By the Book: ‘Orphans,’ ‘Awakened by Autism,’ ‘1 Billion Seconds’

"Orphans" cover by Greg Smith
Cover illustration from "Orphans" by Greg Smith

This week, By the Book offers three reviews of books in very different styles—but all tell tales of family, relationships and perseverance through adversity.

"Orphans" by Greg Smith

by Joan Cusack Handler

Let’s be honest—most readers don’t read poetry. But, as anyone who does will tell you, it can be a most rewarding literary experience. If you want proof of that, plunge into the unflinching new memoir in verse by award winning poet, memoirist, psychologist and East Hampton resident Joan Cusack Handler. Orphans is a powerful and eloquent book written in three distinct voices: Handler’s mother, Mary O’Connor Cusack, a devout Catholic born in Ireland and left motherless at a young age, who then sailed to America; Handler’s father, Eugene Cusack, another Irish immigrant fleeing economic upheaval at home; and their daughter, the author. Handler’s fourth book (she’s already published one memoir and two poetry collections), with its signature use of visual form that has long marked her poetry, delves into memories cherished and truths concealed, tackling themes that affect so many of us. She deftly navigates the imperfections of family life, the challenges of watching her parents age and die, and the acceptance of her own mortality. Orphans is also a love story—the quiet love story of her parents and the larger, messier story of family love. So go ahead, read some poetry.

"Awakened by Autism" by Andrea Libutti, M.D.

Awakened by Autism: Embracing Autism, Self, and Hope for a New World
by Andrea Libutti, M.D.

In 2005, Hamptons resident Andrea Libutti, having recently finished her medical residency in emergency medicine, was told her 20-month-old son, Jack, had autism. On a rating scale for the continuum of symptoms related to autism (mild autism rated 20; severe autism rated 40) Jack scored 50. Therapists said Jack would never communicate with others, and he would never form meaningful relationships. Andrea refused to accept the diagnosis. As a physician, she had access to a variety of specialists and used these relationships to explore promising biomedical and behavioral therapies. Ms. Libutti’s book both distills the results of her research and relays her personal experience trying one treatment after another in search of a way to help Jack. She shares her understanding of the nature of autism and the problematic way many health-care professionals view the condition. As the number of children diagnosed with autism climbs and parents and caregivers look for ways to help, Awakened by Autism takes a holistic and spiritual approach.

"1 Billion Seconds" by Poppy and Geoff Spencer

1 Billion Seconds: A Fictional Memoir
by Poppy and Geoff Spencer

One billion seconds—add them all up and you’ve got 32 years! That’s how long it took Poppy and Geoff Spencer, authors of a new “fictional memoir,” to reunite, long after being college sweethearts. 1 Billion Seconds is a voyeuristic look into many true events in the couple’s lives, both separate and united. The Spencers, madly in love as college students in Florida, believed they were going to be together forever. But life got in the way and they couldn’t keep their relationship on solid ground. Poppy graduated ahead of Geoff and returned home to Wisconsin. Their young love was not enough to survive distance and naiveté. They broke up and moved to opposite ends of the country, both married, had children, divorced, and lost their own identities. In real life, the Spencers work with couples and individuals to develop achievable and measurable goals. “Through the writing of 1 Billion Seconds,” the authors say, “we uncovered the implicit understanding of what makes relationships work and what can lead to their downfall; and, the short answer is to embrace vulnerability. This book not only entertains but it also inspires readers to truly understand the value of vulnerability.”

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