On Death and Dying

Kubler-Ross, Elisabeth. On Death and Dying. Scribner Classics, 1969.

Reason read: February is Psychology month. Also, I needed a book for the Portland Public Library Reading Challenge in the category of a book published in the year I was born. There you go.

How do you look someone in the eye and tell them they are dying? Sure, every single one of us is dying by increments every single day. Some of us will die tomorrow, without warning. No fanfare. But, how do you tell someone they will die in a month? In a week? Days? On Death and Dying is exactly that, a chance to talk to terminally ill patients; to have a candid talk about what it means to moving towards death sooner rather than later. Kubler-Ross and her students interviewed over 200 patients towards this end. I think it is safe to safe we know what emerged from this seminal work:
Stage One: Denial and Isolation
Stage Two: Anger – the “Why Me?” stage.
Stage Three: Bargaining – not a lot to say about this stage except to say it is very childlike in believing you can strike a deal with a higher power to avoid death.
Stage Four: Depression (the stage I think I would live within the longest).
Stage Five: Acceptance. This is the most difficult of all the stages to reach. Even after achieving acceptance, it is easy for the patient to revert back to an earlier stage such as anger or denial. Stage five is also difficult for the patient’s loved ones. How many families see a patient’s acceptance as resignation or a loss of will to live? One must remember there are defense mechanisms as well as coping mechanisms at play.
My biggest takeaway from reading On Death and Dying is how the more training and experience a physician had, the less ready he or she was to become involved in Kubler-Ross’s interviews. It is as if they lost the ability to see the patient as a human with a right to know their terminal future. We need to bring compassion back at every level of care.

As an aside, my husband could rattle off the five stages of grief as if he had sat in a Psychology class yesterday. He explained the anacronym I had never heard before, DABDA.

Quote to quote, “If a patient is allowed to terminate his life in the familiar and beloved environment, it requires less adjustment for him” (p 48).
Favorite quote, “Those who have the strength and the love to sit with the dying patient in the silence that goes beyond words will know that this moment is neither frightening nor painful, but a peaceful cessation of the functioning of the body” (p 276).

Author fact: Kubler-Ross died in 2004. As an aside, I cannot help but wonder what Dr. Kubler-Ross would have thought about Covid.

Book trivia: On Death and Dying has been translated into twenty-seven languages.

Nancy said: Pearl didn’t say anything specific about On Death and Dying except to explain how the book was constructed.

BookLust Twist: from Book Lust in the chapter called “Dewey Deconstructed: 100s” (p 63).

Secrets, Lies, Betrayals

Scarf, Maggie. Secrets, Lies, Betrayals: The Mind/Body Connection. How the Body Holds the Secrets of a Life, and How to Unlock Them. New York: Random House, 2004.

Reason read: for the Portland Public Library reading challenge as a book I wish I had given myself. Here is the original reason. Everyone jokes that the root of all childhood trauma is mama. So, to blame on your mother, Mother’s Day is in May.

It is pretty fascinating to think that your physical body holds the keys to unlocking mental trauma. By paying attention to your body’s postures, tensions, aches, and pains, you could solve mysteries of the mind. Physical health could nurture mental health. Part memoir, part psychology is how I would describe Scarf’s Secrets, Lies, Betrayals. She uses stories from both sides of the couch, so to speak; both as a patient and as a therapist, to illustrate the benefits of EMDR (Eye Movement Desensitization and Reprocessing) therapy.

Confessional: I actually freaked myself out a little reading Secrets, Lies, Betrayals. Scarf was describing me at one point in the book. Back in the mid 90s I dated a guy who was quick to criticize me in weird and subtle ways. I never knew what he was really trying to say. Whenever we argued he would twist everything I said into illogical pretzels. I would get increasingly more and more confused; to the point where I would end up questioning my own side of the story. He would win by sheer convolution.

Author fact: Scarf wrote a bunch of best selling psychology books. In the middle of this didactic bibliography is a biography on Benjamin Franklin for young people.

Nancy said: Pearl said she would buy Secrets for a psychologist in the family. My question is this, if the psychologist is any good, wouldn’t he or she already at least know of the book if not already have it?

BookLust Twist: from More Book Lust in the chapter called “A Holiday Shopping List” (p 117).

