Category Archives: Memoirs

November Reflections 2018

With the darker, colder days arriving, I found it much harder to keep my spirits up during November. That’s not unusual for me, or for many people at this time of year, especially in the Pacific Northwest.  Seasonal Affective Disorder is real. The change of light, the shorter days, and staying indoors more on colder days can lead to melancholy or depression. My reading is my personal antidote to that SAD feeling. It broadens my perspectives and gives me new ways of looking at the world. That cheers me up and also gives me a new appreciation for friends and family.

So with that said, November turned out to be a pretty good reading month for me. I enjoyed getting lost in a variety of books — a mystery, some classics, a Christmas book. I read a number of graphic novels this month, and I’m liking that genre more and more. I especially loved Debbie Tung’s Quiet Girl in a Noisy World, and look forward to her new book, Book Love, to be released in the U.S. on January 1st. My favorite book this month was Michelle Obama’s, Becoming, because it was full of courage and dignity, and hope.

For those of you living in the northern hemisphere, I hope your reading in November was enjoyable and an antidote to the darker, colder days. And for the rest of you, I also hope your November was spent immersed in wonderful books!

My November reads:

 

Becoming

If I could give a six-star rating (based on the Goodreads five-star system), I would give it for this book. Becoming, by Michelle Obama, is beautifully and honestly written, full of wisdom and hope. And listening to her narrate the audiobook version is a delight. It’s the best thing I’ve read in years and years!

What I Talk About When I Talk About Running

“The thoughts that occur to me while I’m running are like clouds in the sky. Clouds of all different sizes. They come and they go, while the sky remains the same sky always. The clouds are mere guests in the sky that pass away and vanish, leaving behind the sky.”

Haruki Murakami’s book, What I Talk About When I Talk About Running, was a delightful surprise. I downloaded the audiobook this week expecting to enjoy hearing about his running experiences, but I didn’t expect to love this book. But I did love it and gave it 5 stars on my Goodreads review!

In this little book, he talks about how he became a runner, about the technical details of preparing for and running races, of the mental and emotional struggles of long-distance running. But it is also a fascinating memoir of the growth and changes he experienced as he became both a runner and a writer — two “obsessions,” really “passions,” that define who he is as a person.

“Being active every day makes it easier to hear that inner voice. “

Murakami spoke to my heart with this book. I’m a walker with the heart of a runner. I wish I had discovered at a younger age this love of moving fast, participating in races, and learning all about myself from the daily experience of getting outside and losing myself in motion. But I didn’t start my “running” journey until age 65, and my knees will not let me run, so I am content with the walking experience. However, I identified with his love for running and writing, was touched by his descriptions of aging (he and I are the same age, born 2-1/2 weeks apart), am inspired by his passion for life, and I totally agree with his longing:

“I’ll be happy if running and I can grow old together.”

Dreams From my Father

My book blogging friend, Andi, at Estella’s Revenge, recently listened to the audiobook of Dreams From my Father, by Barack Obama (narrated by the author). She rated it 5 stars on Goodreads, and talked about how much she enjoyed listening to it. She inspired me to follow suit, so I downloaded the audiobook from Audible and am just starting it. My mother (age 98) is also going to listen to it so that we can share our thoughts about it on the phone in our daily conversations. We both miss the Obamas greatly and thought that listening to Barack Obama tell stories about his life and family would be very enjoyable. Thanks, Andi, for the idea! This little shared project is going to brighten our days!

Mom and I have been sharing books and reading experiences for a lot of years!

 

A Very Easy Death

A hard task, dying, when one loves life so much.

A Very Easy Death, by Simone de Beauvoir, is a beautifully written, powerfully emotional account of her mother’s death and her own emotional journey through her mother’s illness and death.

At age 78, her mother fell and broke the top part of her femur. She was hospitalized and during examination, the doctors found that she had cancer. It was a highly aggressive sarcoma, and her illness and decline were rapid. Simone and her sister, Poupette, spent most of their time at the hospital with their mother throughout that time, and Poupette was there the night she died.

This is a story that so many of us have gone through with a parent or loved one. Because the journey through illness and decline is a familiar one, I was acutely aware and appreciative of the honesty with which de Beauvoir shared their story — the story of two daughters in the process of losing their mother, and of their mother’s struggle to LIVE while dying.

Before reading the book, I thought that the term “an easy death” meant that the person didn’t have to suffer very much before dying. My family used that term about my father’s passing. He didn’t suffer long with his illness, and we were so grateful for that. But that is not what de Beauvoir meant by “an easy death.”  On the contrary, her mother suffered terribly before she died, but she had her daughters with her throughout the decline, and they helped her, advocated for her, and shared courage together in facing the inevitable. That was a luxury that de Beauvoir felt many people don’t have at the end of their lives.

With regard to Maman we were above all guilty, these last years, of carelessness, omission and abstention. We felt that we atoned for this by the days that we gave up to her, by the peace that our being there gave her, and by the victories gained over fear and pain. Without our obstinate watchfulness she would have suffered far more.

She and her sister were with her mother constantly during her illness, so de Beauvoir also describes the very painful reality a loved one faces in going through the agony of cancer.

