Category Archives: Books

How Do You Tie Your Shoes?

ALLTHATFOLLOWEDI recently finished reading a book about the intersecting lives of people in a small Basque town before, during, and after a  crime committed by young pro-Basque separatist group members.

The book, All That Followed, is the debut novel of Gabriel Urza, a public defender in Reno, Nevada. I came across the book in my library when looking for an e-book to read and both the description and the book cover caught me eye.

A psychologically twisting novel about a politically-charged act of violence that echoes through a small Spanish town; a dazzling debut in the tradition of Daniel Alarcón and Mohsin Hamid. It’s 2004 in Muriga, a quiet town in Spain’s northern Basque Country, a place with more secrets than inhabitants.

All That Followed has three narrators who tell the circular story from different perspectives. One of the narrators really intrigued me…

Mariana is a young mother who was raised in the town where the story takes place. Prior to the crime, she became very ill and subsequently received a kidney transplant.

As she heals from both the illness and the transplant, she feels her body changing in ways that are sometimes fantastical, sometimes disturbing, and always out of her control.

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Mariana becomes obsessed with her new kidney, and, after lots of painstaking research, determines it is from a deceased member of a violent pro-Basque separatist group.

This is just a minor sub-theme in the book, but it was really quite interesting.

What starts her journey into finding her new kidney’s previous owner is that after over thirty years of tying her shoes one particular way, she suddenly starts tying them a new way.

squirrel

Mariana talks with her friend Joni, who is from California, about it.

“I calculated that I have been tying my shoelaces an average of three times a day for thirty-two years. Thirty five thousand and forty times, always in the same manner: the squirrel runs around the tree, then through the hole and out the other side.”

“I think we learned a different technique in California,” I said. “I remember my mother teaching me the ‘bunny ears’ technique. A knot for the head, and then we add on the rabbit’s ears.”

“Yes!” she said. “The rabbit’s ears! Suddenly, after the squirrel has run around the tree thirty-five thousand and forty times, I begin to use the rabbit ears!”

bunny-laces

How weird would that be? To start tying your shoes a new way after decades of just automatically tying them and not even thinking about it?

So that got me wondering how often people change after organ transplants. Do they change habits? Do they change personalities?

Off to Google I went.

And I found some amazing stories from Before It’s News

One of the few cases we know the patient’s name was a woman called Claire Sylvia who received a heart and lung transplant in the 1970’s from an eighteen year old male donor who had been in a motorcycle accident. None of this information was known to Sylvia, who upon waking up claimed she had a new and intense craving for beer, chicken nuggets, and green peppers, all food she didn’t enjoy prior to the surgery.

A 47 year old man receiving a heart from a 17 year old black boy suddenly picked up an intense fondness for classical music. The boy whose heart had been donated was killed in a drive-by shooting, still clutching his violin case in his hands. A 47 year old transplant patient claimed that his new heart was responsible for a sudden onset of eating disorders, heralded from the heart’s previous owner, a 14 year old girl. Once a change in sexual orientation was even documented in a twenty seven year old lesbian who soon after getting a new heart settled down and married a man.

The most stunning example of cellular memory was found in an eight year old girl who received the heart of a ten year old girl. The recipient was plagued after surgery with vivid nightmares about an attacker and a girl being murdered. After being brought to a psychiatrist her nightmares proved to be so vivid and real that the psychiatrist believed them to be genuine memories. As it turns out the ten year old whose heart she had just received was murdered and due to the recipients violent reoccurring dreams she was able to describe the events of that horrible encounter and the murderer so well that police soon apprehended, arrested, and convicted the killer.

Is it true? Haven’t got a clue, but it’s fascinating to think about.

My favorite story was about a 30-something man who was concerned about becoming more feminine after receiving a female heart. Later he said he didn’t change at all, but his girlfriend said that his lovemaking techniques changed a lot. “It’s almost like he knew exactly what I wanted him to do…” <3

I’m Not THAT Crazy

read-books-480x318I read a lot.

Not as much as I’d like to but enough to help me learn more about life, people, and places…

I usually read fiction, but occasionally I’ll read some non-fiction.

Two books I finished over the summer were fascinating looks into people–damaged people who became endearing as I read the books and learned more about the reasons they were so damaged.

WildCheryl Strayed recounts her journey to discover herself in Wild: From Lost to Found on the Pacific Crest Trail. I didn’t particularly like the book, and I think I’m one of the few women who didn’t.

