Category Archives: Life

Power’s out

Didn’t I just write a post about an extended power outage and how I couldn’t blog for a while because I didn’t have reliable internet access? Why, yes, I did. Well, the power is out again, not because of a hurricane this time, but because of a freak October snow storm that took down so many trees and branches that 90% of my town was left without power. We’ve been out since Saturday night. I’m realizing now that the power outage in August, which lasted four days, was a lovely, idyllic time: the temperatures were mild and school hadn’t started yet, so I could just sit around and read, guilt-free. This time, the temperatures are in the 50s, if we are lucky, during the day and in the 20s or 30s at night, and we have no fireplace, wood stove, or generator. The house has been fluctuating between 47 and 52 degrees. Brrr!

We are okay, just bundled up and spending as much time at work and at the local coffee shop as possible, where there is heat and light. We’ve had very kind friends offer to let us stay at their homes, but so far we’ve felt that the benefits of being in our own place outweigh the possibility of more warmth. I just want to sit on my own couch, even if it is freezing. Our power company is estimating that the power will be back by Friday at midnight, although it’s possible we will get it sooner. I’m sure hoping so.

I’ll be back soon.

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A dozen new books

I’ve been a sorry blogger lately, I must confess. I haven’t answered your kind comments on my posts or visited your blogs to write my own comments, although I have been reading everyone’s posts regularly. It’s just one of those times when my desire to read or my computer fatigue or both win out over my desire to blog. You probably know how that goes.

I did want to tell you about a dozen new books I bought recently, though. Two weekends ago my book-buying friends, Hobgoblin, and I took a trip up to the Northampton, Massachusetts, area to explore bookstores there, of which we found plenty, not just in Northampton, but in the surrounding towns as well. We visited five and could easily have found many more if we had had more time. It was worth a trip, and I’m looking forward to going back at some point. So, here’s what I found:

  • Bill Bryson’s At Home: A Short History of Private Life. I’ve read rave reviews of this book, and I find the topic fascinating. At $5 for the hardcover, I couldn’t resist.
  • Alfred Kazin’s A Walker in the City. I have a small but growing collection of books about walking, of which this is an important addition.
  • Rebecca Solnit’s A Book of Migrations. I love Solnit’s book Wanderlust and recommend it to everyone who might possibly be interested. A Book of Migrations is about Solnit’s travels in Ireland.
  • John Berger’s To the Wedding. I know absolutely nothing about this book, but John Berger is intriguing.
  • John Berger’s Ways of Seeing. Art theory — who can resist?
  • Jenny Erpenbeck’s Visitation. Another book and author I know nothing about, but I have vague memories of reading interesting things about her, so I went with it.
  • Laura Kipnis’s Against Love: A Polemic. I’m intrigued by Kipnis and by the title of this book. I’m hoping to find some lively, controversial writing here.
  • Mikhail Bulgakov’s Master and Margarita. I have heard about this book so many times on various blogs and in reviews, but I still couldn’t tell you what it’s about. I have a feeling it’s one of those hard-to-sum-up books.
  • The Best American Essays 2011. I just started reading the 2010 edition of this series so I’ll be ready for the 2011 one soon. This series has introduced me to some awesomely great writers, and I’m unfailingly loyal to it.
  • Frances Sheridan’s Memoirs of Miss Sidney Budolph. For when I’m in the mood for some eighteenth-century fiction.
  • Laurie R. King’s The Moor. I found a trade-sized edition of this in very nice condition and couldn’t resist even though I have another book in the Russell series to read first.
  • Nicholson Baker’s The Everlasting Story of Nory. I just heard an interview with Baker on Radio Open Source today, and it was great. Baker is my hero.

So those are my dozen books. I spent an entire two days in Manhattan this weekend but I didn’t step a foot into a bookstore, which is very unusual. But it was because my sister and her husband were in town, and they had other things on their agenda. Hanging out with my sister in the city was fabulous — it involved music, art, tall buildings, people-watching, Central Park, and Indian food — and I hope we can do it again sometime soon.

