Having a favorite animal is very childish, isn't it? When I was a kid I was nicknamed Turtle because of how slow I ran. My dad, who coached me in soft...moreHaving a favorite animal is very childish, isn't it? When I was a kid I was nicknamed Turtle because of how slow I ran. My dad, who coached me in softball, used to say that I was the only one who could hit it over the fence and still get a triple. I owned that nickname and learned to draw both realistic and cartoon turtles and often received turtle items as gifts. Even my senior year in high school, my first boyfriend made me a metal cast turtle that I still have.
There are kids in my second grade classroom who adore or are fascinated by or identify with a particular animal. V loves birds, M loves horses, D prefers chameleons. A loves cheetahs, K thinks he's a cat. There are animals that certain kids draw over and over (when I was a kid, I was good at elephants, dogs and cats in addition to the previously mentioned turtles. Which animals did you love and draw, goodreaders?)
I love how much kids these days know about animals because of Animal Planet and the like and access to nonfiction in the library with amazing color photos. When I was a kid, nonfiction wasn't like that. I was the A.V. rep for my class, which meant that I got to go to the library and load a pre-chosen film onto a film projector and bring it down to class. I spent lots of time in the library, and the nonfiction section was somewhat repellent to me, what with its dry information and sparse, black and white pencil illustration. Zoobooks were as good as it got back then (in the olden days.) When I was a school librarian, I often showed the kids the difference in nonfiction published now and some from back in the 50s-70s. "See how lucky you are! Nic Bishop wasn't around when I was a kid! I barely knew a thing about non-domestic animals when I was your age." So, I started really loving and being fascinated by animals as an educator and an education student, and by being introduced the nonfiction of now. I remember the early days of DK Eyewitness Books. Their huge success caused nonfiction full of bright, bold and gorgeous photos to be created through every juvenile publishing house, and the quality just got better and better. Viva la nonfiction revolution!!!
So, I'm a grownup now, but maybe because of this adult-onset animal fascination, I still have a favorite animal and though I didn't really set out to, I must admit that I collect snailaphernalia. Goodreaders have been good to my collection. A finger puppet from Eh!, a tiny brass antique snail from Michelle W., and two great snail books from karen, including this one.
Elizabeth Tova Bailey, who wrote this soft blue, lovely book, has a horrible illness. Bacterial/viral/genetic--the doctors looked and treated and tested for all and tried everything for years, but not much helped her. Her vascular system attacked, she often couldn't even sit upward without a quick depletion of energy followed by horrific fatigue. One day, a visiting friend brought in some field violets from outside and planted them in a pot for Bailey's bedside. On a whim, she also popped a snail found in the vicinity of the violets into the pot and a pet (and an obsession and a spirit-filling distraction) was born. The book is a mix of memoirish reflection on her observations and care of the snail (and later its offspring,) information she learned researching snails and some of the most beautiful quotes from scientists and naturalists and writers and poets. Her descriptions of the terrariums gave me much envy. When I get a house and have room, I'm making one!
I knew a lot about snails going in, but there was still new information for me, and I felt grateful for learning many of the quotes that led each chapter. This is a graceful and interesting and very poignant book. The last star was held back because my enjoyment was marred by an intense case of heavy boots reading about Bailey and her struggles with life. I know it's not fair to dock her that star, but I did it to Winesburg, Ohio for the same reason. Too sad. I think Bailey's spirit is amazing--I would be such a self-pitying sad sack in her place.
The thing I love most about this book is that she learned to love and appreciate and admire snails--and this came as a surprise. People often dismiss and overlook snails. Or eat them! I love snails because the more you learn about them, the more they surprise you. Their various mating habits, alone, are fascinating. Let's hear it for calcium darts and hermaphrodites and the chewing off of penises! The undergrowth crowd has the freakiest sex! Their various behaviors and adaptations are amazing, as well. And mostly, probably, I've just always had a weakness for armored animals that pull themselves into a protective shell. Armadillos, pill bugs, turtles, snails...I ♥ you.