…In this race between pain and death we most earnestly hoped that death would come first.

…Friday passed uneventfully. On Saturday Maman slept all the time. ‘That’s splendid,’ said Poupette to her. ‘You have rested.’ ‘Today I have not lived,’ sighed Maman.

…Nothing on earth could possibly justify these moments of pointless torment.

And she poignantly details the final aloneness of death.

…The misfortune is that although everyone must come to this, each experiences the adventure in solitude. We never left Maman during those last days which she confused with convalescence and yet we were profoundly separated from her.

All the way through this book, I thought of my own mother.  Simone de Beauvoir’s mother was 78 when she died, which seems so young to me from my vantage point now. I am incredibly fortunate to still have my mother who is 98 years old and still very much alive and well! But she and I are also very aware that time is getting short, which gives a special aura to every conversation, every visit, every moment we share. She and I talk about the end quite often, and our shared hope is that it is quick and painless. I live 800 miles away from my mother, so I know it is possible I won’t be with her when that time comes, to help ease her final journey, and that is hard for me.

Nothing prepares any of us for death. Even if fighting a terminal illness, Simone de Beauvoir said: “A hard task, dying, when one loves life so much.” Her mother clung tenaciously to life:

What touched our hearts that day was the way she noticed the slightest agreeable sensation: it was as though, at the age of seventy-eight, she were waking afresh to the miracle of living.

And on the finality of death itself, de Beauvoir said:

There is no such thing as a natural death: nothing that happens to a man is ever natural, since his presence calls the world into question. All men must die: but for every man his death is an accident and, even if he knows it and consents to it, an unjustifiable violation.

Simone de Beauvoir was a gifted author and influential existential philosopher. This was the first book I read by her, but I am very anxious now to read more of her work. I was so impressed with the beauty of her writing and with her deeply thoughtful honesty. With this book, she has touched my heart and mind like no other author has done in a long time.

Simone de Beauvoir with mother and sister…

This was a book that was on my list of 50 books to read for The Classics Club, and was also on my TBR Pile Challenge list.

Christmas in Plains

I’ve begun my annual reading of Christmas books/stories/poems, and this morning read one that has been on my TBR list forever! Christmas in Plains, by our former president, Jimmy Carter, was a delightful way to spend my morning. Here’s my review from Goodreads:

This was a very pleasant book to read on this foggy Saturday morning. While I enjoyed President Carter’s memories of Christmases over the years, I was most appreciative of the reminder of what a real president is like — a person who is kind and caring to all, someone who is dedicated to peace and unity throughout the world, a leader who believes in solving problems through diplomacy and negotiation and who has respect for all cultures and differences.

A heartfelt THANK YOU to President Carter for sharing these memories. And a very Merry Christmas this year to President and Mrs. Carter, and their family.

A Christmas in Plains…

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Goodbye, Ivan Doig

IvanDoig

Sad news yesterday about Ivan Doig. We’ve lost yet another wonderful author. I have a special place in my heart for Ivan Doig. My father loved reading his books, and so did I. When I read his memoir, This House of Sky: Landscapes of a Western Mind, I felt that we were most definitely kindred spirits. In this memoir, his stories of his Dad and his Grandmother and their Montana ranching lives reminded me in many ways of my own Dad and my own Wyoming Grandmother. They didn’t ranch, but they, too, were real characters shaped in similar ways by that western landscape.

As a girl from mountains, I also loved his descriptions of the western landscape that was so familiar to me.

The western skyline before us was filled high with a steel-blue army of mountains, drawn in battalions of peaks and reefs and gorges and crags as far along the entire rim of the earth as could be seen…

When my husband and I decided to relocate to the Pacific Northwest from the Intermountain West 25 years ago, I read his books, Winter Brothers: A Season at the Edge of America and The Sea Runners. Both were amazing stories that capture the heart of the Northwest, and those books, along with Wintergreen, by Robert Michael Pyle, and The Good Rain, by Timothy Egan, helped turn us into Northwesterners at heart.

If you visit Doig’s website, he has a note for his readers. He didn’t consider himself a “western” writer, and this is why:

One last word about the setting of my work, the American West. I don’t think of myself as a “Western” writer. To me, language—the substance on the page, that poetry under the prose—is the ultimate “region,” the true home, for a writer. Specific geographies, but galaxies of imaginative expression—we’ve seen them both exist in William Faulkner’s postage stamp-size Yoknapatawpha County, and in Gabriel Garcia Marquez’s nowhere village of Macondo, dreaming in its hundred years of solitude. If I have any creed that I wish you as readers, necessary accomplices in this flirtatious ceremony of writing and reading, will take with you from my pages, it’d be this belief of mine that writers of caliber can ground their work in specific land and lingo and yet be writing of that larger country: life.

Ivan Doig was a writer of caliber, and his “poetry under the prose” spoke to me directly and touched my life in many ways. King County Library, on Twitter today, paid him a wonderful, simple and perfect tribute:

“Scene: The flat plain is a brilliant green. A lone figure walks toward the distant mountains. Goodbye Ivan.”

 

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Author Ivan Doig for Seattle Magazine © Jeff Corwin