Monday, December 27, 2010

"And ransom captive Israel..."

We went to church on Christmas Eve afternoon with Jeff's mom, and it was a simple, lovely, musical service. There was a band, maybe five musicians, and the service began with everyone standing to sing a few well-known hymns. Then everyone sat down, there was another song or two, and then a woman came to the microphone to do a short reading from the Bible.

I'm not a religious person, and I've really never been a religious person. But, I have my moments -- thoughts and situations that truly move me, often on both a spiritual and a human level, if that makes any sense. At Christmas Eve mass, the reading from the Gospel was about the Angel Gabriel visiting Mary, telling her that she would bear a child even though she was a virgin, and that her Son would change the world. I listened to the reading as a mother of two young sons. Imagine being pregnant, and being told that your baby will grow into an amazing and incredible person, someone who will have a positive impact on people's lives, even hundreds and hundreds of years into the future. Whether you believe the prophecy, or you think you must be losing your marbles, it's got to be overwhelming to think that the baby who won't stop kicking you and who makes you have to pee every half hour, will grow into a man who will change the history of the world.

It's probably no big surprise that, having these kinds of thoughts, I began to get teary-eyed during the reading. Right after the reading, it happened: one or two of the musicians started playing "O Come, O Come, Emmanuel," one of my favorite hymns, dating back to my Roman Catholic childhood. It did me in. I was mouthing the words even though the musicians weren't singing, and tears were running down my cheeks. I was sitting on the end of our row, and Ryan was next to me. He'd been leaning on me sometimes, or holding my hand. When he saw that I was crying, he kept looking at me, touching me, and once he wiped the tears from my face. The band started singing the hymn, but I don't remember if everyone sang; I don't think so, I think it was only the musicians.

Thinking of the years I went to Catholic Church always reminds me of my dad. Thinking of motherhood made me think of my mother, too, and that she only passed away 14 months ago. I wondered what my sons will be like when they grow up. Ryan didn't ask why I was crying, just leaned against my arm and held my hand. (There's some hope yet, maybe he'll turn out all right!) And Jeff, ever the caretaker, yet seemingly unaware at times that his wife's thoughts and emotions are too complicated to explain, began to whisper, "Are you okay?" and "What's the matter?" Thankfully we were in the back row of the balcony, where few people outside my family would notice me -- and the church was mostly dark anyway.

So it was Mary and Gabriel, Jesus the Savior, the two beautiful yet frustrating boys whom Jeff and I brought into the world, the mother and father (now gone, both of them) who brought me into the world, and Grandma without Papa, and the idea that the only reason Jesus was born was to die, that He died so we could live, so hopefully our loved ones aren't really gone, but are waiting peacefully for us to join them... It was ALL of those things that did me in, and this:

O come, O come, Emmanuel,
And ransom captive Israel,
That mourns in lonely exile here
Until the Son of God appear.

Rejoice, rejoice! Emmanuel
Shall come to thee, O Israel.

Those who are in pain, who are imprisoned, whose lives are constant struggle, who grow closer each day to losing all hope: Rejoice! You will be saved, your suffering will end!

I'm not a religious person, not really, but the message touches me deeply, and I try to believe it. And I've always, always loved that song.

Wednesday, December 1, 2010

News & notes: books, housecleaning, fixing the PC, Black Friday

I took today off work to get some things done that I hadn't gotten done last weekend, since I was fighting a cold and not sleeping well (due to stuffiness, etc.), and though I got some extra rest in the morning after the boys left for school, the rest of my day was spent dusting and vacuuming. Yes, my house desperately needed my attention, more than my blog, more than my backlog of e-mail, and what have you. I listened to two old episodes of That's How I Blog, a Blog Talk Radio show hosted by Nicole, from the book blog Linus's Blanket. It made the dusting part of my day very enjoyable. But alas, I didn't do any reading. Or blogging, or blog-hopping and commenting. And I didn't spend any time on LibraryThing. :-( I really hope to catch up on LT around the holidays, when the boys will have no sports, no school, no homework, and we'll have a couple more days out of work.

Books I've read the past couple weeks: Push by Sapphire, which was often disturbing, ultimately inspiring, and so good; A Pound of Paper: Confessions of a Book Addict by John Baxter, which was a really fun read; and I've started reading the very well-reviewed novel The Sparrow by Mary Doria Russell, and am enjoying it so far. As you can probably tell because I said I listened to podcasts today, I don't have an audiobook going at the moment ... but soon, I'll decide which one to go with next.

I spent a lot of time during last weekend -- the long Thanksgiving weekend, when I was sick with this cold -- backing up the boys' computer and re-installing their Windows Vista. I'd never actually done that kind of thing before, only re-installed Windows XP on our machine a few years ago when our hard drive croaked and we had to get a new one and sorta start from scratch. The whole backing up wasn't too bad, but every damn time I tried to restore their system from the backup, Vista gave me an error message, "The Backup and Restore, blah blah, has stopped working." So I couldn't select the extra hard drive (they have a C and a D, two partitions, I guess), and when I saved MOST of the 66 backup files from D onto a blank DVD (checking every single damn file to see which ones were most critical, since I would have needed two DVDs to get all 66 parts), I couldn't select the DVD drive either --- it just kept giving me that freaking error message. So finally, I just started copying pieces from the backup files over onto the now-mostly-clean C drive -- moving documents, favorites, etc., folder by folder, or file by file. I wish I'd just checked with a computer-savvy friend or co-worker to fix it for us, but I was obsessed with getting it done ASAP. I must have done more good than harm, because the thing that was driving us crazy -- the endless "installing updates" on shutdown, that wouldn't actually install the updates OR shut down the computer, so we'd finally give up and push the power button -- has not recurred since then. AND, copious updates have been installed or re-installed without hanging up the system.

Black Friday: Kyle went out shopping with Jeff and Stacy to Wal-Mart, and that lucky kid got an iPod Touch 4th generation. I also got an iPhone for Jeff as an early anniversary gift, so Kyle spent most of the weekend trying to "FaceTime" with his dad. It's a little goofy making "FaceTime" calls to people who are in the same house. I'm staying with my 2nd generation Touch since it has all my apps, e-books, data, music, & podcasts on it. I mean, like I really want to start over with a new period calendar app after last month's period from hell. (See post about Coumadin, a few weeks ago. On the 13th day, God had mercy on Marie and the period finally slowed down & stopped. Marie was overjoyed, but is not looking forward to the next period & expects it to be just as bad as the last.) Jeff and Kyle both went with me to Hastings later in the morning, where I didn't go TOO hog-wild over books: I got two used books for me, 40% off of each, two used books Ryan had requested, plus two new copies of young adult books because all the kids' & YA books were buy one, get one free, with a 4-hour coupon. The used books I got were The Autograph Man by the superb Zadie Smith, and The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society, the book group's selection for January. (We're taking December off.) The YA books were Before I Die by Jenny Downham, and The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian by Sherman Alexie.

I have to take a minute to thank Jeff. He had a basketball game tonight, and because it was an early game (630pm), he let the boys go with him so they could watch his game. After they came home, he said he'd take them out to get gas in the car, and stop by Grandma's so they could visit, while he brought her van over to the gas station to fill it up. There's no way I could have written this post -- and it surely wouldn't have been this lengthy -- if he hadn't taken the boys out tonight, TWICE. I told him I'd be done when they got back, so I'm going to close here to get a head start, before the garage door signals their return. ;-)

Sunday, November 14, 2010

Super-short update on books & reading

Over Saturday and Sunday, I managed to do some amount of cleaning in every room of our house. I was listening to the audio version of The Help by Kathryn Stockett, and it was fabulous. While dusting bookshelves, I started pulling out books to remove from my collection -- but not too many of them, I admit. I finished the audiobook today, and also read the last ten pages this morning of the novel Fury by Salman Rushdie. (I enjoyed it, but didn't love it, so I already have it in my small "to be weeded" pile.) So for several hours today, I've been "between books," and am not sure what to pick up next.

Finishing those two books, dusting the shelves and weeding some items from my collection, I began reflecting on my "Read 20 Pages Project" (R20PP). I haven't done as much "sampling" as I'd planned to do when I came up with that project idea. Today, I started thinking, I'd like to take a day off from work and spend the whole thing by myself, reading a chapter or a handful of pages from lots of my TBR books, to get a feel for them, and decide if I really need to keep them, if I think I'd actually enjoy them enough to keep them on the shelves and spend more time with them in the not-too-distant future. Since 2008, I've been keeping lists on LibraryThing of how many books I read each calendar year. Now I'm thinking, I shouldn't focus on finishing so many, and should sample more of them. Perhaps that will be a plan for the new year, which will be coming sooner than we expect: instead of trying to read 40 or 50 books, maybe I'll make a resolution to "sample" or "examine" 75 or 100.

Just some bookish ideas floating through my head. Getting late, gotta get ready for bed.

Thursday, November 11, 2010

This is your life. And THIS is your life on Coumadin.

