The Choice by Edith Eger – READ IT

As you know, I luff Marian Keyes with all my face. Every Monday she does a fillum of her week, and I watch it, because of the aforesaid luff. A few weeks ago she recommended a book called The Choice by Edith Eger. It’s not the kind of book I’d usually choose to read, because I tend to steer clear of anything that looks vaguely self-helpish or inspirational in case it makes me want to stab myself. I do trust Marian though, and when I saw that it was available for request on Netgalley, I thought, wothe’ell and requested it.

I started reading it last night. I had to give up at 2.00 a.m. because I couldn’t keep my eyes open any longer. I have just finished reading it, after having spent the morning doing nothing else.

It was amazing. You should read it, and I say this as a person who hates inspirational books, remember? It’s one of those books I’m going to be giving out as a gift, rambling on about to people while their faces glaze over, thinking about for the rest of my life. That sort of book.

Eger is a holocaust survivor. She lived through Auschwitz and Mauthausen and death marches until she was liberated from the Gunskircher Larger camp, after being pulled from a pile of corpses by an American GI.

She is a therapist who uses her own experiences in the camps to inform how she helps other people to heal. She was a friend of Victor E. Frankl, whose writing on his experiences in the camps helped her to talk about her own. The basis of her teaching is something he wrote: “Everything can be taken from a man but one thing: the last of the human freedoms—to choose one’s attitude in any given set of circumstances, to choose one’s own way.” and one of the last things her mother said to her before they parted forever in the lines at Auschwitz: “No one can take away from you what is in your own mind.”

The book has three main elements; her tale of her time in the camps, what happened to her afterwards, and how she has used that experience to help others, and allowed them to help her back.

I think the word powerful is going to be over used as more and more people read this book, but it truly is. I think in today’s climate where hate crimes are on the rise, where a friend of mine got verbally abused on a bus in London this weekend by an anti-semite, where power is hoarded by those who have never deserved it less, and we talk about what an appropriate response to all this hate is, this book has never been more apposite or necessary.

 

Frabjous Day

It’s two weeks since I left the Big Brother House (i.e. hospital) for the outside world. Today is the first day I have ventured out into the real world, as oppose to the comfy prison of my own four walls. I had rather hoped that my first trip out would be triumphant, featuring me in some kind of chariot, or possibly a gilded version of the chaise longue of death (TM) with wheels. People would line the streets, throwing glitter and confetti and hallooing with joy etc.

Instead it was a trip to the GP to talk about my bastard blood pressure.

I was dreading it.

I wore my new Princess Leia t-shirt to give myself POWER.

But, but, but…there is good news. There is Such GOOD NEWS that were I not physically impaired, I would be doing star jumps right now.

My blood pressure is down. It is down to normal levels. There was discussion of my theory that as my hormones are levelling off so is my blood pressure, and this was not dismissed. In fact it was seriously considered as something that is actually happening. There was no discussion of switching my meds, and there was a lot of discussion of, ‘if this keeps going you can come off them forever and ever.’

There was also a belt and braces approach to the fact that I am an awkward little sod, and therefore, some investigation must be done into whether I have inherited a little thing called Conns Syndrome from my dad (symptoms are insane blood pressure and no other correlating symptoms for people with that level of blood pressure – i.e. me). I have been referred to the endocrinology department at the hospital where they can do simple tests to find out whether I have it or not. I should get a letter in the next four weeks.

So, this is the plan, along with monitoring my blood pressure for the next few weeks, morning and night to make sure it doesn’t suddenly plummet to dangerously low levels (ARGH), and a plan to get me drug free as soon as possible.

It was amazing. Absolutely amazing.

Also amazing is despite the fact that I have been idling around in my sexy, surgical stockings, wolfing down food parcels day and night since I got out of chokey, I have lost three kilos in weight. I know this is vain. I just don’t care. I am so happy that my clothes will still fit.

So I had a little cry in the car park, and came home absolutely exhausted by a trip that took an entire thirty minutes and in which I largely sat on my arse. Clearly I need to work on my stamina.

In other, great news, the cleaning lady was a marvel. A modern day miracle worker. I have issues the papers for her formal adoption. She comes back in two weeks to work her magic again. I am gleeful at the prospect.

