17.7.17

A Study of (my) Reading Habits

It's no surprise that I've been reading for a very long time. And that my blogging has lagged recently. So this meme, via Terry (who got it elsewhere) is a perfect way to blog... about reading.

PART ONE
1. What was your favorite book as a child?  Good Night, Moon, which feels like a cop out because, well, it's perfect.
2. What’s the last really good book you read? Because I'm on a book award committee, I can't give you the last really good adult book, but in the children's/YA category Dreamland Burning, a wonderful retelling of the Tulsa riots (or pogroms, choose your word) in the 1920s.
3. Do you prefer fiction or nonfiction? Fiction.
4. Do you finish every book that you start? If you don’t, how do you decide when to stop reading? It took me nearly 50 years, but I am no longer a 'clean plate' reader.  For the award, I have to read 100 pages of books I request.  For other books, 50 pages and out.
5. List your ten favorite books in four minutes or less. Write it down because you’ll revisit it at the end. Oh no.  I just can't.  Which genre?  I could list ten favorite authors, or ten in a specific genre, but overall?  Nope.  Just can't.
6. Do you reread books? Which ones? I aspire to having the time, and fewer books on Mt. Bookpile to reread.  Which would be the oeuvre of Julian Barnes and Robertson Davies, the Chalet School series and several other past favorites, like Shadow Castle and Possession.
7. Do you read poetry? Why or why not? Not usually, because books in verse feel forced.  But occasionally I do and I'm always glad.
8. Do you remember the first “grown-up” book you read? Leaving aside that many books I read as a child were actually adult books (Treasure Island and Little Women were not written for kids!) and the Lord of the Rings trilogy (read when I was 9-10), Mistress of Mellyn by Victoria Holt.  I'll admit a lot of it went over my head and on rereading years later I was quite surprised.
9. Are there any authors whose work you have read completely? Robertson Davies. C.S. Lewis.  A.S. Byatt.  Julian Barnes.  And many, many mystery and YA writers (like Rex Stout and Garth Nix)
10. How often do you read books that are more than one hundred years old? Right now, rarely. But when I finish with this book award, probably once or twice a year.
11. Is there a type (or types) of book you never read? Not really. Unless you count textbooks.
12. How do you choose what to read? Reviews and recommendations from colleagues, professional publications, students and friends.

PART TWO
13. What’s more important to you: the way a book is written, or what the book is about? The way it's written.  A well-written book can transform a dull topic (see, The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks) and a poorly-written one can kill a great topic (not naming names).
14. What author, living or dead, would you most like to have dinner with? C.S. Lewis
15. If you could hang out with a literary character for the day, who would it be? I want to be bold and say Pippi Longstocking, but at my age I'm just not up for that level of activity.
16. If you could be a literary character, who would it be? I have no idea.
17. Have you ever written a fan letter to an author? No.  I've never been tempted, either.
18. Is there any book that, if I professed to love it, you would be turned off? Is there any book that would impress you in particular? Nothing would impress me, but if you said A Confederacy of Dunces I wouldn't accept book recommendations from you.
19. Is there a book you feel embarrassed about liking? Nope.  An adult reading picture books, middle grade books and YA books really doesn't feel that way about reading.  Perhaps an occupational hazard?
20. Are there books you feel proud of liking or having finished? Again nope.
21. Have you ever lied about having read a book?  Yes.  Mostly books I was supposed to read when I was in school, like Revolt of the Masses by Ortega.
22. Do you keep track of the books you read?  Not before 2007.  Now I use GoodReads and a notebook for my award reads.
23. How do you form opinions about what you read? Is it engaging?  Do I buy the world (fictional or non) that the author is presenting? How does it compare to other books I've read?
24. What authors do you think are overrated? Underrated? My lips are sealed.  Doing Readers Advisory for a living means I love all books, all authors.  Publicly, at least.

