Monday, December 26, 2016

What If?

What If?: Serious Scientific Answers to Absurd Hypothetical QuestionsWhat If?: Serious Scientific Answers to Absurd Hypothetical Questions by Randall Munroe
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

If you want to know trivia about space, physics, genes, or anything and everything that could blow up earth, you should peruse this book. It is science, but in set in extremes it becomes entertainment. My favorite is what a mole of moles would look like, because, really, who hasn't wondered that? I will probably forget most of this, but in the meantime, I am making small talk about bullets with the density of a neutron star.

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Friday, December 16, 2016

Maman

I am a mother.
I am a widow.
I am a hunter.
I am a weaver.
I am a seductress
And a maneater.
I am an artist
And an architect.

Those eight eyes
    unblinking,
    unseeing.
Eight legs splayed like a crown
Atop a crystal castle I have built
Running in endless circles,
Trailing gossamer,
Exhaling venom.
Like any tightrope walker,
I keep my head up,
But my chin down.

When that buzzing bastard
Tries to break my walls,
I'll bleed him dry.

Lexicon

LexiconLexicon by Max Barry
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

I immensely enjoyed this book. It had great characters, thrilling plot, mystery, love, and WORDS! Words wield immense power in this present day sci-fi thriller, and there were little nuggets of word histories and mythologies spread throughout. The action and pacing were superb...one of the few books I read this year that I literally could not put down. Only a couple of vague plot points and inconsistencies keep this from being outstanding....my main gripe: if poets (the people who know how to wield words like weapons) are in such control of their emotions, reactions, and words, then there should not be the voluminous amount of swearing. Swearing is crude, reactive, and frankly not creative, so seems completely out of character for poets to use.


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Rogue Lawyer

Rogue LawyerRogue Lawyer by John Grisham
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

Sebastian is a rogue lawyer who is constantly reminding the reader that people want to kill him, though you get the feeling he is proud of that fact. He is self-righteous, sanctimonious, impatient, and overused the word "clown" to describe those he sees as idiots (which is pretty much everyone else). Oh, and he has a pony tail, which I can just never respect. Yet somehow he grows on you and what seems like a serial of cases get all inter-tangled at the end to make a satisfying if not particularly memorable read. It's all basically a rant on the deterioration of the justice system, but somehow it was highly entertaining after all. And a bonus I realized post-read: despite working with miscreants and criminals and being a cantankerous old fart himself, the book was basically clean...no swear words! :)


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The Summer Guest

The Summer GuestThe Summer Guest by Alison Anderson
My rating: 2 of 5 stars

These are the things I liked: I liked the character of Zinaida and her sisters. I thought a family of daughter doctors and teachers was fascinating at that time, and to have access to other artistic and intellectual minds through her musical brother George and their guests, the Chekovs would be amazing.
Yes, I think that is it. I found the plot implausible, the action passive, and the twist was not a twist for the reader (at least this reader). Even the conversations between Anton and Z. were not unique or especially enlightening. The two contemporary characters were boring and depressing. One final rant: the lack of quotation marks was confusing and maddening.


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Thursday, December 1, 2016

A Little Life

A Little LifeA Little Life by Hanya Yanagihara
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

"x=x "is the most tragic sentence I have ever read. It comes about half way through the book, and it hit with a powerful gut punch that left you gasping for air. The story should have stopped at that point. Up until then, the story of four college kids was beautifully unfurled as each of them start embarking on their careers. The story comes to center on Jude, one of the four who refuses to reveal his past (which you know must be ugly), and is slightly physically disabled from a "car injury". Somehow he finds himself not only included but a person for whom the most thoughtful of kindnesses are done for him, especially by his best friend, William. But halfway through the book Jude finds himself in tragic circumstances....if we were to end the book there, it wouldn't be happy, but from that point on the dynamic writing of the first half changes to a sort of plodding exposition of life; it dilutes the the power of the first half. The narrative gets smaller, and the other characters lives are only revealed through interactions with Jude. Even Williams point of view chapters only reveal interactions with Jude, only touching briefly on what his life as an actor is like. Nothing really changes from that point on, anyway-- in the end, it is as though the book had stopped at 50% anyway.
Also, while the narrative is admittedly beautifully written, the plot points seem rather far fetched. Jude's life seems overbearingly tragic. The four end up fabulously successful and wealthy. (Really, all four?) And the characters are amazingly brutal or incredibly, unbelieveably kind. JB is the only character who has any kind of growth arch, or complicated feeleings/motives...perhaps Yangihara could write a sequel about him?

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his family was happy when he was happy, and so his only obligation to them was to be happy, to live exactly the life he wanted, on the terms he wanted.

When did pursuing your ambitions cross the line from brave into foolhardy? How did you know when to stop?

But these were days of self-fulfillment, where settling for something that was not quite your first choice of a life seemed weak-willed and ignoble. Somewhere, surrendering to what seemed to be your fate had changed from being dignified to being a sign of your own cowardice. There were times when the pressure to achieve happiness felt almost oppressive, as if happiness were something that everyone should and could attain, and that any sort of compromise in its pursuit was somehow your fault.

He had lost the ability to imagine anything.

suety yellow.

the Constitution itself is a contract, albeit a malleable contract, and the question of just how malleable it is, exactly, is where law intersects with politics

In this class you will learn the difference between what is fair and what is just, and, as important, between what is fair and what is necessary

 how they had left him to himself, a blank, faceless prairie under whose yellow surface earthworms and beetles wriggled through the black soil, and chips of bone calcified slowly into stone.

the U.S. Attorney himself would emerge onto the floor and all the assistant prosecutors would buzz toward him, mothlike, as a multitude of gray suits.

 “If I were a different kind of person, I might say that this whole incident is a metaphor for life in general: things get broken, and sometimes they get repaired, and in most cases, you realize that no matter what gets damaged, life rearranges itself to compensate for your loss, sometimes wonderfully. “Actually—maybe I am that kind of person after all.

 But what Andy never understood about him was this: he was an optimist. Every month, every week, he chose to open his eyes, to live another day in the world.

 would think how absurd it was that my child, that any child, could expect to survive this life. It seemed as improbable as the survival of one of those late-spring butterflies—you know, those little white ones—I sometimes saw wobbling through the air, always just millimeters away from smacking itself against a windshield.

 And let me tell you two other things I learned. The first is that it doesn’t matter how old that child is, or when or how he became yours. Once you decide to think of someone as your child, something changes, and everything you have previously enjoyed about them, everything you have previously felt for them, is preceded first by that fear. It’s not biological; it’s something extra-biological, less a determination to ensure the survival of one’s genetic code, and more a desire to prove oneself inviolable to the universe’s feints and challenges, to triumph over the things that want to destroy what’s yours.

 when it’s your child, a part of you, a very tiny but nonetheless unignorable part of you, also feels relief. Because finally, the moment you have been expecting, been dreading, been preparing yourself for since the day you became a parent, has come. Ah, you tell yourself, it’s arrived. Here it is. And after that, you have nothing to fear again.

“Fair” is never an answer, I would tell them. But it is always a consideration.