Deeply Grateful and Entirely Unsatisfied

Happe, Amanda. Deeply Grateful and Entirely Unsatisfied: a Book for Anyone Wondering if Life is Giving You Magical Gifts or Just Messing with You. San Francisco: Chronicle Books, 2018.

Reason read: this is the March selection from the Early Review program of LibraryThing.

At first glance, you think Deeply Grateful should only take you ten minutes to read. At second glance, you reconsider. Maybe thirty minutes in order to give the illustrations a proper scrutiny. But. But! Once you get into Deeply Grateful and really read it (like reeeallllly read it) you realize you want to say to hell with time. It is simple and complex all at once. Yes, the illustrations are a little repetitious. You’ll see a lot of straight lines that look like rays of sunlight and curly lines that resemble snakes. Then there are the ribbons and pipes and boxes. Circles and science projects. Never mind all that. It’s really all about the words. Some will have you thinking more. Some will have you wishing you thought less. Even way, Deeply Grateful makes you think.

Author fact: Happe runs Three of Wands, “an independent creative practice.”

Book trivia: Deeply Grateful is Amanda Happe’s first book.

The Art of Dying

Weenolsen, Patricia. The Art of Dying: How to Leave This World with Dignity and Grace, at Peace with Yourself and Your Loved Ones. New York: St. Martin’s Press, 1996.

Reason read: February (in some circles) is Psychology Month.

Do you need to be terminally ill to read this book? I hope not. But, I would think having a terminal illness would help to read this book more effectively, especially when performing the “Meaning of Disease” exercise 40 pages in. It’s the first of many exercises surrounding the subject of terminal illness. It’s difficult to answer some of Weenolsen’s questions as a seemingly healthy person. But, back to my original question. It prompted another: how many healthy people have read this book and stored information away for when a life threatening illness eventually  settles in? As it stands right now, we are all terminal, but does anyone plan (beside the hypochondriac) for a terminal illness?
This book is chock full of information but probably the biggest surprise was Weenolsen’s humor. Sometimes snarky, sometimes tongue-in-cheek, there was a lightheartedness to some of her chapters; as if humor would make the subject matter easier to swallow. [Note: in my case it did, once I identified why death made me so squirmy.]

Before reading The Art of Dying I had to wonder what prompted Weenolsen to devote her life to the subject.

Quotes that put things into perspective immediately: On the subject of dying: “We can look neither into the sun nor death directly” (p 3) and “People want to name the disease” (p 48). On the subject of letting go (in this case, a neat house): “If you’re not dust-sensitive, think of the layers as mounting thick enough to hatch something – and then to keep them around as pets” (p 66).

Author fact: Weenolsen is a psychologist who specializes in death and dying and counsels people on both.

Book trivia: As I mentioned before, I didn’t expect humor from The Art of Dying. The jokes come out of nowhere. Weenolsen has this quirky sense of humor that emerges every so often.

BookLust Twist: from More Book Lust in the chapter called “Dewey Deconstructed: 100s” (p 64).

Fear of Flying

Jong, Erica. Fear of Flying. New York: Signet, 1973.

I think I started this book about eight different times, starting when I was 16 or 17. As a kid I always misunderstood the cover art – a naked woman under an unzipped… something. I thought she was in a body bag which, now that I think about it, doesn’t really make sense because if that were the case, she would have been sideways in the bag. Therefore she shouldn’t fit. Having no idea what the book was actually about back then I didn’t know it was a man’s unzipped fly. Now I say, “but of course!” The takeaway from Jong’s Fear of Flying is the underlying message of freedom (especially freedom from fear). To fly is to be free and this is one woman’s story about wanting that ability to become unfettered and free. Her sexuality and psychology are just metaphors for the deeper meaning of feminism and a woman taking control of her life…like a man. Yes, there is sex and lots of it but that’s not what Fear of Flying is all about.

Favorite lines, “A little girl who was neither bitchy nor mealy-mouthed because she didn’t hate her mother or herself” (p 46),

Reason read: May is considered the “Birds and Bees” month so let’s talk about sex.

Author fact: Erica Jong has a sexy website here. I love the colors and the use of multimedia – very eye catching.

Book trivia: According to Jong’s website, Fear of Flying was her first published book.

Reason read: from Book Lust in the chapter called “I am Woman – Hear Me Roar” (p 120).