PART THREE
25. Do you ever read self-help books?  On occasion.  Last one?  Life Changing Magic of Tidying Up.
26. What’s a book that shocked you? Can't think of one.  I'm sure there were, though.
27. If you could force every person you know to read one book, what would it be?  I'd never.
28. What book would you recommend to me in particular? I don’t know you. (Terry's response, recycled here because it's accurate)
29. What books/authors have you been meaning to read for years? Why haven’t you read them yet? Anthony Trollope, because I think I need some really dedicated reading time.  And Mt. Bookpile, of course.
30. What kind of book do you consider “a guilty pleasure?”  I'm nearly 55.  I don't have "guilty" pleasures, just pleasures.
31. Has a book ever changed your mind about something? No.  Not really.
32. If you were terminally ill, what book or books would you read?  As much of Mt. Bookpile as possible.
33. Do you have any passages of poetry or prose committed to memory? Can you recite something to me?  Huh?  If you were here, I could.  Some Shakespeare (do young'uns memorize speeches still?).  Some Longfellow.  The usual suspects.
34. If you could change anything about the way you read, what would it be? I'd say faster, but at 1000+wpm I'm not sure that's necessary.  Perhaps regaining the ability to read in a moving car/bus.
35. Was there any time in your life when you felt as if a book guided you in a profound way? Guided, no.  Touched, on the other hand... definitely.
36. Return to the list you made at the beginning. What titles, if any, would you change after our conversation? No.  I stand by my lack of list.

14.7.17

My own private episode of House

Remember the TV show House? Some medical mystery is presented... differential diagnoses are offered... treatments proposed and tried... nothing works... then, amazingly, Dr. Gregory House has some brainwave and YAY! Healing.

ACT ONE
The morning I'm supposed to leave for a conference I wake up with a very, very sore throat, possibly strep (I work in a school, after all). My doctor takes a look, swabs my throat and comes back with "nope, you have mono". MONO??? Yes, the disease everyone else gets in junior high or high school, I've managed to get in my early 40s. Yes, I know who I was kissing. No, I still haven't forgiven OR forgotten. And, like chicken pox or other childhood diseases, getting it as an adult is worse.

The bloodwork continues to show an active disease for two years, only vanquished by Xanax, under the theory if we suppress the stress in my body maybe things could go back to normal. The problem is that I now have Epstein-Barr and will have it, along with flare-ups, for the rest of my life. I start to practice what's called ECAM, or Energy Conservation and Management.

ACT TWO
My throat - again! - feels a little swollen, and during a routine visit to my endocrinologist she suggests I see my primary care doctor to get it treated. My doctor, like so many nowadays, doesn't really pay attention and the next six months are filled with tests and potential diagnoses and nothing really works. The swollen glands seem to disappear on their own, and my endocrinologist, at my next visit, thinks it was probably a run-of-the-mill infection that healed itself. My take-away? More ECAM and be very careful because this can - and has - happen again.


ACT THREE
In early December I discovered there was something a little off with my left eye and made an appointment with an ophthalmologist. One examination later, I have a diagnosis: optic retinitis in my left eye. Now I need to see a neuro-ophthalmologist for treatment. Two days later, my eyes are being redialated and I'm doing a number of what I'll call "inner eye" exams. Yep, the optic nerve in my left eye is severely inflamed. Remedy? IV drop of steroids. Just to rule out other problems, I'm tested for MS, NMO, lupus and Lyme disease. The problem with the first three is that they usually manifest in your 20s-40s, and I'm in my mid-50s. Surely there'd be at least one other symptom before now? Of course, there's the idiopathic form of OR and that's the one I probably have. One MRI and some blood tests later, they're all ruled out.

The steroids seem to work, and by March my eyesight is 20/40 (with glasses, I'm usually 20/15 and pre-treatment that eye was 20/400). Fun fact: in Massachusetts you can drive if you have 20/40 vision. Except things in my eye weren't blurry, they were foggy. No amount of corrective lenses would fix that and most of my sight is through my right eye, with peripheral help from my left (this is mostly affecting my central vision). The six-month check up should be a breeze, right? Except... remember that episode of House? How the first treatment works, until it doesn't?  That's me.

June arrives and my vision is 20/70. My doctor is - to put it mildly - concerned and surprised because that is not how this is supposed to work. She starts to talk about possible other causes, and mentions a word that I never thought I'd hear: sarcoidosis. Yep, the House crew's go-to "this is what we think it is although it's never been that before but one day it might be" differential diagnosis disease. I could have that. Only a CT scan can tell. Annnnnd... no sarcoid (the 'in' term for sarcoidosis). CT is fine. So is a second MRI of my "orbitals" (which are eye sockets and let me tell you, when you see the results on the screen, you'll think you're related to Darth Vader!). Oh, and my first doctor is leaving so I need to see someone else. Soon.

This week was my fist appointment with the new doctor. We went over the progression of this problem and the previous testing, and then he tested my eyes. Yep. Worse. 20/100 in three weeks. As he put it, "you've lost several lines in a short time". Lines, I guess, being shorthand for "we're enlarging the lettering but if this were one of those large eye charts you'd be a few lines of text away from where you were three weeks ago". Obviously, a new differential diagnosis is required, along with new treatments and testing.

