Current Reads

painting by Edward B. Gordon

I always seem to be reading a number of books and audiobooks at the same time. Fifty years ago, I would be bent on finishing one book before starting another, but today, in the age of numerous devices, I have a book that I am listening to on my phone, another book on my Kindle, a real actual book-book from the library/bookstore or off my shelves, and a cookbook on my iPad. It’s a bit on the ridiculous side, really, but that’s my reading life these days.

Audiobook that I’m listening to on my phone:  Devil in a Blue Dress, by Walter Mosely, which I’m reading for the RIP-XVI challenge.

My current Kindle book:  Bronze and Sunflower, by Cao Wenxuan.

Current actual Book:  Summer at Fairacre, by Miss Read.

E-book on my iPad:  The Kimchi Cookbook, by Lauryn Chun.

Shall I admit to being a fractured/scattered reader, or should I call myself “well-rounded?”

Waiting Room Reading

While waiting for my husband’s radiation treatments this week, I read and/or listened to two books and a short story. In all honesty, I did not sit in the waiting room (Covid restrictions), but found a very nice bench for my waiting right outside the clinic.

I started my RIP-XVI challenge early because of this opportune time to read, and I actually enjoyed my waiting time. This challenge is divided into different “Perils” you can choose — “Peril of the Fiction;”  “Peril of the Short Story;”  “Peril of the Screen;”  “Peril of the Group Read;”  “Peril of the Listen;” and “Peril of the Real.”  So obviously, there’s room for all kinds of spooky and mysterious reading and viewing choices!

For “Peril of the Fiction,” I read another book in a fun mystery series that I’m slowly rereading.  Mrs. Pollifax and the Second Thief, by Dorothy Gilman, was the 10th book in the series. Many of the usual characters from earlier in the series showed up in this one, with some fun twists. Mrs. Pollifax, elderly member of the local garden club and accomplished spy, was up to her usual brilliant mystery solving. I laughed out loud in the scene where she karate-chopped (one at a time) a whole group of bad guys trying to push their way into the safe haven she and her colleagues were sheltering in. Mrs. Pollifax is a trained operative that should not be messed with!

For “Peril of the Short Story,”  I listened to the short story, Hero, by Susan Hill. It’s a back-story to her Simon Serrailler series, and tells the story of an event that happened when Simon was a rookie cop. I really enjoyed it. No, I haven’t read the series yet, so I thought I’d start with this short story. I’ve read a number of other books by Susan Hill and like her writing very much, so I look forward to reading this series at some point.

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In the evenings this week, Hubby and I have been watching a Korean urban dark fantasy series called “Tale of the Nine-Tailed,” and it fits right in with “Peril of the Screen.” It is a story based on Korean folklore about  “mythical nine-tailed fox, or gumiho, Lee Yeon had to settle in the city many centuries ago. Able to transform into human form, he eradicates supernatural beings that threaten the mortal world. His real aim is to find the reincarnation of his lost first love.”  It’s been a great entertainment during a busy and stressful week.

It’s Time for RIP-XVI!

It’s THAT time of year again! Time for the traditional autumn reading challenge (started sixteen years ago by Carl V. Anderson) known as RIP, or Readers Imbibing Peril.

The purpose of the R.I.P. Challenge is to enjoy books (and movies and podcasts) that could be classified as:

Mystery.
Suspense.
Thriller.
Dark Fantasy.
Gothic.
Horror.
Supernatural.

Basically, read scary.

“Are you reading for spooky season? We need more wicked good books (and screen) in our lives, so being the rule-breakers we are, #RIPXVI BEGINS NOW. How do you play? Tag @PerilReaders, #ripxv, and #perilreaders in your Twitter and/or Instagram posts. It’s that easy. Wicked easy.”

I will be reading mostly mysteries for this challenge, not super spooky or horror-filled books. I’d like to continue on with a number of different mystery series that I started and want to get back to. Much of my reading time will be spent in waiting rooms (or in the car waiting) while my husband undergoes treatments for his cancer, so a good mystery book will help the time go by and provide an antidote to anxiety.

This post will be where I track my books read for this challenge. I will keep an ever-growing list of books read and movies watched, so check back here frequently. Just click on the R.I.P.XVI graphic in my sidebar and it will bring you here.

I hope all of you who are participating in this autumnal challenge enjoy your reading, movie-watching, podcast-listening!

Peril of the Fiction:

  1. Mrs. Pollifax and the Second Thief, by Dorothy Gilman
  2. Devil in a Blue Dress, by Walter Mosley
  3. Pietr the Latvian, by George Simenon
  4. The Legend of Sleepy Hollow, by Washington Irving

Peril of the Short Story:

  1. Hero, by Susan Hill
  2. A Christmas Tragedy, by Baroness Orczy

Peril of the Screen:

  1. Tale of the Nine-Tailed

Mid-August and Hunkered Down

Birdwatching and watching the birdwatchers. Plus, smoky air!

