books, Taos

The Write Stuff: Two books about life

Here is my book review column, The Write Stuff, which appeared in the June 9 fiber edition of Tempo, the arts and entertainment section of The Taos News. Every two weeks I review books that have a connection to New Mexico.

This column takes on recent releases that reflect on two lives: one is a collection of autobiographical stories written by a beloved local doctor; the other is a noted author’s account of a boy growing up in New Mexico.

A Life Well Worn: A Collection of Personal Stories

Memoirs can be a tricky genre. A no-holds-barred telling may be satisfying for the author, but unfair to those who appear in the book. Others may not have such an interesting life after all.

But that’s not the case with the late Dr. Larry Schreiber, who tempers his observations with humor and kindness as he shares stories from his life, which includes over 40 years as a physician and humanitarian.

Schreiber is also the father of 14 children, including 10 who were adopted from around the world. He co-founded Child-Rite, which for 20 years placed 240 children with special needs in New Mexican homes at no cost to the families. (His first contact with children who have special needs is when he volunteers as a teenager at the Cerebral Palsy Center in New York.)

After interning in Albuquerque, Schreiber remains in New Mexico to work in medically under-served areas, where patients are so poor, they barter for care.

“Wood wasn’t all I traded for. Without trading I wouldn’t have a barn (OB and tubal ligation), a chicken coop and goat pen (delivery of a baby), or fencing throughout my fields (pneumonia and gall bladder attack). I even traded medical care for house cleaning. How else do you keep a house clean with 13 children? Trading felt good. It worked.”

He writes about finding love with his second wife, poet Cathy Strisik.

He takes readers on hiking treks in the mountains. Of one adventure in Nepal, he writes, “Looking up the ice wall at 19,000 feet, I realized two things: my heart couldn’t go any faster, and I couldn’t go any slower.”

We also learn how he deals with the effects of Parkinson’s disease, likely caused by his exposure to pesticides while working in a hospital in Cambodia.

His writer’s voice is likable. I imagine a twinkle in his eye as he recalls his experiences and the people he knew.

There is humor — one story about what an elderly patient in a hospital calls him made me laugh out loud. Then, there is sorrow — his grief over the loss of one of his sons.

But such is the case, indeed, in a life well worn.

Of course, with Schreiber’s death Jan. 18 the book is a bittersweet reminder of his profound value here and elsewhere. He died as he wished, at his San Cristobal home with his family beside him and a view of Lobo Peak through the picture window. The book was completed shortly before his death.

“A Life Well Worn,” published by Nighthawk Press, is available in paperback.

Schreiber’s children will read from their father’s memoir at an event Saturday (June 11), 6-8 p.m. at the Harwood Museum. Strisik will introduce the evening, which will include a video of Schreiber reading one of his pieces.


The Sorrows of Young Alfonso

Rudolfo Anaya is a celebrated New Mexican author with an impressive body of work, including “Bless me, Ultima,” published in 1972. In his latest, Anaya writes about Alfonso, who at his birth was told by a
curandera, “The world is full of sorrow.”

Anaya chooses the format of the anonymous letter writer, presumably an old man, who tells Alfonso’s story to a person identified as “K.” The curandera’s prophecy comes true via an accident involving a train that leaves the boy handicapped. Later, he attends a university and emerges as a writer.

As Alfonso grows and changes, so does New Mexico.

“Now the prayers are being forgotten. This generation doesn’t pray like we did We spent hours on our knees. We had plenty to pray for. The war had taken the village boys; the Depression came, and with it the dust storms of the Dust Bowl. The way of living was changing from Spanish to English. There were new bosses and only menial work for the Mexicanos. The town banker spoke only English. Try getting a loan.”

Fans of Anaya and his writing style will undoubtedly enjoy this book. For others, reading “The Sorrows of Young Alfonso” may seem like dancing a slow waltz and wondering when the song will end. However, be prepared for a delightful dip toward the end.

“The Sorrows of Young Alfonso,” published by University of Oklahoma Press, is available in hard cover.