For about three weeks, I've been taking the drug warfarin (approximate pronunciation WORF-uh-rin), the generic version of Coumadin. Coumadin is an anticoagulant, meaning it thins your blood to relieve blood clots in the body, and/or to prevent them from forming. It's a powerful medicine, salvation for some people, but dangerous and potentially deadly as well. I'm taking it to reduce the chance of developing emboli in my carotid artery, or a blood clot in my brain, due to my carotid artery dissection. For me, Coumadin is reducing the likelihood of my having a stroke or other problems caused by the dissection. I'm very glad that Coumadin (warfarin) exists, and I'm grateful to be taking it, but man, it sure requires some adjustments in everyday activities.

The picture above, of my arms, illustrates two important things to know about Coumadin. First, you will bruise easily. Second, you'll need to get blood drawn regularly to monitor your Protime/INR level, which indicates how fast your blood clots. I had mine drawn twice a week for the first two weeks, and started a once-per-week schedule today. I've been on 2.5 mg per day for about ten days, and am hoping the results of today's lab will be in the right range and not require a change of dose. Getting labs drawn regularly (more often in the first days), and adjusting the dosage, also means playing phone tag with your doctor's office, to find out what dose you need to take that night or the next day. Again, settling into a "routine" of having lab work weekly or bi-weekly, should greatly lessen the amount of phone tag you'll need to play.

Let's briefly review number one, "you will bruise easily." When taking an anticoagulant, you need to be more careful of yourself. I've been avoiding the main area of the basketball court, before and after Kyle and Ryan's games, trying to stay along the edges of the court, and watching for any loose balls coming my way. I'm trying to be more careful in the tight spaces around the house, to avoid bumping into furniture. Basically, I'm paying more attention to what I do, and the area I occupy, physically, at any given time, to avoid risky situations or unsafe movements as best I can.

The handout I got with my prescription is full of precautions. For instance, I have to avoid eating "large amounts of leafy green vegetables," and other foods that contain a lot of Vitamin K, because "too much Vitamin K can lower the effect of warfarin." This is the first situation in my life where being a "vegephobic" is a good thing for me! Seriously, it doesn't say to avoid these things, but not to go overboard on things like lettuce, cabbage, or spinach. But, it DOES say, in bold type, to "avoid drinking cranberry juice or eating cranberry products." No explanation, just avoid them!

I knew already that people taking Coumadin shouldn't take aspirin, but I didn't realize that ibuprofen could also interact with it. I'm now taking extra strength acetaminophen for my headaches, and took the ibuprofen out of my purse. Of course, I have to be extra-careful to try not to cut myself, and be ready to get a bandage and apply a lot of pressure to the cut if I do. Several people have already mentioned that, surrounded by books and paper, I need to watch out for paper cuts. I can't tell if they're kidding. I seriously doubt that a paper cut could do me in, but as I said, I know where to get a bandage in a hurry.

Finally, my absolute biggest problem with taking this medicine, and I don't care if this is "too much information," is how it's affecting my menstrual period. It's no surprise that a blood thinner would have some impact on my period. I was already having a couple of really heavy days each month, and I've also had some between-period spotting, off and on for over two years now. Sure enough, days two and three of my period, last Friday and Saturday, were extra-heavy, and that was normal. Days four and five weren't bad, somewhat lighter. Before Coumadin, my period was usually five days, occasionally six, but the last two days were always lighter. With Coumadin, day six was heavier than day five, and day seven was some of the heaviest bleeding I can ever recall having. Today is day eight, and not as bad as yesterday, but no picnic, I can tell you that. I still felt globs of blood coming out of me, multiple times today -- TODAY, on DAY EIGHT, for crying out loud!

I called my doctor -- my regular doctor -- to touch base with her about it today, and when the nurse called me back, she assured me it's to be expected. I told her if I'm still bleeding sometime next week, they'll be hearing from me again, and she said I could call Monday if I still have it. Monday -- that will be day twelve. I bought a 44-pack of "Super - Long" Always pads yesterday (did I mention I'm using larger pads exclusively now? I don't trust the regular size to handle the flood), and it says right on the package, "3-month supply!" and I thought, "Let's see how fast I can blow through these!" I'd already almost used up the two 16-packs I got last week. So I feel gross, but also very annoyed, because really, what constitutes "heavier than normal" bleeding or a "prolonged" menstrual period? I was hoping that a couple of super-heavy days might mean a SHORTER period, and instead I have to hold out till Day Twelve, and then ... I don't know, find out if I've become anemic? See how much money I've spent on maxi pads by then? Have someone tell me I should have called the doctor sooner? Or, as long as I'm still functioning -- not fainting, sleeping, confused, or soaking through my clothes -- maybe they'll check my hematocrit, verify it's all right, and say, "Just hang in there!"

So, I guess my point is, if your doctor feels that you really need to take an anticoagulant, prepare to make a few changes in your lifestyle or everyday activities, perhaps small changes in the foods you eat if you love cranberries or green leafy vegetables, and know the dangers of taking Coumadin, but that your doctor feels the benefits outweigh the risks in your situation. And if you're a woman of childbearing age who still has menstrual periods, stock up on those feminine supplies, because honey, you're gonna need them.

Saturday, November 6, 2010

What we learned in Kansas City (from the handsome doctor)

Jeff and I went to Kansas City on Wednesday, to consult with an interventional radiology specialist about my condition. The neurologist I’ve been seeing here in Topeka referred me to KC to review my case, and my various X-rays, to determine whether more films need to be taken (and if so, when), and what other steps might be necessary.

Apparently I never spelled out, here on the blog, what’s actually causing my Horner syndrome. I had my additional MRI and CT scans on October 20, and met with the neurologist on October 21. The CT angiogram of my neck showed a dissection in my left internal carotid artery. The explanation in Wikipedia is the clearest I’ve seen:

Carotid artery dissection is a separation of the layers of the artery wall supplying oxygen-bearing blood to the head and brain, and is the most common cause of stroke in young adults. (While generic dissection can imply any kind of tear, cut or other breach in a tissue, in this context of vascular medicine, dissection is a blister-like de-lamination between the outer and inner walls of a vessel, generally originating with a partial leak in the inner lining.)

I started taking Coumadin that same evening – an anti-coagulant to thin my blood, to reduce the chance of clots forming along that artery and moving up into my brain, and help prevent me from having a stroke or other less severe, but still serious, vascular problems.

Looking at my films on the disk we brought, Dr. Martin (the interventional radiology neurologist specialist) agreed with the course of treatment my neurologist had begun: continue on Coumadin, and repeat the CT angiogram about six to eight weeks after the first one, to make sure the dissection hasn’t gotten any worse. As long as that result is good, we’ll carry on with the Coumadin, and go back to KC in five to six months so Dr. Martin can do an angiogram to make sure the dissection has healed. If it has, I can stop taking the Coumadin, but will then switch to aspirin, and probably need to take that daily for the rest of my life. If the dissection is worse, we'd do the angiogram sooner, and decide if a stent would be appropriate.

Other things Jeff and I learned from Dr. Martin:

• We can’t just look at my left eye to see if the dissection is healed, because there’s a good chance my left eye and eyelid might never “go back to normal.”

• I probably have fibromuscular dysplasia, or FMD, which Dr. Martin said “sounds worse than it really is.” I think the angiogram will confirm whether or not I have it. He said FMD is quite common, and it’s usually discovered incidentally when they’re checking something else.

• How did my dissection happen? Although Wikipedia uses the terms “spontaneous” and “traumatic,” leading me to think my case was “spontaneous,” Dr. Martin said it probably happened the week before my Horner syndrome symptoms appeared, when I had stomach flu. I spent all of that Saturday, September 18, throwing up. I barely touched anything all day, not even sips of liquid until pretty late in the afternoon, but still I was heaving, off and on, for close to 12 hours. The next day, my upper chest was sore. The force of the vomiting likely caused the dissection – and perhaps I was “predisposed” to that injury because of the (probable) FMD. Anyway, it wasn’t really a trauma, but probably falls into the “traumatic” category.

• But wait … the stomach flu was a full week before the Horner’s symptoms; how can that have caused the dissection? We already knew that Horner syndrome is pretty rare, and yet it can be caused by a wide variety of conditions. A dissection in the carotid artery, whatever the cause, is more common, but rarely results in Horner syndrome. So, the dissection could certainly have occurred on September 18, with the Horner’s symptoms appearing a week later.

• Speaking of my left eye, when Dr. Martin began his examination, shining the light into one eye, then the other, he said something like, “It’s too bad we don’t have any med students here today; they could see a great example of Horner syndrome.” Even though I’ve known for weeks that’s what it is, it’s still really cool to hear a specialist say, “Yes, that’s what you have.” And, he told me he HAS had Horner’s patients in the past, which gave me an even greater sense of security. I haven’t always been impressed by my neurologist in Topeka, but I think he referred me to a good department, where they see this condition a lot and know what to do.

• If the affected artery were to end up completely blocked, it’s still possible I could function normally and continue in decent health. Dr. Martin said there are four channels, and if one no longer worked, sometimes the amount of blood circulating through the other three is enough to keep the brain healthy.

• I can continue most of my everyday activities, and do moderate exercise, without much concern. He said I should “avoid heavy lifting that puts a strain on” my neck, and avoid exercise and sports that could do the same. He gave ballet as an example – but we all know I wasn’t doing that anyway. ;-) But I should be able to get back on the treadmill anytime for some long walks, with no problems.

