Book Reviews: An Introduction

[Originally posted as a page on 10/8/12; transferred to a standard post on 1/3/13.]


I happily live in an all-Apple household electronically (where possible): iPhones, iPads (both of which I’m really never without), MacBooks (of different flavors), Apple wireless equipment and a Nest thermostat (not technically an Apple product, but designed and manufactured by a former Apple employee and built with the same competent user-friendliness and design aesthetic as Apple products).  For more information on the Nest, see here.

Before iPads existed, I had a Kindle and a Nintendo DS, both of which got sold when I got my first iPad.  Since then, I’d entirely given up paper books.  With the various reading apps at my disposal, I was perfectly happy to give up the weight of multiple books, the choice of which ones, and the worry (whether traveling, which I’ve never been able to do as much as I’d like and am doing none of now, or just heading to work for the day and knowing I’ll be able to read at lunch) of finishing one book without having another to start (getting the impression “hand over the books and nobody gets hurt” yet?) – for having all my books with me at all times, and the ability to get a new one anytime, anywhere, all in a package a little more than a pound in weight that will stay on all day long.

No, this isn’t an ad for an iPad, but I do warn all you Apple haters, anti-Apple comments will not be approved.  🙂  This is my playground and I make the rules.  No, this is about me and books.  Bear with me, I’ll get there (or not if you prefer, skip ahead or bail entirely – your choice).

Anyway, I figure as long as I don’t spend the mortgage payment on books (which, so far, I’ve managed to restrain myself from doing) it’s a harmless, even a positive addiction.  Ask any English teacher.

I knew when the prospect of surgery came up, I’d be stuck at least at home, if not in bed, for a while, feeling very not myself.  It was a given.  What I had not counted on amidst significant other preparations (kitchen full of comfort food, laundry done, house tidied up, surgery specific clothing and supplies bought and packed in case of an unexpected hospital admission) was how physically weak I would actually be when I came home.  Part of that was not knowing precisely how extensive the surgery would have to be – which is a normal result of not being able to fully know until my CSurg actually got in there.  Turns out she had to remove more than any of us had planned, since the tumor turned out to be 50% bigger than multiple tests had led us all to believe and then she had to make sure she got clean margins, including part of the chest wall because of the tumor’s proximity.  All together (although a slightly more ovoid, less round shape) the amount of tissue that had to be removed is about the mass of a hockey puck.

But I digress, again…See the upcoming post “A Tornado In My Head.”

Okay, getting back on track here…I was surprised the morning after my first surgery that my iPad was too heavy to hold onto with my left (surgery) hand – at less than a pound and a half!  But holding it in my left hand actually hurt!  Luckily it was Mom to the rescue…

Now this plot detour is intentional – let’s talk about Mom.  I am as unlike my Mom as a natural-born child can be from a parent.  Most of my life I would joke that it’s a good thing that the women in this species bear the offspring, otherwise we’d wonder who my mother was.  I look like, think like, and have the same tastes as my Dad’s side of the family (there are some seriously strong genes over there).  As I’m getting older I do find a few more ways I’m like my mom (yes, yes, move along, nothing to see here); I think adding the 3 physical traits we’ve found we’re now up to a grand total of maybe 9 similarities.  That overwhelming amount of difference between us has meant that Mom and I haven’t necessarily had the relationship I was socialized to expect, or one as close as either one of us wanted it to be.  Often, Mom and I simply don’t speak each other’s language.  And yet even when I’m pissed at Mom, when our communication has broken down yet again, there is one thing I will always admire about her and be thankful for: she is a spectacularly good caretaker of someone in (even an extended) crisis.

At least with me (and from who else’s perspective can I really see this anyway?), she has a wonderful way of being very attentive, and yet unobtrusive – allowing the crisisee (a new word I just made up for fun) to rest as needed, without the pressure of having to “entertain a guest,” and yet being instantly there to make a meal, get some meds, or refill a glass of water.  Mom has a sense of the right distance to allow the crisisee to test her limits as they improve over time, but is still close enough to be a safety net if the crisisee overreaches.  It’s a hard thing to describe – I think you’ll either get what I’m trying to convey or not.  In any case, my Mom rocks!

So it was that the day after my first surgery my Mom showed up at my house with a stack of paperbacks she had already read.  They were perfect: the kind of light chick lit that would keep me occupied while my body healed some, but nothing I had to really concentrate on or remember.  In retrospect, the first surgery wasn’t too bad – went into it full strength, they only worked on one side – I was hanging out downstairs the very next day.  Not feeling great by any means but not needing to be in bed.  And awake enough to read…alot…4 books in the first 4 days.  Everyday Mom came up to hang out that week there was another book waiting for her to take home (this was before she told me to just pay them forward).  And a few days later, I could deal with the iPad for a bit to check email and Facebook, but still didn’t want to hold it for reading – too heavy.  I ended up reading paper books the whole time between the 2 surgeries (exactly 14 days apart).