Failure also made people boring, but in a different way: failing people were constantly striving for one thing—success. But successful people were also only striving to maintain their success. It was the difference between running and running in place, and although running was boring no matter what, at least the person running was moving, through different scenery and past different vistas.

He is so lonely that he sometimes feels it physically, a sodden clump of dirty laundry pressing against his chest.

 the point of a child is not what you hope he will accomplish in your name but the pleasure that he will bring you, whatever form it comes in, even if it is a form that is barely recognizable as pleasure at all—and, more important, the pleasure you will be privileged to bring him.

 They all—Malcolm with his houses, Willem with his girlfriends, JB with his paints, he with his razors—sought comfort, something that was theirs alone, something to hold off the terrifying largeness, the impossibility, of the world, of the relentlessness of its minutes, its hours, its days.

 he was old enough now to know that within every relationship was something unfulfilled and disappointing, something that had to be sought elsewhere.

 now he knew: you always sacrificed something. The question was what you sacrificed.

 He now viewed a successful relationship as one in which both people had recognized the best of what the other person had to offer and had chosen to value it as well.

 his responsibility was not to make him better but to make him less sick.

And so he fears he is grieving not so much for Willem but for his own life: its smallness, its worthlessness.

was the determination to keep living not a choice at all, but an evolutionary implementation? Was there something in the mind itself, a constellation of neurons as toughened and scarred as tendon, that prevented humans from doing what logic so often argued they should?

Sisters in Law

Sisters in Law: How Sandra Day O'Connor and Ruth Bader Ginsburg Went to the Supreme Court and Changed the WorldSisters in Law: How Sandra Day O'Connor and Ruth Bader Ginsburg Went to the Supreme Court and Changed the World by Linda Hirshman
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

I found it fascinating how different these first two women judges were, yet the similarities and cooperation they did have was fascinating as well. The author obviously has very liberal feminist leanings and Ginsburg was a model activist for that perspective. That, along with more accessible personal documents made the book a bit lopsided toward Ginsburg. O'Connor still feels like a mystery to me. She didn't fit the mold of what the author thought a feminist should be, often acting and judging in ways that seemed to be anti-feminist (voting for tighter abortion retictions, for example), so the author would try to convince us and herself that she was just politically savvy, that too much too soon would put the movement in jeopardy, etc. it frustrated me that other theories weren't considered...that maybe she was a feminist that also considered the negative implications of being completely equal with men, or considered abortion as a moral issue and not as a rights issue. Over all, it was an interesting read on how women's rights were slowly granted by the courts (Ginsburg did most of the heavy lifting), and mostly by arguing cases against protections for women for men's benefits (like letting men into women's colleges, or letting men receive benefits from their wives workplaces). Because O'Connor and Ginsburg were so different politically, the times they did agree showed how important it is to have women in leadership positions. There should be a woman's voice represented in decisions that affect a population where more than half are women.

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Life would be “better,” to Ruth’s mentor, if people stopped using the language of patriotism to defend their privileges and the less powerful were free to speak against them.

Maybe someday women should be treated differently from men as opposed to being treated the same, Mill said in his landmark essay “The Subjection of Women” a century before Ginsburg set out on her quest, but first we must try equality. “Experience cannot possibly have decided between two courses, so long as there has only been experience of one.”


it took some hard looking to distinguish the cage of being stereotyped as dependent from the gilt of more benefits.

Monday, November 7, 2016

Nora Webster

Nora WebsterNora Webster by Colm Tóibín
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

I loved this book! It seems like nothing is happening, that you are just reading about the day to day life of a young widow trying to cope with her four kids and finances and navigating society without her husband. But Nora is so complex and real that you want the book to go on and on. By the time I got to the last 75 pages I couldn't put it down and I didn't want it to end.


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she thought how easy it might have been to have been someone else, that having the boys at home waiting for her, and the bed and the lamp beside her bed, and her work in the morning, were all a sort of accident.

Thursday, October 27, 2016

You Are an Extra

You are an extra.

Not the hero
Battling the aliens
With bloodied fists
And broken face
But eyes still piercing blue
And perfect teeth.

Not the plucky girl
With the carefully casual
Wardrobe, who can
Throw a punch and
Detect the alien's weakness.

Not even the dog
Buried beneath debris
Who will paw his way out
To inspire our hero's
Last stand.

You are an extra,
Just a filler in the periphery
To take up space and
Offer background noise.
At the end of the day
You get an envelope
Full of twenties and
Lunch from the craft table.

But when the director
Instructs the mob to flee
The green-screen alien,
There is real terror on your face
As you run from
Nothing.

Hike

We stroll along the trail.
Such a bright sunny day!
So sure of the hard dirt underfoot,
The wind on the right cheek,
The sun on the left shoulder.
Trees stand as sentinels,
Their leafy limbs laugh in the sunlight.
Ranunculus and blue bells
Peek among the greenery.
The soft sussurration informs
On grasshoppers, beetles, bees.

Shadows seep out longer,
Rustles grow more ominous.
Each tree a twin of the one before.
All colors fade to grey.
Directionless forks
And the sun gone down.
The lure of a rock
To sit, to stay--
So tired.

Right to Left

Needs and wants
knit together, indiscernible--

to stay,
to go,
heartache either
direction.

Sometimes it seems easier
to clean the slate,
sweep aside the debris,
push backspace,
rub out,
start over,

expunge--

but these lines are drawn deep,
each one connected to another,
a labyrinth built in the infrastructure.

Did we move too much?
Did we stay too long?

too many vectors

all wrong decisions.

Wednesday, October 26, 2016

Can't We Talk About Something More Pleasant

Can't We Talk about Something More Pleasant?Can't We Talk about Something More Pleasant? by Roz Chast
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

If you are going to write about something as unpleasant as watching your parents declining health, having to put them in a Place, clean out their old house and deal with all the finances and worry and guilt that comes from a real but fraught relationship with them, why not do it in comic format? It made this memoir much more personal and accessible, which I'm sure is why it made several lists from 2014. Chast comes off as someone very real, not painting her or her parents as heroes. She shares what was helpful, and admits to all the feelings that come with taking care of the elderly, even if it is unbecoming. Definitely insightful.


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Tuesday, October 25, 2016

The Bollywood Bride

The Bollywood Bride (Bollywood)The Bollywood Bride by Sonali Dev
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

I'm not a big fan of romance novels, mainly because the characters are so flat and unrealistic, and the plot is predictable and cliche. The Bollywood Bride doesn't escape these sterotypes altogether--she is a Bollywood star, he is a muscular smart guy with a tender heart-- but they both have issues and at least the plot was a little more novel. Most of the action occurs during an Indian wedding, and it was interesting to learn of those customs. For a quick, entertaining read, it did the job.

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The way the joke goes is that the secret to a happy marriage is for a man to wake up every morning and tell his wife he's sorry....But the real secret is to wake up every morning and thank her.  Because the happiness a good woman brings to your life is incomparable.  No one else can make you happy the way she can.  Not your job, not your friends, not even your children can give you what a good marriage gives you.  A good marriage is all you need to make it all worthwhile.  And she gives you that.  The day you realize this is the day you no longer have to worry about a thing.