• Things that could signal a worsening of my condition: if I suddenly can’t see colors, or have blind spots – and these things would only happen with my left eye. If the problem isn’t with the artery or nerves, but in my brain, it would affect the left side of my brain, and therefore the right side of my body.

• Did I mention Dr. Martin is really nice-looking? He’s soooo cute, actually reminded me of the “love-of-my-life” guy I met and dated when I was 20 and he was 19. I got this picture of the good doctor from the hospital website, but he looks better in real life – and his hair is a bit longer and thicker now than in the photo. Yes, he’s very easy on my asymmetrical eyes!

I’m sure there are other things I’m not recalling now – three days later – but I think I hit all the main points. I’ll post more about the injury and its treatment as things progress and I learn more, and any more developments or changes in my condition. But overall, the consultation eased my mind, and made me feel less worried about the outcome. And I feel really lucky that I developed Horner syndrome, so we could be proactive and work to prevent a stroke or other vascular illness or injury. I got a warning sign, where so many people don’t, and I had a couple of doctors who were determined to help me get to the bottom of it. Some Higher Power must be looking out for me, again. * waving * Thanks a lot, up there!

Monday, November 1, 2010

A video & picture of me, & more info about Horner Syndrome

Jeff recorded this video of me about a week ago. It's my introduction to the uncommon condition called Horner Syndrome.

I didn't say anything in my video about the third symptom that's usually mentioned, an absence of sweating on some areas of the affected side of the face, because unless it's deep summer or you're exercising a lot, you're not likely to notice it.

Because you can't really see my different-sized pupils in the video, here's another cropped photo of me, with my glasses on, that really shows the difference:

There are a handful of sites where I found helpful and interesting information when I started researching my symptoms, and then Horner Syndrome specifically. The main page for Horner Syndrome on the Mayo Clinic site is a very good place to start:

If you click from that first page over to "Causes," you'll see a few of the biggies (stroke, tumor, cluster or migraine headaches), but also this straightforward explanation of what the "sympathetic nerves" are, and why only one side of the face is affected:
Sympathetic nerves in your face don't pass directly from your brain to your face. Instead, they start in an area of your brain known as the hypothalamus, travel through the brainstem and then down your spinal cord to enter your chest. From your chest, they go back up your neck, next to the main arteries that deliver blood to your head (carotid arteries), into your skull and then to your eyes. If the nerves are injured at any point along this route, Horner syndrome can result. Signs and symptoms of Horner syndrome usually occur on only one the side of your face because separate sympathetic nerves control each side.

A good article from eMedicine with fairly technical/medical terms, but includes some historical information, and more details about physical characteristics and the wide range of causes -- including mine, carotid artery dissection:

A "Can you identify this condition?" piece from a Canadian medical journal:
(Note that the link on the "Answer" page goes to a different "Question," where you'll see a picture of "hairy tongue," which I am so glad I don't have! Blech!!)
(Citation: Johnson, Davin; and Sanjay Sharma. "Ophthaproblem: Can you identify this condition?" Canadian Family Medicine, Vol. 56, No. 5, May 2010, p.439ff)

This is the abstract for an article with the specified objective, "To demonstrate the importance of thorough investigation of patients with Horner syndrome, and to explain the relevant anatomy." It's a recent case study, as the article was just published this year.
(Full citation: Costello, D.; J. Salmon; C. Milford; P. Pretorius. "A rare cause of Horner Syndrome." The Journal of Laryngology & Otology (2010), 124: 925-927; Cambridge University Press)

A "pictorial essay" from a medical journal, with complicated medical terms and photos from radiology films. For the diehard medical buffs.
(Citation: Nagy, Aurangzeb N., et al. "Horner's Syndrome due to first-order neuron lesions of the oculosympathetic pathway." American Journal of Roentgenology, v. 169, no. 2, p. 581-584, 1997.)

The Genetic and Rare Diseases (GARD) Information Center, on the National Institutes of Health (NIH) website, has little info about Horner's, but links to a variety of other resources that might be helpful. I found the solid eMedicine link through this page, so it's worth a few minutes of poking around.
(Note that they use "Horner" on the page, but "Horner's" in the title and the url.)

The National Organization for Rare Disorders (NORD) has a short description of the syndrome, links to other entities that may also be helpful, and the option to purchase a full-text report for the not-too-bad price of $7.95. In spite of the limited info there, I'm including the link because I love this sentence:

The underlying causes can vary enormously, from a snake or insect bite to a neck trauma made by a blunt instrument.

That's right, almost anything might cause Horner's, so good luck figuring it out! ;-)

That's what I've got for now. I also found a handful of books through Google Books searches that helped me out, and a couple of informative YouTube videos as well. But, I'll try to share the best of those resources in subsequent posts. I'll also post more about the cause of MY case of Horner Syndrome, internal carotid artery dissection, as I learn more about it. I'm going to see a specialist at a Kansas City hospital in two days. So, more to follow, as I'm able to write and post it.

Saturday, October 30, 2010

My long-delayed review of Great House by Nicole Krauss

(I really love the way the words dominate the cover. I always hear them in my head when I look at the book: "Nicole. KRAUSS. Great. HOUSE." It reinforces the rhyme.)

Thank you to W. W. Norton & Company, and to LibraryThing, for the advance reader's copy of the novel Great House by Nicole Krauss. I won the ARC through the LibraryThing Early Reviewers program.

The minute I finished reading The History of Love by Nicole Krauss a couple of years ago, I brought the book up to my face and lightly kissed the top edge of the cover. If the book cover were a face, and had a forehead, that’s about the spot where I would have been kissing it, on its forehead. It’s an excellent novel, it kept me guessing, the writing was wonderful, and it probably came into my reading life at the perfect time.

Because I had enjoyed The History of Love so much, I was very happy to find out that I’d won a copy of Krauss’s new novel, Great House, from W. W. Norton, through LibraryThing’s Early Reviewer’s program. I received an ARC of the book on Sept. 13, and finished reading it on Sept. 26. Yes, that was about five weeks ago; health-related issues delayed the writing of this review, which I actually started writing TWO weeks ago. I’m embarrassed that it’s taken me so long to write this (and finish writing it), but I think the additional time I’ve thought about the book has led me to view it more positively – so there’s the silver lining to my delay.

I remember at least two different narrators from Krauss’s previous novel. In this one, there are four, each one narrating two chapters. One other review of I saw of Great House noted a "sameness" to the narrators, that it was somewhat difficult to distinguish between them. I don’t think that’s entirely fair. The History of Love had a man in his sixties and a teenage girl, who are bound to speak very differently. Great House has two women and two men, both of the men in their sixties or seventies. The narrator of the “True Kindness” chapters reminds me of Leo from the earlier book, and his is the most distinctive and “interesting” of the narrative voices, but I enjoyed all four in different ways, and became caught up with all four storylines.

Possible Spoilers Ahead!
I try not to include spoilers, except maybe when I’m writing about classics, but some of what I say about Great House could be considered “spoilery,” so proceed with caution. In the blurb on the back of the book (at least of my ARC), after some talk about the different characters (and their basic storylines), it says, “These worlds are anchored by a desk of enormous dimension and many drawers that exerts a power over those who possess it or give it away.” The back of the book actually talks about three of the four main storylines. As I read the book, I kept track of when, and how long, a character owned the massive desk. Toward the end of the book, I found that one of the storylines apparently had nothing to do with The Desk, and I felt a bit cheated, because here I was expecting to find The Desk in every narrator’s story. Near the very end of one of the other stories, one of the characters from the “non-Desk story” intersects with a character from one of the three “main” (Desk) stories.

When I first finished the novel, I confess I was a little disappointed. The writing was excellent, and as I said, the stories and characters certainly held my interest, even if I never felt close to kissing the book. My feeling about the non-Desk storyline was, Why the hell was it in there at all? The other feeling I had was that I wanted MORE – that if Krauss was going to bring two characters together from different story arcs very late in the novel, it would be nice if we could see where it might be going, not just, “Oh hey, that’s THAT guy. Huh, that’s interesting. I guess I hope he doesn’t die.” In the weeks since I finished reading the book, I’ve changed my mind about this. I’ve decided that, rather than spelling out what happens to the two characters, or giving “hints” so strong or obvious that we’ll know the outcome, Krauss leaves it up to the reader to guess what happens, and I’m okay with that. My take on it goes like this: One character lost The Desk that she’d owned for 25 years, represented her writing successes, and reminded her of the person who’d previously owned it, and the other character had given up so much, and was now close to losing his life. I think he WILL survive, and ultimately they can help one another rebuild their lives.

The novel follows The Desk back and forth through time – and in fact, the way Krauss bends the timeline in the different story arcs can make the reader a bit dizzy, a little bit lost in the Great House. One character’s actions, both long in the past and in the “present” of the novel’s main story, and that character’s obsessive desire to find and claim The Desk, impact nearly everyone else in the novel, to a greater or lesser degree. The need to recapture the past, taken to such an extreme, shuts out any hope for the future, not just for the person who looks only to the past, but often for those closest to them. Krauss allows hopeful (not immediately “happy”) endings for those who remember the past, but strive to live in the present. And throughout, of course, the writing is gorgeous.