What's the differential? CRION (a chronic, remitting version of what I have). Syphallis (um, say what???). Rheumatoid arthritis. A few other relatively rare things I don't want to think about. But probably I'll be immunosuppressants for the rest of my life. Yay? Treatment right now is oral steroids, which could also lead to ulcers, bone density loss and the ever popular weight gain and 'roid rage.

ACT FOUR
Stay tuned.

19.6.17

Imponderables, things that irk me no end edition

I may not be the most tolerant person out there, but if you're reading this blog you probably already know that.  And probably don't care.

I've complained, via twitter no less (see below), about this trend to Scare People About the Weather Forecast.  Apparently, in addition to naming winter storms, the Weather Channel now feels it's important to state how many people are "at risk" from the day's weather systems.  And just like that, Bill Karins on MSNBC follows suit.


Let's leave aside why the Weather Channel, not NOAA, is suddenly the gold standard.  Let's just ask ourselves, if (as is the case today, June 19, 2017) that 65MM people are "at risk" the other 300MM living in America are perhaps immune to any weather.  Is there an inter-dimensional portal out there, protecting the rest of the US?


17.3.17

Have I got a deal for you

Thanks to the delayed winter storms and Spring Break and a never-ending cold, I've been watching more tv than usual.  And because I've been a politics junkie for a while, much of that it stuff like MSNBC and C-SPAN, so I'm getting a lot of what's going on in Washington.  And... it's depressing, isn't it?  No matter who you voted for, you should be depressed by the tone of conversation, the lack of presidential demeanor and the spate of "fake news"/"alternative facts"/Tweetstorms pouring out of that city.

Yesterday's press conference was a case-in-point.  Reporters trying to get a clear answer from the Press Secretary, who actually gave one of the worst storytime readings I've ever heard (and I've judged the NYC storytelling competition, so I have some expertise in this).  They did a great job of not laughing in his face but it was close.  It's fascinating theatre.  Crap politics, but you can't have both, right?  (at least, you can't these days)

One thing that I think is getting lost in all the budget bother: our president claims to be a Master Negotiator.  Everything he does is framed that way, and most of his campaign promises were along the lines of "better deal" or "renegotiate".  The Draconian nature of this budget and his government reorganization may be just that, a position that simply can't be defended or that will pass but will serve as a point from which to negotiate.  And then, when the budget or government size his advisors (because I simply can't believe that Trump himself actually has a clue about any of this) actually want, it can be TRUMPeted (see what I did there?) as a HUGE WIN.  #MAGA.  Etc.

I'm reminded of the episode of Star Trek TNG where Scotty tells LaForge that he always padded the time needed for a repair so when it came in well under that prediction, Kirk would think he (Scotty) was a genius.


Lost in their calculations is that the way this is playing out means many people will feel as though no one has their interests at heart, from the president to their representatives.  Also lost is the fact that while ultimately I may send less to Washington, I'll be sending more to Boston (and you, dear readers, will be sending more to Albany, Sacramento, Austin, etc.) as programs fall on the shoulders of state governments and those taxes will rise.  And rise.  As our president says, Sad!

5.3.17

Sliding back and forth

Since Thanksgiving, things have been... difficult.  The fact that we spent part of that day at the animal ER saying goodbye to Mallory should have been a clue that there was more to come:

  • December 5 my eyesight suddenly took an odd turn, with a massively inflamed optic nerve in my left eye.  Things are still not back to what the neuro-ophthalmologist calls "baseline" but she did warn me that it could take 3-6 months.  And no, no guarantee that it will never recur.  
  • Early February, a migraine led to a norovirus which morphed into a head cold that is still (still!) plaguing me.  Even a wonderful shopping trip (new Lamy pen, new Hermes scarf) and high tea to celebrate turning 54 didn't help... on the other hand, doing all that with a fever probably wasn't the best plan I've ever had.  Every time I think it's all gone, it rears its ugly sinus-filled coughing head.  
  • Two weeks ago, BoyCat was running to the litter box ever few minutes.  I know that that means - a possible case of FUS (now known as FLUTD).  Back to the local animal ER.  No blockage.  The same pattern yesterday.  But this time his bloodwork said Urinary Tract Infection.  So today we're heading back for an antibiotic shot.  Oh, and BoyCat?  Really, really, really hates being touched, let alone going to the vet.  Should make for a fun afternoon.
The good news is that I'm reading for two book awards (Alex and the new Excellence in Science Fiction for Children award).  My staff is doing amazing work.  And in four days Spring Break starts.  Over two weeks to slide forward a bit.  Wish me luck.