The Summer Guest

The Summer GuestThe Summer Guest by Justin Cronin
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

I think Cronin is a very gifted writer. I really enjoyed his vampire books, and I'm not a fan of vampires. That's Cronins gift, making you care about things that you normally wouldn't. This is a book of small things, the quiet lives of people working and visiting a fishing camp in Maine. But he makes you care about their lives...I cried three times. His themes of courage and fear, and the fluidity of time were beautifully woven throughout, if a bit too obtuse at times. His use of weather to reflect the mood of the scene was again artful if a bit obvious at times. A memorable and satisfying read.

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that for the first time in many years, maybe ever, I was coming truly alive, and here’s the thing: the problem of being alive is that it makes you frightened.

I thought how time passes, and how love is just another word for time.

Monday, October 24, 2016

Beethoven

Beethoven: Anguish and TriumphBeethoven: Anguish and Triumph by Jan Swafford
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

I think I should get college credit for reading this book. When you are done, you will have read not only details of Beethovens life, but also the history of the time, short biographies of colleagues and patrons, and in depth analysis of the majority of his work. It could be overwhelming at times, but it definitely enlarged my understanding of the man and his music. Swafford is a composer himself, so some of the analysis could be a little technical for a lay person, like myself. But I did enjoy understanding some of the meaning behind the music, meaning that his audience understood, even if it took them some time. In a time and place where freedom of speech was extremely limited, Beethoven was still able to communicate through his music. I will admit that I grew to admire and empathize with him, though he was often cantankerous and abrupt. I have always loved Beethovens music and being able to understand the man and the meaning behind the music, makes it even sweeter. A good (long) read for anyone who likes Beethoven.

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In the end, symphonies, string quartets, piano concertos, and the like became virtually the only kind of free speech left in Austria.

Before long this symphony took its place as one of the monumental humanistic documents of its time, and of all time. Its purpose is not to praise God but to exalt humanity. It is a vision of what an enlightened leader can do in the world. But Beethoven had not forgotten God. Some two decades later, in his last symphony, he would return to the question of the ideal society, the search for Elysium under the starry heavens. And again and again in his music he returned to an ending in joy.

He was an evolutionist more than a revolutionist. Call him a radical evolutionary, one with a unique voice

To discover new means of expression is to discover new territories of the human. It seems that such an ideal, not revolution, was what Beethoven considered to be his task, his duty. He had always believed he had it in him to do something like that. The difference now was that he knew how to do it.

Now we will converse in music.” For more than an hour he improvised for her. “He said everything to me,” Ertmann later told Felix Mendelssohn, “and finally gave me consolation.” 16 It must have been a heartrending scene, Beethoven making music for a bereaved woman who played and understood his work as well as anybody alive. He gave voice to her grief and offered her hope. Here was a microcosm of what all his music does: it captures life in its breadth of sorrow and joy, spoken to and for the whole of humanity.

forever yours forever mine forever us


There is one of the most trenchant things Beethoven ever said about his creative process: Always keep the whole in view.

Karoline Unger pulled his sleeve to turn him around so he could see the ovation he could not hear. 6 It was as if the audience were breaking their voices to make him understand that this was a triumph in spite of everything—in spite of the incapable performance, the impossible music, the emptying seats, his lost hearing. However it happened, the thought of it is sad beyond description.

the Ninth is a hymn not just to redeeming joy but to the redemption music itself can provide

The vision of the Ninth Symphony is that as loving brothers and sisters we will find here on earth our joy and our peace. God cannot do that for us. Conquering heroes and benevolent despots cannot do that for us. We have to find Elysium for ourselves.

Monday, September 26, 2016

Isaac's Storm

Isaac's Storm: A Man, a Time, and the Deadliest Hurricane in HistoryIsaac's Storm: A Man, a Time, and the Deadliest Hurricane in History by Erik Larson
My rating: 2 of 5 stars

I think I have come to the conclusion that weather books are not my thing. I find myself irritated with the authors who imply that other decisions should have/could have been made, when really when dealing with Mother Nature, it's anyone's guess, especially without modern day equipment. Also, I felt that the personal stories were too disjointed...I had a hard time remembering which family was which as he visited and revisited several accounts through out the book. I first became aquatinted with the Galveston hurricane in poem "Cannabalism" in The Big Smoke and thought that poem was a better retelling.

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I Hate to Leave This Beautiful Place

I Hate to Leave This Beautiful PlaceI Hate to Leave This Beautiful Place by Howard Norman
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Norman never claims this memoir to be anything interesting. Just a collection of essays about places he found beautiful, took solace in when the vissitudes of life got to him, or discovered something about himself. Most of these places involve birds, just FYI. Regardless, turns out Norman's life is fraught with interesting and unforgettable people and events. He may have gone about being a writer in a more convoluted way than most, but he has created a style that is engaging, lyrical, and precise. It is inspires the reader to discover life and capture it, one place at a time.

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Saturday, September 10, 2016

Everything I Never Told You

Everything I Never Told YouEverything I Never Told You by Celeste Ng
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Reading about the death of a teen and the effect on her family should be depressing. And it sort of was but I enjoyed the subtlety Ng used when explaining the dynamic as of a family, the pressures of what we think people think, and our desires to fit in, or stand out, sometimes simultaneously. Perhaps most affecting was the investigation of how our parents pushed their hopes and dreams on us, and then how we do the same to our children, sometimes without us knowing. Ng explores race relations very intimately here, and as a result allows those feelings to be universally understood. Beautiful, hopeful, enlightening.

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The Light Between Oceans

The Light Between OceansThe Light Between Oceans by M.L. Stedman
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Wonderful storyline. A baby washes up with a dead man in a boat on the shore after Isabel's third miscarriage. What are the chances the real mother is still alive. And what do you do when you find out after 3 years that she is? If the symbolism of light and dark, ocean currents and lighthouses are a bit heavy handed at times, you forgive it because the characters are nuanced and the themes of love and forgiveness are so beautifully expressed. BTW, the movie does do the novel justice for once, using the best plot lines and quotes from the book.

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Thursday, September 1, 2016

Fourth of July Creek

Fourth of July CreekFourth of July Creek by Smith Henderson
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Great character novel. Pete is a social worker in a backwoods town in the early 80s, and though he tries to do right by his clients, it's not always easy to know what the right thing is. He tries hard, but he is flawed as well. Everyone is a little rough around the edges, so there are some difficult scenes...social work is not pretty. Henderson also plays with literature rules, (changing tenses in a sentence, suddenly omitting commas), that can be a little distracting, but overall works. There is such wonderful pacing throughout the book that the ending comes suddenly and not explained fully to my satisfaction. Wonderfully drawn themes of betrayal, God, family and forgiveness. Beautiful imagery.

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Such a pretty picture Rachel, Beth, and Pete made, as ideal as a water molecule, hydrogen, hydrogen, oxygen.

Monday, August 29, 2016

The Chandelier

Hanging by a thread,
so fragile,
ice for blood,
hot blushes from within,
trembling like the shimmer
of a chandelier:
Sun-bleached light
trickling down
in cascading fractals,
winking with the promise of Noah.

