Dropping like flies — My DNF pile of Doom

flies

In the past month or so, it seems to me that life has taken a turn to be extremely busy, both at work and play. (This is not bad at all – it just seems that I have much less free time than I used to have.) Whether it’s true or not (and whether I have actually perfected the skill of “piddling around” to a new dangerous level), this is the perception that I have.

Such business also means that I am becoming a lot less tolerant with books that don’t strike a high note with me, and in the past few weeks, I have been hitting the Mother lode of DNFs. (I honestly feel that it’s not the books’ fault most of the time. More me being extremely picky and deep in a reader’s block or something.)

Here is my list of Doomed DNFs:

  • A Long, Long Way – Sebastian Barry – I have loved Barry’s other works, but this one was so HARROWING in its never-ending descriptions of WWI life in the trenches that I dreaded reading it. It really was way too graphic for a read I’m having for fun. It was giving me nightmares, and so I stopped. (I understand that WWI was a terrible experience for millions of people. It was just too much to read it in my off time.)
  • Our Noise – Jeff Gomez – this must have been a vanity project when it was published in the mid-1990’s. Plus, it was full of music refs to small indie bands that I’d never heard of and so I didn’t get the jokes. Plus all the characters were having their mid-20’s angsty life crises that seemed to never ever end.
  • Out in The Noonday Sun –Valeria Pakenham – Just plain boring (although how it got that way with one of my favorite subjects, I’ll never know.)
  • Gothic Tales – Elizabeth Gaskell – Not her best work for sure. She was writing them to be published in a weekly magazine published by Charles Dickens, and there is a feel of the stories just being churned out for money. When the notes at the back of the book are one’s favorite part of a short story collection, there’s a problem. Definitely nothing like the standard of other works. (And it was a bit boring. Sorry, Gaskell fans.)
  • Coasting – Jonathan Raban – this is in progress, but if it doesn’t pick up the pace in the next chapter or two, it’s “off with his head” (the book’s not Raban’s)…

sunnyOn the sunny side, all of these titles were on the TBR pile (and several had been there for YEARS), so this was good at clearing space on those shelves. I really must go through my shelves more often. Who knows what other treasures are hiding there?

Things on Cowboy’s Head – Part 55

Things on Cowboy's Head. No. 55: Green flower hair grip.

Things on Cowboy’s Head. No. 55: Green flower hair grip.

Background Note: Cowboy, as you know, is one of our cats. She is big and friendly and doesn’t suffer fools gladly. She naps a lot. All of which helps with this ongoing project I have going on…

It’s called “Things on Cowboy’s Head” and I am just seeing what I can balance on the top of her head when she’s amenable to that. It’s been fun so far, and she seems quite happy to play along. (She just moves when she doesn’t want to participate.)

(Cowboy’s posts are all gathered in one spot on her own blog.)

 

On Mortality: Medicine and What Matters in the End – Atul Gawande (2014)

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“One has to decide whether one’s fears or one’s hopes

are what matters most.”

Passing by the New Release shelf at the local library, I quickly noticed a new title out by Dr. Atul Gawande, one of my fav authors and an experienced surgeon at Brigham and Women’s Hospital. He’s also an excellent writer who has often published medical-related essays in places such as the New Yorker and elsewhere. He’s also written a few other titles, all with a medical connection and mostly very good. (I’d class his “Complications” title as excellent really. You should check him out if he’s a new author to you.)

This new title focuses on human mortality and the role that medicine plays in the lives of aging Americans and then death. Medicine can do many things, but its main role has developed over time to sustain life through addressing medical problems. And you know, medicine is very good at that. However, with medicine being an art (as opposed to a science with a definite right and wrong answer), physicians are not always so skilled with squidgy end-of-life issues (including the dying process prior to death).

This sounds such a morbid and depressing book, but Gawande takes a very serious topic and asks tough questions (of himself and of others): When should expensive medical approaches stop if a patient is terminally ill? Who should decide that point and when? Is it the doctors? The family (especially if the patient is very ill and unable to voice concerns)? The patient him- or herself (if it’s possible at that point)?