Sunday, October 24, 2010

S.A.D. = Seasonal Affective Disaster

Yes, late October this year is about the same as late October every other year, when I'm ready to sob nearly every day, and usually for reasons insignificant or unclear. Crying jag last Monday evening, crying jag again last night, angry and moody moments today. But this year is different because of Horner's syndrome, and because I found out on Thursday that my case of Horner's is probably caused by a dissection in my left internal carotid artery. I've started taking Coumadin, and I'm supposed to not do too much, and try to avoid stress. HA!

No time for more details now, just posting a picture and this blurb because my efforts the past several days to upload a short video that we made (about Horner's syndrome) have failed again and again. My plan is to post the video on YouTube, then post it here on the blog with links to additional information, some of the more helpful pages I've found. Once that is finally done, hopefully we can do a few more videos as we learn more about this condition with my carotid artery, and look at treatment options.

Saturday, October 23, 2010

I wish I had time to review books...

I have books on my bedside table that I've read and had hoped to review, or at least babble about briefly, here on my blog. Now, I'm trying to put a few things in better order (mostly paperwork that needs our attention, or just needs to be sorted out, examined, then filed or recycled), and I noticed that a couple of books on the bottom of the bedside table piles (two piles) have been there quite some time. How long? Well, Anagrams by Lorrie Moore, which I finished reading on Sept. 10. Nightwork by Christine Schutt, which I finished reading on Sept. 3. The partly cloudy patriot by Sarah Vowell, which oh-my-God I finished on Aug. 3, at least two and a half months ago -- and I read it within three days!!!

Okay, I'm going to put a few of these books away, or at least take them off of my bedside table and get them closer to where they really belong, and then decide on my next task. I have more posts planned about my health issues, but other duties are also in line for my attention. So, more to follow pretty soon, I hope!

Thursday, October 21, 2010

Short health update, in longhand

I recently decided to keep an old notebook (actually a cool "blank book" I've had for quite a while) close by me, and hope to jot down activities and thoughts as they happen. I wrote these pages yesterday morning before my radiology tests, and early this morning. More to follow, I hope sooner than later.

Wednesday, October 13, 2010

FreeVerse: A fragment, or draft

Just got this into my head and wanted to "jot it down," might try to expand it more later, or might not.

A year ago tonight, my mother passed away.
In the Eastern Time Zone, it's tomorrow,
but here in Kansas, it was, it's still, today.

Imagine the many words we couldn't say
will be fiery red flowers bursting through snow
this winter. It could be beautiful. I'll stay.

(I don't have time to put up the FreeVerse button and I have no idea if anyone's even hosting it anymore -- sorry!!!!!)

Friday, October 8, 2010

Read-a-Thon only hours away, finally signing up

My life has been a complete zoo for WEEKS now, and I'm so excited to have a Saturday with nothing scheduled for our whole family except a much-needed haircut for me (YAY!), and the 24-Hour Read-a-Thon, a totally awesome excuse for me to REST and READ and not do housework and try to avoid anything else I don't want to deal with. My goal for the Read-a-Thon is to finish at least one of the books I've got "in progress," a total of four of them, all print books, which is very unusual for me. I usually have one audiobook, and one or maybe two print books, so if I can finish one or two of these, it will feel like good progress. Kafka is the priority there, because the book group discussion is next Tuesday evening.

Two of the books in the pile below are NOT books in progress. I finished reading Great House by Nicole Krauss almost two weeks ago, and since I got it from LibraryThing, I need to write a review, and soon -- so I might take a break from reading to write that review. The other unread is A Dog Called Kitty by Bill Wallace, which my older son loved, and my younger son must like it as well because he's been bothering me to read it for several weeks now. It would be a great change of pace if I feel I need to dial things down for a while.

No great expectations, just some quality reading time, some peace and quiet, and finish at least one of the books I've already started. Happy Read-a-Thon, everyone!

Monday, October 4, 2010

Incomplete update: I'm doing ok -- plus a photo!

In the nearly three weeks since my last post (my visit to the wonderful Avol's Books, during my work trip to Wisconsin for the MTKN and Transportation Library Connectivity Pooled Fund Meetings), I've had a couple of serious migraines, including one paired with a day-long stomach flu, and one linked with some bizarre changes in my left eye. I'm so tired of telling the story, I won't tell it all here, again. I saw my eye doctor today (optometrist), and he's referring me to an ophthalmologist, so I'll have to tell it at least once more.

I'll give a quick timeline, which some of my Facebook friends are familiar with. A week ago yesterday, I went to a clinic, and the physician assistant suggested I go to the ER to get a CT scan of my head, because my pupils were different sizes (among other things), and it could have been a sign of something serious. I had the CT, but the docs wanted to do an MRI and have a neurologist see me, so they admitted me. I waited from about 5pm Sunday for my MRI and MRA until after 8 pm Tuesday night. They did an MRA of my brain, plus MRI of brain, head, and neck. (If you've never had an MRI, be advised: THEY ARE VERY, UNPLEASANTLY LOUD.) They must have ruled out all the major issues, because they read the films STAT, and I found out within half an hour (yes, 940pm) that they wanted to discharge me. (!!)

So, I was sick a few days, and later I spent some days "off the grid" in the hospital when I didn't feel nearly as sick as the week before, and my left eyelid is still droopy and my left pupil is still smaller (see photo, taken tonight). Except for some side effects from a new migraine-prevention med, including some sleepiness during the day, I'm actually feeling all right. My vision is fine and has been the whole time. Hopefully I'll have more definite news pretty soon, as well as some book-related news and at least one review. I'm hoping to participate in the Read-a-thon this coming Saturday, and FINISH one of the several books I've got going now.

Wednesday, September 15, 2010

Some pictures of Book Nirvana, aka Avol's in Madison

The only thing I knew I wanted to do while at this work conference in Madison, Wisconsin, was to return to Avol's Books. We had a meeting in Madison in maybe 2007, and I was blown away by this store. I spent about 45 minutes there tonight after dinner, until it closed at 9pm, and I could have browsed at least another half hour. I also have to say, I was very good: I only bought one book, and it's one that had been on my wishlist/watch list for over a year. It's called Passionate Minds: Women Rewriting the World. Plus, it was only $6.50, and it's in great shape! Yay!!!

Without further ado, a few shots from inside Avol's. The blue paper you see in the fourth picture has a "map" of the store, where the different rooms are and what topics are included in each section. Yes, there are that many rooms. :-D

Monday, September 13, 2010

Hastings book sales I couldn't resist

I can't believe I haven't posted in two weeks. Time goes by too damn quickly! And, time is at a premium this week, as I'm off to Madison, Wisconsin tomorrow afternoon for two days of work conferences. I'll start packing after I finish this post ... and after the furnace guy is done here at my house. ;-)

I've failed miserably in my attempt to buy fewer books this year. This must be at least exhibit 19:

And here come the excuses:
I got an e-mail from Hastings several weeks ago with an offer of 30% off the price of used books, online only. Now, the bricks-and-mortar Hastings here in Topeka does have clearance racks and periodic sales on used and value (discount/remainder) books, and I've gotten good deals many times. But for the used books in the regular shelves, unless they've been kicking around there a while, unsold, even the used price is often more than I can justify paying unless there's a special sale or coupon that week.

I'd never really looked at the prices and selection online, figuring most of the prices would be comparable to what's in the store. But I'm here to tell you now, some of the prices are incredibly low, like in the $2.00 to $4.00 range. I searched a few titles and authors, and on the last day of the 30% off sale, I went a little nuts. I got five of the six books in the picture through that sale, total of $15.95 including shipping, and the most I paid for a single book, after the 30%discount was applied, was only $2.04. I WIN!

So, my first excuse is the amazing prices plus the additional discount. My second excuse is, three of those five books were already on my "wishlist" and had been for a year or two, specifically: The Zen of Eating: Ancient Answers to Modern Weight Problems by Ronna Kabatznick, Misgivings: My Mother, My Father, Myself, a memoir by the poet C. K. Williams, and Now That My Father Lies Down Beside Me, a poetry collection by Stanley Plumly. The other two were by authors I'd previously read and enjoyed -- and I've mentioned both on this blog -- Eavan Boland and Christine Schutt. One of the coolest things, for me, was that the five books were shipped from different places, so I got a book in the mail every day for a week, skipping only the Sunday and Labor Day holiday when there was no mail. I thought, "I could totally get used to this!!!" Did I mention that all five books only cost $15.95? Oh, I did. ;-) Also, they are all in very good condition, and a few of them don't even have remainder marks on them. Happy happy, book joy!