An ethereal song slumbers
in each cut crystal
waiting to ring out
into icy black night;
a twinkling token
taking up residence
among celestial bodies
to herald a birth
of Hope.

The chandelier weeps
as light streams through it:
A river blinking back sunshine,
then plunged underneath
to the green silence of
time suspended without breath.
Restored again to dove song,
crystal rivulets rain down
in a baptism
of Peace.

Broken glass
pretending to be fine,
each fractured piece
as sharp as thorns or nails,
each edge threatening
an unexpected wound
in hands, in feet, in side--
Heart shattered.j
Shards ground to dust.
A hole with no light--
Until with Gethsemane's tears
All is Redeemed.

Saturday, August 27, 2016

The Girl in the Spiders Web

The Girl in the Spider's Web (Millennium, #4)The Girl in the Spider's Web by David Lagercrantz
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

This a tricky one to rate. I read The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo, and loved Lisbeth Salandar and Mikael Blomkvist. Larsson was able to bring a real depth and humanity to the characters and an urgent readability to a mystery largely solved by paperwork, computers, and pictures. However, I couldn't get past the sexual violence and so didn't continue on with the series. With a new author, I was hoping that we could get back to Blomkivst and Salander without the sexual violence. Which Lagercrantz did, but Blomkivist and Salander weren't the same. I didn't have trouble jumping in without reading the other two books, and it is a good detective story. There is a lot of action, hit men, spying, an autistic savant boy that witnesses a murder, artificial intelligences, drama at the magazine, etc., but the book lacked the propulsion I felt with the first book. There are a lot of characters and I felt like Mikael got lost in the midst of them. Salander on the other hand, became something of a pierced, skinny Batman, with almost superhuman powers, so that she became less human and more of an enigma. If I were to review it as just a thriller, I would say it is a good solid one, with interesting plot lines and moving action. But as part of the Millenial series, I'd have to admit it didn't measure up.


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Between You and Me

Between You & Me: Confessions of a Comma QueenBetween You & Me: Confessions of a Comma Queen by Mary Norris
My rating: 2 of 5 stars

I thought for awhile that being an editor would be the perfect job. I love words, and stories and even grammar. But I realize after reading this book that my enthusiasm for inane details would have to get downright obsessive to be any good at being an editor. Also, being an editor in New York (and for the New Yorker, at that) sounds like a glamorous job, but is in fact, the dullest job in the world. Unless you get jacked about catching a spelling error, or a comma error (these are made into several page long anecdotes); or you write letters to pencil companies inquiring why a batch turned out inferior, or you write authors to ask why three commas were misplaced; or if you would be amazed to discover there is an actual pencil sharpener museum, go out of your way to see it, and then give them your own trusty sharpener to add to the collection. The most exciting part of her day seems to be moving her car back and forth on road washing days. There may have been a few times I smiled and a couple of interesting grammar facts I learned, but grammar books themselves may be more interesting.


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Our iPods dictate what we listen to next, gadgets in our cars tell us which way to go, and smartphones finish our sentences for us. We have become our own robots.

Uxorious,” meaning “excessively attentive to one’s wife. (I once asked a married man if there was a word for a woman who was excessively attentive to her husband, and he said, “Yes: wonderful.”)

The subjective, or nominative, pronouns are: I, you, he/ she/ it, we, you, they.  "Who” is used when the pronoun is the subject or a predicate nominative, and “whom” when it’s a direct object, an indirect object,
"who” and “whom” are standing in for a pronoun: “who” stands in for “he, she, they, I, we”; “whom” stands in for “him, her, them, me, us.”

Saturday, August 6, 2016

Shadowshaper

ShadowshaperShadowshaper by Daniel José Older
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

This is a solid YA book with a refreshing point of view from a Puerto Rican girl who learns that a secret family legacy has made her a shadowshaper, an artist that can tunnel spirits onto her art and animate it. The only problem is that someone is killing off the shadowshapers to try to harness their power. The plot is a little clunky at times, and some of her choices seem unbelievable even for a book of fantasy but the premise is wonderfully original, and the voice unique.


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Friday, July 29, 2016

I hold my breath
and wait for you
to make it through
the rest of Youth.

You are so perfect
just right now:
No major fouls,
fumbles, or rejects.

A few yellow cards
squared your shoulders,
made you older,
kept you on your guard,

but nothing to get
you kicked out
or down for the count,
nothing to regret.

You are up by eight,
but my eyes are locked
on the ticking clock
willing it to a faster rate--

before it's too late
and the other squad
can ride roughshod,
pull up and compensate.

Let the streamers unstring,
let the game end
with you ahead,
when the buzzer rings.

Let the other guys
knock down the chairs,
sit dazed and stare,
throw themselves and cry,

while you are covered
in Gatorade,
and accolades,
and ride upon my shoulders.

Race Against the Clock

I hold my breath
and wait for you
to make it through
the rest of Youth.

You are so perfect
just right now:
No major fouls,
fumbles, or rejects.

A few yellow cards
squared your shoulders,
made you older,
kept you on your guard,

but nothing to get
you kicked out
or down for the count,
nothing to regret.

You are up by eight,
but my eyes are locked
on the ticking clock
willing it to a faster rate--

before it's too late
and the other squad
can ride roughshod,
pull up and compensate.

Let the streamers unstring,
let the game end
with you ahead,
when the buzzer rings.

Let the other guys
knock down the chairs,
sit dazed and stare,
throw themselves and cry,

while you are covered
in Gatorade,
and accolades,
and ride upon my shoulders.

Cress

Cress (The Lunar Chronicles, #3)Cress by Marissa Meyer
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

I so enjoyed Scarlet that this one was a little bit of a let down. Meyer spends a good deal of time recapping in this one, and there is starting to be quite the laundry list of characters, so some get the shaft (Scarlet and Wolf). But we get introduced to Cress, who is not a she-girl like her predecessors. She screams and fantasizes and is a hopeless romantic. She is gifted at hacking and doesn't whine, so I didn't mind having a more girly-girl heoine. She sort of rounds out the girls. Thorne plays a bigger role in this one as well, and he quite the loveable cad. We get some good revelations that move the plot, and it is poised for the ultimate finale. Good set-up book.

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Tuesday, July 26, 2016

The Night Guest

The Night GuestThe Night Guest by Fiona McFarlane
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

First of all, this is a beautiful book. The art is intriguing and the eyes glow in gold foil. I like when authors/ publishers make their physical books compelling...in a world of kindle and nook you can't hope for book sales with a picture of a shoe on the cover anymore. Second, the writing is magical, lyrical, figurative. Ruth and Frida are remarkable characters. The plot is not shocking; the reader can tell almost instantly what Frida is up to when she shows up. Instead, you want to stop the long slow inevitable end from coming. My criticism is that it needs to be tighter; while it is only 240 pages now, it may have been best as a long short story.

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Horrorstor

HorrorstörHorrorstör by Grady Hendrix
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

By far the best horror/comedy/commentary on society I have ever read! We were/are faithful shoppes at IKEA and so I loved its skewering! Yes, there are a few cringe inducing scenes, it is a horror book after all, but on the whole, so fun and so well done! Loved it!

