Wednesday, July 02, 2008


Continuing the "boring report" motif, this week I feature some tidbits from what I’ve been reading lately. (Don’t you wish I’d feature tidbits of what I’ve been writing lately? Hmmm. Sounds like a good idea. Maybe I will.) Anyway, in the past few weeks I’ve read a few interesting things that I’d like to talk about here.

First of all, I read Host. I’m not going to get into the whole Stephenie Meyer-bashing thing because I find it rather boring. It boils down, I think, to this: if the story is gripping enough to you, you might notice the writing flaws but you won’t put it down. If it’s not, then you’re not really in its audience so why spend time griping?

I’ve never had a problem picking up a “dessert book” once in a while. I love deep nourishing reads (I re-read Angle of Repose this month as well, and will have something to say about that later), but I like engrossing, plot-heavy quick reads occasionally as well. And Host was one of these. I read it quite quickly and am not ashamed to say that I enjoyed it. I like a little sci-fi now and then, and the whole concept was interesting to me. I especially liked pondering the effect that bodies can have on personalities (which Meyer really doesn’t get into until right near the end), a topic which has been major in my life as I have dealt with illness. So what’s not to like? Engrossing story, thought-provoking concepts. I’m glad I read it.

Next we come to Ann Patchett’s Truth and Beauty. A friend recommended it long ago and I finally got to it (memoir isn’t one of my favorite genres) because I just sort of stumbled on it at the library. It was very interesting reading, the story of a friendship between Patchett, a novelist, and her friend Lucy Greaves, a poet and memoirist. Lucy was a fascinating person both because of her poetic nature and her struggle to go through life with a distorted face (due to a brush with cancer in her childhood). The story gets gradually more depressing as it goes along (Lucy died as a result of a heroin OD) but I found myself reaching for a pen to write down some gems from the text. Here are my favorites:

“While Lucy had discovered that she was different from all of the other children in her grade school because she was sick and was different from all the other children on the hospital’s cancer ward because she continued to survive . . . “
This sentence stuck out to me because I recognize that feeling of not fitting in with either group. I find that a tiny corner of me is reluctant to get well. What about all the sick people I leave behind? Am I no longer welcome in their club? How can I talk to them anymore if I’m well? It’s sort of like being nine months pregnant and running into someone who used to be a companion in infertility—and she’s still infertile, and there’s your big belly staring her in the face. I find a small sense of loss about not being one of the “sick ladies in the ward” anymore. I have enjoyed new levels of friendship with people I never would have known well at all had it not been for my long-lasting (“chronic”) illness. If I get all the way well, for good, will they feel betrayed by me? Will I lose what I had with them?

“I’ve never met ‘Bob,’ yet I always have this strange compulsion to put his name in quotation marks.” (p. 98) This was about a guy that her friend was dating. I imagine it’s sort of related to saying “the Donald.” I have so felt this way about people my friends have dated (or married!). I wonder if there’s anyone out there who feels that way about me? (“So, Roger, how’s ‘Darlene’ doing?”)

“Cynicism, which is rarely more than a symptom of inflated ego anyway” p. 96.

On looking at people who had/have it much worse than you (i. e. Holocaust) in order to make yourself feel better: “It isn’t possible to use the death of six million to make oneself feel lucky, because after a while the enormity of that pain simply replaces your own, making it different and in no way better” (93)

“I have a very pure image of my own [deceased] father, one that is almost a myth. It has more to do with me than with him” (p. 35). This one so reminds me of my own feelings about my deceased mother. It's embarrassing when I realize how much of missing her is about me and not her. It makes me uncomfortable as a mom, too. If I were to die, would my kids miss ME or just themselves with me? Maybe it doesn't make much difference, but it hurts a little. I guess all relationships really are a product of the stories we tell ourselves about them.


Zina said...

I enjoyed Host -- but enjoy bashing it, too. Actually, I really did resent how long it was -- I'm a slow reader, so that was a lot of hours of my life, and though I was too interested to put the book down, I was also annoyed by the exhaustingly slow pacing. (I did think the scene near the end where she goes seeking medicine was heart-thumpingly scary.) I'd love to be able to read her intriguing ideas in a much-abridged version. I guess my bashing is rooted in idealism -- I just love it when an author hits all the sweet spots, and I take it almost personally when they don't quite do so.

(About illness and getting better):

A family in my ward growing up had a lot of difficulties with their daughter after she survived cancer, and I once heard the mom attribute it to something along the lines of that the daughter was used to being special and different, and it was hard to just being normal again -- and to be held to higher expectations than a child who's on the brink of death.

I do think that you can retain some of the wisdom from your experience even after you've been released from the immediate burden, and whether or not the sick ladies would kick you out of their club would be a measure of their character. I read an etiquette website once where the person writing to the website (let's call her "Bob") had attended a funeral for an infant, and someone else had brought their living baby to the funeral. Bob felt like that was rude, but the website writer said, "What do you expect them to do, conceal the fact that their baby's alive? If someone's wife dies, should no one bring their spouse to the funeral?" We'll all encounter people are more fortunate than us in one way or another, and it's classy to be able to hold envy in check enough not to hold it against someone who's innocently blessed, and even to consider that they could still have wisdom, even about the challenge that's still affecting you. (Dang, I'm having a lapse on when to use effect and when to use affect. I'm SO sorry if I got it wrong -- mortified, even.)


Hey, you kind of ispired me to do a teensy bit of creative writing (you, and also my younger brother who's been soliciting contributions for his photography and creative writing blog.) It's here (where I'm going by "Zephyr":

Zina said...

Yikes, too many typos and grammar slips to fix them all. Oh well.

Darlene said...

Don't worry, Zina, I just noticed that I used affect in the place of effect above, so I'm not looking down on you! (But I did go back and fix it.)