Thursday, November 8, 2012

Love Me Some Lincoln!

All this election year hoopla has inspired me to check out books on past presidents and their leading ladies. Here I visit one of my favorites, Abraham Lincoln, who, according to a few biographies I've read on the guy, hated being called Abe. Whatever name you want to give him now, this man undeniably had a way with talking simply but strikingly. Not saying the guy was perfect or that every decision he made was brilliant... how could you say that about anyone? But man, to read back on even basic letters he wrote to people, one can find some touching, inspiring words! Most recently, I've read Abraham Lincoln: Theologian Of American Anguish by Elton Trueblood. Gotta say, the title alone intrigued me. Considering the title, I actually didn't get into this book for any Christian reasoning. I looked at it as another sort of history book. And it did not disappoint!

I had the Carl Sandburg Lincoln books when I was a kid {sadly, they got ruined while in storage at my parents' place years ago :-( } but had never come across this title before. This copy I have now was actually in a box of books one of my friends had pulled from a house that he helped clear out. He nearly threw them in the dumpster but I got the box from him, realizing when I got home that I had an autographed copy! Always a bonus :-)

author Elton Trueblood - from
"David Elton Trueblood (1900–1994) was a noted 20th-century American Quaker author and theologian, former chaplain both to Harvard and Stanford universities."

At only 141 pages, this is a pretty easy, entertaining read -- easily done in an afternoon or evening lounging at home (if you're so lucky to have those :-D ). I didn't find the writing overly preachy but definitely informative, regardless of your faith. Some of the cool stuff Trueblood discusses:

  • Lincoln was the first President to establish an officially / federally recognized Thanksgiving Day. Lincoln originally encouraged 4 nationwide fasting and reflection days throughout the year but upon suggestion from a Quaker friend, decided one nationally recognized holiday for everyone was the way to go -- Lincoln wanted the day to be non-denominational, just a day where everyone could stop, collaborate and listen... jk.. couldn't resist... nah, he wanted people to stop, reflect, and be thankful and humble for their blessings, acknowledge their misguided actions but appreciate the lessons learned from them. 
  • Even though Lincoln was down for having a Thanksgiving Day, he actually pushed to keep legislation in session during Christmas. In fact, Lincoln had official work-related letters dated on Christmas Day! While he was a man of faith personally, he never outwardly subscribed to any one particular religion or followed any one church's religious holiday schedule. He found things he liked in several faiths. Even the night of his assassination, the night he was attending the theater with Mrs. Lincoln, was a Good Friday. 
  • Terms that are so commonly attached to American Government today, such as "Under God", recited by schoolchildren everywhere with the Pledge of Allegiance,  and "In God We Trust" lead back to Lincoln. Trueblood talks of how "Under God" does not appear in the first draft of The Gettysburg Address, leading one to believe it was something Lincoln ad-libbed in the moment and added in later when it was reprinted in the papers of the day. And it was Lincoln's administration who popularized the phrase "In God We Trust", a phrase we instantly associate with the National Treasury now. 
Abraham Lincoln
"Abraham Lincoln was not a religious leader in the conventional sense. Certainly he was not  professionally religious and he had no formal theological training. What he knew about prayer came not from books but from experience, much of  it agonizing. He was no flaming prophet like John the Baptist, nor was he an ecstatic arouser of men's emotions, like the Mahdi. He was, instead, as Horace Greeley said, 'a plain, true, earnest, patriotic man, gifted with common sense.'"

This book definitely had me thinking about our presidential election this year. Think about how many people on either side  of this election said that the opposing candidate winning would be the worst decision a voter could make. How many, on either side, said the opposing candidate would bring the country to ruination? Well, take a look at what was being said of Lincoln during one of his election years:

"Had we any respect for Mr. Lincoln, official or personal, as a man, or as President-Elect of the United States, his career and speeches on his way to the seat of government would have cruelly impaired it. We do not believe the Presidency can ever be more degraded by any of his successors, than it has been by him, even before his inauguration." ~ The Baltimore Sun

Or the 1864 New Year's edition of The Crisis:

The people of the North owe Mr. Lincoln nothing but eternal hatred and scorn. There are  500,000  new made graves; there are 500,000 orphans; there are 200,000 widows; there is a bottomless sea of blood, there is the Constitution broken; there are liberty and law -- liberty in chains and in a dungeon; thieves in the Treasury, provost marshals in the seats of justice, butchers in the pulpit -- and these are the things which we owe Mr. Lincoln.

