Tuesday, April 27, 2010

The Scent of Rain and Lightning

Her three uncles have come to tell Jody Linder that Billy Crosby, the man who murdered her father and probably her mother when she was three years old, has been released from prison. Billy is coming back to Rose, Kansas, the small town where Jody grew up with her grandparents, Annabelle and Hugh Linder.

Annabelle, Hugh (and the uncles) have given Jody as much love and protection as they could after the loss of her parents, at the same time living with their grief and anger over losing their first born son and daughter-in-law.

They can't protect her from Billy's return, but the Linder family is nothing if not protective and loyal to their own.

I felt privileged to read as the story developed, from Jody's first hearing about Billy's return, back to seeing the Linder family as they lived through the death and loss of two family members and then returning to the present to the events that played out after his return.

Pickard is a master at skillfully weaving past and present, telling about the Linder's lives from the events leading up to the violent night when Hugh-Jay died and Laurie disappeared to the present when Billy Crosby reappears on the scene.

I won't say any more about the story, and I urge you to do as my partner does, don't read things that will give anything away, such as reviews or even the back cover. I went to the author's website this morning and read a review that gave info I'm glad I didn't know while I was reading. Sometimes it's better not to know much about a book before reading it.

The ending was a teensy bit too tidy for me, however I thoroughly enjoyed reading about the Linder family, the other residents of Rose (including the Testament Rocks, which almost seemed like a character themselves), and the night that defined their lives.

A good read!

The Scent of Rain and Lightning will be released May 4, 2010.

Sunday, April 25, 2010

Satisfying List of Books

I keep a list of books I've read...below is what I've read so far in 2010.

I have a sense of accomplishment when I look at the list. This is a nice contrast to my usual feeling of frustration and feeling overwhelmed so often at work. There so many books that I haven't read and there are so many books that I want to read and I know I cannot get to all of them.

Yet I have gotten to these...

The Murderer's Daughters by Randy Susan Meyers
The Last Chinese Chef by Nicole Mones
The Bell Jar by Sylvia Plath
Even the Dogs by Jon McGregor
Cowboy and Wills by Monica Holloway
Changing My Mind by Zadie Smith
Eternal on the Water by Joseph Monninger
One Amazing Thing by Chitra Banerjee Divakaruni
Secrets of Eden by Chris Bohjalian
The Brief Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao by Junot Diaz
Impatient With Desire by Gabrielle Burton
Imperfect Endings by Zoe Fitzgerald Carter
Tweak by Nic Sheff
Mathilda Savitch by Victor Lodato
I Want to be Left Behind by Brenda Peterson
I Capture the Castle by Dodie Smith
Divine Misfortune by A. Lee Martinez
Elegance of the Hedgehog by Muriel Barbery
The Map of True Places by Brunonia Barry
Making Rounds with Oscar by David Dosa
Every Last One by Anna Quindlen
Interred With Their Bones by Jennifer Lee Carrell
A Reliable Wife by Robert Goolrick

Some of the books on the list didn't really do it for me...The Brief Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao, Impatient With Desire, Even the Dogs, and even The Elegance of the Hedgehog...evidently just not the right books for me.

Others were fairly forgettable...Secrets of Eden, One Amazing Thing...

Some I really enjoyed reading...Every Last One (her descriptions of being a mother are spot on), The Map of True Places, Eternal on the Water (there were some flaws in the book, but I really liked the main characters), Mathilda Savitch (I really liked Mathilda, though I've talked to others who didn't...it's so personal)...

And many were lovely, even luminous...The Last Chinese Chef (the descriptions of food!), Making Rounds With Oscar (describing living with someone with dementia, though maybe it resonated for me because I was one of those people), A Reliable Wife (luminous in a creepy sort of disturbing way)...

Right now I'm reading The Scent of Rain and Lightning by Nancy Pickard, which is really enjoyable. It opens with Jody Linder in bed in the middle of the day. She's in bed with her (sort of) boyfriend. Her three uncles drive up to the house, which does not bode well, not only because she's in bed with a boyfriend that they don't know about, but the uncles, being ranchers, are rarely together in the middle of the day. In addition, they are dressed up, which is another bad sign. They've come to tell her that Billy Crosby, the man who killed her parents when she was 3 years old, has been released from prison and is coming back to their small town in Kansas.