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Book signings and writers who tweet

This is, apparently, my year to go to book signings. Last weekend Neal Stephenson was doing a reading/book signing at the Union Square Barnes and Noble in Manhattan, so Hobgoblin and I made our way there to hear him. I’m not the Stephenson fan in our house; I read the first book in the Baroque Cycle, and it was fine, but I didn’t fall in love and didn’t read any further. Perhaps I should give Cryptonomicon or some other book of his a try? But loving Neal Stephenson’s books was not the point; it was just fun to get out and see someone well-known whom I’ve read.

The reading was subdued. Two of the authors I’ve seen in the last year, Ian Rankin and Joe Hill, were both fabulously entertaining; Rankin told great stories and made us all laugh, and Hill was … wacky. He also told great stories, he had a (grotesquely) funny excerpt from his new book to read, and he performed in a nerdy, enthusiastic, thoroughly-charming way as he read. Stephenson is obviously not nearly as comfortable performing in public as the other two. But that’s okay, of course, because why should writers necessarily be entertainers as well? He started his reading pretty much right away after getting up on stage, and he read for a half hour or so and then took questions. He seemed comfortable answering questions, but you could tell he wasn’t going to mind when it was over. One person who stood up to ask a question offered an interpretation of Stephenson’s work and asked if it was correct, and Stephenson’s answer was basically, “You may be right, but it’s not something I’ve thought about; I prefer to just write and let you all figure out what it means.” I suppose, in a way, that that makes sense — authors write, readers figure out what it means — but it also felt like an odd answer. Doesn’t he think about the ideas he’s working with as he writes? Perhaps he just didn’t want to engage with this particular interpretation. I can understand that.

Then we all lined up to get our books signed. I didn’t say much to Stephenson. I rarely want to say things to authors I meet at book signings because I’m too worried about messing up and saying something dumb, so I don’t try. But I’m realizing now that the last three authors I’ve seen — Rankin, Hill, plus Rosanne Cash, who did a talk/signing of her recent memoir at a nearby school a month or so ago — are all on Twitter, and in each case, Hobgoblin or I or both of us said something about enjoying reading their tweets. To authors out there — being an interesting tweeter can make a difference! We found out about Joe Hill’s reading in London because of Twitter, and Roseanne Cash has been on my radar lately only because I find her tweets amusing.

And speaking of writers who tweet, I may go see Colson Whitehead this weekend, who is doing a book signing at McNally Jackson along with Jonathan Franzen, who does not tweet, unless you count Emperor Franzen. I wonder what Jonathan Franzen would do if I said something about Emperor Franzen while he was signing my copy of Freedom?

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Name change

I’ve been thinking about dropping my pseudonym for a while now, and I’ve just about decided I’m going to. It doesn’t serve any purpose anymore, and, in fact, the only purpose it ever served was to ease my fears about blogging when I first began back in 2006. I wasn’t sure what I was going to write about and what I was getting myself into, so I thought I might take on a different name, just in case. It’s been kind of fun having a pseudonym. It’s nice to be someone else, or at least have the potential to be someone else. But, as it turns out, Dorothy isn’t anybody else; it’s just me with a different name. And it’s getting more and more complicated having a pseudonym, given the fact that I interact with so many blogging people on Twitter, Goodreads, LibraryThing, etc., and I use my real name on all those sites. So, for the sake of simplicity, you’ll see me around the blogosphere as, well, me!

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Thoughts for a Friday

First of all, thoughts about my dog. He went through surgery today and just came home a couple hours ago. He is fine, thank God. The procedure was to remove a benign growth on his side that was getting too big for comfort and was steadily growing. So now he just has to take it easy for a week or two unless he’s all healed up. It’s no fun putting your pet through surgery. It’s no fun for anyone to have to go through it, of course, but it’s a different kind of difficulty when you can’t explain to your pen what’s going on. Poor thing. He has no idea what hit him. Luckily for us, he doesn’t get angry or hold grudges.