Obviously, it should be the patient in question, but end-of-life issues can be extremely difficult to talk about for the many players in that situation. It can be frightening and confusing for everyone involved, but I totally agree with Gawande when he writes that this tough conversation should be a normal part of the living (and dying) process. That’s where physicians need to be in a leadership capacity, not in telling families what to do but in finding out what the actual patient wants. Does s/he want endless life-saving measures at the end point? Or just relieve the pain and suffering?

By taking real-life cases of patients (terminal and otherwise), Gawande talks us through the decision process of how the medical world treats terminal and elderly people. Medicine can prolong a life for much longer than perhaps is best for the patient, but what does the person in question really want? That is where the hole is in most medical care – there is often little consideration of what the patient in question really wants — what is important to them and not what their family members (or their health care team) want. It gets complicated for everyone unless someone skilled in the dying process can jump in and ask the right questions.

This is not an easy book to read, but it’s so helpful as it normalizes the aging/dying process for millions of Americans. A lot of people have prepared for their actual death with wills and other legal documents signed and in the lawyer’s office. Where there is often a gap is the actual process of dying: the months/weeks/days when one slowly loses one’s health. (Gawande calls this the ODTAA Syndrome: One Damn Thing After Another when a person’s health starts to fail like dominoes.) Some people will, of course, die suddenly but millions of people will have a long journey ahead of them in the dying process, so Gawande also addresses the cultural treatment of the elderly and the infirm with regard to assisted living, nursing homes, and the tough battle it can be when adult children take over the decision-making process and players disagree about the next steps. It’s a debate between the issues of safety and happiness. Which is more important?

A very provocative read for me. I was diagnosed with pancreatic cancer in 2001, and as I had a fairly weird type of tumor, it took a good six months to get a correct diagnosis and then a plan of action. The following six months (and the following treatment) pretty much changed my life on several levels, one of which was addressing and accepting my mortality. (Well, we all will die, really, but pancreatic cancer has an extremely high mortality rate so this had to be addressed. However, it’s not always easy to start the discussion.) BTW, I’m all good and fine now, and I have a “new” normal in my life now – I’m very happy that I have this chance.

Knowing that it was quite possible that I could be dead by the end of the year changes one’s perspective and forces one to live more in the moment: life is made up of small moments so how to make sure those little things are good? I’m not going to go all Deep and Meaningful on you, but suffice to say, Gawande’s book contains much needed timely advice for everyone, sick or not. When your loved one is in the ICU intubated is not the time to have these dialogues.

General Catch-Up Time (again!)

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So – you know how it is… When you’re having people to stay AND go out of town AND reach a stopping point at work, that’s when things pile up. And thus it was with me, so in order to clear the decks a bit, I thought I’d do some mini-reviews on some of my reading lately.

book313A lot of my reading time was recently spent on finishing up Wilkie Collins’ “The Moonstone”, a Victorian sensation novel which was brilliant. One of the first recognized detective novels of the time, I’ve enjoyed some of Collins’ earlier work and this was another enjoyable read. (And a monster read, page-count wise, but as it was an e-copy it was ok.)

It’s written in an epistolary style and is structured from several different viewpoints of various characters, all of whom have been involved with the mystery of the disappearing Moonstone, a valuable jewel with a long history starting in ancient India. It’s such a good read (shaggy dog story though it is), that I loved it and despite the never-ending page count (and my aversion to such), as it was on Kindle, it worked out fine.

If you’re in for a gothic sensation novel full of mystery and suspense, this will be a good read for you.

christieAnd then I blitzed through another Agatha Christie – “The ABC Murders”. Not much to say about this, except it was the usual quick read with the expected red herrings etc. Good though and how Dame Christie managed to churn out the amount of writing (and most of it well done) continues to amaze me.

