Monday, March 25, 2013

last week's reading

There was a lot.

Payment in Blood, by Elizabeth George. This is the second book in the Inspector Lynley series, and the first I've read. It had one of those annoying endings in which the murderer turns out to be the one person no one suspected, because neither the reader nor the characters were given any reason to suspect him. Also, it's weird that other suspects seem to have pretty free rein to participate in the investigation. But it was a good enough weekend-afternoon read that I'll get another one out of the library. Definitely a borrow, not a buy.

How to Be a Woman, by Caitlin Moran. This is one of the funniest books I have ever read, and it is incredibly wise at the same time. Moran uses memoir as an attack on misogyny and patriarchy: the first half of each chapter is about her puberty / weight / childbirth / fashion experiences, and then in the second half she expands the topic to a universal level. I laughed out loud on every page, and want every woman I know to read this. It contains very rude language, but because she's a Brit she gets away with it. Brilliant.

Dear Life, by Alice Munro. Short stories about small-town Canadian life in the middle of the twentieth century. Beautifully written and mostly quietly despairing. I found it hard to read more than one at a time, but man, she's talented.

The End of Your Life Book Club, by Will Schwalbe. Schwalbe's mother was diagnosed with stage 4 pancreatic cancer when she was in her early seventies, and this book is a sort of biography / memoir / review of the books he read with her in the last two years of her life. He's not an astonishing writer, and his mother unfortunately comes off as one of those people who, while they may be spending their abnormal amounts of energy in doing good things (and she did, working with refugee programs all over the world), cannot understand that others don't have the energy (or, crucially, the financial ability) to do the same. She's admirable on paper, but I couldn't help often thinking of the times I've met people with abnormal amounts of energy in real life, and how they exhaust everyone around them. But when Schwalbe talks about books, and what books have meant to his family and his relationship with his mother... early on he says, "Reading isn't the opposite of doing; it's the opposite of dying," and boom! right in the feelings.

Personal digression: I was frightened to read War and Peace for so long. Not daunted, not intimidated; frightened. Because at some point in my adolescence and early adulthood, when the whips and scorns of being too thin-skinned and too idealistic and too desperate for love became overwhelming, I picked War and Peace as a sort of talisman, as something to represent a future I didn't want to miss. And I would say into the mirror, half-joking, half-terribly-serious, "You can't give up; you haven't read War and Peace yet." (I hadn't read Ulysses either at that point but, having now read them both, I made the right choice there.*)

I read W&P in 2009, when the new translation by Pevear and Volokhonsky came out and I could no longer ignore the rave reviews. And the whole time, there was always a little part of my brain (the part that wasn't swooning from how amazing it was) thinking, Honey, you are asking for it. Asking for what, I don't quite know. A piano to fall on me? The cancer? Could be. I do know that during those horrid few days when we didn't yet know if the cancer had spread or not, I mentally fidgeted through my reading list, wondering what could possibly have the force of W&P in terms of saving me. And wondering, if I picked another talisman, what I would do at the point of no return. That question still haunts me, of course, because I'm not immortal. If I continue to have a talisman book, and I get warning as to the end approaching, will picking up that book be my acceptance of the end? Will I refuse to pick it up at all, and risk missing a great book? Will I just read Our Mutual Friend over and over? (Yes.)

I don't have a talisman book right now. I am in an ALL THE BOOKS stage, and get paralyzed with bliss when I think about how many books there are to be read. And, Jacob Marley, heaven, and the Christmas season be praised for it, I am no longer twenty-one years old. It's possible I no longer have the need for a talisman book.

End personal digression. In any case, Schwalbe's book is decent, in an Oprah book club way, although I wanted more about books and less about his mother's charming habit of talking to every stranger in the oncology waiting room, because I have been that stranger, and I would have been desperately trying to find a polite way to say, "You may have noticed that I was reading a book, because I do not want to talk about my treatment or how young I am or how I really should quit my job and volunteer in Rwanda, THANKS." By the end of the book I was frankly tired of this woman, which is a horrible thing to say, but that's how I felt.

I set aside Denise Mina's Deception, which was sort of like Gone Girl, except not nearly as good. It was just unpleasant, and there's a vast difference between unpleasant and grim. When the inevitable prawn mayonnaise sandwich made its appearance (oh, Scotland), that scene was so disgusting that I just could not read any further. I am, however, deep into the last book in her Garnethill trilogy. Grim, but not vile.

On Thursday I had my mammogram. Even though I had a clear MRI two weeks before, this still made me nervous. I sat in the waiting room, the voice in my head going eeeeekk, and then the wonderful tech I had in September poked her head around the curtain and said, "Beatrice! I bet you aren't glad to see me!"

"I am incredibly glad to see you," I said.

It went as quickly as these things can go, and the pain wasn't too bad. One of the things I love about this tech is that she explains all the scans after each one is taken - I think she does it to give the boobs a rest, which I also appreciate, but the the scans are fascinating. We looked at the initial scans, and saw the little white circles of calcification, and then did the hold-for-two-minutes-death-squish, and looked at the scans again, and saw that the circles had all turned to lines, which means they are harmless. So satisfying. They do want me to come back in six months again, when my oncologist had been hopefully saying it might be time to return to a yearly screening, but we'll discuss that further when I see her in April.

I am wading into Nabokov again, which I periodically do when I'm feeling virtuous. It's almost always a disaster. I love Pale Fire, which is like nothing else he ever wrote, and have hated everything else. I read Lolita when I was Lolita's age, which has rendered horror novels superfluous for the entirety of my life. However, fifty pages into Ada, I'm... intrigued**. We shall see how the next five hundred pages go.

*The right choice for ME, Joyceans! I don't judge! (I totally judge.)

**A.S Byatt stole shamelessly from it for "Morpho Eugenia", and it's steampunk. I didn't see either of those things coming. 

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