Things on Cowboy’s Head – No. 59

Things on Cowboy's Head. No.59 - Electric candle.

Things on Cowboy’s Head. No.59 – Electric candle.

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 having a normal day…

“Normal day, let me be aware of the treasure you are. / Let me learn from you, love you, bless you before you depart. / Let me not pass you by in quest of some rare and perfect tomorrow. / Let me hold you while I may, for it may not always be so. / One day I shall dig my nails into the earth, or bury my face in the pillow, or stretch myself taut, / or raise my hands to the sky and want, more than all the world, your return.”

 

Mary Jean Irion

 

Things on Cowboy’s Head – No. 58

Things on Cowboy's Head. No: 58: an old cassette tape.

Things on Cowboy’s Head. No: 58: an old cassette tape.

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.)

 

Catch-Up Time for a Cool November

catch_upLife has been great lately, most notably for its normal day-ness and just going smoothly along. It’s not that life has been hard, but it’s just noticeably going without any large unexpected bumps so that’s nice. Work has evened out a bit more and I seem to have broken my dreadful reader’s block which has been hindering me over the last few months. It’s been a long time since I’ve had to work around a reader’s block, and I had forgotten how it felt – Blargh. I was adrift in a sea of book pages, but couldn’t get anywhere. Frustrating, but after a while, I started to embrace the experience and did some other things for a while. (One new interest is that I have learned that I really enjoy editing doctoral dissertation work. Go figure.)

But now, for whatever reason, that block is now over and I’m back to enjoying reading loads of books and being interested in loads of things. Yippee. Recent reads which are good, but just don’t trigger a great deal of deep and meaningful discussion are as follows:

Dishes – Shax Rielger (2013) book320

This was a fun coffee table-type book (although very small in size, presumably for a very small coffee table :-)), and it featured lots of lovely photographs of lots of lovely dishes. More of a superficial worship of dish design than an in-depth investigation, this was packed with well composed photographs featuring both new and old dish graphic art, and although it wasn’t a particularly deep read, it was a fun way to spend an afternoon. (Great graphics and good photography are always a good combination in books.) So – nothing too deep and meaningful, but it does just what it says on the tin: looks at dishes. Nothing that I can’t live without, but a nice taste of something very outside my normal interests.

One of my favorite reads at the moment is a large collection of book-review columns by Nick Hornby. (He would be a fantastic dinner party guest, along with Robert Lacey. Still working on the rest of the guest list for that event, but would definitely invite those two.) The book is called Ten Years in the Tub: A Decade Soaking in Great Books and is a compilation of Hornby’s book-related columns in The Believer magazine. (I’ve never seen this on the newsstands around here, but have heard about it.) Hornby is also the author of several other good novels (such as High Fidelity, About a Boy, Fever Pitch et al.) and his blog is pretty entertaining. (Lots more Believer columns as well. <rubs hands with glee>) Plus – he has a new book (Funny Girl) out in the UK with a US release next year.

sailingNon-fiction, I’m coasting along with a travel memoir by Jonathan Raban (with whom I’ve only had good reading experience). Called Coasting (see what I did there? No? DIdn’t miss much. :-) ), it’s a description of the time Raban took to sail solo around the edges of Britain down the west side and up the east. It’s a mix of personal reminiscence along with some sailing and UK history bits popping up now and then, and although the book got off to a bit of a rough start (not enough wind), it’s good now and I’m enjoying it. (If you like travel journalism, you’ll probably like Raban’s works. The only other one by Raban that I’ve read is called Bad Land and describes his driving across the open land of North Dakota etc. It’s a very good read if you’re interested.) This is another title that’s been on my TBR shelf for far too long. What’s cool is that I happened to come upon a small paperback edition in a recent book sale which meant that I could ditch the HUGE imposing Scary Big Book that I had which meant that I actually picked it up to read. Score!

And it’s been all super-cold here that last few days which is FAB as I have had enough high temperatures (thank you). Yeah for cold weather (without the snow difficulties). cold_temps

The Death of Ivan Ilych – Leo Tolstoy (1886)

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I dug this title up as it was mentioned in my recent read of Gawande’s On Mortality book, and I’m all about following down the rabbit holes of different books and topics sometimes. Although somewhat intimidated by Russian authors (although not sure why), I picked this up with trepidation and then relaxed. It was going to be a good read.

Gawande’s reference to this Tolstoy novella meant that I knew that the plot was about a man dying, but the actual details were vague for me (which I was happy about). I opened the book one morning and then finished it that evening and it was a great read. The plot itself is pretty simple: a man works hard in his career, gets married with kids, falls off a ladder and gets slightly hurt, and then ends up dead. (And I’m not giving the game away here. This is what the story is famous for, after all.) However, it’s a lot more than that as Tolstoy (via his lead Ivan Ilych Golovin) ruminates on the process of dying and how it may affect one’s thinking.

youngtolstoy

Young Tolstoy.