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The Last Policeman

The Last Policeman (The Last Policeman, #1)The Last Policeman by Ben H. Winters
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Hank Palace is one of the last policemen since there is literally a black cloud on the horizon: Earth will be obliterated by an asteroid in 6 months. People are reacting to this news by quitting jobs, fulfilling their bucket list, or giving in to depression and killing themselves. But Palace refuses to do anything other than his best as a detective and the latest suicide doesn't hang right with him. It's a great detective read, and I loved Palace. I will definitely keep tabs on him, at least until he's toast.

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Us Conductors

Us ConductorsUs Conductors by Sean Michaels
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

I thought Lev Termin was fascinating. The things he invents seem like science fiction....(where is a terpistone now?). It also seemed incredible that he was responsible for so many different ideas ( motion detectors, metal detectors, wireless bugs). His life was so very interesting too...rich and famous at one point to a prisoner in a gulag the next. A note at the end reminds us it is a fictional account; fiction is necessary, perhaps, to fill in questions that time has erased (why did he suddenly leave America? How involved was he in spying?, etc.) But then Michaels admits to some of the fiction he added, like that Termin knew Kung fu, for example, and I can't help but wonder why he did that. Termin was already remarkable, why add complete fabrication? It throws other facts not found in Wikipedia in doubt (did he improve efficiency at the gulag?, etc.) and short of reading an actual biography, which I'm not inclined to do, I won't know (urgh!). Also, the love story between Termin and Clara seemed more one sided than a truly inspirational love story would be. But, Termin is incredibly fascinating and Michaels writes in sparse, factual prose that lets the first man shine forth.

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In memory everything seems to happen to music. —TENNESSEE WILLIAMS, The Glass Menagerie

It was not that I was careless in my calculations; it was that I was seeking the wrong sum.

You can become a dead man before you know what you are.

At night the barracks filled up with groans, as though the sleeping zeks’ souls were being sucked from their jaws.

For the Glory

For the Glory: Eric Liddell's Journey from Olympic Champion to Modern MartyrFor the Glory: Eric Liddell's Journey from Olympic Champion to Modern Martyr by Duncan Hamilton
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

An inspiration all the way through. From Olympian to missionary, to father and husband, friend and mentor, in the face of fame or surrounded by squalor in a interment camp, Liddell was an example of living a life of integrity, of living his beliefs and inspiring others. Great read!

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Liddell told one congregation that “the greatest danger was victory,” which he further defined as “bringing a man up to a level above the strength of his character

 “If, in the quiet of your heart, you feel something should be done, stop and consider whether it is in line with the character and teaching of Jesus. If so, obey that impulse to do it, and in doing so you will find it was God guiding you.”

 “Why should I stoop to be less than a gentleman because others do?"

 “Anyone who, neglecting that fixed hour of prayer, [will] say he can pray at all times but will probably end in praying at no time.”

 Early in 1944 he began urging the internees to pray specifically for the men in uniform—the camp guards. Liddell told his congregation and also his Sunday school classes: “I’ve begun to pray for the guards and it’s changed my whole attitude toward them. When we hate them we are self-centered.”

The Apple Orchard

The Apple Orchard (Bella Vista Chronicles, #1)The Apple Orchard by Susan Wiggs
My rating: 2 of 5 stars

This was a novel that couldn't make up ots mind: it was a romance, a mystery, a bit of historical fiction, and a recipe book. The best thing about it were the recipes which sounded lovely. The romance was so over the top: the guy was good looking, smart, had abs for days, a vintner and accountant, saved lost dogs and lost souls, a pilot, was a great dad, and of course, could crack safes. Sounds like a typical guy. Whateves. But at least the romance was PG. the mystery had no suspense...you could write the conclusion yourself. The historical part was interesting, but scanty. I won't be returning to Bella Vista.

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Purity

PurityPurity by Jonathan Franzen
My rating: 2 of 5 stars

I should have known better, having read Freedom, that Franzen would write a book on purity without a single redeeming character. This book is fraught with narcissistic and sociopathic characters with Oedipal and Elektra complexes so that nobody can have anything other than dysfunctional relationships. Each chapter delves into a different character, and inches the plot along, so that it reads almost like a series of interconnected short stories. So you get a break from one unlikeable character to meet a new one. Perhaps the best(?) character is Andreas Wolf, who starts out horrible, is transformed by love, kills to save her, and then slowly evolves into a purely evil character as a result. When Franzen writes about Wolf there is an energy and vitality that makes him more real than the other characters, even as he becomes a caricature of himself in the end. There are a lot of relevant issues brought up...privacy, information vs. entertainment, feminism, student debt, but any point Franzen is trying to make becomes subsumed by the tediousness of the relentlessly awful relationships.

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Pip nodded, but she was thinking about how terrible the world was, what an eternal struggle for power. Secrets were power. Money was power. Being needed was power. Power, power, power: how could the world be organized around the struggle for a thing so lonely and oppressive in the having of it?

Friday, June 17, 2016

The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society

The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie SocietyThe Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society by Mary Ann Shaffer
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Everyone I know raves about this book with such an awkward title. I think I put off reading it because it couldn't possibly be that good. And it's not the most remarkable book I've read, but it is charming, the antagonist is delightful without being grating, and the history of war on this little English island was enlightening, as well as the attitudes and emotions of the people who survived the war and tried to put their towns and lives back together. I never love epistolary novels because the voices of the different writers never seem different enough, and the details are suspiciously excessive and include quotes, which seems unlikely to me that every writer would do so. Still, definitely worth the read. Quick, informative, funny, joyful.


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Fosse

FosseFosse by Sam Wasson
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

This was an interesting biography of a sometimes inspirational, mostly tragic life. Wasson does a good job of finding enough sources to show a charismatic charmer, paranoid perfectionist, humble and hardworking aspirant, and a dissatisfied egomaniac. His constant search for perfection and his desire to create better, new, different was truly inspiring. The fact that he never felt satisfied with what he had done or what he had, his constant search for approval (and being depressed when he got it), were tragic. I couldn't help comparing him to Steve Jobs a little bit: both driven to genius work in their field by a pervasive sense of inferiority. Wasson does a good job of including good details and some editorial commentary to help explain some of his actions. He does assume the reader is already a Fosse fan and already knows the basic storylines and plots to his better known musicals and films. I did enjoy reading this on my iPad, so I could immediately refer to dances and scenes on YouTube.


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Wednesday, May 25, 2016

No one is Contented With the Exact Truth

The truth, my darling,
no one wants to know.
They don't want to know
last night I dreamt
my children were dying,
but still I didnt want to wake up.
They don't want to know
skin sags without the fat;
to pay Paul you have to rob Peter;
pain continues after the baby is born.
They don't want to know
what is in the closet,
or under the toilet lid,
or in the back of the fridge.
They don't want to know
the reason, they just want it to
STOP.
They don't want to hear
the cacophony before the symphony.
The truth is
I killed those baby
birds so their parents
would quit shitting on my stoop.

