For Sasha With Love: An Alzheimer's Crusade, Gail Bernice Holland (Dembner Books: $9.95). Sasha Bashkiroff died after a long bout with Alzheimer's Disease chronicled in these pages. Nevertheless, as told by his wife Anne, the principal source for this book, his story has a happy ending, for it prompted Anne to reach beyond her own grief and offer help to other victims suffering from brain damage as well as from our government's reluctance to provide aid for families who are facing long-term custodial care for their loved ones. Ten years ago, Anne Bashkiroff, a hospital worker and social activist in San Francisco, founded the Family Survival Project. Today, the organization has developed comprehensive services that include legal and financial counseling, education and political activism. Most of this book's narrative takes place before Bashkiroff gained the strength and determination to become an ardent activist. Her love for Sasha didn't lose intensity when his mind retreated, but she experienced new feelings of anger when Sasha would become verbally and (sometimes) physically abusive.
"For Sasha With Love" is weakened by overly detailed "girl talk" in early chapters in which Anne tells her friends about her new relationship with Sasha, occasional grammatical errors ("disinterested" for "uninterested") and an outdated account of medical research on Alzheimer's. More striking, however, is its success, as a study of problems in doctor-patient relationships (Sasha's doctors seemed incredulous when Anne reported slow deterioration, becoming sympathetic only during emergencies), of male pride ("Sure, I can handle it," Sasha says before struggling unsuccessfully to complete a simple task) and of a woman who turned grief into hope, generating a groundswell of support from individuals, though her struggle to get government support for extended medical care continues.
The Encyclopedia of Ghosts; The Encyclopedia of Monsters, Daniel Cohen (Dodd, Mead: $7.95 each). The author of these entertaining books resists the temptation to over-dramatize and heighten believability in order to titillate our interest. Alternately zoologist, folklorist and parapsychologist, Cohen makes these books appealing to a wide range of readers. At heart, however, Cohen appears to be a folklorist, devoting scant space in "The Encyclopedia of Ghosts," for example, to evidence that menacing, mischievous or beneficent wraiths really exist. Moreover, in "The Encyclopedia of Monsters" Cohen doesn't hesitate to call a hoax a hoax, although he does show that the verdict isn't always in: "I couldn't see the zipper," says one noncommittal scientist after viewing an alleged photo of "Big Foot." Though Cohen doesn't explain why the supernatural fascinates us so--his entry on unicorns, for instance, shows how their image was fashioned from the rhino and Narwhale but doesn't explain their popularity and magical appeal--he tells a host of engaging stories about humanoids, land monsters, monster birds and bats, phantoms, river and lake monsters, sea monsters and visitors from strange places.
Objects of Desire: Design and Society from Wedgwood to IBM, Adrian Forty (Pantheon: $14.95). Design is usually seen as the result of artistic inspiration, but in studying its use in the home, workplace and mass media, Adrian Forty presents a dramatically different picture in this singular, thoughtful, funny and far-reaching book: refrigerators, cars, logos, office architecture and other carefully concocted cultural commodities tell us less about the designer's struggle for self-realization than they do about the collective forces driving society--dreams, hopes, greed, fears. Most of the designs profiled in these pages involve some attempt at psychological manipulation by the designers; the goal, however, is not simply to fuel capitalism, as Marxist critics might complain, but to comfort consumers.
In 1940, for instance, American Tobacco decided to make its "Lucky Strike" cigarette packages "identifiably American"; "cleanliness and whiteness" were the dominant images, but they weren't entirely exclusive, for members of ethnic groups could feel American by buying the cigarettes. Some consumers found similar comfort in Depression-era vacuum cleaners; named "Daisy" or "Betty Anne," they suggested that the appliance was a substitute for a servant. While the authors never get so caught up in their theories about art and society to deny that practical business and economic considerations had considerable sway over design, they do define three basic ways in which design brings comfort: the "archaic," in which references to the past (antique-like cabinets) are used to overcome consumers' resistance to innovation; the "suppressive," in which the object itself is consumed or hidden (a radio in an armchair) and the "Utopian" (making computer terminals look like space age machines).