Scent of the Missing by Susannah Charleson is what I'll be reading next. That was my St. George's Day present from my sweetie. The subtitle is Love and Partnership with a Search-and-Rescue Dog. This will hopefully be a partial dog fix until we can get a dog of our own.

Read on!

Wednesday, April 21, 2010


I just got back from the post office where I mailed six packages of books, all to people I don't know.

This is a Bookcrossing thing.

Bookcrossing http://www.bookcrossing.com is a place to keep track of books you've read (or owned, or that have come into your hands) by registering them and then journaling what happens to them. You can keep them (permanent collection), you can reserve them, and you can list them as available. And, you can release them.

Books can be released into the wild. Wild releasing is when you take a book you have, register it (so it has a Bookcrossing ID number), and then leave it somewhere for someone else to find, like maybe in a coffee shop or on a park bench.

A controlled release is when you know who will be the recipient of your book(s), and you are mailing them or perhaps hand delivering them to a specific person. This is what I did today. Several of the packages were RABCK's, (Random Acts of Bookcrossing Kindness), where we looked at books we were done with (a Scott Turow, Harry Dolan's Bad Things Happen, and audio version of Muriel Barbery's Gourmet Rhapsody, Sarah Vowell, The Wordy Shipmates, to name a few), searched wishlists on Bookcrossing, checked another site to get addresses, and sent them to people who want them. They do not know that they are coming.

It is delightful to be a recipient of an RABCK. And, we feel as though we've done a good deed when we send books off to someone else. When they are received, people journal that they've received them and are grateful and pleased. So maybe our good deeds aren't purely altruistic in intent. I love being able to track where books go and have gone and what others think of them. My book that's traveled the farthest? I took Nicole Mones's book, A Cup of Light, to Indonesia from the U.S. and (wild) released it there. It got 'caught' and someone took it to Italy.

One of the books I sent off today was Robert Goolrick's A Reliable Wife, one I'd been wanting to read for months. That book is part of a bookring. In a bookring, one person who has the book posts that they are willing to make it into a ring. Interested parties sign up, and the bookring 'host' then determines who gets it first, second, and so on. When it arrives, bookring participants are expected to journal that they received the book, read the book, journal that they read it and what they thought of it, then contact the next person in the ring and send it on its merry way. (By the way I really liked A Reliable Wife...kind of gothic and mysterious and haunting. This may be a book that sticks with me for a while...)

One of the downsides? The next person to receive A Reliable Wife lived in the United Kingdom, which is one of, if not THE most expensive places to send books from here. I could have bought the book for less than I paid to send it. (You can opt not to send to other countries, or whether or not to participate in bookrings at all. It's fairly reasonable to mail books within the U.S., especially if media mail is used.)

The very best thing about Bookcrossing? It's where I met my partner. Bookcrossers meet every month or so in this area and have for years. I attended many a Bookcrossing gathering, and so got to meet some of my fellow Bookcrossers. Therapist was at one of the meetings several years ago. We have been together now for several years.

Can I promise that you'll meet the love of your life at a Bookcrossing meeting? Well, no. However I CAN say that with Bookcrossing you'll very likely enjoy your books' traveling adventures, which are in addition to the adventures you already find from books on the pages inside.

Sunday, April 18, 2010

My New Favorite Holiday!

Last year an advance reader's copy of Carlos Ruiz Zafon's new book (well, new to us in the US), The Angel's Game was sent to the bookstore. With it was a letter from the publisher, describing the release date (April 23) as coinciding with St George's Day, also known as World Book Day or International Day of the Book...

Wait, there's a WORLD BOOK DAY??? And no one told me??? This had to be the best holiday ever...

Wikipedia says...
St George's feast is ranked higher in England and in certain other regions. It is the second most important National Feast in Catalonia, where the day is known in Catalan as La Diada de Sant Jordi and it is traditional to give a rose and a book to a loved one. This tradition inspired UNESCO to declare this the International Day of the Book, since April 23, 1616 was also the date of death of both the English playwright William Shakespeare (according to the Julian calendar) and the Spanish author Miguel de Cervantes (according to the Gregorian calendar).