All in all, some good reading going on. Just been rather too busy to make any detailed posts. However, I think I’m back on schedule now. Hooray!~

Things on Cowboy’s Head – Part 54

Things on Cowboy's Head. No. 52: Coffee creamer in pot.

Things on Cowboy’s Head. No. 54: Coffee creamer in pot.

Background Note: Cowboy, as you know, is one of our cats. She is big and friendly and doesn’t suffer fools gladly. She naps a lot. All of which helps with this ongoing project I have going on…

It’s called “Things on Cowboy’s Head” and I am just seeing what I can balance on the top of her head when she’s amenable to that. It’s been fun so far, and she seems quite happy to play along. (She just moves when she doesn’t want to participate.)

(Cowboy’s posts are all gathered in one spot on her own blog.)

 

Quartet in Autumn – Barbara Pym (1977)

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One of the more well-known Pym volumes, this was the gentle read that I was looking for. This follows the intersecting lives of four late-middle-aged people who have worked together in an office for a few years. They’re around the same age, and when one of their loose group retires, it throws new dynamics into the mix. Two men, two women – and the only thing that they have in common with each other is working in the same office. However, even with such differences, the small group find that, when two of the group retire, they have more overlap than they realize.

So, this fairly straightforward narrative touches on several issues really: gender, aging, small group interaction, loneliness, friendship. And surely the title reflects the stage of life of this small group are in… As one of my friends describes Anita Brookner’s characters: “It’s very beige”… :-)

However, despite the beigeness, the story sucked me in and I read very quickly. (Partly because it’s a very short book – novella? – but also partly because the narrative is so well written, it’s a pleasure to read at the same time.)

For example, this description is perfect:

“…her hair straggled in elf locks…”

And then there’s this one… The set-up for the scene is that the characters are finishing their lunch at work one day…

“Jelly babies [the normal end of the meal] being in short supply, [he] offered a packet of licorice all-sorts and [the friend] selected a brown and black one.”

The level of detail was fascinating and was a great tool to reflect the importance of small things in these somewhat small lives that the characters live. (I also love Jelly Babies (UK sweetie) and it’s not often that they are mentioned in books!)

Another example – this time, another character is offering someone some dessert after a small disagreement at the table:

“Now, what about some ice cream?” he asked in a soothing tone, feeling that ice cream might act like oil on troubled waters and pacify the angry [friend] more effectively than any words of his…”

It was definitely the writing that made the book so very good. Pym was an expert at tiny nuances and this works as a perfect foil to showcase her characters and the minutiae (important though it is) of her characters’ lives.

Poignant and thoughtful, this was a good autumnal read.

Back from There Now…

back

So – Hi all. Back from holidays and now just getting resituated with work, laundry et al.(We’ve had fun.)

Had a fab time and once things are all back in place, I’ll get my posts going.

One rather major incident happened whilst I was away: my computer had a virus and ate EVERY SINGLE ONE OF MY POSTS I had for the near future. :-( (And yes, I had the doc saved in multiple places.)

But anyway – did I miss anything good? (The favorite question of professors when their students miss class and then return.)

 

Things on Cowboy’s Head No. 53

Things on Cowboy's Head No. 53: Cowboy's having a "time for my stretchy pants" kind of day.

Things on Cowboy’s Head No. 53: Cowboy’s having a “time for my stretchy pants” kind of day.

Note: Cowboy Cat is on vacation this week (as evidenced by the above photo). Normal service will be resumed next week.

Background Note: Cowboy, as you know, is one of our cats. She is big and friendly and doesn’t suffer fools gladly. She naps a lot. All of which helps with this ongoing project I have going on…

It’s called “Things on Cowboy’s Head” and I am just seeing what I can balance on the top of her head when she’s amenable to that. It’s been fun so far, and she seems quite happy to play along. (She just moves when she doesn’t want to participate.)

(Cowboy’s posts are all gathered in one spot on her own blog.)