So, the Sunday before surgery #2, Hubby and I were going through a similar drill as for surgery #1 – filling the fridge, making sure anything I might want to wear was clean, tidying up the house, packing a bag as insurance against an unexpected hospital admission (which worked both times, btw) and…

He floated the idea of getting me a Kindle again so that should I have the same experience with the second surgery (or worse, since the second time we were working on both sides) I could read when I was up to it with something even lighter than the paperbacks I had been holding.  So, we headed over to Best Buy and picked one up, went home and charged it up, and tucked it into the packed bag.

Let me tell you it was a godsend.  The second surgery was much harder than the first one!  Working on both sides, not just one.  I wasn’t even close to fully recovered from the first one – which was actually deliberate but also made things more difficult.  And the procedures that were done were just inherently more traumatic to the tissues than ones in the first surgery.  Let’s just say I was basically in a narcotic fog for the first two days after the surgery.  There were still short periods when I wanted to read (I read myself to sleep every night, so it was the perfect thing to do while waiting for the next dose of pain meds to kick in and send me blessedly back to dreamland), but I’m not sure I could have dealt with a book then.  Thankfully I didn’t have to.  I had my Kindle.  I could just prop it up against a pillow and use a single touch to turn pages until my eyes closed again.

No, this is also not meant to be an ad for a Kindle (but if you want one I’ll make it easy, click here).  It’s more about how Hubby takes good care of me too, and yay, I got to have my books still even though I was in considerably worse shape the second time around!

Anyhoo, both Mom and Dad (where’d you think I got it from anyway?) Always have a book with them.  Last week at one of my many appointments Mom was reading a book I said I wanted to read when she was done and I may post a review of it eventually:

The Doula


I Missed You Last Night, Grandma – Single Malt Scotch and Election Returns

I lost my grandmother, technically last New Year’s Eve, but really last December 30, 2011.  I was lucky enough to have her in my life, with all her faculties and still able to live alone (with non-live-in help) right up until the end – her end being when I was 45 years old.

I got to have the wonderful spoiling as a child (there was something special about Coca-Cola with ice in grandma’s glass glasses – there was no Coke in my fridge at home), and the privilege of knowing her from an adult perspective too, as I grew up.

My family is very political, very blue, very articulate and very opinionated.

Grandma would have Loved the election last night, and I would have been on the phone with her (with my Dad hanging out at her house for the festivities) for hours, all of us with a glass of single-malt scotch in our hands . . .

A few years ago, I decided everybody in my family was getting single-malt scotch for the holidays.  In addition to the above traits, we also all drink scotch (although our individual places on the peat-oak spectrum varies).  I didn’t think all that much  about it until during one visit with Grandma soon after that holiday where I gifted everyone scotch, she shared with me that she had told her bridge friends (she played bridge up until the last month of her life, aged 94) about my gift, and her friends thought she had the coolest grandkids ever!

I’ve been pretty busy lately just surviving the required schedule of work and treatment, but last night (and I know she was there with me, as she is now, just by my remembering her) I thought about how much she would have enjoyed her evening . . . keeping up with various family members by phone as the night progressed, with a glass of single-malt for sipping, as Obama won a second term and the entire country (in various ways) voted for fairness, equality and the positive evolution of our society.

Below are the remarks I shared at Grandma’s memorial service (redacted to preserve family privacy):

My grandmother was clearly the matriarch of this family. She ran it with love, strength, passion and intelligence.

I grew up being called “Grandma’s own,” both for the similarities in our personalities and because there is a very strong physical family resemblance. I always heard that moniker as a compliment and accepted with pride that I was like her, someone I love and admire.

That’s not to say that strength and backbone, combined with a vast vocabulary, are always a good thing. In certain circumstances, that combination can result in a mighty sharp tongue. It has been said of Grandma that her tongue was sharp enough to cut pastrami. Like many inheritable traits, that one has been passed down through the generations. Indeed, I’ve heard that same tongue come out of [my aunt]’s mouth, and my own.

But the best side of that combination is the fierce love and support she demonstrated for those people and causes that were important to her.

For instance, how many people can say their grandmother took them to a pro-choice rally? An aunt, mother, sister, yes, but their Grandmother? Not many, I don’t think…but I can.

