December Updates

So, by the end of November I was a blathering mess, wasn’t I? I know I was. Mea culpa. Three xrays, five vials of blood taken, one CT scan, and two therapy sessions later, here are the updates. The protruding ribs are being blamed on chiropractic appointments even though I felt the rib cage move before I started see Dr. Jim. The nerve pain is being controlled by medication. The spot on the lung and possibly tumor…no results as of today. White blood cell count still elevated. Possibility of cancer…still a possibility.
But. But! But, enough of all that. Here are the books: I have a week off at the end of the month so I am anticipating it will be a good reading month. Here are the books planned:

Fiction:

  • Any Old Iron by Anthony Burgess (EB) – in memory of the bombing of Pearl Harbor on December 7th.
  • The Dispossessed by Ursula K. Le Guin – in memory of Le Guin passing in 2018.
  • Four Spirits by Sena Jeter Naslund – to honor Alabama becoming a state in December.

Nonfiction:

  • The Female Eunuch by Germain Greer – to honor women’s suffrage law.
  • Cry of the Kalahari by Mark and Delia Owens (EB) – to honor the wedding anniversary of Mark and Delia.
  • Lost Moon by Jim Lovell and Jeffrey Kluger – in honor of the moon landing.
  • Stet: an Editor’s Life by Diana Athill (EB) – in honor of Athill being born in December.

Series continuation:

  • The Subtle Knife by Philip Pullman (AB) – to continue the series His Dark Materials, started in November in honor of National Writing Month.
  • The Unicorn Hunt by Dorothy Dunnett (EB) – to continue the series Niccolo House, started in August in honor of Dunnett’s birth month.

Early Review for LibraryThing:

  • Squelched by Terry Beard.

If there is time:

  • Black Tents of Arabia by Carl Raswan – in honor of Lawrence of Arabia.
  • This Blinding Absence of Light by Tahar Ben Jelloun – in honor of Jelloun’s birth month.

Scar Tissue

Ignatieff, Michael. Scar Tissue. New York: Farrar, Straus and Giroux, 1994.

From the very first page of Scar Tissue you are sucked in. The opening paragraphs are tragic and utterly real. You can easily put yourself in the story.
I am a big fan of clever one-liners and Scar Tissue is full of them, like “we are programmed to betray” (p 4). Truth be known I would have said “We are programmed to deceive” paying homage to one of my favorite songs of my youth, “Hotel California” by the Eagles. But, Ignatieff is right, betrayal is more in keeping with human nature than deception.

I grieved throughout this entire book. Told from the perspective of a middle aged married man with a family of his own, it is story of watching parents grow old and relationships change. The aging process is especially cruel when it is accelerated by Alzheimer’s disease. The mother the narrator loves dies in the mind right before his very eyes and he is powerless to stop it.  It is difficult to read about the mother’s slow decent into another reality; a reality where childhood happened only yesterday but the spouse she wakes up next to is a complete stranger. The struggle to understand takes its toll on everyone around the narrator. He becomes fixated on “being there” for his mother, especially after the sudden death of his father. His marriage and teaching position suffer until  there is barely anything left.
Probably the most poignant scene in the whole book is the narrator’s visit to an ALS patient and the distinctions made between dying with a sound mind as with the ALS patient and his mother, dying with a damaged mind but a healthy body.

I love it when books I am reading simultaneously overlap. Scar Tissue mentions Italian artist Andrea Mantegna whose biography is in Lives of the Painters, Sculptors, and Architects (Vol 2) by Giorgio Vasari.

Reason read: November is national Alzheimers awareness month.

Author fact: Google Ignatieff’s name and you will see he is all over the internet, but not for his writing. He has had a pretty substantial political career as well.

Book trivia: Scar Tissue was short-listed for the Booker Prize.

BookLust Twist: From Book Lust in the chapter called “Mothers and Sons” (p 161).


All Gone

Witchel, Alex. All Gone: a Memoir of My Mother’s Dementia. With Refreshments. New York: Riverhead Books, 2012.