No One is Contented With the Exact Truth

The truth, my darling,
no one wants to know.
They don't want to know
last night I dreamt
my children were dying,
but still I didnt want to wake up.
They don't want to know
skin sags without the fat;
to pay Paul you have to rob Peter;
pain continues after the baby is born.
They don't want to know
what is in the closet,
or under the toilet lid,
or in the back of the fridge.
They don't want to know
the reason, they just want it to
STOP.
They don't want to hear
the cacophony before the symphony.
The truth is
I killed those baby
birds so their parents
would quit shitting on my stoop.

Counting by 7's

Counting by 7sCounting by 7s by Holly Goldberg Sloan
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Delightful book about how we all effect each other, and can make each other's lives better. It is a story of resilience and hope. Quick read with wonderfully developed characters.

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Monday, May 23, 2016

The story of my teeth

The Story of My TeethThe Story of My Teeth by Valeria Luiselli
My rating: 2 of 5 stars

Absurdist fiction seems to be back in style. I'm not sure I like it. My brain keeps trying to find the meaning behind it, but perhaps I am not clever enough. Or there is no meaning? That isn't to say that there aren't some good laughs in here. the last narrative chapter adds some much needed grounding and helps redeem Gustav Sanchez Sanchez, but still doesn't unravel the relationship between him and his son. The afterword mentions that Luiselli wrote this as a serial, to be read in a juice factory that also owned an art gallery, and she used the workers input to shape the novel. Only problem is, after so much absurdity, I can't quite believe it. Maybe that is why absurd fiction is growing...between Facebook and prime time news, what can you believe?


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Scarlet

Scarlet (The Lunar Chronicles, #2)Scarlet by Marissa Meyer
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

This series definitely seems to be building on itself. I found this book to be much more enjoyable than Cinder: the characters are better drawn, the plot is tighter and less predictable, lots of action, good humor (especially with the sidekick Cinder joined up with). Yet the overarching plot that connects the series continues to progress. Pleasantly impressed.


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The Meursault Investigation

The Meursault InvestigationThe Meursault Investigation by Kamel Daoud
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

Having spent a couple of days mulling over why in the world this book was called a "tour de force", I think I can appreciate it better. However, upon reading it as soon as I finished The Stranger, with its elegant clipped sentences, and straightforward polished story line, I felt like I was inside a rock tumbler as I read this reiteration. The "Arab's" brother is on a rant, drinking illegal wine in Algeria, as he tries to tell his side of the story. It rambles and whines and digresses, in opposition, I suppose of Camus. It is an oral story rather than a book. While Meursault seems untouched by things like death, guilt, expectation, the Arabs brother is consumed by them. Yet he shares with Meursault some unexpected similarities...a shooting that is meaningless and neither feels responsible for, a distance from civilized sanctioned belief systems such as God and patriotism. So it is interesting to compare and contrast the two stories. Without that aspect, I don't think I would have enjoyed the book at all, though. For a book called the Meursault Investigation, there is really no new information about anybody or anything in The Stranger, and maybe that was the point, but I went in thinking we would get "the other side" of the story. Also, perhaps if I understood the history of Algiers and France better, a and apparently Camus reception there, I might.have gotten more out of it, but I wasn't moved to research it.

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why the court preferred judging a man who didn’t weep over his mother’s death to judging a man who killed an Arab.

He describes the world as if he’s going to die at any moment, as if he has to choose his words with an economy of breathing. He’s an ascetic.

Didn’t they see they were disqualifying my act, obliterating it, by treating it like that?

The gratuitousness of Musa’s death was unconscionable. And now my revenge had just been struck down to the same level of insignificance!

It pained my heart to be only her shadow and not her reflection

Friday, May 13, 2016

After the Prom

Like magic she appears,
Illuminated by the carport light:
Her lips blood red,
Her skin snow white.

She floats across the driveway,
A dream draped in blue gossamer,
Gilded with gold and silver, and lace
Blessed by birds, and mice, and godmothers.

She minces along the path,
Holding her heels in hand,
Humming softly, her head still spinning
From a night spent in Wonderland.

Take a bell jar and capture her
Fully formed and sparkling,
Perserve her whole and unbroken
Until she meets Prince Charming.

Lay her down on a bed without peas,
Hide the poison apples and spinning wheels,
Kill the dragons and run off the wolves,
Banish the stepmothers and call off the deals.

But she will dance in red shoes,
She will let down her hair,
She will climb the beanpole,
And at twelve run down the stair.

She will eat porridge and gingerbread men,
She will kiss frogs and find golden riches,
She will befriend beasts and trick trolls,
She will fight with giants and witches.

She won't find her happy ending
Until her feet have bled,
Her voice is gone, her hair is cut,
She's emerged from wolves killed dead.

She will be wearied and numb,
Her dress tattered and covered with gore,
But she will be triumphant,
And happier than before.

The Stranger

The StrangerThe Stranger by Albert Camus
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

I read The Stranger before, in high school, but unfortunately with the passing years, I have forgotten a lot of what I read back then. Most of what has stuck with me of it are the lyrics of the Cure's song "Killing an Arab". And while I was reading it this time, I couldn't get the song out of my head. :)
Anyway, it is a simple book, told in very a very forthright way about the events in Meursault's life. We read it in high school as an example of existentialism. The main character seems to live only for the present with no thought of the future and no regrets in the past. He is considered "the stranger" because he doesn't play by the rules of society. He seems immune to feelings, and yet there were many times when I could relate to him (scary?). Although one could argue that his lack of empathy and feeling doesn't allow him to be fully human (indeed isn't that what he was ultimately on trial and condemned for? ) and yet to Meursault's, this lack of gravity of feeling allowed him to be truly content and even, he claims, happy, in situations we would find unbearable. Although it is written in first person by a person with limited emotional maturity, the writing borders on poetic at times. And while the plot may be simple, it will have you contemplating and thinking about it for a long time. Truly a classic.


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Wednesday, May 4, 2016

Being Mortal

Being Mortal: Medicine and What Matters in the EndBeing Mortal: Medicine and What Matters in the End by Atul Gawande
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

I highly recommend this book to everyone who is mortal or knows some one who is. As I read the first few chapters, where Gawande catalogs what happens to us as we age and recounts some less than optimal situations that the elderly can sometimes end up in, it reinforced my dread of getting old or having to watch my parents get old. But as the book progressed, Gawande gives some encouraging alternatives. The later chapters involve terminally ill patients and how to help determine when and how to have medical intervention, and when to perhaps stop aggressive medical alternatives in favor of a better quality of life with palliative care. The questions he presents for helping the terminally ill can be modified to help all of us determine just what we are expecting and want from any medical treatment. The psychology he shared was interesting and thought provoking. By the end, I felt like there was definitely hope for a good end of life scenario, whether of old age or terminal illness. Perhaps the only thing I could ask for is some alternatives for those with some sort of dementia, a subject he didn't elaborate on.


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Death, of course, is not a failure.  Death is normal.  Death may be the enemy, but it is also the natural order of things.

old age itself has changed.  In the past, surviving into old age was uncommon, and those who did survive served a special purpose as guardians of tradition, knowledge, and history.

age no longer has the value of rarity.