And on a more personal level, while that kind of strength and smarts can have its downside – as many in the family sometimes have trouble talking about less than positive emotions (anger, sadness, frustration) – Grandma always communicated to me her no-doubt-about-it, unshakeable, absolute, almost taken-for-granted faith in my abilities to succeed in whatever life throws at me, something that has stood me in good stead through the years.

And it started early. Those of you who’ve been to our family dinner celebrations have seen that generally they are intelligent and well-informed, with strong passionate opinions flying all over the place.  I recall being encouraged from a very early age (one at which other families might think kids should be seen and not heard) to participate in the conversations and being taken seriously…as long as I could back up my opinion.

Grandma also provided what she could, even when it wasn’t requested in the best possible manner. When I was in my late elementary school years, Grandma and Grandpa were at that point in their lives when they were traveling all over the world, going to all the places they had decided they wanted to see. I was completely jealous and in what must have been a truly whiny voice, I said (and I think I actually said it very much like this) “You guys have been everywhere and I’ve never even been to Alaska.” Why I said Alaska I have no idea, it was the first thing that came to my mind. But they heard the need, the request behind the whining tone. After a brief pause, I was told, “You’re right, and if, when you graduate from elementary school, you still want to go to Alaska, we’ll take you.” Well, I did still want to go and go we did, on a two-week cruise. My first memory of that trip was being treated like a grown-up by both of them, at the tender age of 13. I have myriad other memories from that trip – from my first Tequila Sunrise that I don’t think they knew about, to the other kids I met on the ship, to watching glaciers break off into the sea in Glacier Bay, to just missing being in time for High Tea at the Empress Hotel in Victoria, British Columbia, to the hand-beaded slippers I brought home and wore until they fell apart and off my feet.

Not only did I grow up being called “grandma’s own” on personality, but physical genes are very strong, especially through the women in this family. I was constantly called “[my aunt’s name]” while growing up, even when [my aunt] wasn’t around. I knew I had reached true adulthood in my Grandmother’s eyes when, at a family dinner sometime in my 20’s, Grandma called [my aunt] “[my name].”

All of that strength and passion and strong opinions can sometimes be hard to get along with. I realize that at times I resemble that remark. I, of course, was only a child for much of my relationship with both Grandma and Grandpa, but something about how they got along I think had sunk in by the time I had grown up enough to start looking for a partner for myself. I have to wonder if at least I learned that there are men out there who can live with and love a woman with that much sense of self, and that helped me find my own.

Just like Momsie before her, Grandma wasn’t done with anything after losing Grandpa. When I first decided to speak today and began deliberately reflecting on my Grandmother’s life, I had a phrase in mind that I thought applied here. I had heard it many times – something about speeding in spent and this close to being late for the end of one’s life – but I couldn’t remember exactly how it went. Coincidentally (as I’m sure it had nothing to do with me from his perspective), last week a friend of mine posted the exact phrase I was thinking of on Facebook. It goes like this: “Life’s journey is not to arrive at the grave safely in a well preserved body, but rather to skid in sideways, totally worn out, shouting ‘Holy Shit…What a Ride!'” That was my grandmother.

During her blessedly short illness, some of her hospital caregivers who didn’t see her when being admitted, but later when she was fighting the good fight, tried to tell us that her sometimes only semi-lucid state was maybe the best we could hope for – she was 94 after all. But we had to educate them, that, as [Hubby] put it – 2 weeks ago you had to make an appointment to get on her social calendar! In fact, the last time she played bridge, just a couple of weeks before she became ill, she played 3 days in a row, and was disappointed that she and her partner only came in 4th out of 19 tables!

Last year for Mother’s Day, [Hubby] and I gave her an original iPad after we had upgraded to the new models for ourselves. During that visit, with it being her first time ever using an iPad, she picked up how to read her email, and download and read books on the device. The last time I visited with her, just a week or so before her final hospital stay, she showed off to me that she had learned how to download borrowed books from the local library and read them on the iPad!

So Grandma, here is my pledge to you: As “Grandma’s own,” I will try to live my life as fully, as passionately, and as lovingly as you did, right to the very end. I miss you and I will love you forever.

Last night, you came to the front of my mind.  What I wrote above was true then, is true today, and will always be true.

* * *

While writing this post and wandering around WordPress, I found these ladies:

Margaret and Helen

They remind me so much of none other than my grandmother (who, coincidentally, was also named Helen), and her sister-in-law, my Great-Aunt.  Not that I could Ever replace my grandmother, but I’m gonna head over there and see if they’ll adopt me over the net or something.  Or at the very least I’m gonna go follow their blog, for some guaranteed future laughs, I’m sure.

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