Ivan Ilych has done all the “right” things in his life, he feels: he has worked hard on his career rising in the legal ranks of the municipal court, he has married well, and has a good family. So why is he so uncomfortable dying in this way? And that’s what most of this work is about – how the dying process evolves for both the participant and the family around him. It’s really quite fascinating especially after that recent read of Gawanade’s book (which also focuses on death and dying). Sounds desperately morbid (doesn’t it?) but it’s not. This dying thing happens to everyone, and as with almost anything else, the more you know the better. (At least that is how I’m approaching things).

Using the POV of Ivan Ilych himself, the story follows his thinking process as his life winds down. His pain in the side (originally triggered by that fall at home) worsens, and as it progressively gets more and more painful, he visits a few doctors trying to get his diagnosis. However, the doctors are unable to agree and give him a final diagnosis (let alone a cure) and so Ivan struggles on, unable to talk about his concerns about dying with no one, not even the medical professionals and let alone with his family.

And I find this to be so relevant with attitudes towards death today. I’ve noticed that when one has a difficult illness, people usually don’t mind acknowledging it at first when everything is mostly normal, but as time progresses and one’s prognosis worsens, many people would prefer to talk around it than actually address it face on (a la elephant in the living room). This is how Ivan Ilych’s family and friends handled the situation, and so the reader learns about the frustrations, struggles and the sheer loneliness of the person who’s doing the dying. I really don’t think that this is an untrue situation for a lot of people, but I wish it wasn’t that way.

Gawande mentioned that this novella was taught in med school in a class about death and dying, but I’m not sure how common that is across the nation. (Anyone know?) However, common or not, I think this is an excellent novella about a very common natural human process which is frequently denied or skirted around as people are uncomfortable with it (for whatever reason).

A provocative read about a pretty ordinary guy who is going through a totally natural process and who is reflecting on his life lived. Although the subject may be dark, this is extremely well written, not maudlin at all, and is a good demonstration of something that happens but most people would prefer not to talk about. It was an excellent read when paired with reading the Gawande book. Recommended.

 

Life Before Man – Margaret Atwood (1983)

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This is one of Atwood’s earlier novels and the plot revolves around an uncomfortable love triangle of a newly separated husband and wife (both having had affairs) and the new girlfriend of the then husband. The story also included a recently deceased boyfriend who’d committed suicide, two children (daughters of said couple) and a few hangers-on who tend to fall by the wayside on the way.

Add to that the way that Atwood plays back and forth with time, and it’s quite confusing for the first half of the book. My recommendation if you should read this title: read this in big chunks. There is slim hope for following the plot and all the characters otherwise.

Despite the complex inter-relationships of the characters, this ended up getting sorted out and being ok. I’m a fan of Atwood’s later fiction – the earlier works are a big uneven in parts – and this one fell right in the middle of the pack. Reading the first third of the novel, I wasn’t sure if that I was going to stick with it, but it grows on you like fungus and as you get a more complete picture of the characters, the story solidifies (at least it did for me). I would liken it to the old-fashioned process of making photographs in a dark room – the image becomes more defined as the read goes on.

It’s an omniscient POV and each chapter is set on a particular date and year as seen through the eyes of each character. None of the characters are particularly likable and nor are they easy to understand, but by the end of the book, you recognize that, though you may not be a big fan of them, they are flawed but human. (I still wouldn’t want to go to dinner party with any of them though.)

So, not a bad read and not a great one. It’s one off my TBR shelf of Viragos which I’ve carted around with me since the 1980’s so that’s cool. I’m (slowly) working my way through the shelf over time and it’s rather fun so far.

 

Things on Cowboy’s Head – Part 57

Things on Cowboy's Head. No: 57: A small jar of buttons.

Things on Cowboy’s Head. No: 57: A small jar of buttons.

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.)

Eats, Shoots and Leaves – Lynn Truss (2003)

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Subtitle: The Zero Tolerance Approach to Punctuation.

This was a re-read of a title that I had read back when it was first published (2003), and this was still quite a fun (if rather over-the-top) journey through one person’s (very focused) perspective on grammar and how it’s used today. It also reminded me why it’s good to maintain a semblance of balance in these things, and so although some reviewers may think that she’s way too persnickety, my thought was that Truss was really exaggerating to make a point. (Grammar still counts. It’s not the be-all and end-all, but it counts.)

I have a small collection of photos of mis-written signs that I happen to see around town, and as the collection builds up, I have started to see so many comma splices that I was wondering whether the stylistic rules had changed on the national landscape and I just hadn’t known about it. However, after further digging around, I learned that the rules haven’t changed – it’s just that the majority of sign writers don’t really get comma splices. (Phew. Thought I was getting really old there for a moment.)

Truss has a fun dry sense of humor, and her asides were frequently pretty funny. I did have to remember that there are some grammatical rule differences between the two sides of the Atlantic, and so when I came across something that Truss was saying was correct, and yet wasn’t correct in the U.S. writing world that I inhabit, it was a bit confusing. However, it really all boiled down to just national writing style book differences in the end.

I’m not sure that everyone would be that interested in reading an English  grammarian’s manifesto on careful writing, but as an editor and writer, this was a good read with the addition of a sly humo(u)r. Readers will learn about some basic grammar (plus more esoteric points) and get some funny snarky comments at the same time (which is not a common combination). Grammarians like fun too!

I enjoyed this re-read.