The sixth book in the pile is The Invisible Circus by Jennifer Egan, which I bought at my Hastings store the weekend before last. They had a tent set up in the packing lot with many used clearance books, and also some movies, music, and games. The books were "Buy one at the clearance price of $2.99, get a second book for one cent." ONE CENT!!! I ended up with four books: the Egan novel for me, two books for my kids, and one -- I hope you're sitting down! -- for Jeff. The last is called Why My Wife Thinks I'm an Idiot: the Life and Times of a Sportscaster Dad by Mike Greenberg, of ESPN's Mike and Mike. Jeff's been reading it on his lunch breaks at work, and it's right up his alley. ("See?" I said. "Reading is great, you just need to have the right books!") Let's recap that day's purchases: four books, but only one of them was actually for me. ;-)

The furnace guy is almost done, so I will close and start some packing soon. Later this week, I'll squeeze in a trip to the fantabulous Avol's Books in Madison, and then Friday is Friends Night at the annual Friends of TSCPL Book Sale. Book heaven, here I come!

Sunday, August 29, 2010

A few thoughts on book love and The Passage

Around the summer of 1986, I read my first Dean Koontz novel, Strangers. I'd never read anything like it, and it's still my favorite of all the Koontz books I've read. It was something like 630 pages, hardcover, and I read it in five or six days. How deeply engrossed was I in Strangers? I still remember coming downstairs one night to find my mom and brother asking me if I'd heard all the racket outside, and I said I hadn't. There'd been several police cars on our street earlier in the evening, because a guy had apparently overdosed on something, and was sitting in a car, naked, just a couple buildings down from us. Even now, I don't mind that I missed all that excitement, because reading Strangers was way more entertaining than anything happening in my real world.

For the past two weeks, I've been reading The Passage by Justin Cronin. I first heard about it on a Books on the Nightstand podcast, and several of the book bloggers I follow read advance copies and were raving about it. My favorite review is this one from Trish at Hey Lady! Whatcha Readin'? I love how she's practically begging people, "Don't be that guy!" -- the one who refuses to read The Passage because of some bias against this or that kind of book. Basically, there are enough reviews of this book online that I don't feel obligated to write a "review." And I also want to say that while book hype often turns me off, I've wanted to read this one ever since I heard about it on Books on the Nightstand.

So, having purchased the hardcover for half off at Hastings back in June, I finally picked it up and started reading it right after my August book group meeting. I wasn't overwhelmed right from the start, but by about page 50, I was really enjoying it. I found myself reading whenever I had 15 minutes (or more!) to focus on it: on many of my breaks at work, while eating supper at home, during the evening if I could, and before going to sleep. (And of course, I was up later than I should have been.) Reading The Passage reminded me of reading Strangers, that same kind of total immersion in another world that true book lovers are always seeking. As Stephen King's blurb on the back cover says, "Read this book and the ordinary world disappears."

Speaking of Stephen King, I was also reminded of his book The Stand as I read this. (I'm really NOT a huge horror/thriller fan; The Stand is the only King I've read so far, and Koontz has written MANY more books than what I've read.) It's a different kind of virus, but the idea of only small pockets of people surviving the crisis, corpses scattered across the country, and the scarcity of resources from "the Time Before" is similar to King's epic. And yes, the character of Auntie is reminiscent of Mother Abigail.

But in spite of these similarities and echoes, The Passage didn't seem derivative to me. It's huge, chaotic, and exciting. In spite of my busy life, I read this 766-page novel, every page, in only two weeks. I actually felt a letdown for a day or two after I finished it. (My reply to Stephen King: Finish reading this book, and fall back into your regular humdrum life.) It's full of characters I came to care about, some even to love. When my book group met to discuss A Division of the Spoils, the last book in Paul Scott's Raj Quartet, maybe 11 years ago, I confessed to everyone, "I'm in love with Guy Perron!" As I read the final chapters of The Passage this past week, I thought to myself, "I'm in love with Peter Jaxon!"

The Passage is the first book in a proposed trilogy, and while some things were resolved in the book, additional questions were raised near the end, and there is room for a lot more story to be told. I'm definitely going to read the next book; Cronin has me completely hooked. Visit the website, and consider taking this amazing trip for yourself.

Tuesday, August 24, 2010

Top Not-Quite-Ten Books I Haven't Read

I only have about 20 minutes to spare, and debated going for a walk outside, spending time on the treadmill instead, reading an extra 20 minutes of The Passage, and then I happened to pull up my iGoogle page and glance at the newest posts in my Google Reader. Allie over at A Literary Odyssey posted the top ten books she hasn't read. Of course, I instantly thought of a few books that I can't believe I haven't read, at least not yet, and I decided to give this a try. I'm flying by the seat of my pants and have no idea if I'll even reach ten. By the way, this meme is hosted over at The Broke and the Bookish, a blog I'd never seen before but hope to check out again soon. ;-)

1. The Feminine Mystique by Betty Friedan. I consider myself a feminist, and I graduated from Smith College, same as Ms. Friedan herself. I didn't even own a copy of the book until a few years ago... shame, shame!

2. Anything by Gloria Steinem, and I have three books by her. Another groundbreaking feminist writer who graduated from Smith, what kind of jerk am I that I haven't read even one of the three books yet?

3. The Odyssey by Homer. Allie's blog title reminded me of this one. I've read parts of this, but not the whole thing, not even half of it.

4. The Complete Tales of Washington Irving. The thing about this one is, I got it when I subscribed to the International Collectors' Library, i.e. classics in bindings that appear to be higher quality than they really are. I think I stopped getting them before 1992. I don't think I've read even one of the tales in this book! And yet I never think of weeding it from my collection. I just know that someday I'll read it and love it!

5. Time in Its Flight by Susan Fromberg Schaeffer. I've mentioned a few times before how much I love love love nearly all of the books I've read by SFS. Of the ones I have but haven't yet read, I think this is the oldest.

6. Manufacturing Consent: the Political Economy of the Mass Media by Edward S. Herman & Noam Chomsky. I'm pretty sure I bought this around 1997, after seeing a video about Chomsky that was also called Manufacturing Consent, when I was in grad school. This is one I've thought many times, I should either try to read it (at least SOME of it!) or give in and weed it, and still it sits on my shelf, I can't let it go.

7. Walden by Thoreau. Long on my shelf, and I listened to a couple hours of the audio, but didn't finish.

8. Of Mice and Men by Steinbeck. Some of the books everyone read in high school, I never got to because I dropped out. This one slipped through the cracks. I did read East of Eden for a book group meeting, though, and that one's a LOT longer. ;-)

9. Little Women by Louisa May Alcott. This was never on my radar until I saw the Winona Ryder movie in early 1995. Love that Christian Bale! * sigh *

There are far too many more of them, I'm sure! And now I've typed too long, need to call my grandmother and check in, before Jeff and the boys get home. But this was so much fun! And also a trifle guilt-inducing ... but I'll think about that tomorrow ... and yes, I have read Gone with the Wind. ;-)

Sunday, August 15, 2010

Back to school / Time passing

The boys go back to school tomorrow. I am already thinking ahead to the next day I'll be able to take the day off from work, now that Jeff has a job again and the boys will be at school, and I'll be able to have a real and true day TO MYSELF. The past couple of weeks at work, I've felt like I've been treading water -- or like I'm a woman on the verge of burnout. It feels wrong to think of taking a day off from work when I have a ton of things to do there, while at the same time the thought of setting aside a day to recharge my batteries sounds tempting and quite heavenly.

That's basically where I'm at: feeling scattered, split in 20 different directions, mostly at work but also sometimes at home. I feel like all the extra stuff I've had to do this year related to work -- going to my first TRB Meeting last January and participating in a poster session, the trip to New Orleans in June for SLA and NTKN (though I fell in love with the city), all my conference calls for the various groups I'm involved with, and the duties that go along with them -- all of this piled on top of my daily work has made it so hard to keep up, to make any sort of progress, and it's worn me down to the point where I wish I could withdraw from all the tasks and activities that aren't directly related to my regular work in my own library. It makes me want to withdraw, period, as far into my books and reading as I can go without losing touch with the "real world." HA! A mental health day wouldn't be enough, I think maybe a mental health WEEK would be much more beneficial!

But beyond the fact that my next day off (whenever I have it) will be a day ALONE, two other things give me a bit of hope: first, that I resigned my spot from one of the groups I was involved with, so that eliminates a two-hour conference call each month, plus occasional duties related to that task force; and second, the conference I'll attend in Madison next month will be shorter than my January and June trips, and is the last work trip I have in the foreseeable future. And also, I've stopped writing conference call minutes, and that has been a relief.

Finally, although yesterday gave me some difficult moods, particularly during our family outing to the bowling alley, I'm pleased that I got my regular housecleaning all done today, and have also been reading a fantastic book in which I can easily lose myself: The Passage by Justin Cronin. I started it on Wednesday or Thursday, and hope to reach page 200 (at least) before I go to bed tonight. It's a true chunkster, over 700 pages, and it is thrilling to me. I love going into a novel and away from my own life for a while.

Friday, August 6, 2010

Yep, I’m still here…and a short reading update

(I wrote this during my break at work yesterday, then forgot to e-mail it home or save it to my flash drive. So even though it's now Friday evening, just pretend that I posted it on Thursday evening.)