Crooked Letter, Crooked Letter

Franklin, Tom. Crooked Letter, Crooked Letter. New York: William Morrow, 2010.

Confession: I couldn’t put this down. A friend from Germany was in town, someone I hadn’t seen in almost three years and all I wanted to do was read Crooked Letter. I don’t normally want to ignore friends!

Crooked Letter takes place in rural Mississippi bouncing between the early 1970s and the late 2000s. From the very first sentence you are pulled into something sinister. Hints of evil lurk between the lines. Larry Ott has always been strange. A social outcast since grade school Larry pulls outrageous stunts, desperate to be noticed; bringing snakes to school, scaring girls with a grotesque Halloween mask. When a pretty high school classmate disappears Larry is suspected of murder. Unbelievably, he is the last person to be seen with her. While her body was never found and Larry’s guilt couldn’t be proven, he remained the town’s only suspect. Fast forward 25 years and another pretty young girl has gone missing. When she is found, raped and murdered, on Larry’s property it seems like an open and shut case. Except, Larry has a silent almost forgotten ally – Silas “32” Jones, a former classmate and one-time secret friend. Secret because in 1970s deep south Mississippi pockets of racism were more than alive and well. It wasn’t acceptable for white Larry to be seen with black Silas. As Chabot, Mississippi’s only constable Silas sets out to learn the truth, even if it means digging up the ugly past. Tom Franklin is very thorough with descriptions of each character’s personal life . You are pulled into Larry Ott’s mechanic shop and can smell the grease just as easily as riding along with Constable Silas Jones as he works his investigation. This is a story first and foremost about friendship and guilt and forgiveness. It is also a story about the harsh realities of racism and poverty and the scars that run deep.

I only found one bothersome discrepancy. Larry Ott is described as 41 years old. Miss Voncille is described as a woman in her “early 50s.”  That would mean at the very minimum there is a ten-year age difference between Larry and Voncille. But because they both attended the same high school Constable Silas asked Voncille if she knew Larry. Here’s the thing –  Larry would have been a toddler when Voncille started high school. If their ages had been reversed it would have allowed for the “legend” of Larry and his weirdness to be played up – Voncille could have heard stories of Larry despite the fact he graduated ten years ahead of Voncille.

In a way I could relate to Larry, especially his obsession with books. His father didn’t want him “wasting” the day by reading either.

Best line I hope is kept, “When he left, Larry lay amid his machines, thinking of Silas, how time packs new years over the old ones but how those old years are still in there, like the earliest, tightest rings centering a tree, the most hidden, enclosed in darkness and shielded from the weather” (p 251).

Comfort of Strangers

McEwan, Ian. The Comfort of Strangers. New York: Simon & Schuster, 1981.

The entire time I was reading The Comfort of Strangers I felt an uneasiness – so much so that the hairs on the back of my neck would stand up from time to time. There was something sinister about nearly every scene, every page (all 127 of them). I can just imagine what the movie is like.

Colin and Mary are unmarried, unhappy lovers on vacation. Bored with each other and frustrated with their foreign holiday destination (probably Venice or Rome), they are constantly having to remind each other and themselves they are on holiday and are supposed to be relaxing and enjoying themselves. Their disdain for each other annoyed me at times. For the couple getting lost in the ancient, winding, narrow streets wasn’t supposed to be a problem because they have nowhere specific to be. Colin and Mary go on like this until suddenly, the story changes gears after a native enters their bored bubble. That chance meeting changes the course of their lives forever. It is a psychological, violent, erotic second half to the book, full of sex and selfishness. From the moment, Robert, the charismatic stranger, comes into the picture nothing seems normal again.

I didn’t find any particular lines that grabbed me. The whole story in its simplicity was enough to shock me.

BookLust Twist: From Book Lust in the chapter called, “Ian McEwan: Too Good To Miss” (p 149).

Cult of Personality

Paul, Annie Murphy. The Cult of Personality: How Personality Tests are Leading Us to Miseducate Our Children, Mismanage Our Companies, and Misunderstand Ourselves. New York: Free Press, 2004.

Okay. How many of us think of a well toned guy with long hair jumping around in bright colored spandex when we hear the words “cult of personality”? Am I the only one who thinks fondly back to Living Colour days? Probably. I’m showing my age.