As for the exclusive hold that elders once had on knowledge and wisdom, that, too, has eroded, thanks to technologies of communication

Global economic development has changed opportunities for the young dramatically.  The prosperity of whole countries depends on their willingness to escape the shackles of family expectation and follow their own path--to seek out jobs wherever they might be, do whatever work they want, marry whom they desire.

Given the opportunity, both parents and children saw separation as a form of freedom.

Modernization did not demote the elderly.  It demoted the family.

The veneration of elders may be gone, but not because it has been replaced by veneration of youth.  It's been replaced by veneration of the independent self.

We're always trotting out some story of a ninety-seven-year-old who runs marathons, as if such cases were not biological luck but reasonable expectations for all.  Then, when our bodies fail to live up to this fantasy, we feel as if we somehow have something to apologize for.

we've undergone a biological transformation of the course of our lives and also a cultural transformation of how we think about that course.

The single most serious threat she faces was not the lung nodule or the back pain.  It was falling.

The three primary risk factors for falling are poor balance, taking more than four prescription medications, and muscle weakness.

The job of any doctor...is to support quality of life, by which he meant two things: as much freedom for the ravages of disease as possible and the retention of enough function for active engagement in the world.

the patients who had seen a geriatrics team were a quarter less likely to become disabled and half as likely to develop depression.  They were 40 percent less likely to require home health services.

What geriatricians do--bolster our resilience in old age, our capacity to weather what comes--is both difficult and unappealingly limited.

When the prevailing fantasy is that we can be ageless, the geriatrician's uncomfortable demand is that we accept that we are not.

he would direct geriatricians toward training all primary care doctors and nurses caring for the very old,

It is not death that the very old tell me they fear.  It is what happens short of death--losing their hearing, their memory, their friends, their way of life.

most of us will spend a significant periods of our lives too reduced and debilitated to live independently.  We do not like to think about this eventuality.  As a result, most of us are unprepared for it.

Prosperity has enabled even the poor to expect nursing homes with square meals, professional health services, physical therapy, and bingo.  They've eased debility and old age for millions and made proper car and safety a norm to an extent that the inmates of poorhouses could not imagine.  Yet still, most consider modern old age homes frightening, desolate, even odious places to spend the last phase of one's life.  We need and desire something more.

With her home went her control.

They were never created to help people facing dependency in old age.  They were created to clear out hospital beds--which is why they were called "nursing" homes.

This has been the persistent pattern of how modern society has dealt with old age.  The systems we've devised were almost always designed to solve some other problem.

The things she missed most, she told me, were her friendships, privacy, and a purpose to her days.  Nursing homes have come a long way from the firetrap warehouses of neglect they used to be.  But it seems we've succumbed to a belief that, once you lose your physical independence, a life of worth and freedom is simply not possible.

In almost none does anyone sit down with you and try to figure out what living a life really means to you under the circumstances, let alone help you make a home where that life becomes possible.

Chapter 4 Assitance
The key word in her mind was home.  Home is the one place where your own priorities hold sway.  at home, you decide how you spend your time, how you share your space, and how to manage your possessions.  Away from home, you don't.  This loss of freedom is what people...dreaded.

here the care providers understood they were entering someone else's home, and that changed the power relations fundamentally.

They revealed that the residents had not in fact traded their health for freedom.  Their satisfaction with their lives increased, and at the the same time their health was maintained.  Their physical and cognitive functioning actually improved.  Incidence of major depression fell.  And the cost for those on government support was 20 percent lower than it would have been in a nursing home.

what makes life worth living when we are old and frail and unable to care for ourselves?
Maslow argued safety and survival remain our primary and foundational goals in life, not least wehn our options and capacities become limited.
Reality is more complex, though.  People readily demonstrate a willingness to sacrifice their safety and survival for the sake of something beyond themselves, such as family, country, or justice.  And this is regardless of age.

our driving motivations is life, instead of remaining constant, change hugely over time and in ways that don't quite fit Maslow's classic hierarchy.

Studies find that as people grow older they interact with fewer people and concentrate more on spending time with family and established friends.  They focus on being rather than doing and on the present more than the future.

they found living to more emotionally satisfying and stable experience as time passed, even as old age narrowed the lives they led.

If we shift as we age toward appreciating everyday pleasures and relationships rather than toward achieving, having, and getting, and if we find this more fulfilling, then why do we take so long to do it?

how we seek to spend our time may depend on how much time we perceive ourselves to have.

we have no good metrics for a place's success in assisting people to live.

assisted living isn't really built for the sake of older people so much as for the sake of their children.

They almost never sell themselves as places that put a person's choices about how he or she want to live first and foremost.

"We want autonomy for ourselves and safety for those we love."

our elderly are left with a controlled and supervised institutional existence, a medically designed answer to unfixable problems, a life designed to be safe but empty of anything they care about.

A Better Life
Three Plagues of nursing home existence: boredom, loneliness, and helplessness.

it is possible to provide them with reasons to live, period.

Even residents with dementia so severe that they had lost the ability to grasp much of what was going on could experience a life with greather meaning and pleasure and satisfaction.

Royce wanted to understand why simply existing--why being merely housed and fed and safe and alive--seems empty and meaningless to us.  What more is it that we need in order to feel that life is worthwhile?  The answer, he believed, is that we all seek a cause beyond ourselves.

in ascribing value to the cause and seeing it as worth making sacrifices for, we give our lives maning.
we all require devotion to something more than ourselves for our lives to be endurable.

Medical professionals concentrate on repair of health, not sustenance of the soul.

units with fewer than twenty people there tends to be less anxiety and depression, more socializing and friendship, and increased sense of safety, and more interaction with staff--even in cases when residents have developed dementia.

All we ask is to be allowed to remain the writers of our own story.

Letting Go
as people's capacities wane, whether through age or ill health, making their lives better often requires curbing our purely medical imperatives--resisting the urge to fiddle and fix and contotrol.

People with serious illness have priorities besides simply prolonging their lives.  Surveys find that their top concerns include avoiding suffering, strengthening relationships with family and friends, being mentally aware, not being a burden on others, and achieving a sense that their life is complete.

in ordinary medicine, the goal is to extend life.  We'll sacrifice the quality of your existence now--by performing surgery, providing chemotherapy, putting you in intensive care--for the chance of gaining time later.

Hospice deploys nurses, doctors, chaplains, and social workers to help people with a fatal illness have the fullest possible lives right now--

our every impulse is to fight, to die with chemo in our veins or a tube in our throats or fresh sturures in our flesh.  The fact that we may be shortening or worsening the time we have left hardly seems to register.

rarely is there nothing more that doctors can do.

we make no choice at all.  We fall back on the default, and the default is: Do Something.

people who had substantive discussions with their doctor about their end-of-life preferences were far more likely to die at peace and in control of their situation and to spare their family anguish.

those who saw a palliative care specialist stopped chemotherapy sooner, entered hospice far earlier, experienced less suffering at the end of their lives--and they lived 25 percent longer.  In other words, our decision making in medicine has failed so spectacularly that we have reached the point of actively inflicting harm on patients rather than confronting the subject of mortality.  If end-of-life discussions were an experimental drug, the FDA would approve it.

you live longer only when you stop trying to live longer.

we pay doctors to give chemotherapy and to do surgery but not to take the time required to sort out when to do so is unwise.

still unresolved argument about what the function of medicine really is--what, in other words, we should and should not be paying doctors to do.