In about the past week and a half, I’ve read two books that I completely enjoyed, that were wildly different from one another. First, I read one of my newest acquisitions (gasp!), The Elegance of the Hedgehog by Muriel Barbery. I finished that on Sunday morning, but didn’t quite feel up to writing a review, wanting instead to start reading something else as quickly as possible. I wanted it to be something GOOD, but also different from Hedgehog so I could keep that “mood” in my head a bit longer. I picked up a book that’s been on my shelves for at least five years, The Partly Cloudy Patriot by Sarah Vowell. I started it on Sunday afternoon, and finished it on Tuesday evening – yes, in not much more than 48 hours, I read the whole thing! Truthfully, it’s not a long book, and it’s a fast read, but the fact that I was able to read it so quickly, that just makes me happy. :-)

So here’s the thing: I’d like to blog about both of them, at least a short review with a few quotes, but at the moment, TIME is an issue for me. Our book group meets next week, and we’d planned to read a few short stories by Eudora Welty. I would have started reading those last night, however, the woman leading the discussion is now sick and in the hospital. A quick “Plan B” has formed: to read the novel written by a member of our group, and discuss that at our next meeting. The pros are that several members have the book and/or have already read it. The con for me is, while I did just buy it, I haven’t read it yet, and it’s over 400 pages long. The meeting is five days away. So, I think I can get a decent amount of it read, enough to participate intelligently at next Tuesday’s meeting, but beyond this short update, I probably won’t be writing any other blog posts for about another week. It's hard to not write when I actually have posts in mind that I want to write. But hopefully, I'll be back at it soon.

One positive thought on the topic of TIME: once the boys go back to school, I’ll be able to take the occasional day off and actually have the house to myself, now that Jeff is working again. This simple thought brings me so much quiet contentment and anticipation, I can’t even tell you! My books and my blog should be getting a bit more attention, if I can catch up enough at work to schedule a few days off in the next couple months.

Friday, July 30, 2010

Short birthday post: list of things to do

I'm hoping that if I type out this list real quick, it will help me keep in mind what I've done today and what I still need to do. It's my birthday, and I took the day off work, which is great, but instead of just a relaxing day doing only what I want to do, I had several items on my to-do list ... plus the boys are home with me, and they're being really good (for them!), but they still need breakfast, lunch, internet help, etc., and they periodically want to climb on me and keep me from doing the next thing on my to-do list.

OK, as far as the list...

Laundry is DONE, or at least as much as I needed to do is done, the rest can wait till later or tomorrow.
I checked with Grandma about her home insurance and what she changed to get her rate back down, and then called the insurance agent. STILL TO DO: Go to his office between 130pm and 2pm and sign the updated policy.
Sorted through some old paperwork, put a bunch in recycling box, and have a small stack to shred. STILL TO DO: More sorting and/or shredding, though this is not critical.
STILL TO DO: Some housecleaning, as we have a birthday party/wiffle ball "tournament" tomorrow afternoon and evening, and will have lots of boys over here. Whatever cleaning I can do today, won't need to be done tomorrow morning (when I'm also getting a haircut).
STILL TO DO: Dub the family video from the camcorder over to DVD, and make sure camera is charged for tonight/tomorrow. AND, set DVD recorder for Friday Night Lights -- it's gonna be so great!!!

Maybe if I do this:
Clean first bathroom. Have lunch. Feed lunch to boys. Get myself ready to go out. Call Grandma about boys coming over. Bring boys with me to insurance agent's office (between 130pm and 2pm -- about two hours from now, give or take a few minutes), and sign paperwork. Then bring boys to Grandma's house, and come back home alone to finish as many more tasks from my list as I can.

OK ... on my mark, get set, GET GOING!

Friday, July 23, 2010

Another reason to love Friday Night Lights

Because season four of Friday Night Lights was broadcast on DirecTV before they began showing it on NBC, I'd already seen occasional comments in Entertainment Weekly last winter praising it: yes, some beloved characters are gone or only appear in a few episodes, but you'll soon love these new characters, too. I clearly remember a blurb in the TV Watch section about some powerful work by Zach Gilford, whose character, Matt Saracen, lost his father in the war in Iraq. When I finally saw the episode a few weeks ago, called simply "The Son," I saw for myself why people were buzzing that Gilford should get an Emmy nomination.

A couple weeks ago, the 2010 Primetime Emmy nominations were announced, and unfortunately, Zach Gilford was not nominated for Guest Actor for his performance in "The Son." However, as I found in this post over at Give Me My Remote, that episode did earn a nomination in the category "Outstanding Writing for a Drama Series." It was written by my old college and Crucible acquaintance, Rolin Jones. According to IMDB, he was nominated last year for both an Emmy award and a Writers Guild of America award for his work on the show Weeds, as both producer and writer, but it appears this is his first solo Emmy nomination. (He's been credited as a supervising producer on Friday Night Lights all season. Imagine my surprise when I saw THAT in the opening credits of the season premiere -- but I managed not to fall off the treadmill.) I have no idea what his chances are, or even which other shows are nominated in that category, but how cool would it be if he wins?!?!?

No, I've never met Kyle Chandler or Connie Britton, but I'm over the moon about their acting nominations as well, because they make me believe that I know them, when they're playing Coach Eric and Tami Taylor. They anchor this show, week in and week out, and they've made the Taylors so very real, with human faults, but a greater amount of human beauty and goodness.

Click here for a recap of "The Son" on from last winter, and here for a great piece on GMMR after the episode's NBC airing last month.

Watch NBC's 2-minute replay of "The Son":

And after the scene of Matt and the guys talking on the football field, Matt goes to the Taylors' house for dinner (very late), and his emotions take over:

And if the amazing acting and writing aren't enough to convince you to watch, then ladies, there's always Taylor Kitsch as Tim Riggins. ;-) There's nothing better than Friday Night.

Sunday, July 18, 2010

Short notes on reading, mid-July

I finally just finished my last LibraryThing Early Reviewer book, a short biography of E. M. Forster. It was quite good, and with a block of free time and in the right frame of mind, I could easily have finished it in only one or two days. Instead, it took eleven days. I'm sure it isn't the fault of the book, but all a reflection on me.

I feel not quite ready to write my review, even though I expect it'll be a short one. I procrastinated about starting the book, took more time to read it than I should have -- I think I must wait a day or two before writing the review, keep the pattern consistent! But also, I'm thinking ahead to what's next. I'd like to start reading The Passage, but starting right in tonight isn't a good idea; I need to get ready for bed soon, back to work tomorrow. Perhaps I'll have to grab a book of poetry, and just read a few pages before turning in.

There's one other book I purchased recently that I might have to start on fairly soon. I bought a few books at the library's booktique this past week, and when I entered them into my LibraryThing catalog, that activity was cross-posted to Facebook. A couple of my college friends both commented on that post, specifically about The Elegance of the Hedgehog by Muriel Barbery, which they'd both read. A couple of days later, I picked up the book and read the synopsis and review blurbs while I ate breakfast. Honestly, I'd bought it based upon the fact that it had been widely praised, mentioned on a Books on the Nightstand podcast, I had the sense it was "literary fiction" of the type I'd probably enjoy ... and because it was in great condition and had a bargain price. I really didn't know what the story was about (she said sheepishly). Once I looked at the book flap and back cover, I wanted to start reading it ASAP. But I had the Forster bio on the front burner, and also wondered whether Hedgehog would be too "literary," too complex for the current state of my scattered mind. Oh, but it does sound wonderful!

One more book in my TBR mountain that was recently recommended to me by a friend, is a short novel called The Uncommon Reader by Alan Bennett. In addition to its length, one other note in its favor is that it would count for my Read Your Own Books (RYOB) Challenge, whereas the other two technically wouldn't, as they're recent purchases. I also need to decide on my next audiobook; I've been listening to podcasts in recent days rather than starting another audio. But soon, soon, I will.

Today was not great, of course, but I'd recovered enough from last evening to finish the Forster book, and had only a few teary moments at times during the day -- no explosions of sobbing, no crazy wishes to escape. I did escape, in a way, to the library, for about an hour, only because a book Kyle had requested was ready for pick-up. I browsed some of the poetry, and then spent more time in the booktique, but resisted the urge to check out or purchase anything, except the book for Kyle.

It was so good to spend some time thinking of Forster today, and his beautiful fictions. Thank God for those writers who speak to me across time, some from beyond death, who make me feel, think, and question, who bring me insight, excitement, and knowledge. Thank God for those writers and their books, that comfort me, almost always comfort me.

Saturday, July 17, 2010

What the darkness is like

After an evening of dark thoughts and strong sobbing, some questions move through the front of my mind.

I definitely have too many books. If I got rid of bunches of books, would I feel liberated in some way? Could it help me to then lose bunches of weight, maybe? -- that sense of liberation, however limited it might be?

Am I trapped within the fences of my everyday life, as I so often feel I am? Or am I trapping myself, allowing the endless tangled skeins in my brain to overwhelm whatever clarity and determination might still exist in there?

Can I write my way out of the confusion, if not out of the depression? Even if the sentences I can pull out aren't any good, the act of writing is good in itself, and therapeutic, always. The writing can suck, yet still be "valuable," in that it helps me just to try to express what the darkness is like.

Why do I still have these moods when, for the most part, my anti-depressants seem to keep the worst feelings at bay? I don't want to think about changing medicines. Is there something else I can do to ease some of the pain, to stop myself from breaking, or being broken?