What a difficult task it must be to not only confront a loved one’s illness but to share it with the world. People attempt to do it all the time but Witchel truly succeeds. Her writing is filled with tragic honesty and humor. In an effort to illustrate just how dementia has changed her mother’s personality and the dynamics of the mother-child relationship Witchel dips into her childhood. Using recipes from her past Witchel uses food to bridge the gap between a healthy mother and the disease that has stolen her. It is difficult to watch a seemingly healthy person disappear before your very eyes and that is what happens to Witchel’s mother. Going from professor to patient was not an easy transition for her.
In addition to the stress of an ailing parent Witchel confronts being the only sibling to step up and deal with the sad situation. Everyone is tied to their own family responsibilities and thinks Witchel is the logical caregiver. The attitude is, what else has she to do?
Many people will be able to relate to Witchel’s predicament. Even more so, fans of her writing for The New York Times will embrace her poignant memoir enthusiastically.

There are a bunch of lines I wish I could quote. I guess I’m going to have to read the finished version to make sure they stayed!


Fall Asleep Forgetting

Packard, Georgeann. Fall Asleep Forgetting. New York: Permanent Press, 2010.

I have a love-hate relationship with books like Fall Asleep Forgetting. The problem is Packard’s writing is too good. Like a delicious meal I couldn’t slow down when it came to eating it up; devouring whole chapters at a time. What’s wrong with that? In truth, this is a book meant to be savored slowly. The writing is delectable, deliriously rich and expressive. One minor distraction is character focus is a little out of focus. I would have preferred Claude as the obvious heroine rather than swirled in a mishmash of other incredibly strong personalities. Because Fall Asleep Forgetting really is about Claude and her strange involvement with a married couple, Paul and Sloan, that fact really needs to be teased out. Paul is dying and his wife is bisexual and mentally ill…sort of. Claude is caught up in their relationship until it becomes her relationship, her obsession, but as I mentioned before, she is not the only one. There is nine-year-old Six and her parents Rae and Sonny, Cherry the transvestite owner of the trailer park where most everyone lives and her partner Barton, and elderly Mr. and Mrs. Saugerties. Each one of these characters has a unique and tantalizing story.

Quotes that I really hope are kept: “Once your parents hate you for who you are, the scorn of others in mere child’s play” (p 42), and “I see now that equal parts repulsion and attraction make for the most voracious form of lust” (p 124).

Personal note: I was really excited to see e.e. cummings quoted at the beginning of the chapter called “The Curving Support of Feather Pillows” (p 129). ‘Milly and Maggie and Molly and May’ is a great poem. My only argument would be against calling it a poem about just Maggie because Milly, Molly and May all had important parts.


“Hospital”

Shapiro, Karl. “Hospital.” Poems 1940 – 1953. New York: Random House, 1953.

Maybe it’s because I have been watching HBO’s miniseries, “The Pacific.” Whatever the reason I have become more in tune with World War II literature. Both fiction and nonfiction. Written about vets. Written by vets. When I first picked up Karl Shapiro’s Poems 1940 – 1953 I had a feeling these poems would center around war, specifically World War II and the Pacific Theater. I wasn’t that far off. For the Book Lust Challenge I had to read “Hospital.” Scanning the table of contents I passed poetry with such titles as “Elegy for a Dead Soldier”, “The Gun”, Homecoming”, “V-Letter”, and “Troop Train” so it didn’t surprise me that “Hospital” had a wounded military feel to it. After a little more research I discovered that yes, Shapiro did serve in World War II, specifically in the Pacific.

There is nothing obvious in “Hospital” that screams war, and yet there is a frantic need to answer the questions of death. Where does one go after life has ended? Who deserves to die? And what is to become of the soul? Pain is addressed early. Nurses controlling and caring.

Favorite line, “These reached to heaven and inclined their heads
While starchy angels reached them into beds…” (p 78).

BookLust Twist: From More Book Lust in the chapter, “Good Things Come in Small Packages” (p 103). Here’s the funny thing – Shapiro’s poem, “Hospital” is only mentioned to explain the title of the small package: Fabulous Small Jews by Joseph Epstein (which I will read in May).