Our responsibility, in medicine, is to deal with human beings as they are.  People die only once.  They have no experience to draw on.  They need doctors and nurses who are willing to have the hard discussions and say what they have seen, who will help people prepare for what is to come--

We want information and control, but we also want guidance.

Courage
Courage is strength in the face of knowledge of what is to be feared or hoped.  Wisdom is prudent strength.

At least two kinds of courage are required in aging and sickness.  The first is courage to contront the reality of mortality--the courage to seek out the truth of what is to be feared and what is to be hoped.
But even more daunting is the second kind of courage--the courage to act on the truth we find.

one has to decide whether one's fears or one's hopes are what should matter most.

People seem to have two different selves--an experiencing self who endures every moment equally and a remembering self who gives almost ll the weight of judgement afterward to two single pointes in time, the worst moment and the last one.

What is your understanding of the situation and its potential outcomes?  What are your fears and what are your hopes?  What are the trade-offs you are willing to make and not willing to make?  And what is the course of action that best serves this understanding?



Friday, April 29, 2016

The Grace of Kings

The Grace of Kings (The Dandelion Dynasty, #1)The Grace of Kings by Ken Liu
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Ok, I know this has all the trappings of a "nerd" book...fictional dynasties, named swords, women warriors, gods helping/hindering the humans, some of whom have mythical and mystical powers. But I loved it. It was just so well told. It didn't get carried away in its own mythology. The only characters I got confused were the gods, and they play a minor part anyway. The story was epic, and I felt like I was around a campfire each night anxiously awaiting what would happen next. the ending was supremely satisfying but I was pleasantly surprised that this is only book 1 in a series. I will definitely read the next one.


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" I admire the dandelion the most.  It is hardy and determined, adaptable and practical.  The flower looks like a small chrysanthemum, but it's much more resourceful and far less delicate.  Poets may compose odes about the chrysanthemum, but the dandelion's leaves and flowers can fill your belly, its sap cure your warts, its roots calm your fevers.  Dandelion tea makes you alert, while chewingits root can steady a nervous hand."

"There was now an invisible wall between them, they both saw.  They had felt closer to each other in their dreams and yearnings than they did now in person.  When they had been apart, each had striven to fulfill an idealized vision they thought the other had of them.  But the truth was that they had both changed."


"'But I've always found that true happiness must take into account our imperfections.  Faith is stronger when it acknowledges and embraces doubt.'"


"I have seen how the lowly dandelion, with time and patience, can crack the strongest paving stone."

"'To know the future is to have no choice...to be words fixed on a page by someone else.  We can only do w\hat we think is best, trusting it will all somehow work out.'"

The Walls Around Us

The Walls Around UsThe Walls Around Us by Nova Ren Suma
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

I realize this book has a lot of flaws including some pretty long stretches of plausibility that have nothing to do with the mystical aspects of the book, but I couldn't help loving it anyway. I felt like a cat licking its paws to get every last drop of that cream. Maybe it was the unreliable narrators, one in a juvenile detention center, one a ballet dancer (Suma won me over right away with details about ballet that are actually true). Maybe it was the fact that Amber in the detention center used the first person plural , present tense point of view (loved, loved that! Because institutions in general take away any personal identity). Maybe it was the mystical elements, or the hinted at incidents that kept you wondering, or the smart narration with beautiful imagery. Yes, the ending was a little abrupt and left more than a few questions, but the ride was worth it for sure.


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Wednesday, April 6, 2016

Nexus

Nexus (Nexus, #1)Nexus by Ramez Naam
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Great science fiction read about the near future when a drug can link your mind with another's. Kade and his friends have learned how to have Nexus in their brains all the time, as well as program it. But their illegal experimentation gets discovered and Kade has to decide what to do...turn it over to the government to be kept from the population at large for their own protection, , hand it over to a genius to create a new generation of super humans, or release it to the general population for them to use for good or for ill. There is a lot of action...Kade and his genetically altered handler get beat up half a dozen times, and lots of people die gruesome deaths. This is interlaced with a lot of soul searching so that the whole book becomes a little redundant...beat up, soul search, beat up, soul search, beat up while soul searching...but the epilogue where Naam related how his book could be less fiction than you think, was the clincher for me. Makes the soul searching a bit more relevant.


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The White Cascade

The White Cascade: The Great Northern Railway Disaster and America's Deadliest AvalancheThe White Cascade: The Great Northern Railway Disaster and America's Deadliest Avalanche by Gary Krist
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

The title pretty much says it all. It is well researched and the narrative is well paced. I think I had a hard time getting into it knowing what the ending would be from the title.


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Beautiful ruins

Beautiful RuinsBeautiful Ruins by Jess Walter
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

This was a satisfying beach read. It is all about how things look on the outside, and the beauty or rot that lies underneath.


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Epitaph

EpitaphEpitaph by Mary Doria Russell
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

The story of the build up to the shoot out at the OK corral. Russell does a good job of putting the pieces together for the readers, the shoot out a result of months of grudges, politics, weather, inflammatory journalism, jealousy, loyalty, and frustration. Even the death of Garfield plays a part. Then, what happens afterward. It is fiction, but Russell includes what seem to be primary sources so it seems like embellished nonfiction. Since so many of the primary witnesses either couldn't read or write, or were killed, probably anything written about that gunfight would have to be labeled as fiction. I enjoyed the story of the loyalty of the Earp brothers and Doc and their wives. They would kill and die for each other. And when necessary, stop the killing. Russell warns you about 85% of the way through to quit reading, if you like happy endings. Of course I kept reading, and I kind of wish I hadn't. The book drags from that point on, and no one likes to see the heroes grow old and become human ....


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Tuesday, March 8, 2016

Life in Color

I was once a Monet:
All soft and loose around the edges,
A still pond reflecting
    and dissolving colors of afternoon picnics
As elegiac as a Cather novel.

When the boy falls down
the blood is too red;
Tears spring to my eyes as
I grab at my own knee.

     **************

Now a Vanmeer, crystal clear
Recalling light the eye cannot see:
The shiny black of cockroach carapaces,
The primal red of childbirth,
A camera obscura, with the image upside down.

When the boy falls,
I am first on the scene
For I know no one else will come.

      ******************

Pushed and punished, flattened and greyed,
I am a Picasso of triangle tongues and disembodied limbs
An ache of winter and broken promises.
Two eyes peer out but cannot see

So when the boy falls down
I cannot hear
him over my own lament.

      ****************

Warhol at last, all candy-colored shine,
Carbon-copy gestures in all the right postures
As still as life inside
While seasons kalaidescope beyond.

The boy falls.
We watch with dead eyes
And smile still.