We are well into mid-August and the usual heat of summer has been replaced by the especially miserable record-breaking heat, drought, fire, and smoky air. We do all our errands in the early morning, occasionally picking up a cup of coffee at Starbucks and then hanging out at Fern Hill Wetlands watching the birds and the birdwatchers. Then, it’s home to hunker down as the heat of the day builds up and the air becomes worse. And I must add that the hunkering down is also part of our daily protection plan for my husband’s compromised immune system during this time of raging variants!

So, all that sounds pretty grim, but the nice thing about it all is that we are getting a lot of reading done, are enjoying watching our current K-drama during the day instead of after dinner, and are having fun trying out new recipes. Adjust and Adapt!

Woman Reading, by Henri Ottmann

Books read and enjoyed in the last few weeks:

A Song for Lonely Wolves, by Lee Evie. The first book in a new mystery/detective series that takes place during the Joseon Dynasty in Korean history. The main character is a talented young female detective during a period of time when women were not valued. A very interesting historical fiction mystery. I’m looking forward to reading on in the series when the new books come out.

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Notes on Grief is a short book by Chimamanga Ngozi Adichie about the death of her father during the middle of the Covid-19 lockdown last year. (He did not die of Covid.) It is a beautifully written account of his sudden death and the grief that followed, complicated by the restrictions of the pandemic. “I am writing about my father in the past tense, and I cannot believe I am writing about my father in the past tense.”  It is a deeply personal, yet completely universal, story, and I appreciated her honesty and her sharing her grief with us. I wrote down many quotes from this book because I know they will give me strength later on.   “Grief was the celebration of love, those who could feel real grief were lucky to have loved.”

My emotions are like a roller coaster these days, since my husband’s diagnosis. We have days that are “mostly normal” and days where waves of sadness hit us hard. So after reading Notes on Grief, I decided to return to the kind and gentle world of Miss Read’s Fairacre. I picked up the 15th volume in the series, Village Centenary, and read it through in a short few days. It was an absolute delight, and exactly what my soul needed. In this book, the village celebrates the 100th anniversary of the founding of the village school. Most of the residents of Fairacre went to the school, and the town comes together to honor the old school with a wonderful celebration at the end of the year. “There was no doubt about it, Fairacre School was the heart of our village, and memories of their own schooldays quickened the adults’ response to this tribute to its hundred years.”  What a lovely series, and this was one of my favorites of the ones I’ve read so far.

We are currently enjoying watching the South Korean drama, Bossam: Steal the Fate. It’s a highly entertaining series about a man of the Joseon Dynasty who mistakenly kidnaps the widowed daughter of the king. Bossam” was a “customary remarriage procedure” during that period of time. “A widow could not remarry. A single man or widower would kidnap the widow and marry her. Some of the kidnappings were agreed upon in advance and others were by force.” So a man could be hired to do the kidnapping, but things went awry with this particular job!  It is both humorous and serious, with wonderful acting, costuming, and filming — just a fun and very addictive historical drama.

Aside from reading and watching historical South Korean dramas, keeping my garden alive in the heat this summer has been a full-time job. I have to get it all watered before the heat builds up, so I start early and finish before noon. Fortunately, my zinnias like the heat!

 

 

Diagnosis

Last fall, my husband received a devastating diagnosis. He has Stage IV metastasized prostate cancer. Although this news packs a powerful punch, and there is no soft, kind way to share it, I need to let you know about this major change in my life, dear friends. I am sorry for the pain such news causes.

We have had time now to process the initial shock, to learn much more about what happened and is happening to his body, to begin the process of “getting everything in order,” and to start letting people know about it (although he’s a very private person). And in the middle of all the adjustments and doctor appointments, we are living our new life, which now has a one to four year time limit to it.

We have entered a new world — the world of cancer patients, survivors, caretakers, doctors, nurses, technicians, counselors. Cancer has become the kernel of truth within our daily lives now. Ever-present.

Cancer is a tremendous opportunity to have your face pressed right up against the glass of your mortality.” But what patients see through the glass is not a world outside cancer, but a world taken over by it—cancer reflected endlessly around them like a hall of mirrors.

~ from The Emperor of All Maladies: A Biography of Cancer, by Siddhartha Mukherjee

My husband describes the first months of his disease as “surreal.” Surreal because he felt mostly healthy and normal except for the side effects of his treatment medications, and some pain that came occasionally. His body has been tolerating his treatments well so the cancer has been controlled for the time being. That is slowly changing as this disease finds new ways to get around treatments, but the inevitable decline has not started, yet.

Cancer is an expansionist disease; it invades through tissues, sets up colonies in hostile landscapes, seeking “sanctuary” in one organ and then immigrating to another. It lives desperately, inventively, fiercely, territorially, cannily, and defensively—at times, as if teaching us how to survive. To confront cancer is to encounter a parallel species, one perhaps more adapted to survival than even we are.

