Old Friends

Kidder, Tracy. Old Friends. Boston: Houghton Mifflin Company, 1993.

There are many reviews about Old Friends that start off with, “this was hard to read.” I have to wonder how many of those reviewers are administrators at retirement/nursing/convalescent homes. Do they see their own facilities as described by Kidder? It is easy to flash back to the experiences of a loved one in such a place. My own grandparents lingered in nursing homes until their deaths. I can remember the overwhelming smell of antiseptic and urine; my father reading an activity board and commenting on a “mystery” ride. “Just don’t get into any any black, squared vehicles” he quipped. Funny, But not. Kidder’s account of life inside Linda Manor is frank and unflinching. He also writes with a profound sensitivity, introducing patients as people with past lives and present feelings. They aren’t subjects used to illustrate a point. You feel for these people because their character development is as fleshed out as if it were a fictional account. It’s beautiful in a haunting way.

Quote that struck me, “People entering nursing homes have, for the most part, already lost control over their lives” (p 23).

Reason read: September is National Aging Month

Author fact: Kidder spent a year researching life at Linda Manor, even checking himself in as a resident.

Book trivia: There is a rumor that Kidder’s father is described in this book. I didn’t investigate to confirm or deny.

BookLust Twist: from More Book Lust in the chapter called “Dewey Deconstructed: 300s” (p 67).


Nov ’10 was…

More head in the sand, tail between my legs reading for the month. While it wasn’t an easy month I am happy to say it was better than October by a long shot!

  • The Harmless People by Elizabeth Marshall Thomas ~ in honor of November being the best time to visit Africa. This was an eye opener. I will never look at people the same way again.
  • The New Well-Tempered Sentence: A Punctuation Handbook for the Innocent, the Eager, and the Doomed by Karen Elizabeth Gordon ~ in honor of Writing month. Information I will keep in mind but, because I’m a rebel, probably ignore. Case in point – this sentence!
  • Balsamroot: A Memoir by Mary Clearman Blew ~ in honor of Montana becoming a state in November. This was more about a favorite aunt’s slow decline than about Blew’s own personal life.
  • On the Road by Jack Kerouac ~ in honor of November being National Travel month. This was, I think, my favorite book of the month.
  • The Healing by Gayl Jones ~ in honor of November being Jones’s birth month. This was the hardest one of the bunch to read. I’ve decided I don’t care for stream of consciousness!
  • Ruby by Ann Hood ~ in honor of November being National Adoption month. This was a psychological book that had me pondering life’s bigger questions. It took me a weekend to read.
  • Brothers and Sisters by Bebe Moore Campbell ~ in honor of November being the month of Campbell’s passing. Once I got passed the stereotypical characters this was a great book!

For LibraryThing and the Early Review program: Final Flight: The Mystery of a WWII Plane Crash and the Frozen Airmen in the High Sierra by Peter Stekel. This book had everything I could want in a nonfiction: truth and mystery embedded in a well told tale. It was great!


March 2009 was…

March was all about the new house. Moving, moving, moving. Living in limbo. For books it managed to be:

  • The Concubine’s Tattoo by Laura Joh Rowland ~ fascinating tale that takes place in 17th century Japan (great sex scenes to get your libido revving). So good I recommended it to a friend.
  • The Bethlehem Road Murder by Batya Gur ~ Israeli psychological thriller.
  • The Drowning Season by Alice Hoffman ~ a grandmother and granddaughter struggle to understand one another.
  • Daniel Plainway or The Holiday Haunting of the Moosepath League by Van Reid ~ this was a really fun book with lots of subplots and meandering stories.
  • The Famished Road by Ben Okri ~ I will admit I failed on this one. Magical realism at this time is not a good idea.I need to keep my head grounded, so to speak.
  • The Old Gringo by Carlos Fuentes ~ This was a powerful little book, one that I definitely want to reread when I get the chance.
  • Lone Star by T.R. Fehrenbach ~ The history Texas. More than I needed to know. More than I wanted to know.
  • Saint Mike by Jerry Oster~ an extra book in honor of hero month. I was able to read this in a night.
  • Industrial Valley by Ruth McKenney ~ in honor of Ohio becoming a state in the month of March.
  • The Fan Man by William Kotzwinkle ~ in honor of the Book Lust of others. Luckily, it was only 182 pages.

For the Early Review program:

  • When the Time Comes: Families with Aging Parents Share Their Struggles and Solutions by Paula Span ~ this was gracefully written. Definitely worth the read if you have elderly people in your care.

For fun:

  • Dewey: The Small-Town Library Cat Who Touched the World by Vicki Myron ~ really, really cute story. Of course I cried.

I think it is fair to say work had me beyond busy. But, I will add it was a learning experience and for that, I am glad. Reading these books during the crazy times kept me grounded and for that, I am doubly glad and grateful.


When the Time Comes

Span, Paula. When the Time Comes: Families with Aging Parents Share Their Struggles and Solutions. Springboard Press, 2009.