And now on to books. I recently finished my first Sybille Bedford novel, The Legacy, and I’m thinking it’s going to be my last. I wanted to like it, I kept reading it because I was hoping to get into it, but that never happened. It tells the stories of two very different families in Germany and how they become connected by marriage. It also tells of one of the families’ sons, Johannes, who is sent off to a horrible military school, which makes him completely lose his wits. His family hushes the whole thing up with results that come back to haunt them. I think to really appreciate this book, you need to have more of a feel for the culture of the time (pre-World War I) and place than I do. And you have to appreciate satire more than I do. Unless I’m really familiar with what’s being satirized (such as in academic novels), I have a hard time appreciating it. The writing had an exterior focus, which also doesn’t work so well for me; I didn’t develop a sense of the characters’ personalities in the way I wanted to. I just wasn’t engaged. But perhaps some of my readers have read and enjoyed Bedford?

But I finished it and am now on to other things. Yesterday I began Julia Spencer-Fleming’s detective novel In the Bleak Midwinter, and it’s going along very well. Her protagonist is an ex-Army woman who has become an Episcopal priest and is serving in a small town outside the Adirondacks in New York State. That might sound a little contrived and gimmicky — let’s see how unusual I can make my character! — but Spencer-Fleming has so far pulled it off. Clare’s counterpart is Police Chief Russ Van Alstyne, and the sexual tension between them is slowly ratcheting up. But, alas, Russ is married. We’ll see where that goes.

I am also reading a collection of essays by Cynthia Ozick, Quarrel and Quandary. I’ve read just a handful so far, but they are good. So far they have all been literary — on Dostoevsky, Kafka, and Job, but I believe there are some personal ones in the collection as well. Her writing is good — serious and meaty, and very, very smart.

To close, I’ll tell you about some new books I’ve acquired. Last weekend Hobgoblin and I went book shopping with our book shopping friends (here and here) out at the Book Barn in Niantic, Connecticut. The Book Barn is truly one of the best used bookshops I’ve ever been in, although it’s really more like three bookshops, since it has three different locations around Niantic. We had already acquired a large stack of books before we even made it to the main store, which is really a series of buildings, carts, and structures of an uncertain type, all chock full of books.

From that trip, I brought home the Julia Spencer-Fleming book, as well as Sarah Waters’s The Little Stranger, Anita Brookner’s Look at Me, Sarah Caudwell’s The Sirens Sang of Murder, and Hermione Lee’s huge biography of Virginia Woolf (in a pristine paperback edition for $5). Also this week a friend sent me a copy of Laura Miller’s The Magician’s Book, which I am excited about and eager to dive into.

So, happy Friday everyone, and enjoy the weekend!

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Updates

I spent last weekend in Vermont visiting some friends; they have a house in the mountains near Manchester, and we’ve visited them a few times in the last couple years. I love staying with them because we lead such quiet lives when we’re there: we eat, read, nap, and take walks; we play with the dogs, we sometimes visit local shops and markets, and we always visit Northshire bookstore, a great independent bookshop. It’s wonderful top relax at home, but even better to relax in someone else’s home. In between our reading/eating/napping, my friends talk about the novels they are in the middle of writing and we all talk about the books we are reading. Oh, and we drink martinis and lots of wine. Yum.

While I was there, I finished up Stephanie Staal’s book on feminism, Reading Women: How the Great Books of Feminism Changed My Life (review most likely to come soon) and I made my way through much of Scarlett Thomas’s novel This Tragic Universe. I don’t know what to make of Scarlett Thomas. She’s one of the most awkward writers I know, especially in this book compared to the other Thomas novel I’ve read, PopCo. I almost put the book down. And yet after a while I began to like it more and more, and now the main character is growing on me. I like Thomas for the ideas she works with, and while it took me a while to get into the ideas in Our Tragic Universe, now everything is coming together a little more. It’s still awkward, but likeably so.

I bought a couple books at Northshire, of course — I have to support independent bookstores! I got Tove Jansson’s True Deceiver after liking The Summer Book so much, and from the used books I got a biography of Mary McCarthy, Seeing Mary Plain, by Francis Kiernan. It’s a satisfyingly hefty book.

