75-bedsideMedia-HP-1Half a dozen times during the past few months, I’ve seen the sun rise and heard the birds wake and sing the morning in.

I have sometimes gotten up very early to see the sunrise and take pictures. More typically, the reason is both more mundane and more reflective of who I am. It is the thing I do that is most “me.” I am awake into the early hours because I am in the grip of a good book and can’t put it down.

Cover of "Song of the Beast"

I’m addicted to books.

Although I go through phases where I read a lot of one genre, I move through many genres over the course of time. I have spent years reading history, indulging my enthusiasm for the middle ages and especially that weirdest of times,  the 14th century. Perhaps I am specifically fascinated by this period because it was a fulcrum of civilization, the emergence of central government, a free peasantry and what became the middle class. There was the Black Death, the schism when two popes reigned, one in Avignon, the other in Rome: a calamity for the Christian world. There was endless war, brigands roaming throughout the European countryside, burning, raping, despoiling.  Destroying what sad remnants of communities had  survived the other catastrophes of those years. Inflation rendered money worthless. Many regions were entirely depopulated leaving no one to tend fields and grow crops. Famine followed.

The 20th century, with all its horrors, could never top the 14th. I find that oddly comforting, though I can’t imagine why.

I read thrillers, mysteries, police procedurals and courtroom dramas. I read about lawyers, district attorneys, victims, criminals and prisons. Then, when I need to escape, I turn to science fiction and fantasy, immersing myself in other worlds, other realities that could never be, in futures that may yet be as I pursue magic and sorcery.

Cover of "To Say Nothing of the Dog"

In an ironic turn, I’m giving Jane Austen another chance. I hated her books in school, but felt that 40 years having passed, it might be time to try one more time and so I find myself in the middle of “Pride and Prejudice.” I will never be a Jane Austen fan, but I am recognizing much of the wit that eluded me when I was younger and although it isn’t my favorite fiction, I can see where it might be someone else’s.

It is indeed the ultimate drug for me. Take away everything else, but leave me books so that if I cannot fly away in body, I can escape in spirit.

I am, for the moment, between favorite authors. All of my favorite writers are in the process of creating their next books, though some are finished and publication dates are set … in the future … and waiting has never been something at which I excel. Now is my time to search for new writers, to try to discover a new world, a new voice, a new piece of time to explore.

I thought I’d make a short list for you of some of my favorite authors and a few of my favorite books. I encourage you to make suggestions for books I might like. I’m always looking for new authors and genres.

Barbara Tuchman is my favorite writer of history. Most of her books are wonderful, but my two favorites are A Distant Mirror and The Guns of August. I am also a very big fan of Doris Kearns Goodwin and cannot recommend her books too highly: they are wonderful. Her tome on Lincoln, Team of Rivals which became at least in part the basis of Spielberg’s Lincoln, or her equally brilliant work on Franklin Delano Roosevelt No Ordinary Time are masterpieces.

Team of Rivals: The Political Genius of Abraha...

The entire Hollows series by Kim Harrison for the finest of the urban fantasy genre. Her most recent book, Ever After is the best yet … and they are all marvelous.

Don’t miss Kevin Hearne‘s Iron Druid series. Great in print, on Kindle and as an audiobook. And you can get an autographed copy. It’s a series that has been getting better with each new book and I’m expecting great things.

Jim Butcher‘s Harry Dresden series … a gumshoe who can throw a mean spell, but takes a loaded gun, just in case. His most recent book, Cold Days was better than ever and is taking the story in deliciously creepy directions.

Connie Willis‘ time travel books including The Doomsday Book, Blackout, All Clear, and To Say Nothing of the Dog are among the best books of this genre ever written. She has also written some of the most hilarious science fiction stories I’ve ever read including All Seated on the Ground, Bellwether, and a bunch of others.

Unlike most readers, I read her more serious ambitious books first and was surprised to discover she was best known for her lighter, humorous fiction. Both are wonderful and you can’t go wrong with any of them. I should mention that some of her older books are only available on Kindle and/or audio.

Dave Robicheaux Series

And, speaking of time travel, Stephen King‘s 11-22-63 is exceptional. It is not a horror story, but true science fiction. The prose is sometimes so beautiful that it brings tears to your eyes.