When this book first came in the mail my mother was visiting. She has just celebrated her 60th birthday. Savvy, independent, strong in body and mind I didn’t really think this book applied to her. Needless to say I was surprised when she thought I requested this particular book to review on purpose, because of her. It became an awkward moment because when I scanned the selections for the month I can’t say I specifically chose the book because of her. It is more accurate to say I didn’t pass over the choice because of her. Does that make sense?

At any rate, I found Span’s book When the Time Comes incredibly useful in some respects and (predictably) not so helpful in others. I enjoyed all of the stories about the trials, tribulations and triumphs of caring for elderly parents. It put aging into perspective. Not all parents will age the same way, physically or mentally. Not all parents will welcome the solutions their children have to offer. Not all solutions will work for all types of aging. The variables are endless but Span does a wonderful job trying to tell a different story for each scenario. It was wonderful to have examples to remind the reader, “you are not alone.” I found myself comparing the stories on the page with situations I know in real life and nodding in agreement all the while. On the negative side, the title of this book is misleading. It implies this is a book about aging, and this is not a book for someone who has parents years, possibly decades, away from needing elderly care. By the time my mother deems it necessary to have outside help some of the resources Span lists in her book might not be available to me. Websites disappear, organizations change. While this is definitely a book to prepare children for the aging of their parents, it is not recommended for planning too far in advance. However, should my mother have a stroke or serious accident I could pick up When the Time Comes and start using it immediately.


Diaries of Jane Somers

Lessing, Doris. The Diaries of Jane Somers: The Diary of a Good Neighbour and If the Old Could… New York: Vintage, 1984.

Here’s what I find fascinating about Doris Lessing – she wanted to publish something pseudonymously. She chose the name Jane Somers, wrote in a completely different voice and then submitted  The Diaries of a Good Neighbour. Her own publishers turned her down. One publisher (who accepted the Somers work) was reminded of Doris Lessing! Can you imagine writing with such personal style that its recognizable without an author name attached? Even after you try to hide your true voice? That, to me, is real fame in the world of writing!

The Diaries of Jane Somers is comprised of two emotional, very telling, sad novels, The Diary of a Good Neighbour and If the Old Could…. In The Diary of a Good Neighbour Jane befriends an elderly woman. What I find fascinating about this story is Jane herself. She is middle-aged, has no children, and is a highly successful, fashionable editor of a woman’s magazine. She comes across as unfeeling and snobbish. She barely mourns the loss of her husband to cancer, is decidedly cold about the death of her mother by the same disease, and is completely disconnected from her sister. With no real friends of her own she even shuns her elderly neighbor desperate for companionship. Oddly enough, Jane meets Maudie, a dirty, ferociously proud woman in her 90’s and instantly feels a connection. The Diary of a Good Neighbour not only details the two women and their remarkable friendship but voices what it means to be vulnerable, to have shame, and, to grow old in a society that prides itself on youthful appearances, vitality and independence.
If the Old Could…is a continuation of Jane’s story. Told several years after the death of Maudie (sorry, but you knew she couldn’t live forever, right?) Jane falls in love with a married man. This time her selflessness is poured into helping her nieces as well as finding what it means to truly hurt over another person.

Favorite lines: “She was literally inarticulate with anger” (p 59). This scene is like a chapter out of my own life. Not that my sister and I have ever had the conversation tied to this statement, but I could picture us having it.
“…I don’t know what children are, and I’m not entitled to say a word, because of my selfish childishness…” (p 62).
“Meanwhile I rage with sorrow” (79). Isn’t this just great? Some people imagine sorrow being this quiet, slow-moving, thick and heavy emotion yet Lessing turns it into this live-wire, powerfully explosive, loud and in your face emotion with one word, rage.

BookLust Twist: From Book Lust in the chapter “Aging” (p 17). Very appropriate.


Spectator Bird

Stegner, Wallace. Spectator Bird. New York: Penguin, 1976.Spectator Bird

I think this book embodies one of my worst fears – being a spectator bird. The main character, Joe, is a literary agent who is slowing slipping out of the limelight of the living. He goes through life as though he’s on the sidelines, barely even watching the game. Instead of living in busy, exciting, beautiful San Francisco he lives out in the country, away from the daily rub with people. Everything about his current life is gray until he receives a postcard from a friend. Suddenly, he is thrust back into his past. He is forced to remember a time when life was more than a spectator sport. It has some interesting twists, things I didn’t see coming. Joe’s voice is witty and humorous. Here are a few of my favorite lines:
“It is hard to be relaxed around a man who at any moment might examine your prostate” (p 12).
“During the day he will go out seven or eight times. In the U.S. this would be called drinking on the job” (p 76).
“Her wicked brother will not be home – a shame, I’d like to see what real wickedness looks like” (p 98).
“She was so old she would have had to be dated by carbon 14” (p 128).

BookLust Twist: From Book Lust and the chapter called “Companion Reads” (p 65). Pearl suggests reading Spectator Bird with The Moviegoer by Walker Percy, The Remains of the Day by Kazuo Ishiguro, and A Gesture Life by Chang-rae Lee.