Book wise, I have slowed down a little thanks to now being able to sleep in my own bed, and move around during the day more. This means I am sleeping properly at night and am more active in the day and there is less time for four hours of reading in the wee, small hours. However, I have read a wonderfully charming book about memory and forgetting and love by Val Emmich called The Reminders. It’s gentle and sweet and funny and I think you might like it.

Parcels are still incoming, and thank you to everyone who is braving the post office to make sure I don’t run out of chocolate and biscuits.

I’m feeling pretty blessed today.

Two weeks in

It’s been two weeks (this evening) since my surgery. Yesterday was the first day I woke up without any pain, and today I got myself up, showered myself and got dressed in real clothes. I am now knackered, but I consider this good progress. I have also abandoned the surgical stockings, and if my legs explode you can all tell me off afterwards.

Hormonally things are not ideal. We will not talk about my blood pressure other than to say that it seems to think it’s the renegade master but really it needs to sit on the naughty step and think about what it’s done.

I am very excited about tomorrow, because for the first time since I had a job and two small children, I am having a cleaning lady round. I am about as excited about this as I was about the birth of Oscar, frankly.

It’s not that my lovely people are not looking after me. They absolutely are, but you know, there are things that they just don’t quite do right, and rather than shoot them all in the face because it’s getting on my nerves, I decided a cleaning lady would save my nerves and their lives.

My reading continues apace. I am more knackered than usual today because I stayed up until half past three this morning finishing The Break by Marian Keyes. I love Marian Keyes. I love her books. I love her on social media, and I love the fact that she is just absolutely lovely as a person. I know this because she sent me marvellous things for a raffle I did once to fund raise for Bliss. Also, when I sent her a long, rambling message this year, she replied with absolute grace and patience instead of giving me a thick ear.

So my first recommendation is that you should absolutely read The Break. It was fantastic. It made me laugh. It made me cry. It was serious and funny and thoughtful and even a bit political and I loved every last bit of it. I think this is my favourite of her books, but Watermelon still holds a special place in my heart.

I also read, as an experiment, a Rivers of London Detective Story on Kindle by Ben Aaronovitch. I love Ben Aaronovitch as an author and his Rivers of London series is the best. I stalk him on Twitter to check his daily word count, that’s how committed I am to the series. This particular story was part of a graphic novel series he’s been working on, about the same characters. I am always slightly dubious about graphic novels, because they’re just not my thing usually, but I have found myself warming to them recently and thought I’d give this a go. Unfortunately it really didn’t work for me. It was only part of a story and I didn’t feel engaged enough to give the next part a go. I am really sad about it.

Finally, I read How to Stop Time by Matt Haig. Everyone has been raving about this book, and I couldn’t resist snapping it up. I love his children’s books, and was blown away by his self help book, Reasons to Stay Alive, but I’d never read his fiction for adults, so it seemed like a good time to start. I really enjoyed How to Stop Time. It was an easy, gentle read with an interesting plot line and good characters. It moved me and I found myself engaged, although it wasn’t until after I’d finished with it that I realised elements reminded me of Anne Rice’s Interview with the Vampire. Not that it was a bad thing, just interesting.

Books and the Weekend

If I could be bothered, I’d set up another blog, just for grown up book reviews. To be honest though, keeping up two blogs and all my other social media is more than enough for me, so be prepared to be deluged in book reviews as I read my way through my convalescence into half term, where hopefully surgical stockings will be off the menu forever, and driving my car will be back on the menu.

Talking of menus, I will also be looking forward to some exercise in order to simply fit back into my clothes again if people don’t stop sending me delicious treats.

N.B. Don’t stop sending me delicious treats. Someone has just bought me a Chunky Peanut Butter KitKat and it made me a bit teary with joy.

N.B. N.B. Thank you to everyone who has sent me delicious treats.

I had my first bad night’s sleep since I got out of hospital, last night, hence more book reviews. It’s amazing how much reading you can do when sleep is in short supply. I wasn’t in a lot of pain, but I was feeling rather out of sorts and weepy. I think this is pretty much the first time since I got out of hospital that I’ve felt rather overwhelmed, so I feel I’ve earned it. The KitKat has helped me get back on track.