I am resisting posting photos of my snail lamp and my beautiful bookends I got from a museum. I will only post my favorite portrait of me and a friend I knew briefly.
p.s. My conscience makes it so I must tell you that I love dogs even more than snails. Or they're at least tied.
Do you ever catch yourself smiling like an idiot when you're reading something pleasurable? Well, my smile muscles hurt.
The log begins with an introd...moreDo you ever catch yourself smiling like an idiot when you're reading something pleasurable? Well, my smile muscles hurt.
The log begins with an introduction Steinbeck wrote, "About Ed Ricketts," after his travel companion from the journey chronicled here died. It's gorgeous! What an fascinating man he was!! I had just read Cannery Row, and Ricketts inspired the character of Doc, so I was happy to learn about him, or at least what could be related to me in 50 pages or so. Steinbeck mentions that after his death, the people of Cannery Row tried to define him. Of those he heard, half-Christ and half-goat was the description that he liked best.
There really needs to be a movie about Steinbeck and Ricketts. Someone do that. It would be so lushly beautiful, whether they're communing over (many) beers in Doc's laboratory in Monterey, or sailing into shallow wade pools along the Gulf of Mexico or having one of their four-day long parties, where nobody went to bed except for "romantic purposes." I know that there is a movie version of Cannery Row, but it wouldn't have John Steinbeck in it. And it wouldn't have this trip in it! No, Steinbeck says in the introduction that Ricketts was his closest friend for eighteen years. I want to watch them being friends.
An essential scene would be when they were allowed onto a large commercial Japanese shrimping dredge in Mexico that, to Steinbeck and Ricketts' horror, simply scraped the ocean floor of absolutely every speck of life, then dumped everything that wasn't shrimp, now lifeless, back into the bay. Ricketts and Steinbeck stared at vast collection of fish, sharks, anemones, rays, corals and seahorses being tossed back into the sea for the gulls. All that knowledge, all that food, wasted! An entire ecosystem wiped out. And, in true form to the way Steinbeck honors even the most miserable lech in his fiction, he loved these men working on the Japanese shrimping dredge! Loved them! He said, "they were good men, but they were caught in a large, destructive machine, good men doing a bad thing." He promised to send them a fine volume of crustacean biology when he returned to Monterey.
The missing star is only absent because, after reading the introduction, I expected the same intimate, personal style to be woven into the log, throughout, and it wasn't really so. It was still a narrative, and many of their adventures and conversations and struggles were described, but just not in the same casual manner. I know this wasn't that sort of book, but god, it could have been! Okay, I already feel guilty being (just a titch) fussy about this, because what this book is is just great. I'll stop being a whiner. I just wanted more Doc. In the intro I learned that Ricketts had such an affection for marine worms that he called girls he liked (and there were many), "wormy" as a term of endearment. So you can see why I wanted more.
Now, you like Steinbeck, but are still unsure if you want to read this nonfiction account of tide pool specimen-gathering? Here is how you will know for sure that it is for you. Do you love lists of captivating and beautiful and sexy-as-hell, sciency words? Do you smile like an drooling moron when reading them? I sure did. Here is just one of the many lists describing some of their catches to help you decide:
"One huge, magnificent murex snail...so camouflaged with little plants, corallines, and other algae that it could not be told from the reef itself...rock oysters were there, and oysters; limpets and sponges; corals of two types; peanut worms; sea-cucumbers, and many crabs, particularly some disguised in dresses of growing algae...many worms, including our enemy Eurythoe, which stings so badly. The coral clusters were violently inhabited by snapping shrimps, red smooth crabs and little fuzzy black and white spider crabs."
And don't think that it's all lists and clinical talk! He had a way of finishing off each chapter with a lucid and dreamy bit of philosophy or reflection:
"This little trip of ours was becoming a thing and a dual thing, with collecting and eating and sleeping merging with the thinking-speculating activity. Quality of sunlight, blueness and smoothness of water, boat engines, and ourselves were all parts of a larger whole and we could begin to feel its nature but not its size."