Okay, International Book Day, World Book Day, different names, same great idea...

Carlos Estrada from the Barcelona School gives more background...

St. George's Day has been celebrated since 1436. St. George is the patron Saint of Catalonia

• Catalonia : In Catalonia St. George's day coincides with the Fair of the Book and the Rose. On this day every man offers a rose to his loved one (wife or fiancĂ©e), and in return she gives him a book. The book is in memory of Cervantes. This custom was started in 1926, to commemorate Cervantes death (author of "Don Quixote").

A holiday where one is supposed to give a loved one a book? Not just a present, but a BOOK. I'm surprised bookstores all over the US haven't jumped all over this one...but I digress...

The Legend.

The 23rd April is a date that has always been linked, either directly or indirectly, to literature and popular traditions.

Here is the legend: St. George fights the wicked dragon that held the princess captive. Finally St. George kills the dragon and on the spot where the dragons blood was spilled a rose grew as a symbol of love and friendship.

But what has really given importance to this date is that it is now considered to be the "World Book Day".

On 23rd April books are sold in the streets on long stalls prepared specially for the grand occasion. Many people take advantage of this day, even though they may not normally be regular readers, to buy and enjoy a book. It is one way of encouraging people to read.

This is also a popular date to launch new novels onto the market and many authors take advantage of the fact in order to promote their latest book.
Last, but not least, there is nothing nicer than lovers exchanging a book and a rose.


Right now I am reading Interred With Their Bones by Jennifer Lee Carrell. It's kind of a Da Vinci Code for Shakespeare, with a little Don Quixote thrown in there as well.

This is not the book I'll be giving on St George's Day, but it seemed an appropriate one to read as my new favorite holiday approaches.

Happy St George's Day!

Thursday, April 15, 2010

There Should be More Cats! (and Dogs!)

As I wrote in an earlier post, I'd been avoiding books that dealt with dementia.

Before I started reading Making Rounds with Oscar, I knew that Oscar was a cat who would go sit with people who were dying in a hospital or nursing home. I did not know that Oscar lived on a dementia ward. Had I known that, I might not have requested this book (an advance reader's copy), and I am so glad I didn't know and that I did receive this book.

My father had Parkinson's related dementia before he died, and my mother had dementia before her death two years ago.

Dr. Dosa, a geriatrician, knows much about dementia. He was skeptical about Oscar's ability to 'know' when patients were going to die and to go sit with them while they died. Dr. Dosa spoke with staff at the facility and family members of patients, sometimes seeking out family members whose loved one had passed several years ago to find out more about Oscar and his interesting ability. As he wrote about what family members had to say about Oscar, he also wrote about dementia, and how family members felt about and dealt with their loved ones.

When my parents were ill, I didn't have much information about dementia, especially not much information on how to interact with people with dementia. He shared what family members learned about dealing with their loved ones. One thing they learned was that being able to distract their loved one is very helpful.

Reading this book, I found myself nodding in recognition. Mom would focus on something that wasn't true, or something she worried about. She'd think that her parents (long dead) were coming to pick her up. I couldn't convince her that they were not coming, or if I did convince her for a moment, she'd just forget right away and come back to that idea immediately. I learned (with help from a very wise Therapist) that a better tactic was to get her focused on something else. Flowers. Her cat. Going for a walk. Photos. I learned many of the things he mentioned in the book too, but I felt as though I went the long way around, discovering things more often by anguished trial and error.

My mom had a cat living with her and there were other animals around too. One cat, Henry, would come over from one of the other 'houses' and ride the elevator in different buildings and wander into residents' rooms. Just visiting. I loved seeing Henry in the elevator. Mom didn't seem to notice how unusual it was for a cat to be in an elevator, but she was always glad to see Henry too. We engaged a pet therapist to come and bring a dog to visit my mom once a week. Her memory wasn't good enough to be able to remember between the visits, but when the dog came, he'd be up on her lap and snuggling right in. Her hands would rest on him, seeming to relax into his fur, and she would talk to him. He loved it. She loved it. I loved it. I felt as though it was one small thing we could do for her.