WOW. Sound familiar? I'm recalling something about history and repetition... Imagine, Lincoln ever being considered the worst president in history! But in his time, there were people that honestly saw it that way. Just as now, there are people that things couldn't be worse. Trueblood makes a good point regarding the President and the press:

 During his first year as President, Lincoln was faced with public criticism of a bitterness which is hard to believe. All men in public life are forced to bear abuse, but few have faced it as much as Lincoln faced it day after day. The writers in the newspapers could sound smart because they did not have the responsibilities of decision, and they could sound bold by enunciating extreme positions which they were not required to implement. Lincoln, by contrast, in order to maintain integrity had to reject extremes because he was sworn to be faithful to the welfare of the entire nation. 

Reading about Lincoln, and how he solidified his stance on slavery (in part, finding support in the Bible verse Matthew 25:40 -- 'Inasmuch as ye have it done unto one of the least of my brethren, ye have done it unto me'), it makes me ponder how Lincoln would view our president now. What would he say about the hateful, racist things said about the guy? What would be his words of wisdom to bring people together and pull their heads out of their asses? Would they listen? Regardless of what you might think of our president as a person or a leader, the amount of blatantly racist, uneducated, uninformed comments I've seen thrown his way just off of his race... I've found it utterly ridiculous that with all the information in the world now, people can still choose to remain so f-n stupid when it comes to race and respect for fellow human beings in general. But I was warmed by one story in particular in this book, regarding Lincoln and Quaker Eliza Gurney.

widow of  English Quaker Joseph Gurney and friend of Abraham Lincoln

During the Civil War, Eliza Gurney became concerned for the mental health of Lincoln, what with the stress of brother versus brother out there killing each other and him being held largely responsible. Gurney rounded up three of her fellow Quakers (John M. Whithall, Hannah B. Mott and James Carey) and walked over to the White House to visit him -- back in the days when it was still cool to just walk up to the front door like you were taking over some mail that got mistakenly delivered to your house. Gurney explained that they were not there to request anything of the strained president, but instead offered their spiritual support and friendship. They came in, did a prayer circle with the president. They only intended to stay 15 minutes or so, but Lincoln found himself so lifted and refreshed by being given the opportunity to share the weight of his burdens with genuinely concerned friends that he asked them to stay longer, do some more praying, more talking. One of the Quakers later wrote that at one point, there was a moment of silent prayer where the tears were just rolling down Lincoln's face. Lincoln was so moved by the day and the generosity of these people that he asked Eliza to continue to write to him so that he may continue to talk out his fears and have a friend / Friend to pray over him (a sort of unofficial therapist, maybe?). You just don't hear these kinds of stories that often these days. But it was sweet to picture what a gift this must have been to Lincoln.

"Lincoln was grateful for the confidence of those who supported him so loyally in his difficult task, but he was deeply sobered by the fact that almost two million of his fellow countrymen had voted against him." ~~ Elton Trueblood

Another vintage Lincoln book I highly recommend if you can find a copy is Lincoln: His Words And His World, published by Country Beautiful in 1965. My copy pictured below:

This book explores the man behind the presidency through his letters and speeches. Heavily illustrated, it offers a wealth of info on him that's easy to read in sections. Might be a bit of a treasure hunt involved finding a copy though -- I was given this copy when I was a kid and it's the only one I've come across in person. I'm sure there's gotta be some out there on Amazon and Ebay though :-) But hey, that's half the fun of a collectible library right? The hunt!

And, seeing as how this is a book blog, I thought I'd share the list from Trueblood's book of
Lincoln's Top 5 Most Influential Reads:

  1. The Bible
  2. The plays of Shakespeare
  3. Robinson Crusoe by Daniel Defoe
  4. The Pilgrim's Progress by John Bunyan
  5. Life of Washington by Mason Locke Weems 

No beach reads for that guy!  :-P  I take that back, Robinson Crusoe is kind of a beach read... of a different sort lol.... see ya next time!

Tuesday, September 4, 2012

What Kind of Book Reader Are You? A Diagnostics Guide - Entertainment - The Atlantic Wire

Pretty entertaining article! I especially like the recommended reads sections like The Book Buster (someone who bends back spines or leaves them bent open everywhere) "Read whatever you want, but buy a Kindle" or The Cat "This one looks nice and flat"

Slowest Reader Ever

I'd say I'm a blend of "The Bookophile" and the "Delayed Onset Reader #1"
:-). What about you?

What Kind of Book Reader Are You? A Diagnostics Guide - Entertainment - The Atlantic Wire

Sir Edward John Poynter - An Evening at Home

Thursday, August 16, 2012

YAAY OLYMPICS.... and... now what?

A few days late posting this, been battling a cold this past week.... on the mend now, so we're back on!