The Nakano Thrift Shop by Hiromi Kawakami has been on my to be read pile for months now, after I spotted it in Foyles one, indolent browsing afternoon. It has that slightly off-kilter vibe I find in other Japanese authors like Haruki Murakami and Banana Yoshimoto, and which I really like. I don’t think I ever really understand the social nuances of what goes on, because the culture is so alien to me, but I do have a soft spot for Japanese books, at least all the ones I’ve read anyway. Hitomi works at Mr. Nakano’s Thrift Shop and each chapter, narrated by her, dips in and out of the lives of the people who work in and visit the shop through the lens of some of the items in it. It’s strange and funny and rather lovely.

Through Netgalley goodness I managed to snag two things I really wanted to read and I was, happily, thrilled with both of them.

First up was Anne Michaels’ volume of poetry: All We Saw. Michaels is probably best known for the wonderful novel, Fugitive Pieces, which deservedly won a ton of prizes. It’s a lyrical, poetic novel about a young, Polish boy who is rescued from his village after the Nazis have decimated it, and who learns to rebuild his life again under the tutelage of a Greek archaeologist. I read this when it was first published in 1996 and it blew me away with the beauty of the language. This led me to seek out her poetry in the volume Weight of Oranges/Miner’s Pond. All We Saw is an accumulation of themes that were present way back at the beginning of her work, but which have become richer and more weighted as time has gone by. She meditates on love and loss and the tricky ground between the two, and how sometimes they are far apart and at other times they exist so much on top of one another they are totally overwhelming. The collection is so gorgeous and at times I found myself in tears at how easily she seems able to express the inexpressible.

Finally I got to read the latest novel by Roddy Doyle, Smile. Rather like my longstanding love for Anne Michaels, I’ve been a fan of Doyle since since Paddy Clarke Ha Ha Ha. For me though, he really started to become amazing rather than simply great when he wrote The Woman Who Walked into Doors. It was such a terrifying read, so brutal, so real, so human and affecting that nothing was ever the same again after reading that book. It’s the one I always recommend if Doyle ever comes up in conversation. Now I recommend that you pair it with this one. I’m not going to tell you much about it, for it all depends on a beautiful twist, but it has all the characteristics that make Doyle such a brilliant writer. He has a fantastic ear for dialogue and a wonderful knack of capturing the idiosyncrasies of people’s lives. It’s funny and terrible and sad and absolutely perfect.

And finally, two things from the internet for your delectation and delight. The first a glorious review of what looks to be a fantastic book (and one I will be purchasing). You should read this article in The New Statesman by Frank Cottrell Boyce (one of my favourite, all time authors, ever) on Robert Webb’s book; How Not To Be A Boy. Then you should read this article by the author Tom Cox from his website. It’s wonderful, and if you love him, you can get his latest book from Unbound (I pledged for it, and I cannot wait for my copy to arrive).

 

A Post About Books

I’m on the mend. My blood pressure is not. My hormones are not (yet), but physically I am getting there. There is a lot to be said for lying around on the sofa, eating good food and reading good books.

Now my head is back in the game as far as reading goes, I’m going to be writing more about what I’m reading. I’ve also joined Netgalley recently and have been lucky to get an advance peek at some brilliant things that will be being published in the coming months, so it seems only fair to talk about them a bit.

Here’s a blast through what I’ve read since the op. I’ll try to review as I go from now on, so it’s not such of an onslaught in future.

American Gods by Neil Gaiman – Oh. Oh. Oh. How wonderful it was to realise I hadn’t already read this. It is epic in every sense of the word. So readable, so clever, so funny and absolutely joyous. I have a particularly soft spot for myth and legend remade for the modern world, and this is like the ur version of that. Also, as our old copy had literally fallen to bits I was delighted to find that the new TV tie in version is only £3.85 on Amazon at the moment. I was also lucky enough to find that there are two short stories which follow the main character, Shadow Moon, after the book ends; Black Dog and Monarch of the Glen. If you buy them for Kindle, they’re 99p each, and if you have the new version of the book, Monarch of the Glen is an add on at the end. If you’ve never experienced Gaiman before, now is the time.

The Dance of the Dissident Daughter by Sue Monk-Kidd – I agreed to read this at the request of a friend who wanted to talk about it with me. It really isn’t my thing, dealing as it does with Monk-Kidd’s awakening as a feminist but with a very strong slant towards her religious faith. I approve of the feminist awakening. I absolutely agree with her right to faith and any way she wants to express it. I just didn’t really want to read about it. It’s not her Christianity that bothers me. I’d be equally unenthused about anyone’s story of their faith journey, whatever that faith might be. Having said that, she is articulate, intelligent and thoughtful. Her personal journey was also interesting, despite being not to my taste, and I applaud how much of her conditioning she was able to recognise and shake off, and how positively she was able to remake her life Some sections of the book were actually very affecting and thought provoking and I was glad I read it in the end, although I could have done with it being an essay rather than a 250 page book.