At any rate, the book The Cult of Personalityby Annie Murphy Paul is compelling. Fearing it to be a dry, psychology “talk-shop” laden lecture on personality tests I read it along side a fictional psycho-babble book. Oddly enough, I found the nonfiction just as interesting as the fiction. Paul’s book didn’t need the fictional bells and whistles to be a page-turner. Paul has a style of writing that is reminiscent of Halberstam such that you feel as if you are getting good society gossip (like the details of a juicy affair) along with the cut and dried information on how a test was conceived.

BookLust Twist: In More Book Lust in the chapter called, “Dewey Deconstructed” (p 62).

February (2009) Was…

February started the month with a big ole bang. First, there was the Gee-I-Couldn’t-Have-Predicted-the-Winner-of-This-Matchup Superbowl. Then, there was me. Turning 40. Then, add in Smiley’s birthday, a rockandroll party and approval for financing, a memorial and a visit from mom… all in the first week! Like I said, February started with a bang! Then it turned into the wait and see month…which ended in a house!

For books it it was:

  • Cult of Personality by Annie Murphy Paul. A fun, informative read!
  • The Extraordinary Voyage of Pytheas the Greek by Barry Cunliffe. Not so fun.
  • The Good Patient by Kristin Waterfield Duisberg ~probably one of my favorites of the list.
  • The Color Purple by Alice Walker ~ really, really hard to read. So sad!
  • Fool by Frederick Dillen ~ very psychological.
  • The Inn at Lake Devine by Elinor Lipman ~ very cute.
  • Bedtime for Frances by Russell Hoban ~ speaking of cute!
  • Not a Day Goes By by E. Lynn Harris ~ a very, very quick read in honor of Black History Month
  • A Reconstructed Corpse by Simon Brett in honor of National Theater Month even though the acting in this mystery doesn’t take place on a stage…
  • Tracks Across America by Leonard Everett Fisher ~ in honor on National Railroad Month
  • The Powers That Be by David Halberstam ~ in honor of Scholastic Journalism month

As you can see, I did a lot of reading during that “wait and see” time! In the end, February was full of emotions as well as books and finally, finally a house!

I didn’t get to A Tale of Two Cities by Charles Dickens and I started When the Time Comes by Paula Span – an Early Review book (review coming in March).

Good Patient

Duisberg, Kristin Waterfield. The Good Patient. New York: St Martin’s Press, 2003.

I am a sucker for first books. I seriously love that first attempt that gets published; the I-Made-It book. The Good Patient is not only Waterfield’s first book, it’s a great first book. I loved nearly every word of it (and yes, I will get to the “nearly” part of that statement in a moment). But, first the general overhaul:

Darien Gilbertson reminds me of Brenda Leigh Johnson only in the extreme. Like Brenda, Darien is a force to be reckoned with in her professional life. She is successful enough to outshine the big boys. Yet, her personal life is a mess. Despite having a husband who adores her Darien has this insatiable need to self destruct. If she isn’t breaking her own bones, she is cutting and burning herself. She has more than come undone. When her husband forces her to seek professional help Darien is quick to accept, thinking she can do what she’s always done – outwit the therapist and beat the world of psychiatry at its own game. Little does Darien know she has met her match the moment she sits on Dr. Lindholm’s couch. In her own right Dr. Lindholm is a force to be reckoned with. There are times when The Good Patient gets a little extreme, a little over the top but for the most part, I enjoyed Darien’s first person account of how she puts herself back together. Filled with wit, sarcasm, humor and humility, I devoured The Good Patient in an afternoon and has been put on my “read again” list.

Favorite places: Darien taking about her own birth, “Broke my collarbone and tore a hundred-stitch hole in my mother, just to get into the world” (p 4). A quote I think my sister can relate to, “The truth is there’s something wrong with my wiring that makes me smile at the most godawful things, at the most inconvenient times” (p 28). A quote that reminded me of me, “I am suddenly angry in a way I can’t explain, small tidal licks of irritation building under my skin” (p 143).

BookLust Twist: From Book Lust in the chapter, “Shrinks and Shrinkees” (p 221). I would have also included it in More Book Lust in the chapter, “Maiden Voyages” (p 158) because it is a worthy first book (IMHO).