But that being said, I’m very glad I read her memoir. Why? Strayed’s struggle in coming to grips with less than perfect parents (and aren’t all parents less than perfect? ) was very enlightening. And her openness in describing her past and using that to set the scene for why she carried those wounds through her life into her Wild journey helped her readers apply those lessons to our own lives.

My favorite quote about her lack of a relationship with her father came from a friend:

“The father’s job is to teach his children how to be warriors, to give them the confidence to get on the horse to ride into battle when it’s necessary to do so. If you don’t get that from your father, you have to teach yourself.”

Strayed empowered her readers with the wisdom that they can teach themselves the skills we need.

HeftHeft by Liz Moore is a novel about a learned man who engages in a platonic friendship with a student.

I listened to Heft and the audio presentation greatly enhanced the book because the narrators exquisitely captured the cadences and nuances of the characters.

Heft is the story of three people whose journeys are memorable, heartbreaking, and, yet, ultimately uplifting.

Arthur Opp is morbidly obese and hasn’t left his Brooklyn home in over a decade. Kel Keller lives in Yonkers and is a 17-year-old baseball prodigy who lives with his mother. Connecting these two is a tenuous link with Kel’s mother, Charlene, who is chronically ill and self-medicates with alcohol.

Moore does an excellent job slowly, ever so slowly, exposing the reasons behind her characters’ pasts and their journeys to the where they currently are at the start of the book.

While I first thought that the title referred to Arthur’s size, I came to realize that it really alluded to the true weight of feelings and the courage we all need to confront them.

The book may sound depressing, but hope prevails…

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Getting inside characters’ and writers’ heads in these and other books is such a wonderful journey. It’s a way to temporarily step out of one’s own life and learn about others through empathetic journeys.

And, at the risk of being irreverent, it’s also a way to see that others might actually be crazier than I am.  🙂

Idioms + Missing Ziva

The AmateurI’m in the middle of listening to a Robert Littell book called The Amateur.

His books almost always deal with the CIA, and he’s most famous for The Company, an excellent book about the birth and history of the CIA.

The Amateur involves a cryptographer, Heller, who avenges is fiance’s death by terrorists by hunting them down in Czechoslovakia.

Elizabeth, an operative he meets there, is entranced with all things American, including American idioms.  Hearing and laughing to Elizabeth’s mangling of these idioms makes me realize how difficult it would be to understand idioms in a non-native tongue.

For example, Elizabeth says, “It’s like finding a thread in a haystack.”

Heller says, “You mean needle.”

haystack“What?”, Elizabeth asks, confused.

“The saying is ‘a needle in a haystack’,” says Heller.

Elizabeth retorts, “What difference does it make? Both are incredibly hard to find in a haystack…”

Elizabeth’s idiom trouble and her logic reminds me of the Ziva David character on the CBS show NCIS. Her distortion of idioms was delightful! I have so missed Zima since her character left the show…

zivaHere are a few Zima idiom distortions…

Ziva: We hit a shamu.
Susan: Did she mean a snafu?

Ziva: Bah hum-bog.
Tony: What?

Ziva: We have come to sit on the baby.

PS For those of you who are NCIS and/or Ziva fans: There are rumors (again) that she’s coming back . Here’s hoping…

Long Journey

I just finished reading Wild: From Lost to Found on the Pacific Crest Trail by Cheryl Strayed.

wild

The book is a 2012 memoir describing her 1,100-mile hike on the Pacific Crest Trail in 1995 as a journey of self-discovery. Her mother had just died, and Cheryl was struggling with her life in her mid twenties. She decided to hike the PCT to shed her grief and atone for years of destructive behavior.

The book is well written, but I don’t think I’m alone among readers who struggled to read it all the way through.

Cheryl makes a lot of mistakes, and some of those mistakes she makes over and over again.

But in reading her journey through the 1,100 miles, readers get to know more about her and understand why she makes those mistakes.

Here’s a quick three minute video of the PCT:

And, for me, here are the best lines from the book:

Cheryl remember talking with an astrologer before the hike, and they were talking about her father.

The astrologer asks if her father, who was in the military, was wounded.

“Perhaps not literally. But he has something in common with some of those men. He was deeply wounded. He was damaged. His damage has infected his life and it infected you.”

“Wounded?” was all I could manage.

