Wednesday, May 27, 2009

Book Recommendations

When it comes to books, I tend to gravitate to enjoying the classics. I’ll read recent works, but the details and background given in classics satisfy my desire to get inside everyone’s heads to learn their motivations.

However, in the last couple months, several of the recently published books I’ve read have been quite delightful. I’ll be brief, as I prefer to know as little as possible when beginning a new book, but I hope one of these might tempt you. Here they are, beginning with the most enjoyable.

The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society by Mary Ann Shaffer and Annie Barrows

This was by far my favorite. I had to read an excerpt based on the title alone, and then I was hooked. The majority of the book is composed of letters among the protagonist (an author) and others in the period shortly after World War II. By happenstance she begins corresponding with a number of Guernsey islanders about their experiences during WWII while they were closed off from war communications. The final section of the book deviates from the epistle format; while I understood the reasoning for this, I preferred the former exchanges. I tend to write down favorite lines and passages I come across, and this had a number, testifying to the authors’ skills to perfectly capture the way things are. The characters are endearing and believable and filled with life.

A Thousand Splendid Suns by Khaled Hosseini
It can’t hold a candle to The Kite Runner, but it affected me more profoundly, if that can be. The experiences of the women in Afghanistan through the regime changes are detailed, as well as their loss of freedoms and how others manipulated this for their own aims. It’s a depressing read, but I didn’t feel patronized with a manufactured happy ending.

The Hotel on the Corner of Bitter and Sweet by Jamie Ford
This is the story of a friendship between a Chinese-American boy and a Japanese-American girl, beginning around Pearl Harbor and continuing through internment camps and beyond.

Unaccustomed Earth by Jhumpa Lahiri

I enjoyed Lahiri’s earlier work The Namesake, so that led me to pick up this book of short stories. Some are more gripping than others, but I appreciate Lahiri’s rhythm and the accounts aren’t formulaic. I respect an author who doesn’t shy away from portraying realistic endings.

Still Alice by Lisa Genova
The verdict is not yet in on this one. It’s the account of a woman diagnosed with early-onset Alzheimer’s and the transformations in her family relationships as her condition worsens. I haven’t been gripped yet, and I’m a third in, but it hasn’t been discarded either.

The Glass Castle by Jeannette Walls
If you humor me to jump back to books I read last summer, I also recommend this memoir that’s depressing and redemptive all in one go. I might rank this one highest of all, but it’s hard to compare memoirs to novels since their motivations are so different. Walls has experienced quite the life and yet it didn’t break her. Frustrating and hard for me to read, but valuable and one that has stuck with me.

The Last Lecture by Randy Pausch
And another short memoir from last summer was one that has made the rounds. I cried throughout as I read his account of facing death and coming to terms of preparing for his imminent departure from his wife and young kids. He sprang to stardom after his lecture of the same name made the rounds on YouTube, and this book was borne from that response.

If you’ve read any good books lately, do share. I’m always interested in discovering new ones to read.

Friday, May 15, 2009

Introducing Dante

Every Christmas, my sister’s and her husband’s cats repeatedly act out the various scenario with Augustine.

Juris and Asher: Wow, we’re so glad you’re here! We’ll be happy to show you the best places to hunt for crickets or spiders, and the window ledges are really wide, which is great for watching everything going on outdoors. Speaking of that, sometimes there’s this cat that comes in the afternoon to see us, and we’re friends, and we watch for her and talk through the window at her, and you might get to meet her. And you can have some of our food and water -- can we have some of yours? -- and we’ll show you how to meow through the doors when everyone is upstairs and…

Augustine: I’m going to hiss at you through this door and hide under the bed, okay? Please don’t try to come after me, or I will be forced to swat my paw at you.

Juris and Asher: Ooh, you have a litter box – can we see?! And then we’ll show you the best closets for exploring and there’s a really awesome jungle gym we play on and there are some really comfortable chairs and couches and then this bed is great for sleeping on and we’d also like to smell you and let you join in our chasing games and chewing on ribbons and bows and…

Augustine: Get thee behind me, Satan!