Another chapter ends with his defense of drunkenness, another with a defense of laziness and another with a cry about the depletion of our natural resources and another with the beauty of scooping fish while you sail and dropping them directly into a pan of hot oil, eating hundred of the delicious and salty things with friends in the moonlight. This book is just so pretty. If you don't watch out, Steinbeck will make you love the world.
The first section is about how it is necessary for medical residents to learn how to do procedures on people...moreWow! I loved this and I love Dr. Gawande.
The first section is about how it is necessary for medical residents to learn how to do procedures on people, but how it's just as necessary to sort of glide over that fact with patients. This was the most exciting part of the book because he went over his own early surgeries and the complications that arose.
The rest of the book is about how, even though medicine is a 'scientific' field, it's ultimately human and fallible. My anxiety was high during most of this, because being a doctor is so high pressure! It was a rollercoaster ride because I kept changing my mind. For a while, I'd think, "Oh, I guess you should never have surgery unless it's absolutely necessary," but then a while later, I'd think, "Oh shit! Just have the biopsy! Don't be ridiculous!!!!" I loved this. I can't wait to read "Better."
You know how the heroes of westerns and comic books and adventures are always good men? My dad likes that kind of story where the moral is, "nothing i...moreYou know how the heroes of westerns and comic books and adventures are always good men? My dad likes that kind of story where the moral is, "nothing is better than a good man!" He is the type that thinks a "man" just lives the best way he can! He loves legends and spooky tales and always made himself the hero. He told us, my friends and me, that he once saved his whole platoon by jumping on a grenade, and we believed him, though he never served in the military.
So how can I not give five stars to the memoir that includes Steinbeck's own words, "There's nothing better than a good man." How, goodreaders? And I finished reading it while being driven home from my dad's brother's funeral. I found out family secrets on that trip, like I always do, but despite the tragedy list that has stacked up in that family, my dad is under the impression that his life has been pretty easy and that most people are good and that god provides if you work hard. And Steinbeck has this optimism (though it's admittedly more guarded and intelligent), and we don't just have to infer that through his characters. In this book, it's himself!
This book may cause some to get a jolt of wanderlust, but I felt a little of the opposite when he went back to his hometown of Monterey on the trip, and sat in a bar with his aging amigos and tried to convince them that you can't go home. Is that true? If you can't go home, then I kind of don't want to leave.
Right now I wish I could have lived a while back and could somehow marry John Steinbeck, but this seems weird to mention after talking about my dad so much. Don't get all Freudian interprety, please. For now, I'll just keep reading, reading, reading his books. Next is Grapes of Wrath. (less)
This book devastated me. I think it's impossible for any two different people to read this in the same way. It's a book of personal essays, and they'r...moreThis book devastated me. I think it's impossible for any two different people to read this in the same way. It's a book of personal essays, and they're personal for the reader, as well. I can't recommend this book enough, but take care that you don't read it if you're in an emotionally weak place, because the way it grabs you personally is by forcing you to face mortality and human frailty and to recall your most traumatic experiences. Or maybe you should read it when you're hurting...if you're the sort of reader who needs to find others to relate to in order to process your pain. And it will certainly make you want to find your loved ones and love on them. I'm telling you.
When we were 20, my best friend Sarah drunk drove her head into a telephone pole. There was all sorts of healing after, but she was never the same person. When I first saw her in the ICU, she wasn't Sarah at all. She wasn't. Of course I believed she would be, again. I fully did, even though her skull had been busted open and her brain gouged. I believed in the made for TV movie versions of comas, and that Sarah would heal, most likely with help from our prayers, and when her body could finally rest and rebuild, she'd open her eyes and be Sarah. But this early coma version of Sarah was not her. It was twisted and in traction and it was bloated and she wasn't her self; she was pieces. She was veins and skin and blood and hair. People came and left, caring for her various pieces and parts--physical therapy for her legs, a surgeon for her nearly severed arteries, and nobody--despite my pleas--to shave the hair growing on her face, which was always perfect when she was Sarah.