“Yes,” said Pat. “And you’re wounded in the same place. That’s what fathers do if they don’t heal their wounds. They wound their children in the same place. ”

“The father’s job is to teach his children how to be warriors, to give them the confidence to get on the horse and ride into battle when it’s necessary to do so. If you don’t get that from your father, you have to teach yourself.”

Very true, not just of fathers but of mothers…

And I love this quote because so often we automatically say NO to things that perhaps we should be saying YES to.

What if YES was the right answer instead of NO.

And the last sentence of the book, summed it all up.

How wild it was, to let it be.

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OverDrive

A few days ago I ventured to a public library and got a library card for the Meridian Library District.

meridian-logo

I haven’t had a library card for years because when we lived up in the mountains, the library for the area we were in was another 30 miles up the mountain and the library was tiny. I could have paid the $50 (?) for out of town residents to get a City of Boise library card, but I was too cheap…

So now that we have a permanent residence in town, I have my own bona fide library card.

And here’s the best part: Now that I have my library card with my own library number, I don’t ever have to go to the library again unless I want an actual book to read or want a book on CD to listen to.

overdriveI can do everything else online via OverDrive. *

Libraries that belong to OverDrive (and my library does 🙂 !) add to their collections from a catalog of over 2 million eBooks, audiobooks, and videos.

Using the OverDrive app, users can access and/or download content to view on their smart phone, tablet, or computer. The app is compatible with iOS, Android, Chromebook, Mac OS, Windows, and Windows Phone.

After I installed the app on my phone, I quickly connected with my library’s list of available audio books and found Our Souls at Night which I listened to over two days while cleaning, taking Sophie for walks, and knitting.  It was the perfect book for my first audio book in almost two years.

audio-book

And now I’m off to surf search for another great book to listen to while walking the dog, cleaning the house, shopping for groceries, etc…

As soon as I finish the WWII novel I’m reading using my Kindle app on my phone, I’ll look for an eBook to download from the library.

I think my amazon.com bill ju$t got a whole lot $maller.

*Thanks to Melissa who told me about Overdrive after her friend Tobie told her about it.  🙂

Our Souls at Night

our soulsI just finished listening to Kent Haruf’s final book, Our Souls at Night.

I had heard of Haruf’s work, but I’d never read any of his books before including Plainsong, his third and most known novel.

Our Souls at Night is a beautiful story of a widow and a widower who begin a wonderful friendship after she asks him to sleep with her at night.

She misses lying in bed at night talking with her husband about the events of the day and listening to him breathe before she falls asleep.

So she asks her neighbor to just come spend the night together to see if it will help her sleep at night.

“I’m talking about getting through the night,” she says. “And lying warm in bed, companionably. Lying down in bed together and you staying the night. The nights are the worst. Don’t you think?”

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He agrees, and he knocks on her back door after dark with his pajamas and a toothbrush in a brown paper sack.

After they talk a bit, she does fall asleep. And after a few nights staying with her, he falls asleep as well.

All of Haruf’s novels take place in the fictional town of Holt, in eastern Colorado. Holt is based on Yuma, Colorado, one of Haruf’s residences in the early 1980s.

The book is gentle, heartwarming, and yet surprisingly honest.

I highly recommend it.

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Here’s an article from Wall Street Journal about the book that explains much of the details behind the book and its story. Amazing!

Kent Haruf’s Last Chapter
In ‘Our Souls at Night,’ a novel he finished just days before he died, Kent Haruf explores finding love late in life

By JENNIFER MALONEY
May 14, 2015 1:32 p.m. ET

Kent Haruf knew he was dying, but he felt well enough to attempt one more project. It was May of last year, and Mr. Haruf, the best-selling novelist known for his quiet chronicles of small-town Colorado life, had been diagnosed with an incurable lung disease.

“I have an idea,” he said to his wife, Cathy Haruf. “I’m going to write a book about us.”

He stretched the long tube of his oxygen tank out the back door of their bungalow to his writing shed, and began to type.

Normally, it took him six years or more to write a novel. But in a rush of creative energy, he wrote a chapter a day. Roughly 45 days later, he had finished a draft of his final novel, “Our Souls at Night.”

Mr. Haruf died at home in Salida, Colo., on Nov. 30. He was 71 years old. In the months and even days before he died, the author worked with his wife and his editor, Gary Fisketjon, to finish it. His publisher, Alfred A. Knopf, will release the book on May 28 with a first print run of 35,000.