I wish we'd thought to engage a pet therapist with my dad, or bring one of the cats to see him in his facility. Whether or not there's a cat who can determine when a patient is dying, like Oscar, or if there are animals with more 'normal' talents (elevator riding?), animals help.

I'd been avoiding books that had almost anything to do with dementia because I was afraid it would be too hard, too painful to read. Instead, this was an affirmation of how hard it was to have a loved one with dementia. It made me appreciate all I went through even more, and reminded me of the loving presence animals can bring.

Sunday, April 11, 2010

A Day in the Life

A woman in her late 40's or early 50's was checking out at the register. She was purchasing a book in one (of the many) teen vampire series. She looked at the Twilight graphic novel displayed at my register and she picked it up. "How can you beat Twilight?," she said. I've been reading these other series, but none of them come close to Twilight. I can't wait for her next book, I love her writing."

A young man approached me at the Information desk. "I'm looking for a book to read, do you have any recommendations for someone my age, 18 or 19?," he said. "What do you like to read?," I asked. He said, "Mysteries. Thrillers. That kind of thing usually." I showed him Matthew Reilly's Seven Ancient Wonders, which is supposed to be a good read. Then I showed him Chuck Palahnuik which, while he doesn't really write thrillers, his books do seem to appeal to people his age. "He wrote Fight Club and Choke," I said. "And he's local. Super nice guy, does great book signings, if you get a chance to go. My son has read all of his books and really likes them." He seemed sort of interested, but not really. So I moved onto Christopher Moore. "Some of his books are about something, like A Dirty Job is 'about' death, and Lamb is 'about' religion but they are really funny and kind of wacky. I recommend taking whichever ones you're interested and starting to read them here. If you like them, then good. If not, then they aren't good for you right now." He came up to me later and asked to put the Matthew Reilly book and A Dirty Job on hold, and thanked me for my help.

A woman in her 60's or 70's approached me...
"The people they talk about on channel 48 have some books. Where are they?" "I don't know what channel 48 is," I replied. "It's Fox News," she said. "Ah. Well, Sean Hannity has a new book that's at the front of the store, but most of the authors featured on Fox will be in Current Affairs, arranged by author," I said as I directed her to the section. She thanked me and headed to the section. About 10 minutes later she approached me again, this time with a sheet of paper. Randomly written all over it at all angles, in pencil, were what looked like authors and book titles. "I'm looking for a book called The Ultimate Solution by Joshua Cooper." I searched and searched, using key words, then exact titles, and couldn't get anything to come up by a Joshua Cooper. As I was searching, she kept saying, "Joshua. Cooper. It's Cooper. Ultimate Solution, by Joshua Cooper." I told her I was having trouble finding it, she said, looking down at her sheet, "Try this...The Age of the Unthinkable." So I did, and found The Age of the Unthinkable written by a Joshua Ramo.
So close, really. I don't understand how I couldn't find it before.

A co-worker came up and asked if I'd read any Stephen King. "The Stand," I said. "That doesn't help," she said. She said a kid asked her to find a Stephen King book that was blue and had a picture of an eye on the cover and it was about a ouija board. He didn't know any of the words in the title, and it was an old book. She was trying to google it, she was frustrated because she HAD read most of Stephen King, and didn't know which one it was. His books get reprinted all the time with new covers and new designs, which makes it really hard to find a book of his by the cover art, without knowing a little more about it. When I left her, she was still trying to find it.

One of the managers came up to me and said, "Oh, I hate it when people do that. They put books from one section in another section...this time they've put bibles and the Sarah Palin book faced out in the gay and lesbian section. Yep, that'll do it. There won't be any more gays or lesbians because they'll see those bibles and Sarah Palin books and change their minds. Yep."