Recently, I discovered Carol Berg. I completed the final of her various series last night … and am now holding my breath in anticipation of her next book. If you want to start with one of her few books that isn’t part of a series, may I recommend Song of the Beast. Hint: I hope you like dragons!

I love just about everything written by James Lee Burke. If Faulkner had written detective stories, he’d be James Lee Burke. His Dave Robicheaux series is a long running favorite, but his other books are great too.

I’ve read all of John Grishoms books, almost all of Richard North Patterson‘s novels, and most of Nelson Demille.

The writing of Anne Golon wrote (and is still writing) an amazing series of historical novels about a fictional woman named Angelique. They take place during the time of Louis XIV. This series is has been one of the most significant influences on my life, not only literary, but personally.  Angelique lived the life she chose and never accepted defeat. She gave me an interest in history that I carry with me to this day, and she also inspired me to a personal courage I doubt I’d have otherwise found. The English language versions of the books are long out of print, but the recent ones — Anne Golon is well into her 80s — are available in French and a possibly other languages. You can get more information through the Friends of Angelique.

96-ColdDays-2

I cannot close this without referencing two authors that have given me great joy, the incomparable Douglas Adams, and Jasper Fforde whose worlds I long to enter. I still mourn Douglas. He should have had many more years. Douglas, you died way too soon. Jasper Fford writes with a similar wonderful lunacy in a fantasy world where fiction is real and reality isn’t.

This doesn’t even begin to cover everything. It would take me days to begin to remember everything … and way more pages than anyone would have patience to read … but this is a tickle for you. Maybe you too are searching for something to fresh to read, a new world to discover. These are some of my favorite places … I’d love to hear about yours!

Happily Reading Myself to Death


75-020813SnowHPCR-4

They are telling us we will have more snow over the weekend. Maybe just a few inches, maybe a bit more. We haven’t entirely shoveled out from the last one, though the warm weather today helped a lot. It’s still February, so there are plenty of snow days remaining.

75-020813SnowHPCR-6

So, I don’t think of it as snow. I think of it as photo opportunities! That takes the sting out of it.

 

More snow on the way

The Kiss

A pledge of eternal love surpassing all other loves.

Camera: Olympus PEN E-P3. Lens: 45mm f/1.8.

Weekly Photo Challenge: Kiss – Eternal Love

A Tale of Two Terriers

Watching all those handsome dogs on Westminster made it really obvious how badly our dogs needed grooming. Yesterday, off they went.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

They departed as mops and returned as terriers.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

Not groomed for the show ring, but for tidiness, they are incredibly cute. And so clean.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

Miss Bonnie has a properly Scots mien and Nan, a softer, sweeter Norwich countenance.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

Garry looks like he aways does while chatting with canines. Happy.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

 

A Poem for Lovers on Valentine’s Day

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

How Do I Love Thee? (Sonnet 43)

By Elizabeth Barrett Browning

How do I love thee? Let me count the ways.
I love thee to the depth and breadth and height
My soul can reach, when feeling out of sight
For the ends of being and ideal grace.
I love thee to the level of every day’s
Most quiet need, by sun and candle-light.
I love thee freely, as men strive for right.
I love thee purely, as they turn from praise.
I love thee with the passion put to use
In my old griefs, and with my childhood’s faith.
I love thee with a love I seemed to lose
With my lost saints. I love thee with the breath,
Smiles, tears, of all my life; and, if God choose,
I shall but love thee better after death.

75-BrightFuchiaHP-1

Blood, Gore, High-Tech and Architecture

75-StructureHPCR-37

I knew it was going to be one of those days from the moment I got up this morning. There was no guesswork involved. It was all arranged, scheduled.

  1. Drop terriers off for grooming.
  2. Come home, drink coffee.
  3. Drive to Dana-Farber for a day of tests.
  4. Be reassured I’m not dying of cancer.
  5. Drive back home.
  6. Pick up terriers.
  7. Eat!

Those of you who suffer from serious medical problems that don’t go away and can kill you, know what I mean. Regular checkups are high stress events until you (hopefully) get the word that all is well.

75-WaitingHPCR-7

Even though you have no immediate evidence that anything is wrong above and beyond the “usual” which is something like a Chinese menu of interrelated ailments and conditions, you always harbor a not-so-secret belief that something ugly is going on and you just haven’t found it … or it hasn’t yet announced its presence.