A short, spare and moving novel about a man and a woman who find love late in life, “Our Souls at Night” is already creating a stir. The novel has been selected by the American Booksellers Association as the No. 1 Indie Next Pick for June. Discussions are under way for a film adaptation, according to Mr. Haruf’s agent, Nancy Stauffer.

“Knowing that there will be no more,” readers may find this book even more powerful than Mr. Haruf’s previous novels, said Cathy Langer, lead buyer at the Tattered Cover Book Store in Denver. “Plainsong,” his most famous book, has sold more than one million copies in the U.S.

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“Plainsong,” in which two old, cantankerous bachelor farmer brothers take in a pregnant teenager, was the first in a trilogy, all set in the fictional town of Holt, Colo. The new novel is set in the same town, but is separate from the trilogy.

“It has all of those Haruf-like things—the community, the forging of relationships,” Mr. Fisketjon said. “But there is something about this book that seems to me completely different… The simplicity of it, the directness of it. The get-to-it-ness of it. The opening is like, Wow.”

The book begins with a proposition: A 70-year-old widow named Addie Moore knocks on the door of a longtime neighbor and asks if he would like to come to her house at night to lie in bed—not for sex, but to talk and fall asleep together.

“I’m talking about getting through the night,” she says. “And lying warm in bed, companionably. Lying down in bed together and you staying the night. The nights are the worst. Don’t you think?”

“Yes. I think so,” he says.

Alan Kent Haruf was born in 1943 in the steel-mill town of Pueblo, Colo. His father was a Methodist preacher. That summer, his family moved onto the Eastern Plains of Colorado, where they lived in three different towns over the next 12 years. This was the landscape where he would set his novels.

harufHe attended high school in Cañon City, Colo., where, freshman year, he met Cathy Shattuck. They lived on the same street. (Her father was an Episcopal priest.) The two became close friends, playing in the band together and commiserating over girlfriends and boyfriends. They went on double dates together but never dated.

At Nebraska Wesleyan University in Lincoln, Mr. Haruf discovered Faulkner and Hemingway, and decided to become an English teacher. He began to write short stories while volunteering with the Peace Corps in Turkey, and applied to the Iowa Writers’ Workshop. He was rejected. He married in 1967 and continued to write, applying to the workshop again in 1971. This time, he moved his wife and baby daughter to Iowa before the school finally admitted him.

He spent the next 11 years trying to get published. He taught high-school English in Colorado and Wisconsin, and wrote during the summers. “The Tie That Binds,” his first published novel, was released in 1984 when he was 41.

In 1991, he rekindled his friendship with Cathy Shattuck (by then Cathy Dempsey) at their 30th high-school reunion. Both of them were married. She had five children. He had three. She was a special-education teacher in Virginia, working with physically disabled students.

cathyandkentHe began to write “Plainsong” soon after that, modeling one of the characters, a teacher named Maggie Jones, after her.

Within a few years, both of their marriages had ended. Their relationship began long-distance, with long talks on the phone. In 1995, she joined him in Illinois, where he was teaching in the MFA program at Southern Illinois University. They were married that year.

“Plainsong” was published in 1999. It was a runaway best seller, and a finalist for the National Book Award.

“From simple elements, Haruf achieves a novel of wisdom and grace–a narrative that builds in strength and feeling until, as in a choral chant, the voices in the book surround, transport, and lift the reader off the ground,” the National Book Award citation said.

The success of “Plainsong” meant that he could now write full-time. Kent and Cathy Haruf built a cabin in the mountains near Salida, Colo., about 60 miles west of the town where they attended high school. She got a part-time job as a hospice volunteer coordinator, so she could travel with him on book tours.

“They were just so in love,” the author’s sister-in-law Kathy Haruf said. “You could feel it when you were with them.”

In the woods by their cabin, they adapted a tool shed—insulated, with a space heater, desk, typewriter and bookshelf. Every morning at 9, rain, shine or snow, Mr. Haruf would head out there.

He would read a passage from one of his favorite authors—Hemingway, Faulkner or Chekhov—“just to remind myself of what a sentence can be,” he said in an interview with John Moore, a journalist with the Denver Center for the Performing Arts, last November. Then he would roll an old, yellowed sheet of paper into his Royal typewriter, pull a stocking cap down over his eyes, and type blind, his head sinking toward the keys. He would write one scene, with no punctuation or paragraph breaks, filling a page with single-spaced text.

