Tuesday, July 31, 2018

Weird encyclopedia

When I was a kid, my parents ordered a set of encyclopedias. Not Britannica, this was The Encyclopedia of Weird Shit. (That may not have been the name - I can't actually remember the name.) I do remember that I couldn't wait for it to come each month, and dive into the mysteries of spontaneous human combustion or the strange castle in [Wales??] with the hidden room containing the horrifying family secret that is only revealed to male heirs upon their 18th birthday.

I believed all of it. I divulged my knowledge to friends who couldn't care less about the unusual or sublime. I threw my hand up in class to enthusiastically reveal to teachers that houseplants, fed alcohol instead of water, showed evidence of being drunk.

When I was a kid, I believed the written word would not lie to me.

Monday, July 30, 2018

I'm back

I am back with apologies for my silence. I went on vacation with the intention of posting every day, but once we arrived I found we were to busy to do any blogging. I will start looking back at all the great book suggestions I missed while away, and hopefully tomorrow I’ll have a new post of my own. 

And I will do my best to keep up after tomorrow, but I'm worried about finding the time, because I was offered a job right before we left. I wasn't looking for one; this came out of the blue and was too good to turn down, especially since it is only for 4 months.

I want to keep my side business going, too. Why aren't there more hours in the day?

Anyway, here is a photo from Black Sand Beach, since I know some of you (you know who you are) are big fans of basalt columns.

Wednesday, July 11, 2018

1491 - New Revelations of the Americas Before Columbus

This is the best thing I've ever read.

Okay - that might be a bit hyperbolic, but only a bit. This is a non-fiction book that tells the story of the highly-civilized world that existed in the Americas before Columbus arrived and fucked it all up.

It smashes your preconceptions of the people that lived on this land for centuries. It is unputdownably fascinating. It will ramp up your white guilt to unprecedented levels.

Read this book.

Tuesday, July 10, 2018

Brain on Fire: My Month of Madness

I heard this author interviewed on the radio, and then bought the book as an impulse. I think it was in 2014. It chronicles the true story of a successful young woman's rapid decline into violent psychosis, and the struggle by her family and the medical profession to figure out what was happening. Was she just partying too much? Was she bipolar? Schizophrenic? It was a fascination read, and it was important, because just a couple months later my family faced something equally frightening and mysterious.

When my dad woke up too weak to stay home, he went into hospital. He already has a spinal cord injury with limited mobility, so this weakness made him completely dependent, and he's too big for my mother to lift and transfer. He seemed to be getting better, but then, suddenly he was hallucinating, the next day incoherent, the next almost catatonic. We had never seen anything like this, of course and assumed he was dying, but the doctors kept telling us he might get better. He might get better. It was when one said the word encephalopathy that I realized he really might - because that was one of the words used to describe Susannah Cahalan, the woman in the book I had just read. He did get better, but with consciousness came paranoia - conviction that the hospital and my mother were conspiring to kill him. I was grateful for his mobility impairment, because I truly think he would have been violent if he could have been. Then, over then next week, the paranoia disappeared, too. He eventually become strong enough to return home - three weeks after he went into hospital.

We were relieved, of course, but within a week he was weak again and the cycle started all over. Weakness, brief improvement, hallucinations, incoherence, catatonia, consciousness, paranoia and anger, recovery and home. Still no answers for what was causing it. Three weeks. I had asked about anti-NMDA receptor encephalitis, Susannah's condition, but it wasn't what was causing Dad's encephalopathy.

A few days later, it happened again. Each cycle took 3 weeks. Each period of full recovery lasted a few days, and then we were at it again. And finally, after countless autoimmune disorder tests, MRIs, CAT scans, and blood tests, all negative, they decided it was Lewy Body Dementia. Really? What kind of dementia progresses so rapidly, then completely disappears? Then happens again? I'm no expert, but that just sounded wrong.

It was the neurologist who finally diagnosed absence seizures with post-ictal psychosis. His seizures were invisible. There was never any thrashing or anything else we would recognize as a seizure. He is on medication, and he's been fine since. It is still amazing to me that I picked up a book that would tell a story so similar to one we were about to live ourselves, just a month or two before we lived it.