I realize living with a depressed person is not a walk in the park ... or maybe it's that walk through the park after your car died and there's a storm pouring down on you, and a rain-wrapped tornado not too far away. How can a relationship withstand that kind of stress, on-again and off-again, month after month, years upon years?

I'm tired now, and finally might try to go to sleep. I hope to wake feeling better (or even less bad would do), well enough to get some decent reading done tomorrow. To hell with everything else, if I can just steady my mind for a while and read.

Sunday, July 11, 2010

Happy Anniversary to Scout, Atticus, Harper ... and Chris & Harry

Today is the fiftieth anniversary of the publication of To Kill a Mockingbird by Harper Lee. It is one of very few books that I would recommend to anyone, if they haven't read it yet. It's the only book that I recommend to people who don't read very often. During my husband's months of unemployment, I finally got so upset about his not having read it, that he listened to the audiobook. (Sissy Spacek's narration is, in my opinion, as close to perfect as it possibly could be. I love when she reads, as Scout, "'Ain't nobody gonna do Jem that way!'" I've listened to it twice.) There were events held all around the U.S. today, but there are a handful more coming up in the days and weeks ahead. To see the schedule, and find out more about Harper Lee and her truly beautiful book, visit the 50 anniversary website, by HarperCollins Publishers.

In other years, for me, July 11 has marked another anniversary: my parents' wedding. They were married in 1970, forty years ago today. I had a thought this weekend that might sound bizarre, but I found it comforting: that this year, Ma and Da are together for their anniversary for the first time since 2004. He died in May 2005, and she in October 2009. I imagine they are together in heaven today, perhaps dancing to an Elvis Presley song -- a ballad, as my mom was never one to "cut up a rug" to fast songs. (My dad had no shame and would dance to fast songs, to the horror and embarrassment of all the rest of us.) So Happy Anniversary thoughts for Christine and Harry, two damaged people who found one another, brought me into the world, and raised me to be strong enough to leave them.

Monday, June 28, 2010

New books, New Orleans edition

It's too late for a blog post, but if I at least get it started now (Saturday), maybe I can finish and post it tomorrow. I got carried away by bookstores in New Orleans, and bought seven books -- though in my defense, all were used books, and not necessarily cheap but reasonably priced. I found a number of other titles that tempted me, including a first edition of The Injured Party by Susan Fromberg Schaeffer, which was ten dollars at Crescent City Books, but I just couldn't bring myself to buy it since I already have it in hardcover and in a worn and well-loved mass market paperback edition. Seeing SFS books is always bittersweet: on one hand, I'm glad she's out there for people to find, and on the other hand, I feel like I should be buying them because so few people know of her and read her books -- like I need to "rescue" the book, and save it from languishing for however many additional months/years on the shelf, unknown and unloved.

But anyway, back to the bookstores I haunted and the books I did buy. I was so glad one of my librarian friends from DC, Amanda, had a couple of free hours between commitments and wanted to go with me to check out one or two of the stores. This was on Monday of SLA week, about June 14th. We went to Crescent City Books first, but the owner said he'd be open until 8 or 9pm, while Beckham's Bookshop, only a block or two away, was closing at 5pm. So we went to Beckham's for 20 to 30 minutes, until it closed, and if I go back to New Orleans someday, I'll set aside a much longer chunk of time to browse there. They had wi-fi -- I just had to ask for the password -- so I pulled up my LibraryThing wishlist to see what I could find. Unfortunately, I didn't find any of those titles in the time I had, but confirmed that I didn't already have a copy of The Sea, the Sea by Iris Murdoch, so I bought that.

5pm, back to Crescent City Books, though Amanda and I were both getting hungry and thinking of dinner, and she had tentative dinner plans with a few of our other colleagues. While we were in Crescent City, a thunderstorm moved in -- the lightning and thunder even scarier on the second floor, where I was browsing, and Amanda was soon reading and resting on the sofa pictured at the bottom of this page. (I eventually sat down too; the storm kept us there longer than we'd planned.) The owner of Crescent City Books kept his store open later than usual, having heard librarians were in town, and not only was he appreciative when I brought him two books that were mis-shelved, he offered us glasses of wine, since we were there for the conference. He was awesome, his store is wonderful, and I highly recommend stopping by there. (Also, please check if the Susan Fromberg Schaeffer novel is still there, and if it is, please consider buying it!) Yes, I bought three books there, all poetry: Walking to Martha's Vineyard by Franz Wright (which I'd read before, very very good), All the Poems of Muriel Spark, and Station Island by Seamus Heaney.

I already mentioned my Wednesday evening trip to Dauphine Street Books in my previous post. Since I didn't take any pictures of the bookstores myself, I searched for photos of the inside of this one. I found a couple that show just how packed with books this place is. See this one from Flickr member vegetablesandwiches, and a few Picasaweb pix from user trustcate: here, and here, and then here. That last photo in particular will explain why I was thinking about my weight problems while I browsed this store. Seriously, the aisles were too narrow for two people to stand back to back and browse, and I'm really glad the store's owner has a slender build. In addition to the Lydia Davis collection Almost No Memory, I bought Surfacing by Margaret Atwood, and a novel called Hell by Kathryn Davis.

Since I had a good number of new books, I decided to take a book stack photo to include here. The three other books in the photo are ones I bought at Hastings a few days before I went to New Orleans. As usual, I got carried away, but also predictably, I didn't pay full price. The mammoth-size book on the bottom is The Passage by Justin Cronin, which I bought the day it came out for two reasons: once in a great while, I desperately want to own and read a book that's new and "hot," and my curiosity got the better of me on this one and I caved; however, I caved to the tune of $13.50, half off the list price of $27.00, and that amazing new release price for a book this size is the second reason I bought it. I really do hope to read it by the end of the summer. The other two were gently used books about books and reading, found in the bargain shelves for $2.99 each: How Reading Changed My Life by Anna Quindlen, and Shelf Life: Romance, Mystery, Drama, and Other Page-Turning Adventures from a Year in a Bookstore by Suzanne Strempek Shea.

It is late June, and the annual Friends of TSCPL book sale is in September, less than three months away. No more book buying bonanzas until September!

It is also late Monday evening, now, and I need to look this over and get it posted, make more preparations for our trip to Worlds of Fun tomorrow, and hope we can all get a decent amount of sleep before our busy day. Night, readers. ;-)

Wednesday, June 23, 2010

"Every Southern belle is a Mississippi queen..."

When I was about 19 – nearly so, or just-turned 19 – I went with my roommate Janis to New York City for the first time. We drove to Connecticut, and then took a train into the city. I still remember stepping out of Grand Central Station and onto the sidewalk, and into that feeling of being in a city that was completely alive. It was one of those amazing, “Look out, world, I’m ready for anything!” kinds of feelings.

I spent most of last week in New Orleans, for the Special Libraries Association annual conference (Sunday through Wednesday), and the second annual National Transportation Knowledge Network (NTKN) meeting (Thursday). I had a hard time sleeping most every night, yet I rarely felt tired during the day. It seemed that I’d fallen under the city’s spell without realizing it. In New York, half my lifetime ago, I was charged up and ready to experience “the city that never sleeps.” In New Orleans, I wasn’t thinking of anything extraordinary, just hoping for safe travel, an informative conference, and some time to catch up with librarian friends and colleagues. (Well, I also hoped to visit at least one bookstore, since I hadn’t gotten to any on my first Louisiana trip, to Baton Rouge in October 2008.)

It was during my relaxing, on-my-own Wednesday evening that I realized I’d been “infected.” Back in my hotel room after the SLA Closing General Session, trying to decide where to have dinner and what else to do, I called Dauphine Street Books to find out how late they were open. I walked over there and was able to browse for about half an hour –- after simply staring around me for the first couple minutes, overwhelmed with the volume of books in the place. I ended up buying three books, including one that had been on my wish list for about two years, Almost No Memory by Lydia Davis. I’ll save the details of my New Orleans book buying spree for another post, but I’ll say here that I left Dauphine Street Books a very happy camper.

I didn’t realize until early Wednesday afternoon that there was an IHOP only a block from my hotel. Basically every time I left the hotel, I went south toward the Marriott, to get the shuttle to the Convention Center. Riding in the taxi on Wednesday, after a relaxing morning in my hotel room, I actually looked at things around me, instead of just checking my schedule or stressing about running late. I noticed the IHOP before the taxi made the U-turn to go south. I thought of how something soft like pancakes would be wonderful and satisfying, after several days of eating foods that were hard on my still-sore mouth, and tiring my jaw. (It had been four weeks since I’d gotten my wisdom teeth pulled, and yes, I could tell that things still weren’t quite right.) IHOP was right near the corner of Dauphine and Canal, and I happily got a table for one. I glanced at my three new books, but spent most of my time skimming my copy of NCHRP Report 643, Implementing Transportation Knowledge Networks, and marking the passages I liked.

