Bald in the Land of Big Hairby Joni Rodgers
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Joni Rodgers lives in Texas, where big hair is a God-given right. It's essential to any waitressing job, prerequisite for a real estate license, as natural as Naugahyde, and as important as Elvis. But at thirty-two, Joni was diagnosed with non-Hodgkin's lymphoma and lost her hair to chemotherapy. It's not fun being a bald girl in the Big Hair Capital of America, but Joni managed to hold on to her sanity -- and her sense of humor. With the same amazing ability to laugh at life, and herself, that helped her survive cancer, Joni now recounts her story -- a deeply affecting tale of industrial-strength drugs, healing herbs, love, sex, prayer, kids, career, and the search for a wig that won't make her look like Betty Rubble.
"Thoroughly enjoyable, idiosyncratic, and funny...an uplifting celebration of life." London Daily Mail
"A brave, uplifting, hilarious, and heartbreaking book. One of the best books I've read this year. I loved it." Patricia Gaffney, author of The Saving Graces
"A mix of Molly Ivins' blowsy wit and Anna Quindlen's suburban logic, manages the rare literary feat of being painful and funny at the same time." Entertainment Weekly
"A very important book, not only about cancer...[but] also about how to ground yourself in the life you're living." Elizabeth Berg author of Open House
"Impressive...she describes in ways others may find helpful how cancer has affected her sexuality, her faith [and] her family..." Janet Maslin, New York Times
"Memoirs of a cancer survivor with a delicious sense of humor and a well-defined sense of self. Darkly comic, inspiring." Kirkus Reviews
"Rodgers' attitude...is what sets her book apart from others by and about cancer survivors, earning it a wider audience." Dayton Daily News
"[A]candid and amusing memoir." People
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Meet the Author
Joni Rodgers is a critically acclaimed novelist/memoirist and coauthor of multiple New York Times bestsellers. Born into a family of gospel/bluegrass musicians, Joni grew up on stage, opening for huge-haired country music legends of the 60s and 70s. She continued performing until 1994, when she was diagnosed with non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma. She used the chemo downtime to complete her first two novels, both of which made regional bestseller lists and were short-listed for awards. Joni's memoir, Bald in the Land of Big Hair (Harper Collins 2001), garnered glowing reviews around the world, was excerpted in Good Housekeeping, condensed by Reader’s Digest, and is still in print after ten years. It also launched Joni's public speaking career and brought her to the attention of celebrities and others who began asking her to help them tell their stories. She's known on both coasts as a memoir guru who applies the fine art of fiction to the creation of well-crafted narrative nonfiction.
Between novels and ghostwriting projects, Joni volunteers with Habitat for Humanity and does peer counseling with other cancer survivors. She also mentors young writers through her blog, "Boxing the Octopus". Married to jet plane mechanic/wine maker Gary Rodgers since 1983, Joni is the proud mother of two fine young adults. She lives in Houston, Texas.
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Review of Bald in the Land of Big Hair (a true story) by Joni Rodgers. HarperCollins, 2001. Hardback. 253 pages. ISBN: 0-06-019588-6 Rodgers is the author of two novels, Crazy for Trying, and Sugarland, but has made an impression in the non-fiction field by writing her cancer memoir, and being a keynote speaker for a variety of cancer related organizations. The title is a concise preview of what the reader will encounter. Rodgers is diagnosed with non- Hodgkin¿s lymphoma at the age of thirty-two, while married and raising two children. ¿Bald¿ refers to a side effect of chemotherapy, and ¿big hair¿ refers to the styles of the big state of Texas, where over done hair is the norm. Rodgers takes us through the indignities of cancer and the treatments. In doing so, she reaches to the core of her being, without the accoutrements of clothing, accessories, and flamboyant hairstyles. Although Rodgers tackles the serious subject of her war against cancer, she does so with humor that will have the reader laughing out loud. Even the chapter titles are funny: ¿Cleopatra, Queen of Denial¿ ¿Hairless in Houston¿ ¿Lights, Cancer, Action¿ Yet the prologue offers great prose: ¿When tomorrow was still a given and ignorance was still bliss, I was floating along like a paper sailboat on a lazy river, too caught up in my life to know that I was dying. But the day you¿re diagnosed with cancer, you stop dying and start surviving. You stop living and start staying alive.¿ Anyone who has battled cancer will recognize the truth in this paragraph. Rodgers tells us the truth of her fears, the ugly effects of treatment, and her will to survive. Although cancer is not hilarious, Rodgers makes it sound comical. The dialogue with her husband after she has lost her hair sounds like stuff for a situation comedy: Her husband says of her bald head, ¿There is no denying how sick you are.¿ Rodger says, ¿I¿m not sick.¿ ¿You¿re sick, Joni.¿ ¿I¿m not sick.¿ He says, ¿You have cancer.¿ Joni replies, ¿Throw that in my face, why don¿t you?¿ The infused humor is refreshing. Rodgers incorporates education within the humor, telling the reader: ¿In 1994, I was one of about fifty thousand people diagnosed [with non-Hodgkin¿s lymphoma] and half of us did not live to see the new century. In 2000, more than 62,000 people were told they had lymphoma, even as the overall cancer rate continued a steady decline.¿ She writes, ¿In the great barnyard of life, cancer is a manure pile. It stinks¿¿ What reader can resist this style of writing: a combination of information and wit? Rodgers also writes of the sexual transformations she experienced along with her husband during and after cancer. She adds the conflicts of her children, who alternate between understanding and indignation. In the chapter ¿Being a Phoenix¿ Rodgers tells the reader how she goes on with her life when her cancer goes into remission. The re-growth of her hair seems to be a metaphor for her personal and spiritual growth. Bald in the Land of Big Hair is a breath of fresh air amongst the stacks of educational reading material required for a cancer patient.
After my book group read Joni Rodger's novel SUGAR LAND, which I really loved, I went and got her first book, CRAZY FOR TRYING, which was fun but a little strange. I was looking forward to this book after I saw it in Good Housekeeping Magazine, and it's her best one so far. You wouldn't believe how funny this book is, even though it's about how Joni herself (this one isn't fiction) was diagnosed with cancer and went through chemotherapy. She is very honest and up front about the experiences she had, and though the experiences are scary, she has a funny way of telling about everything. I agree with what Elizabeth Berg says on the back of the book: 'It's like reading an adventure story and a humor story and a love story and a tragedy and a deeply spiritual story all at once.' She also says: 'It's also a book about how to ground yourself in the life you're living. It's about how to let go of false concepts of beauty and of self and start living a far richer, truer life than you might ever have imagined.' This book made me think a lot about myself and my own body image in a new and better way. I plan to have my book group read this book.
This book was passed to me by a friend who got it because she was doing chemo. For her it was a Godsend because she felt like nobody else ever knew what she was going through and being able to laugh was a wonderful gift. I felt the same way, even though I don't have cancer. This book is just so funny, true, and uplifting.
Joni's journey is sad and happy and awesome. Made me laugh and cry. Everyone should Read this story.