A woman and a young girl were looking for a book about a particular dog. "H-a-c-h...and then something. It's that Japanese dog," she said. "Is it the name of the dog or the kind of dog?," I asked. "It's the dog's name," she said. A co-worker searched on the computer for Japanese dog and got Hachiko. The woman continued, "This dog met his owner at the train station every day when he came home from work. One day the owner died, but the dog kept meeting the train every day for ten years!" We did have one book about the dog, which she purchased. I looked up the story about the dog when I got home, sure enough, even though the dog was only 2 years old when his owner died, he waited at the train station every day for ten years, and died at that same spot. This was in 1924. There is a statue of the dog at the train station in Japan.
What a great story!

Wednesday, April 7, 2010

Three R's

My father died of Parkinson's eight years ago and yesterday was the two year anniversary of my mother's death from dementia.

Brunonia Barry's new book The Map of True Places has a character with Parkinson's, who is moving into the end stages of the disease in the book.

David Dosa's Making the Rounds with Oscar chronicles part of his work as a doctor working with elderly patients in a nursing home (and Oscar the cat's ability to sense when people are close to death), many of whom have dementia.

I don't know if I would have picked up either of these books had I known that dementia was such a large part of them. I've generally avoided books that have characters with dementia or Parkinson's as it's been too painful for me to re-experience what I lived through with my parents, even in a book.

There were some passages in The Map of True Places where the character's difficulties from his disease were tough to read. Most of the book, however, focused on his daughter's struggle with her mother's death after living with mental illness (bipolar disorder), brought up by the death of one of her patients (also with bipolar disorder).

That the illness and decline weren't the main part of the story was good for me, reading some of the passages in this book, as well as in Making Rounds with Oscar made me remember some of the struggles my parents had with dementia. I felt as though I remembered them and recognized them from the inside. And it was okay.

I enjoyed The Map of True Places. Zee, the daughter, is a therapist who treats a woman who has bipolar disorder...
Okay, one thing that I didn't like about this book...Julie Fast, author of several books about bipolar disorder, talks about how she doesn't like it when people use the description, 'she's bipolar', as opposed to 'she has bipolar'. To her that first way of describing someone makes bipolar disorder the person's entire identity, rather than one aspect of life that has to be dealt with. We don't say 'she's cancer', we say 'she has cancer'. It seems like a small distinction, but it's an important one. In this book Barry has her psychiatrists and therapists talk about their patients and family members in that first way, "She's bipolar," which I think lessens the book a bit.

As I read over the above paragraphs, the Barry book sounds pretty darn intense...mental illness, Parkinson's...and in some ways it is, but it didn't read so intense to me. Perhaps having the story set in Salem and Boston, using nautical and navigational references (which my dad would have liked, he was a sailor), bringing in the new age and witch-y aspects of Salem, made it less grim. It was also a bit of a mystery, Zee struggling with her own mother's death and her patient's death and wondering if she could have prevented either one. Of course there are a few nefarious characters, but mostly it's about Zee coming to terms with herself as a daughter and a therapist and a lover.

In Making Rounds with Oscar, David Dosa talks about diagnosing a woman with early onset Alzheimer's, asking her questions which required her to use her memory. As I was reading I remembered so many doctor's appointments with my mother where the same questions Dr Dosa asked his patients were asked of my mom, each appointment showing how she was losing her ability to remember. He talked about how devastating it was for this patient and her husband to realize so clearly, because he was the doctor and he was telling them that she really did have a problem.

And it is devastating. My mom had a stroke which resulted in some dementia, which progressed into advanced dementia.

It was awful for her to know she was losing some of her memory, at first it was short term memory, like what had happened that morning. But then she lost more. She'd forget where she was, she forgot her parents had died. As the disease progressed, she forgot so much that she didn't even know she should have remembered. It was just me, every day watching her forget more and more over time, forgetting how to do things, forgetting who I was.

I had to go to the hospital today to deliver something to a lab. I felt anxious while I was there, my body remembering the being there with my mom for countless appointments.

Writing this has been hard, my stomach in knots, my head hurting.

I'm thinking that having the anniversary of my mom's death, going to the hospital, reading these books and writing this all at the same time has been a little hard, there's just been too much remembering stacking up all at once.

Perhaps I shouldn't have chosen to read them at this point in the year, but here I am. Reading, writing and remembering. I think I'll get back to just reading for a while.