~ from The Emperor of All Maladies: A Biography of Cancer, by Siddhartha Mukherjee

He entered this disease in excellent health, with excellent vital signs for his age, and no “co-morbidities,” using the term we’ve heard so often during this Covid-19 pandemic. He was, and still tries to be, active and fit. He feels his best when he is out on his bicycle. Genetic testing showed no genetic mutations that would have caused this to happen, and that, gratefully, are not something our children and my husband’s brothers need to worry about. It just happened. It is real…but it is not yet “real”. Surreal.

Right now, we are deeply grateful and profoundly sad. Grateful that we have time left to be together, to live life together. Grateful that we can face this disease side by side, as we have faced every other challenge in our 52 years together. Grateful for each day that he wakes up in the morning and is “mostly well.” At the same time, we are both profoundly sad, and the sadness comes in waves between otherwise “mostly normal” days.  We are seeing everything in life now through this new lens of impending loss, and are living each moment with crystal clarity. 

And from this vantage point, with deep feeling, I want to ask you to please cherish those you love. Please cherish yourself. Please cherish the daily-ness of your lives. Please cherish all the little things, because, as they say, those are truly the biggest and most important things. Live your life to its fullest, each day, because “today is all of time,” as my grandmother wrote in one of her poems. Today is all of time.

Bibliotherapy

My husband had a bone scan done today. That meant a trip to the hospital at 11:00 to get the infusion, and then back to the hospital at 2:00 to get the scan done. Since it’s a distance to the hospital from our home, rather than driving back and forth, we decided to make good use of the in-between time and go out to lunch and then to the bookstore. It was so wonderful to be in the bookstore again! Spending time at Powell’s is definitely bibiotherapy!

Lost in the Yellowstone

Dad (in that special hat) leading the way on a beautiful walk…

The year before my father passed away, our family had a wonderful reunion in Yellowstone National Park. The entire family was there, including the grandkids, and the memories of that special trip are some of my treasured memories of my Dad and family. I haven’t been back to Yellowstone since then, and that’s been way too long! When the pandemic hit last year and we couldn’t even think about taking a trip, I found myself longing to return to Yellowstone. I am hopeful that we can plan that trip sometime soon.

So when I came across an audiobook called Lost in the Yellowstone, by Truman Everts, I downloaded it immediately to help fill my Yellowstone craving. It is the true account by Truman Everts of his incredible misadventure of being lost in Yellowstone for 37 days. He was part of the 1870 Washburn Expedition exploring the area that later became Yellowstone National Park. Mr. Everts was not an experienced explorer and had little or no survival training, so it was truly miraculous that he survived his ordeal after becoming separated from the group. And it was truly an ordeal! Everything that could possibly go wrong, went wrong…but he survived nonetheless–just barely.  When he was found 37 days later, he was emaciated and hallucinating, and had frostbite as well as burns from the many steam vents. It was a fascinating story of survival.

It wasn’t the kind of trip to Yellowstone I had been thinking about, but it was interesting to hear his descriptions of the area in its natural state, and to read his story of how he was able to survive. A short but interesting read!

I read this book as one of my 50-books-in-5-years for The Classics Club.

The Aye-Aye and I

An Aye-Aye

In the gloom it came along the branches towards me, its round, hypnotic eyes blazing, its spoon-like ears turning to and fro independently like radar dishes, its white whiskers twitching and moving like sensors; its black hands, with their thin, attenuated fingers, the third seeming prodigiously elongated, tapping delicately on the branches as it moved along, like those of a pianist playing a complicated piece by Chopin. It looked like a Walt Disney witch’s black cat with a touch of ET thrown in for good measure. If ever a flying saucer came from Mars, you felt that this is what would emerge from it. It was Lewis Carroll’s Jabberwocky come to life, whiffling through its tulgey wood.

This is the beginning of Gerald Durrell’s book, The Aye-Aye and I. It is the story of the trip to Madagascar he and his wife, Lee, took to capture healthy specimens of this amazing and rare endangered primate to place in breeding centers around the globe in an attempt to save them from extinction. Aye-Ayes are the largest Lemur, nocturnal primates, and they spend most of their lives in trees. It hunts for grubs by tapping on the wood and then gnawing a hole to get to the grub, and then uses its long narrow finger to pull the grub out.

I had never heard of an Aye-Aye until I found this book. My curiosity, as well as my love of Gerald Durrell’s writing, prompted an immediate purchase of the book, and I very much enjoyed reading it. If you have ever read a book by Gerald Durrell, you know he has a wonderful sense of humor and a wonderful way with words. In reading this book, you learn a lot about life on Madagascar — flora, fauna, and human! — and get to know this amazing creature and the struggles it faces for survival.

 

 

I chose this book to read for my personal challenge, “Wanderlust: Reading the World,” an effort to read books that are from or take place in each country of the world. This was a fascinating account from Madagascar.