18.2.17

Sometimes, newer is better

Today's Friday Five post over at Philosophy Mom contained this question: 1. About how many family Christmas photo-cards did you receive [in 2016]?

I wryly smiled at this, because the family Christmas card thing is relatively new, right?  And we all sort-of hate it, but it's an easy way for others to send a personalized card (personalized to them, anyway) and to subtly keep us informed.  The kids are bigger.  The waists are wider.  Oh, there's someone new (engagement?).  What happened to the dog?  OMG that poor cat, stuck in that outfit.  Etc.

But then I think back to a few short years ago, before this trend.  Each card - birthday, Christmas, Arbor Day, whatever - came with what I called family confetti included.  What's family confetti?  Those small photos, maybe 1"x2", that came along with the larger, for-framing/wallet-size photos we all had taken on School Photo Day.  And there were always so many of the smaller ones it was easy to tuck them into cards so that family and friends could see how cute/big/well-dressed your darlings were.

One year, I included photos of Howard, Pravda and Mallory in our outgoing cards.  I doubt anyone got the hint.

What's odd to me is that people expected you to save all these photos, but they don't seem to expect you to save the Christmas card.  Perhaps that's because with the advent of the digital photo age, and the prevalence of photos on Flickr, Facebook and other cloud sites, they're not rare and precious (I knew that when my father took photos of my niece taking her first right step.  then her first left step.  then her second right step.  and second left step.  etc. - we get it.  the kid can walk.  yay?).

If you're into decluttering, as I am (most of the time) it's great: I toss my cards at Epiphany and move on.  Some cards I keep the front of for Friends Who Collage/Scrapbook.  I could scan photos if I wanted.  Or not.  And now, no guilt about getting rid of the confetti, because it's not there. Sometimes, new really, truly is better.

7.2.17

Digital Detritus

More from the never-ending, never-fully-emptied Twitter and Feedbin saves:

24.1.17

Imponderables: A Spam Recipe

Usually I hear that some one has heard of my incredible probity and compassion and is interested in helping me help others, because some foreign person (who may or may not share my last name) needs help accessing the millions of dollars they've inherited (or won).  And, of course, I ignore them because... I don't need to finish that, right?


Today's mail, caught helpfully by my spam filter, includes this gem:


Granted, I've been a tad forgetful recently, but I'm reasonably certain that arranging this transfer (not to mention the meeting when this was all set up) would be something I'd remember. 


I do wonder, however, how many people actually get caught by this stuff.  I mean, we've been getting these messages and pleas for almost as long as email has existed - is anyone taken in?  or do the spammer live in eternal hope that one person, somewhere...

18.1.17

Not Guilty, Your Honor

Terry recently posted a flashback to a post he wrote about guilty pleasures.  Thing Two once confessed that Gilmore Girls was a guilty pleasure.  Here's my problem: the word "guilty".

Perhaps when I was younger, I had guilty pleasures.  But now, as a mid-century adult?  Nope.  If it's a pleasure, I'm not going to feel guilt.



There are definite times when guilt invades my life.  For example, when I recognize I could have been kinder to someone in pain.  Or when I don't take action (through laziness, usually, or being too rushed to do it now and then forgetting) that would help someone.  There are fleeting flashes when I get one of those pleading letters or emails (or, now FB posts) asking for help that I could give, when I know it's a worthy cause but not my cause.  That's it.

I don't feel guilty if I break my diet.  I don't feel guilty when I fail to live up to my standards.  I don't feel guilty when I watch pure trash (ok, what I think of as trash) on tv rather than actually getting things done.  I don't feel guilty when I take a mental health day at work.  Rather, I might feel pleasure with a tinge or embarrassed or defensive or ashamed or sad.  But not guilty. Because I'm in my mid 50s.  And part of being an adult is admitting that something gives you pleasure and enjoying that.

4.1.17

Digital Detritus

I'm starting the new year right: decluttering and organizing while watching the Hoarders marathon.  So inspiring!  Here's some digital detritus (my new name for the Links Galore posts) for your pleasure:
(more to follow - my goal is Feedbin Zero and Twitter Saves Zero by MLK Weekend)