into a favorable position with the Roman Empire.  Her first conquest is Julius Caesar, by whom she has one son, Ceasarian.  When Julius falls to assassins, she then turns her sights on Mark Antony.  Her relationship with Mark Antony produced three children.  Cleopatra gambled in order to secure her position inside of the Empire but unfortunately aligned herself with what -after several acrimonious years of power struggling with Octavian (Augustus Caesar) - became the losing team.  This led to both her and Mark Antony’s death by suicide.  Better kill yourself than be dragged through the Roman streets in chains or worse.

     Ms. Schiff has done her homework and her bibliography testifies to the meticulous detail and research she invested in this book.  It reads as well as any novel and will give the reader a definite taste of the time period preceding the first century A.D.  I recommend Ms. Schiff’s book to anyone interested in the life of one of the few female rulers of the ancient world.

or buy on Kindle for $9.99

Other links: