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Debra Hamel is the mother of two preternaturally attractive girls and the author of a number of books about ancient Greece. She writes and blogs from her subterranean lair in North Haven, CT. Read more.


Books by Debra Hamel:

THE BATTLE OF ARGINUSAE :
VICTORY AT SEA AND ITS TRAGIC AFTERMATH IN THE FINAL YEARS OF THE PELOPONNESIAN WAR
By Debra Hamel


Kindle | paperback (US)
Kindle | paperback (UK)

KILLING ERATOSTHENES:
A TRUE CRIME STORY
FROM ANCIENT ATHENS
By Debra Hamel


Kindle | paperback (US)
Kindle | paperback (UK)

READING HERODOTUS:
A GUIDED TOUR THROUGH THE WILD BOARS, DANCING SUITORS, AND CRAZY TYRANTS OF THE HISTORY
By Debra Hamel


paperback | Kindle | hardcover (US)
paperback | hardcover (UK)

THE MUTILATION OF THE HERMS:
UNPACKING AN ANCIENT MYSTERY
By Debra Hamel


Kindle | paperback (US)
Kindle | paperback (UK)

TRYING NEAIRA:
THE TRUE STORY OF A COURTESAN'S SCANDALOUS LIFE IN ANCIENT GREECE
By Debra Hamel


paperback | hardcover (US)
paperback | hardcover (UK)

SOCRATES AT WAR:
THE MILITARY HEROICS OF AN ICONIC INTELLECTUAL
By Debra Hamel


Kindle (US) | Kindle (UK)

ANCIENT GREEKS IN DRAG:
THE LIBERATION OF THEBES AND OTHER ACTS OF HEROIC TRANSVESTISM
By Debra Hamel


Kindle (US) | Kindle (UK)

IT WAS A DARK AND STORMY TWEET:
FIVE HUNDRED 1ST LINES IN 140 CHARACTERS OR LESS
By Debra Hamel


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Kindle | paperback (UK)

PRISONERS OF THE PELOPONNESIAN WAR
By Debra Hamel


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Traig, Jennifer: Well Enough Alone

  Amazon  

5 stars

Jennifer Traig's Well Enough Alone is a memoir centered around the author's health, a history of the real and perceived sicknesses and syndromes and symptoms that have shaped her life. Traig writes about a childhood soaked in free samples of prescription medications foisted on her father, a physician, about her discomfort with her body and its emanations, about her life as a hypochondriacal college and grad student. She discusses the social joys of food poisoning, the heartbreak of eczema. Her chapters mix memoir with medical information and the occasional health-related historical tidbit (e.g., Abraham Lincoln's final bowel movement is on display in a museum in Baltimore; George Washington's teeth were spring-loaded, so that he was compelled to clench his jaw at all times to keep his mouth shut). The result is a narrative that flows so smoothly you barely notice when it changes direction, from puberty to bat mitzvah to the Talmud to donkey urine, autopsies, the Eucharist, and breasts.

A book-length investigation of hypochondria might seem an unlikely vehicle for humor, but Traig's a very funny writer. There's a delightful turn of phrase or two on nearly every page of the book. Most of these I merely appreciated in silence, but a passage in Traig's chapter on the breast reduction surgery she underwent sent me into a sort of hysterical tittering that made the children come running from another room:

"When I heard about the 'pencil test'--an assessment of perkiness in which you place a pencil under your breast and pray the breast is not saggy enough to keep the pencil in place--I was eager to see what, besides pencils, my breasts could actually hold. I went from pencils to playing cards to CDs, stopping only after I successfully held up a VHS tape."

Traig's pendulous, VHS-holding breasts would eventually be much reduced. The size she selected, after some research, was a 36C:

"The end result would be a perky little 36C, a size I'd settled on after spending several weeks staring at women's chests. Friends, relatives, elderly nuns: no one was spared my penetrating gaze. Companions started to avoid going out with me. 'Oh, cut it out, will you?' my best friend pleaded. 'You're embarrassing every woman here. Well, except for the 34B with the graying brush cut, who's mouthing you her phone number.'"

Traig is an honest writer--unless she's exaggerating for effect--insofar as she paints herself as a very unlikable person at times. She is immature and abrasive; she drinks too much (or did) and takes (or took) drugs and doesn't practice good dental hygiene; she was highly irresponsible as a teacher when in graduate school. On the other hand, Traig is self-aware and self-condemning, chastising herself for this behavior, which one rather admires. Whatever the childishness of her first several decades, Traig seems well past it now.

But while I'm not entirely sure I like the author's persona, the quality of her writing is not in question. Well Enough Alone is a fascinating and funny book.

Comments

1.

This sounds funny and sad both. I remember in 7th grade learning about the pencil test in my home ec class. I hadn't heard anything about it until this book. My kids thought it was hilarious.

2.

I was laughing again typing it up. I think it's the VHS that gets me.

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