Since I wrote about my thyroid issues recently, I thought an update might be in order. After my radioactive iodine treatment two weeks ago, I’m doing mostly okay. Surprisingly normal, in fact. I feel, say, 80-90% normal most of the time. I’m a little tired and a little easily winded, and the lower part of my throat where my thyroid is is sore. I did have one bad episode last week, though: I woke up one morning and was so dizzy I could barely walk. It turns out a side effect of the medication my doctor gave me to stop heart palpitations is dizziness. It also turns out that my heart palpitations weren’t nearly as bad as I thought they would be. So I stopped taking that medication, and the world stopped spinning. I’m continuing to ride my bike, just slowly and for short rides. So … I keep waiting. If I continue feeling 80-90% normal until we get my thyroid medication sorted out, I think I will have gotten off easy.

And that’s kind of my life right now: monitoring my health, plus gearing up to teach a summer class online. My students are supposedly doing their reading and posting on the discussion board this evening, and I’ll be reading their posts over the next couple days. Hopefully, they will be brilliant!

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I’m radioactive!

Seriously. I took a radioactive iodine pill earlier this week, and for the last three days, I’ve been in quarantine. Or at least I was supposed to keep three feet away from other people, especially pregnant women and babies. I’m okay to be around now, though.

It’s been a strange experience. You may or may not remember that four years ago, I developed a thyroid problem — hyperthyroidism. I’ve lived with it pretty easily since then, feeling perfectly normal because of my anti-thyroid medication, although I’ve had to get blood work done once a month. But, eventually, it makes sense to get rid of the thyroid entirely instead of taking anti-thyroid medication with its rare but dangerous side effects. Taking thyroid hormone replacement is much safer and easier to regulate.

So, my choices were surgery or radioactive iodine, and although the iodine treatment is not perfect, it’s much better than surgery, or at least I thought so. The thyroid is the only organ that absorbs iodine, the radioactivity kills it, and that’s that. I prefer to keep knives away from my throat if at all possible, so radioactivity it had to be. The treatment itself is very easy: all you have to do is take a pill, although I needed a thyroid scan first, and I had to sign a bunch of documents, which I think mainly said that I understand what I’m doing involves radiation, I’m fully aware of what I’m doing, etc. But the treatment itself was anticlimactic — the doctor simply handed me a plastic cup with a normal-size pill and a cup of water, and that was it. He was careful to make sure I didn’t touch the pill with my fingers, though, which was … well, strange, since why would I want to put such a thing in my mouth? But I just thought about avoiding knives at my throat and swallowed the pill.

Afterward the doctor gave me a card that says, “This patient has received an Isotope for diagnostic imaging or therapy. The amount received is not considered hazardous, however may trigger a sensitive radiation detector.” Cool! Apparently, people sometimes get pulled over when police officers detect radiation, especially at high security sites like bridges and tunnels. And airports, of course; it’s definitely best not to try to fly after one of these treatments. I haven’t gotten pulled over for being a radiation threat, but I’m still hoping it will happen.

The next couple days were anticlimactic, though: I felt nothing. I sat around thinking “my thyroid’s dying right now,” but I couldn’t feel anything as it slowly absorbed the radioactive iodine. I’m not really sure what’s going on now, and I’m curious: is it all dead? partly dead? Shriveling up? Disintegrating? The treatment takes several weeks to take effect, and it can go on happening for months afterward, which is the main downside to this form of treatment. Surgery involves knives, but on the other hand, its effects are immediate. So I’m waiting. I’m slightly hyperthyroid at the moment, which happens because the treatment takes so long to kick in. Eventually, in a few weeks most likely, the process will be finished, and I’ll switch over to hypothyroidism and start my supplements. I’m just hoping we catch the switch-over quickly, so I don’t feel too much fatigue and whatever else might be involved.

My feelings about this are mixed: I’m grateful that there’s a treatment for me, very grateful that modern medicine has allowed me to live a normal life, instead of feeling weak and shaky all the time, which is what hyperthyroidism is like. But it’s also very strange to deliberately kill off an organ of mine, and I don’t like the idea of depending on hormone supplements for the rest of my life. Even though my thyroid has messed me up, I’m kind of sorry to see it go. It tried its best, after all, and since all this is caused by an autoimmune disease, my thyroid is actually a victim — a victim of the rest of my body. A victim of civil war, I guess. I’m looking forward to the end of hostilities.

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