There are people — Woody Allen leaps to mind — who feel this way through most of their lives with no evidence that anything is wrong. The good part of this approach is when something ugly actually does show up, they can say “See? I told you! I KNEW it!”

Pessimism saves you from a lot of disappointment. It also keeps you from enjoying the good stuff that happens along the way. I guess for the hard-core pessimists, it’s a small price to pay. Fear of fear, fear of bad news, fear of being too happy then being let down? I can almost (but not really) understand.

Days like this always starts at the lab. This is the scene of my first battle of the day, as I try to convince them to treat my one working vein with gentleness and subtlety. Do not attack it with a spear. Cajole it with a tiny pediatric butterfly needle because if you blow it, finding another live one will consume half the staff of the labs of two hospitals. They got blood, but it took two nurses and a lot of jiggling that needle around to find the magic spot.

“You think maybe it’s deeper?”

“Let’s try going deeper.”

“Ouch”

“Sorry”

“Ouch”

“Hey,, I think I see a flash … ”

“Grab it before it rolls”

“Ouch”

“Blood!”

Phew.

I frequently slice pieces of my fingers off while preparing food. I bleed like mad — blood on counters, floor — blood everywhere. I suggested to the nurses that next time, I bring a kitchen knife and slash myself, like I do at home. There’d be more than enough blood and it would be quicker than all this probing with needles. For some reason, they didn’t think it was such a good idea, but I thought it was brilliant.

75-WaitingHPCR-8

I had brought the little Canon Powershot S100, my Kindle, and more importantly, Garry. They are my defense against losing my mind. This is how I avoid excessive cranial activity, i.e., thinking. Usually I’m in favor of thinking, but under this particular circumstance, nothing good can come of it.

As you can see, I shot a few pictures, some of which turned out rather interestingly.

75-StructureHPCR-7

Blood having been taken, it was time for the long wait for the CT scan. I was originally supposed to drink some kind of dye solution, but I can’t because I have no stomach and I’m not up for massive nausea today. I’ve gotten to the point where they say you have to do “this” and I say “No, I don’t.” We go back and forth and eventually, they acknowledge that no, I actually don’t have to do it. But they really wish I would.

They were determined to get dye into me one way or the other. After taking a look at my so-called veins, the CT tech sent me to the chemo people who presumably can put an IV into a turnip. The lab had already mutilated my good vein, so it was now a retired vein. Even using the newest, grooviest high-tech equipment, they couldn’t find a live vein. An electronic vein finder is totally cool. It looks like a flashlight, but when they point it at you, you can see all your veins like a blue network under your skin.

If you want to distract me from pain and misery, give me a high-tech toy to play with. I’m like a kid at Christmas. So they let me point the light and together we hunted the elusive usable vein.

75-StructureHPCR-20

High tech tools notwithstanding, my veins defeated the chemotherapy staff. No small achievement. After a full hour and three nurses poking holes wherever they thought a vein big enough to take an infusion might be hiding, they gave up.

The CT scan was performed sans dye.

Then, off to the oncologist. He looked sympathetic. He always looks sympathetic. Only psychiatrists and oncologists ever perfect that look of total sympathy. I often suspect it covers a deep ennui. Best not look too closely.

Mine also looks sad, perhaps slightly troubled, but deeply sympathetic. Oncologists are always very nice.They speak softly, gently, kindly, not wishing to upset you since they figure (true) that you are upset anyhow. He looks at my labs, tells me everything is absolutely normal. (Yay!)

He looks at the CT scan, which was a big one, chest to hips. He says nothing is there that shouldn’t be. Lungs clear, everything clear. Except my spine. Which even Garry and I can see is so encased in arthritis it doesn’t look like a human spine. No wonder it hurts.

The dogs weren’t finished at the groomer when we arrived at home, so we had to make a separate trip to get them. Worth it. They look so much better and incredibly cute. More importantly, they smell better. They had gotten seriously stinky.

75-WaitingHPCR-3

Eventually, I get my reward: a big family dinner featuring a roast leg of lamb. This doesn’t happen very often. Even when we weren’t quite so poor, it was a rare event, but these days? It’s an “almost never” event.

We, the couple who traveled the world and hung out with stars mostly now hang out with doctors and sit, waiting in sterile rooms. What’s wrong with this picture?

Oh, right. It’s the getting old thing.

Have a nice day, y’all.