I think I heard some of the music from outside while I was inside eating, but now, a week later, I’m not sure if I’m recalling it correctly. Once outside, I couldn’t help hearing it – very loud, and right there on the corner of Canal and Bourbon Street, between IHOP and my hotel. I stopped to watch and listen with a crowd of dozens of other people, including a good number dancing. There were no voices, just an incessant, irresistible beat, and horns and saxophones breathing pure elation. I stood there about five minutes, soaking it in. And then the players started to sing – or to chant – something like, “If you don’t worry ‘bout me / Then I won’t worry ‘bout you,” and then, “If you don’t f*** with me / Then I won’t f*** with you.” Yup, it still sounded great to me!

Soon, I crossed Bourbon Street and headed toward my hotel. I felt a dopey smile on my face, following an evening of new books, a satisfying (and reasonably priced) supper, and a small sea of incredible music.

I’ve since learned, searching YouTube, that the musicians I heard are called the To Be Continued (or TBC) Brass Band. Tonight, I found part of that same performance, from the evening of June 16, posted on YouTube. It’s fairly short, less than three minutes, and includes the vocals – and that’s great, I like them! – but I wish it were longer, with a couple more minutes of music before the singing. I’m a wordy person, I love lyrics, but it was the beat and rhythm that kept me standing there, hypnotized, before any word was sung.

I stopped in a souvenir and music store in the airport, before getting my plane on Thursday. I looked through the CDs, and wanted to ask the cashier who was singing overhead, but she was talking on the phone the whole time I was in there. I remembered how much my dad loved jazz, and wished I could tell him about the music of New Orleans. When I was young, I enjoyed some of my parents’ music, but I hadn’t warmed to jazz, I didn’t hear it very often. “Da, the airport is named after Louis Armstrong, and music is the spirit of the city. You would have loved this place.”

(To learn more about why the TBC Brass Band was swearing in this performance, read this piece.)

Monday, May 31, 2010

What I would write if I had time, and quiet:

An essay on Lost, with a focus on the finale.

Yeah, that's the big one, if ever I might get to it.

But also:
a post for FreeVerse this coming Wednesday;
a reading update, in which I'm stretched in at least four directions;
a review of On Beauty by Zadie Smith, with nods to E. M. Forster and Howards End;
a poem to plumb my soul;
that book about my parents that Jeff wants me to write.

I've actually spent a good amount of time in the basement writing, this last couple hours -- well, mostly writing, with a little web exploration before and after -- while Jeff took charge of the boys. It wasn't a writing project for pleasure, unfortunately, but I made some progress, and appreciate Jeff giving me the chance to be productive. Plan for the not-too-distant future: minimize requirement to write for others, maximize time and opportunity to write for myself.

Thursday, May 27, 2010

Review: The Emergence of Memory: Conversations with W.G. Sebald

I received a copy of The Emergence of Memory: Conversations with W. G. Sebald, edited by Lynne Sharon Schwartz, through LibraryThing's Early Reviewers program. Many thanks to the publisher, Seven Stories Press, and to LibraryThing, for the chance to obtain and review this book.

When I found out I'd won this book through the ER program, I felt guilty for requesting it, because I've never read anything by W. G. Sebald. However, now that I've read the book, I'm so glad I requested and won it. Sebald's work sounds difficult, experimental, hard to define, but very fascinating.

The collection contains several interviews with the writer, as the subtitle states, but also several essays and reviews, and a solid introduction by the editor, Lynne Sharon Schwartz. The interviews introduce a very intelligent, humane, and likeable writer. He was serious about his work and the topics he explored, but the interviews show that Sebald had a sense of humor as well. I also found the essays to be interesting and thought-provoking: not mere book reviews, nor academic criticism heavy with literary theory, but engaging essays for serious readers.

One of the essays, by Michael Hofmann, is not complimentary, and that's a good piece for Schwartz to include. Because Sebald's themes were complex, his methods unusual and experimental, his books are not for everyone. Moreover, any artist who explores the rough edges of the canvas, who tries to stretch the boundaries of what is expected and accepted, is likely to stumble at times. As Schwartz says in the introduction, the "vulnerabilities" in Sebald's work that Hofmann discusses "are real and should be taken into account in any assessment of his work."

Having been introduced to Sebald before being introduced to his writing, in a sense, I hope to read one or two of his books for myself before too long, with The Emergence of Memory near at hand to redirect me if I start to get lost. Fans of Sebald's books will certainly want to read this collection and likely enjoy it. In my case, I think I'll understand and appreciate Sebald's works a good deal more because I read this book first.

Saturday, May 22, 2010

Not really a review of King Dork by Frank Portman

To say this post is overdue would be quite an understatement. I started reading King Dork, a novel by Frank Portman, during the 24-Hour Read-a-Thon on April 10, and finished it the following week. It’s one of the funniest, and most fun, books I’ve read in my life. In the same way that I read passages aloud to Jeff as I progressed through the story, I knew I’d have to post a blog about the book, because it’s just too hysterical, you have to share some parts of the hilarity with other people. So this probably shouldn’t be seen as a review of the book, but more an appreciation. Page numbers are from my own copy of the book, the trade paperback by Delacorte Press, 2006.

The story is narrated by the main character, Tom Henderson, a tenth-grader at Hillmont High School. Tom’s father died in a car crash about six years before the novel opens, and his mom has recently remarried. Tom’s step-father is also named Tom, and he likes to call himself Big Tom and his step-son Little Dude. However, throughout the book, the narrator refers to his step-dad as Little Big Tom, or LBT, because he’s quite short. King Dork also has a younger sister named Amanda.

Tom has one friend, Sam Hellerman. Here’s Tom’s description of their relationship:

       I know Sam Hellerman because he was the guy right before me in alphabetical order from the fourth through eighth grades. You spend that much time standing next to somebody, you start to get used to each other.
       He’s the closest thing I have to a friend, and he’s an all-right guy. I don’t know if he realizes that I don’t bring much to the table, friendship-wise. I let him do most of the talking. I usually don’t have a comment.
(p. 8)

       He always has lots to say. He can manage for both of us. We spend a lot of time over each other’s houses watching TV and playing games. There’s a running argument about whose house is harder to take. … [H]e usually wins and comes to my house because I’ve got a TV in my room and he doesn’t. TV can really take the edge off. Plus, he has a taste for prescription tranquilizers, and my mom is his main unwitting supplier. (p. 9)

Tom and Sam are also “in a band” together, though they mainly just pick a band name, design a logo, choose pseudonyms for themselves, decide upon a couple of album titles, and then after a week or two, they pick a NEW band name and the whole process begins again. Tom also writes song lyrics. During the whole book, Tom never refers to his friend as “Sam,” but always as “Sam Hellerman,” every single time. Some might find that annoying, but I have to say, I loved it.

Some information about Tom’s mother, in addition to the fact that she takes prescription tranquilizers:

       Sometimes I accuse my mom of being a hippie, though that’s an exaggeration. She just likes to think of herself as more sensitive and virtuous and free-spirited than thou. If that dream leads her down some puzzling or slightly embarrassing avenues in a variety of neighborhoods, it’s not the world’s biggest tragedy. “I’m a very spiritual person,” she likes to say, for instance. Like when she’s explaining how she hates religion and all those who practice it. Well, okay, if it makes you feel better, Carol. She’s really about as spiritual as my gym shorts, but I love her anyway. (p. 23)

While the social aspects of life at Hillmont High School are difficult for a lot of kids, and even dangerous at times for those on the lowest rungs of the social ladder (like Tom and Sam), the academics are “shockingly easy,” according to Tom:

       Assignments typically involve copying a page or two from some book or other. Sometimes you have a “research paper,” which means that the book you copy out of is the Encyclopaedia Brittanica. You’re graded on punctuality, being able to sit still, and sucking up. (p. 11)

Tom has an interesting view of The Catcher in the Rye, a book that becomes a central part of the plot:

       Oh, wait: I should mention that The Catcher in the Rye is this book from the fifties. It is every teacher’s favorite book. The main guy is a kind of misfit kid superhero named Holden Caulfield. For teachers, he is the ultimate guy, a real dreamboat. They love him to pieces. They all want to have sex with him, and with the book’s author, too, and they’d probably even try to do it with the book itself if they could figure out a way to go about it. It changed their lives when they were young. As kids, they carried it with them everywhere they went. They solemnly resolved that, when they grew up, they would dedicate their lives to spreading The Word.
       It’s kind of like a cult.
(p. 12)

I’ve tried to share passages from the book that give you a sense of Tom’s voice and everyday life (primarily school, family, his “band,” and Sam Hellerman). I haven’t even touched on the unresolved questions about his father’s death, his bizarre encounter with a girl named Fiona, how finding his father’s copy of Catcher and several other of his dad’s books leads to some amateur sleuthing, or the wacky supporting characters who add to the amusement. There's also a glossary at the end, and a list of all the band names and album titles Tom and Sam go through in the novel. It's just genius.

King Dork is usually found in the young adult section of the bookstore, but be aware that there are sexual situations and a lot of swearing, so younger teens and pre-teens probably shouldn’t read it, and the same goes for adults who are likely to be offended by the language or some of the subject matter. But if you don’t mind those things, and you ever felt like a misfit or an outsider in your younger days, find a copy of King Dork and have the last laugh.