Andre Dubus wrote this collection of essays--spanning a time in his life surrounding an accident that took his legs from him, before, during and after. Given the choice, I'd rather lose my legs than my brain function, as I expect most people would. Andre was changed in devastating ways, but he was able to keep his self, however fractured it became. He even became more of himself. The things he held important in the early essays in this book remain important to him and only deepen.
One of my favorite essays in the set is On Charon's Wharf, which he wrote before his accident, but which starts, "Since we are all terminally ill, each breath and step and day one closer to the last, I must consider those sacraments which soothe our passage." Religion, sure, but also eating breakfast with a loved one. Or breathing with them. He seemed to be saying that since we can go at any moment, we must love another. It's all we can do for each other. Oh shit. I'm making him sound saccharine, which he isn't in the slightest. Just read this passage (please):
So what I want and want to give, more than the intimacy of words, is shared ritual, the sacraments. I believe that, without those, all our talking, no matter how enlightened, will finally drain us, divide us into two confused and frustrated people, then destroy us as lovers. We are of the flesh, and we must turn with faith toward that truth. We need the companion on the march, the arms and lips and body against the dark of the night. It is our flesh which lives in time and will die, and it is our love which comforts the flesh. Beneath all the words we must have this daily acknowledgment from the beloved, and we must give it too or pay the lonely price of not living fully in the world: that as lovers we live on Charon's wharf, and he's out there somewhere in that boat of his, and today he may row in to where we sit laughing, and reach out to grasp an ankle, hers or mine.
What's amazing to me is that he figured this out before his trauma. It's like that scene in Our Town where Emily asks the Stage Manager whether anyone realizes how precious life is while they're living it, and he replies, "No. Saints and poets, maybe. They do some." So was Dubus a saint and a poet? No doubt.
And then the essays reach the point in time when he was struck, and unlike Sarah, his brain was fine, but his body was now a broken vessel. I'm going to fail in explaining this section; especially the way in which he moved on after (the "I'm forever a cripple" section,) in perpetual frustration, humiliation and pain from his fancy wheelchair. I thought about Sarah and her accident many times while reading this. I remember going to her therapy sessions and cheering when she could walk, clumsily, with her adult diaper bulging, and being unable to reconcile the idea that this was the same girl. Her eyes weren't even the same.
Sarah's body has long recovered, but her brain never fully did and her self is different, which will really mess with you when you try to believe that your self is more than your brain. It really will. But our selves are definitely more than our body parts; our legs and our spines or our hearts can fail, but Dubus was grateful that his mind remained, however tortured it occasionally was. One more passage so you'll know how I know. He's writing about his daughter, Madeleine, who his wife was pregnant with when his accident happened:
She grew sleepy and I put her in the chair with me and buckled the seat belt around her and took her up the ramp and to the refrigerator for her bottle of orange juice, then to the crib and sang "Smoke Gets in Your Eyes" while hers closed, she stayed on my chest, and I held her, drew from her little body and loving heart peace and hope, and gratitude for being spared death that night on the highway, or a brain so injured it could not know and love Madeleine Elise.(less)
She did it again! At first I wasn't sure--I just really have an aversion to Woolf. Then the lit focus was less Woolf-heavy and the realness was so rea...moreShe did it again! At first I wasn't sure--I just really have an aversion to Woolf. Then the lit focus was less Woolf-heavy and the realness was so real again and the pacing and arrangement were masterful and the illustrations were intense and perfect and I felt a cry feeling at the very end. I didn't cry, though. Fun Home wins on that one.
Earlier: So happy to have this companion to Fun Home in my chubby little hands!(less)
I do not condone calling Dr. Laura for advice and you should never (EVER) read one of her childrens' books, as they will hurt your eyes and your soul....moreI do not condone calling Dr. Laura for advice and you should never (EVER) read one of her childrens' books, as they will hurt your eyes and your soul. I do support you reading this memoir that features Dr. Laura and my fair city, though. Wholeheartedly!!(less)