After Kathy Acker by Chris Kraus – I’d read about Kathy Acker’s work in an interview I saw with Neil Gaiman, who was a friend of hers. He mentioned how much he had loved her book Blood and Guts in High School. I had looked at it and was unsure about it, so when this biography of Acker was offered to me to review by Amazon Vine, I took it, in the hope that it would make me sure one way or the other. The biography is well written, meticulously researched and interesting. I’m still not sure though that Acker will do it for me as a writer, and she came across as a massive pain in the arse for the most part. If you’re a fan of Acker, I think you will love this.

The Whitstable High Tide Swimming Club: Part One: Diving In by Katherine May – In the spirit of full disclosure I will tell you that Katherine is my friend. I will also tell you that I bought the book myself (a snip at 99p on Kindle) and that I bloody loved it, and I’d love it even if she weren’t my friend. It’s the first of a three parter about a group of disparate women who meet up through their love of swimming, and go on to forge strong bonds of friendship. It’s funny and nuanced and gentle and I am properly excited for part two.

If You Could See Me Now by Keris Stainton – And again, I must tell you that Keris is my friend (I am very blessed in the talented friends department – what can I say). I paid for the book (a steal at £1.99) on Kindle, and my views are very much my own. Luckily I loved this too. It’s the story of Izzy Harris, a young woman used to having the world ignore her, until one day, the unthinkable happens and she becomes invisible, even to herself. It reminded me of the book Freaky Friday which I loved as a child, in that it has that metaphorical becomes real, swapping vibe in which the central character learns a lot from stepping outside of herself in some way. The book is sexy, frank and wonderfully for a romance, empowering for the central character. This is Keris’ first book for adults, building on her solid foundations as writer for teens and children. I hope she continues to add to her adult oeuvre.

I should also mention two books I read just before my hospital incarceration, both supplied by Netgalley.

Madonna in a Fur Coat by Sabahattin Ali – A classic in Turkey, this is a post modern, tragic love story set in Berlin in the Thirties. It was atmospheric and beautifully written and reminded me in places of Goodbye to Berlin by Christopher Isherwood. It was rather lovely in a melancholy way.

Ink In Water by Lacy J. Davis and Jim Kettner – A graphic novel about the author’s struggle with anorexia and her road to wellness. I thought, after the first few pages that I had made a horrible mistake with this book, but I was wrong. I found myself enjoying it more and more, and finished it in one sitting I was so emotionally invested in the outcome.

I’ve been reading a lot of children’s fiction. If you are not too silly to think that only children should read children’s books, I have been reading some brilliant things. I’m listing them here, but I have reviewed each one on my Making Them Readers Blog, and you can see full reviews there.

Birthday Boy by David Baddiel – supplied as a review copy by Netgalley. Funny and fast paced. If you like David Walliams you will like this.

The Wizards of Once by Cressida Cowell – A review copy from Amazon Vine. I had to fight with Oscar and granny to read this first. It’s great.

Mr. Penguin and The Lost Treasure by Alex T. Smith – A review copy from Amazon Vine – I loved this. If you’ve not read Alex T. Smith’s Claude and Sir Bobblysock’s books, you really should. This is just as good.

Goth Girl and the Sinister Symphony by Chris Riddell – Frankly, if you haven’t read the Goth Girl series as an adult, you are missing out big time. They are glorious and so, so funny. This is worth it for the Trump caricature alone.

Finally, finished before I went into hospital, but absolutely worthy of a mention, Netgalley sent me a copy of the graphic novel of Anne of Green Gables by Mariah Marsden. I wasn’t sure how I was going to enjoy this, given that Anne of Green Gables is one of my favourite childhood books, and I worried that making a graphic novel out of it would spoil it. It didn’t. The artwork is glorious. and despite the minimal text, the author has managed to keep the entire spirit and wonder of the original. I loved it so much I have already ordered a physical copy to share with my mum (her copy of Anne of Green Gables was passed on to me. It’s a big deal in our house).