Lest you think I jest, I offer into evidence the following photo of the first Christmas Augustine met Juris.

Finally, this past year, she started warming up to them, insofar as she could lay on the floor in the same room as them without having a panic attack every single moment.

Is now the proper time to tell you we adopted a new kitten? Yes, we’re gluttons for punishment, but we had been considering a second pet and we saw a sappy news story about how people were being forced to give up their pets during this trying economic time because they couldn’t afford to feed them. So we decided we could certainly feed an additional cat, and Augustine has gotten a little [ahem, quite] portly seemingly overnight, so forced exercise might be a convenient bonus.

We scoured Petsmart and the representatives plying their animals from various shelters, all while trying to decide which feline would freak out Augustine the least. We were leaning towards a male because they seem more agreeable, and age was a strong factor. We hypothesized a small kitten would be perceived by Augustine as less threatening than a peer would have been; her maternal instinct might kick in, or more likely, she could smack him around to let him know the pecking order. I’m sure the cute factor played no part in our decision-making; it was all purely logical because I am a philosopher’s wife and that’s the way I roll.

Enter Dante from a local humane society. Dante is about nine weeks old and weighs two pounds. He’s a sweet, affectionate little guy (Eric’s favorite part). He’s quiet (my favorite part). And he’s polydactyl (our veterinarian’s favorite part). The jury is still out about his response to yarn, although early indications are not promising. There will be continued interventions on this front.

We brought him home and kept him quarantined for just over a week until he got a clean bill of health from our veterinarian. During that time, there arose minimal hissing and growling from Augustine, but they sniffed at each other through the closed door, and later through a screen of sorts that allowed them to see each other.

I hardly dare suggest that they’re friends since it’s been a mere three days of exposure, but the drama has been nonexistent. Augustine has been caught grooming Dante (I know!), and they’ll sleep near each other (more Dante’s doing than Augustine’s). I think it’s safe to say we dodged a bullet. I had prepared myself for months of fighting and animosity, and given Augustine’s prior behavior with Juris and Asher, that was a safe assumption, so you can understand why we’re still in shock that it’s been so anticlimactic.

Tuesday, May 05, 2009

Eight Months Later

While the pain is still deep, the tears are less frequent now. I think several things have alleviated my suffering, a couple of which I’ll mention here.

One, I was in such a cloud for the entirety of my hospital stay that the experience is this hazy memory. I think I got a total of a (very short) row and a half knit on the first day of bedrest, but my eyesight was such that knitting and reading were out of the question. I dictated work and personal emails to Eric and the TV gave constant coverage of the political scene during the primaries. If I didn’t have evidence of fading stretch marks or the pregnancy experience in general, I would hardly trust my memories. I guess that’s one grace of having been so sick, but there is an irrational part of me that wishes I had been more alert so I could have capitalized on every moment of Katherine's life instead of being unable to control my exhaustion. I understand my body was just trying to recover from the surgery-preeclampsia-HELLP Syndrome trifecta, but the feeling is there.

Two, since Katherine was never brought home, in one sense our house was never touched by her presence. There are memories everywhere – the overflowing box of cards, Julie’s painting, the photos of her and the prints of her hands and feet, small items of clothing both purchased and knit. But there aren’t the memories of crawling out of bed to tend to her cries or holding her as she slept. No memories of her nursing or of introducing her to Augustine or changing soiled diapers.

Just these disjointed, foggy memories of her birth and that beautiful wail she let out as she tested her newfound lungs. Memories of first being wheeled down to the NICU, then trying my legs at walking. Memories of sitting by the side of her incubator and talking to her as I stroked her frail body. Memories of pumping and Eric or Heather running the collection tubes down to her. Memories of the nurses or Eric updating me to her steady progress, then the memories of holding my little girl as she left this world.

Some nights, though, as Augustine comes looking to cuddle with me as I drift off to sleep, I cradle her little ten-pound form in my right arm just so – exactly as she insists – and as she settles down and lays her head onto my chest or against my neck, my throat turns raw and my face constricts as I think about how I wished I were instead cradling my precious daughter.