For a Reason

It’s like a mantra. Things happen for a reason. Things happen for a reason. Things happen for a reason. I know this to be true. We didn’t succeed with the first few houses because they were not ours to have. Something bigger and better lay at the end of Ivy. The timing was all wrong in November. February couldn’t be more perfect. Things happen for a reason.

When my friend decided not to walk the twenty miles for Project Bread. I was not surprised, yet disappointed all the same. It took me a day to think things through. Would I walk without? Would I want to? It took me a week to bail myself out. Things happen for a reason. In reality, walking for hunger is a good cause for someone else. I am wedded to the crusade against cancer and domestic abuse. Been there, done that. Keep doing this. I decided to walk away from the Project Bread walk and find my Just Cause. 60 miles in three days. For breast cancer. This I can do. This I don’t mind doing on my own. I walk for Nor. I walk for me. This is the walk I am meant to walk.

When my friend of 35 years had a heart attack I had mixed emotions. A long history of ups and downs, goods and bads clouded my real emotion – fear. You don’t want people your own age to die. It’s not your time so it shouldn’t be theirs. Butbutbut, things happen for a reason. For the past three months I have wallowed in self indulgences. Since Thanksgiving I have been giving into temptations of every persuasion. Fat and lazy, I have become. When someone told me I looked beautiful I knew it was a lie. A sweet lie, but a lie none the less. I’m heavy. My heart failing friend woke selfish me, myself & moi up. Things happen for a reason. As soon as this house thing happens I am running back to healthy. I swear.

When a good, good friend brought up a painful memory it was hard to face it. Hard to take ownership of it and say yes, I really did do that. It’s unimaginable now, but yes, I really, really did that. Blame game. Pointing you out for no reason other than to strike out. Things happen for a reason. I’m glad you brought up the past and that awful time. I’m still struggling with what happened and more importantly, why butbutbut I’m done burying that past. I can dig it up and say I take responsibility for being so awful to you. I take all the blame for the blame game. It wasn’t you. Never was you. Sorry I said it was you. I’m seeing things better now that I’m so removed.


Man on the Bus

A true story.

The man needed to take his cat to the vet. She had stopped eating and was starting to vomit. All the time. He had her in a carrier. He had a carrier for his cat, but no car for himself. His cat came first, always. So he took a bus and took his cat to the vet. Cancer, they said. Nothing we can do, they said. They did not charge him. So the man left to take his cat home. Went to the same bus stop he got off from. When the bus pulled up he slowly climbed aboard, holding his carrier more carefully than before. A cat dying of cancer needs more care. He took his seat with a sigh.  “No animals on the bus” the driver said looking up in the mirror. What do you mean no animals? But, that is how I got here, the man replied. “I don’t care. No animals on the bus.” The bus driver was louder now, glaring back at him in the reflection. “You’re holding up my schedule. Get off my bus.” But, this isn’t your bus. The man argued back. So, I’m not leaving. The bus driver, furious now, ordered everyone else off the bus and called the police. The man with the cat stayed where he was.
When the police arrived they questioned the driver. The man with the cat looked down on the interrogation from his high bus window. The police officer’s arms were folded across his chest. The bus driver was gesturing wildly. Soon, the officer climbed onto the bus and headed back to the man with the cat. “What seems to be the problem here?” he asked. No problem, the man answered. I just want to take my cat home. She’s sick. “It’s a law – no animals on the bus.” The police officer looked at the cat. You will have to arrest me because I have no other way home. Take me in handcuffs, the man replied. And that is what the officer did.

But, the story doesn’t end there. On the ride to the station the man with the cat and the cop got to talking. The officer mentioned he had a cat. The man with the cat mentioned he was bipolar and relied on the goodness of strangers to help him cope with his disease. The officer mentioned his sister was bipolar. Soon they were exchanging stories about the ups and downs of illness, human and feline. Instead of taking the man with the cat downtown he asked him where he lived. Then, he took the sick man and his sick cat home.