Monday, July 9, 2018

Pop-up Whine (not book-related)

I allow myself 30 minutes each morning for blogging. That includes posting my own, and reading and commenting on yours. I have a list that starts at 6:30 each morning with grooming my dogs, followed by an hour of gardening, blah, blah, blah until 7:00 at night. I only have 30 minutes for this, and I still can't get everything done that needs doing. When am I going to start to write again? I miss writing! How does everyone else in the world find time to do stuff? How did I get anything done when I worked in an office full-time. If I'm so busy, why am I so poor? (The mock-president of the USA has more time to tweet FFS, than I have to spend on my friends' blogs.)

Saturday, July 7, 2018

Once Long Ago

I don't remember not having this book. I vaguely recall reading it late at night when I was supposed to be sleeping, as entranced by the gorgeous pictures as I was by the stories.

I think my mother picked it up second-hand. My copy doesn't have a dust cover - I don't even recognize the one in the picture posted here, so I doubt mine ever had it.

This is the book I would save from a fire. When we purge the bookshelves to downsize, this one is coming with us. It defines for me the arbitrariness of categorizing books by age-group. It still captures my imagination as much as it did when I was four years old.  A good story is a good story. Where does age come into it?

Thursday, July 5, 2018

Helter Skelter

Who in their right mind lets a nine-year-old check out Helter Skelter from the local library? Why, the old guy who ran our village library, that's who.

He was a really sweet old man, and I know that his name will come to me as soon as I post this. He talked to me about all the books I read when I returned them, and he would suggest other books for me to take out. He is the one who recommended David Copperfield to me the summer between grades 4 and 5 (a future post).

I think he just didn't believe in censorship of any form. So he let me sign it out, and I read it in a few days, horrified by the pictures, gripped by the events.

True crime is still one of my favourite genres.

Wednesday, July 4, 2018

Summer of my German Soldier

Some books just happen at the right time. I found this one in the school library when I was in grade seven, circa 1977. I was keenly aware that year that I wasn't the girl who turned the boys' heads. I wasn't particularly good at any sports, I had a year or two with terrible acne and I certainly wasn't one of the cool kids.  So when I found Patty Bergen - my age, unappreciated and lonely, we became best friends for the duration of the story. Anton, the German prisoner of war she befriended, stood in for all the guys who couldn't see past the zits and bony awkwardness. I fell asleep imagining MY Anton, and decided if I ever had a son, that would be his name.

I never read it again, and I doubt it was as good as I remember. In fact, sitting here, remembering this as one of the seminal books of my middle-school years, I realize I don't even know what became of Anton - did he survive the war? I have no idea.

Tuesday, July 3, 2018


I haven't read this book. I only learned it existed this morning while listening to "Little House on the Podcast". (Don't judge me. This episode-by-episode play-by-play of the TV series is my guilty pleasure). The Little House box-set, dog-eared and yellowed, still has a home on my bookshelves. I can't tell you how many times I reread them through my childhood. And even thought the TV series was a far-cry from the novels on which it was based, I loved it too.

Will I read this new book that tells the story of the Ingalls family from Ma's POV? Hell yeah!

Monday, July 2, 2018

The Iceberg Hermit

This is one of the many scholastic books that stands out in my memory. I believed every word of it - 17 year old Allan survives a Greenland shipwreck, kills a polar bear and raises the bear's orphaned cub, eventually finds a group of native people who take him in, and seven years later, finds his way back to Scotland.

Later, I learned it was merely based on a true story.

Later still, I learned it is probably pure fiction. Still, it is one of those books I read over and over and over. Writing about it now, I'm tempted to pull it off the shelf and read it again.

Sunday, July 1, 2018


Nothing through my years in elementary school - absolutely nothing - could compare to the days that the order forms for the Scholastic Arrow and Tab book clubs arrived. Nothing. We pored over those order forms at recess, comparing which books we would get, how many we could afford, who we should team up with so we could share our new purchases without duplicating. We had one week to make our decisions, and in that week the forms would become so dog-eared and smudged that we often had to ask for a new for on order day. The books, when they came in, were wonderful - like Christmas! But they weren't quite as magnificent as the new order forms.

Catching up day 3

May 21, 2018 My grandparents were the first people I knew to own a microwave oven. Theirs was brown*, had a tiny wind...