And truly, absolutely finally, if you like poetry, you should check out Ella Risbridger’s new column in The Pool about poetry.  There are two so far, one about a poet called Rebecca Lindenberg and the poetry in her book  Love: An Index. The other is about a poet called Eileen Myles and her poem, Peanut Butter from the book Not Me. I have been enchanted by both articles, and delighted to be introduced to two wonderful poems and poets. I’ve ordered both books and if the series continues to be as compelling I feel I may be a pauper by the time the year is out, but I will be shored up by all the wonderful words.

 

I’m back

I am now but half a woman dear readers, for the rumours of my unsexing are true, and I did indeed, against all odds, manage to have surgery last Wednesday.

I have no ovaries, no fallopian tubes and an empty uterus that is, according to sources on the ground, welded to my bladder with an interesting array of scar tissue. This means it stays put and hopefully I will figure out something to do with it at a later date. So far I am thinking new curtains and a lick of paint will freshen it up for the coming season.

Key hole surgery, in the end, was not an option, and so I was unzipped across my previous scars, and could now start a small museum of horrors underneath my pendulous midriff should i ever need to start a new money making venture.

The hours immediately after surgery were, it has to be said, grim. It turns out that just because I was cool with general anaesthetic twenty years ago, I am now very uncool with it. Ditto morphine. A winning combination of the two, with an added tramadol power ball, kept me vomiting, raving and sleepless till breakfast. Not helped by the need to take my blood pressure every fifteen minutes and the fact that the latest in anti-DVT leg wear runs to electric cuffs over the fabulously ugly support stockings that inflate and deflate every minute, forever.

I did however, pick up marvellous well when they removed all the drugs that were making me vomit and the constant beeping of the BP monitor, and was home by Friday afternoon, sore, exhausted and uncomfortable, but home.

I have to say that my hospital care was exemplary. Everyone was kind. Everyone was helpful. As I said to one of the nurses who was being exceptionally lovely, for a shitty experience, it’s the best shitty experience I’ve had.

I am not feeling as terrible as I thought I would. I’m clearly in no position to be doing star jumps yet, and I’m looking at a six week recovery time, but that’s ok. My hormonal situation is best described as deranged at the moment and my blood pressure is back to stupid levels, despite me womanfully still taking the drugs. I suspect the two are linked, and that when one settles down, the other will also.  We shall see.

I am sleeping on the sofa in a giant nest of cushions after a couple of nights in an actual bed, which left me waking up in considerable pain due to free range twisting and turning in my sleep. I am hoping that I can level up to a real bed again in the next few days. In the meantime, Jason is taking full advantage of the fact that he can sleep diagonally across ours, splayed out like a starfish.

I am spending huge amounts of time asleep. I am spending the rest of my time trying to catch up on a gigantic pile of books to be read. I am being waited on hand and foot by my family and lovely friends and trying not to try their patience too much. I will check in again when I can sit up for longer and hopefully have something more entertaining and less medical to say.

 

Twas the night before

The children started back at school today. Oscar is now in his last year of primary school, which is clearly a hallucination brought about by the meds I’m on, as he cannot possibly be at the point where I’m having to look at high schools. Tallulah begins GCSEs. I can’t even speak about the fact that Tilly has an induction day at uni tomorrow.

No wonder I am bloody tired. You just get over the effort of growing up yourself, and then everyone else starts growing around you. For some people this is when the desire to stay young kicks in. For me, it is when the desire to bury my head under the duvet kicks in.

Tomorrow afternoon I am off to the hospital, and if the anaesthetist is kind, I will, at some point in the evening, be relieved of my troublesome lady parts.

I’d like to tell you that my blood pressure is now marvellous. Instead I will tell you that it isn’t as horrible as it was at the beginning of the weekend. At one point on Sunday it actually hit operable levels, but decided it was rubbish down there, and promptly rose again.

I am now ricocheting between being scared of having surgery and scared of not having surgery. In between these poles I am exhausted in that wired way that means sleep is elusive and dream riddled. I am impatient with everyone, particularly myself, and would  quite like to divorce myself on the grounds of unreasonable behaviour.

I’m amusing myself by reading American Gods, watching drag queens and idly pondering what my drag queen name would be. Ovaria might be a good first name. I shall come up with some more tomorrow.