He wouldn’t allow himself to get up until he had finished the scene.

When he was diagnosed with interstitial lung disease in February 2014, he felt “sick and very downhearted spiritually and mentally,” Mr. Haruf said in the same interview, six days before he died. “And then in April, I began to feel a little better, and I thought, ‘Well, I don’t want to just sit around waiting.’”

After he was diagnosed with an incurable lung disease, author Kent Haruf and his wife Cathy formed a two-person book club of sorts.

Mr. Haruf described it, in an interview with the Denver Performing Arts Center, as “a seminar course in spiritual thought about death and dying.” The two of them, each morning, read and discussed dozens of books about death and spirituality.

In “Our Souls at Night,” Mr. Haruf’s final novel, Addie asks Louis: “Aren’t you afraid of death?”

“Not like I was,” he replies. “I’ve come to believe in some kind of afterlife. A return to our true selves, a spirit self. We’re just in this physical body till we go back to spirit.”

Below, some of the books the Harufs read together:

“On Death and Dying,” by Elisabeth Kübler-Ross
“Dying To Be Me,” by Anita Moorjani
“Wishes Fulfilled,” by Wayne Dyer
“Many Lives, Many Masters,” by Brian L. Weiss
“Ask and It Is Given,” by Esther and Jerry Hicks
“On Life after Death,” by Elisabeth Kübler-Ross
“Messages From the Masters,” by Brian Weiss
“Only Love Is Real,” by Brian Weiss
“Sacred Contracts,” by Caroline Myss

He tried to write some short stories, but didn’t get anywhere, and then the idea came to him for a novel.

“In some ways it felt as if that was what was keeping me alive,” he said. “It was something significant for me to get up for every day.”

He asked his wife not to tell anyone he was writing a book. He wanted it to be surprise.

He started on May 1. By mid-June, he had finished the first draft. He revised and retyped it, and one afternoon in early August, Cathy Haruf said, “Well, are you ready for me to read it?”

“Yes, I think so,” he said.

She retrieved the manuscript from the shed, sat down and read it all at once.

It was not a literal retelling of their marriage. But there they were, recast as Addie Moore and Louis Waters. When she read Addie’s fearless proposition, she thought, “Oh yeah, he knows that I would be the kind to do something like that,” said Ms. Haruf, 71.

The Harufs’ favorite time together was lying in bed at night, talking.

“It’s our love story,” she said. “We would lie there and hold hands and talk. There wasn’t anything we never discussed.”

In the novel, Addie and Louis slowly reveal themselves, and their life stories, as they lie in bed talking. Their connection deepens when Addie’s grandson Jamie comes to stay with her, and it’s tested when neighbors and loved ones voice objections to the relationship.

Woven through the book are details from Mr. Haruf’s life, including subtle nods to his children.

“There we are in these pages,” his daughter Sorel Haruf said. “It’s a final blessing to all of us.”

Cathy Haruf typed the draft on their computer, and updated it as her husband made revisions. She sat next to him in bed, with a pad and pen, making a timeline of the characters, to make sure the fictional dates lined up. They brainstormed titles together. (They rejected: “Till We Meet Again,” “Night Time,” and “Cedar Street.”) And they debated the ending. Ms. Haruf objected to the ending of his first draft, which she argued was out of character for Addie.

“Addie would not do this!” she said.

He rewrote it.

On Sept. 22, he emailed the manuscript to Mr. Fisketjon.

“Here’s a little surprise for you,” he wrote.

“I said, ‘What the f—!’” Mr. Fisketjon recalled. “Shock and awe.”

Mr. Haruf’s doctors hadn’t told him how long he might live. Mr. Fisketjon, knowing that they may not have much time, dropped everything to edit it. Knopf art director Carol Devine Carson, who designed the jackets for the “Plainsong” trilogy, took up the project right away. The trilogy’s covers had all depicted landscapes. For this, she proposed a more intimate image: the silhouette of a wooden headboard against a wall. Mr. Haruf loved it.

The book went through a round of editing. Then it went to a copy editor. Knopf express-mailed a copy-edited manuscript to the Harufs on Nov. 25.

Mr. Haruf was very weak. He told his wife she would have to give it the final read.

On the night of Nov. 29, Kent and Cathy Haruf lay in bed—she in their queen bed and he in a hospital bed alongside it. They held hands, talking quietly, then fell asleep.

When she woke in the morning, he was gone.

haruf-drawing