Everyone come down from their Olympic high? Man, the U.S. had a pretty impressive run, huh! 104 precious metal necklaces -- Woot Woot! Though there are a number of sports there that still baffle me (the kind of sports that it seems like people strive to perfect but only perform at the Olympics), I still look forward to seeing what happens in Rio.

In the spirit of the Olympics, I finally read this book that's been untouched on my shelf for quite awhile now : My Sergei by Ekaterina Gordeeva (who went by the nickname Katia). I originally got the book because I remember my mom and I watching Ekaterina and her husband skate on television when I was a kid. My mom loves watching figure skating ( I think I watched mainly because in my mostly tomboyish heart, I secretly wanted to have similar pretty, flowy dresses). I remember hearing of the tragic death of Sergei and being shocked at his young age. I even have a memory of watching some skating program (now that I think of it, it may have even been an Olympic performance of some couple) where they panned to Ekaterina sitting in the audience with, what seemed to my young self at the time, quite a sad, wistful look on her face (I think this was only shortly after Sergei's death). I was always curious about the backstory but you know how things go. Some books get pushed back time and again for more modern "must reads". So, in the spirit of the Olympics (though admittedly this may have been more appropriate to read for the Winter Games), I dedicated a couple days to this short read.

For those of you unfamiliar with this couple, they were a pretty familiar couples figure skating team back in the 80s and 90s. Originally from Russia, they did a number of tv specials before and after becoming two time Olympic Gold Medalists. They toured the world with friends and fellow skaters such as Scott Hamilton and Kristi Yamuguchi. Then suddenly in 1995, Sergei dropped on the ice while rehearsing a new routine with Ekaterina. Doctors were unable to save him, determining that he died from a massive heart attack (stemming from undetected coronary heart disease). He was only 28! Gordeeva now does shows to raise awareness for heart disease and the importance of heart health and has since remarried -- to none other than fellow Russian ice skating champion, Ilia Kulik

This book details the whole span of their life together, from the very first time they skated, through development of the friendship and later the courtship, her struggle with widowhood,  as well as the backstory stuff within a sport you never really think about as a spectator (such as one story where she tells of Sergei having a muscle injury that affected his ability to lift things, so she basically goes on a starvation diet to get as small as possible to give him as little weight as possible to struggle with, even though she was already super tiny naturally!). It also gives one the sense of what life was like in USSR Russia vs the United States in the same time period --- made me realize that no matter how bad we think we have it, it's really not as bad as it could be!

I was also struck by how young these two really were... to go through all that they did, I mean. Makes the story all the more heartbreaking to think of it. Your mid to late 20s... your life has barely begun. So sad. And yet there was such a beautiful love there. Maybe because it seems so immortalized when it happens so early in life. Ekaterina's description of the last night of Sergei's life, her own terror, was incredibly hard to read, thinking how panicked I would be myself in such a situation but later the story of the memorial show done for Sergei was memorably powerful. Though part of me did picture the ending of Ghost for a moment. :-)

I think that Sergei's soul now lives somewhere. In our religion, we have two very important days after a death: the ninth day and the fortieth day. From the day of the death until the ninth day, the deceased is still with us, and people will dream about him very clearly. Then on the ninth day the deceased starts his journey to the gates that open to Paradise or to Hell. God will decide where He wants this person. On the fortieth day, he leaves us. He's free. He now has his own spiritual life.  ~~ Ekaterina Gordeeva

Though it's clear by her writing (and by the fact that she's Russian, of course) that English is not Gordeeva's first language, some of the writing being awkward and slightly jarring in some places, maybe more simplified than what you're used to --  there's a still a pretty resonating story to hear here. Go back in time a bit, relive the fun as well as the struggles of the 90s. I know I miss those years :-).

Katia skating at Sergei's Celebration Of Life 
Music is Mahler's Symphony #5 IV Adagietto.
She describes this performance in the final pages of her book:

 I had always liked this music, which is sensitive and tender and also a little bit sad. Marina {Sergei and Katia's choreographer} told me that Mahler wrote this music when he was proposing to his wife; that, in fact, the music served as his proposal; that he gave it to her, and she sat down at the music and played it, and the music did his speaking for him. His wife immediately understood....When we first listened to it on the ice, she said to me, "I don't know what to do." Then we listened more and the music told us what to do. Marina said to me, "Imagine that you are skating with Sergei for the last time," Then, "Now you've lost him, you're missing him, you're looking for him and can't find him. You get on your knees and ask God why it happened. Your legs feel broken, as if they have no strength. You cannot move. Everything inside you feels broken too. You must ask God for some help. You must tell God you understand that life goes on, and now you have to skate. You must thank him for giving you Sergei for half of your life, the most beautiful time in your life. This is about how all people can get up from their knees in the face of adversity, can go forward, can have the strength to persevere. You can find someone to life for. You can have a life of your own now." ... As the time neared for my solo number, I thought about the words Sergei used to say to me when we were getting ready to skate. We always kissed each other before we skated, we always hugged and touched each other. Now, in the tunnel waiting to go on the ice, I didn't have anyone to touch or kiss. It was a terrible feeling to be standing there by myself. Only Dave, the tunnel attendant for Stars On Ice, was there watching, and I could tell he was thinking the same thing: How sad to see her standing here without Sergei. But then I thought of what Marina had said: Just trust Sergei, and he will help you...But as soon as the Mahler music started to play, and I skated out into the darkened arena, the bad feelings went away...
There's more to this but I will let you read it on your own. Hard to discount the idea of an afterlife after reading how her husband helped her get through the routine and how she never wants to do this number again, to maintain the special, otherworldly feelings she experienced with Sergei in those moments.

This book will also serve as a reminder to thank your spouses for the love they give you each day, never knowing if it may be the last.

Love you, sweet Finbar.

Saturday, July 28, 2012

Kenneth Grahame

The most priceless possession of the human race is the wonder of the world. Yet, latterly, the utmost endeavors of mankind have been directed toward the dissipation of that wonder... Science analyses everything to its component parts, and neglects to put them together again... Nobody, any longer, may hope to entertain an angel unawares, or to meet Sir Lancelot in shining armour on a moonlit  road. But what is the use of living in a world devoid of wonderment?  ~~ Kenneth Grahame

Given the Olympics Opening Ceremonies having just aired, it seems fitting to do a post on Kenneth Grahame. In between reading some of my more serious, academic books I decided to revisit a couple of old childhood classics of his -- his famous The Wind In The Willows and maybe lesser known The Reluctant Dragon, a story originally featured in his 1898 book, Dream Days.

Grahame was born in Scotland in 1859, but sadly orphaned at an early age. Still a young child, he was moved to England to live in the care of relatives. He grew up to have a mix of jobs aside from writing, including being a social worker at night and the Secretary of The Bank Of England by day. He was also part of the London-Scottish Regiment. The shy-natured Grahame married Elspeth Thomson in 1889 who later gave Grahame a son, Alastair (who went by the nickname "Mouse").

"I write not only for children,
 but for adults who remember what it is like to be children."

How cute was he!

Wind In The Willows

This classic came about when Grahame brought home a mole as a pet for his son and the housemaid accidentally killed it. The stories started as a way to comfort Alastair and let him know that the mole would live on in the stories. Alastair enjoyed the stories so much, he begged his father to continue them in letters even when the young boy was sent on trips with his mother to visit family. The stories continued to grow through these letters between father and son. Grahame's wife, Elspeth (who had always encouraged her husband's writing) found the stories so adorable, she recommended that Grahame have them published as a book. The end result was The Wind In The Willows, published after Grahame retired from the Bank of England. Sadly, Alastair, who was sickly and blind in one eye (perhaps the reason for the side profile in the pic above?) battled depression, committing suicide at the age of 19 (the link under Alastair's pic will take you to an article discussing the sad story).  The pain of his son's death stayed with Grahame until his death in 1932 at the age of 73.  I've read elsewhere that excitable Frog who was always curious about "the next big thing" was based on Alastair's energetic and inquiring nature. 

1966 illustration of Toad by beloved children's illustrator
Tasha Tudor (my favorite of all the illustrators I've seen
tackle TWITW)

Re-reading this book as an adult, I am struck by how relatable the characters are, even now. Everyone knows someone like all of these characters. Have a friend always into the latest gadgets, fashions, trends? That's Toad. Rat is the one you might call very "granola", he loves the outdoors and simple living. Mole loves experiencing new things and meeting new people even if he has some trepidation in being outside of his comfort zone. He's ever curious about what's going on just over the next hill. See what I mean? Even the landscape, especially The Wild Woods... at least the way Rat describes it... sounds like that sketchy part of town you know to avoid as much as possible.  Perhaps that's part of the eternal appeal of this book, it just never gets old. 

BTW... There's a 1996 Terry Jones live action screen adaptation that's a nice mix of eerie and sweet and there was a really cute BBC / PBS Masterpiece Theatre aired version made in 2006. You can watch the whole thing (but in sections of course) on YouTube.

1996 Terry Jones adaptation:

2006 adaptation with Bob Hoskins & Matt Lucas

I also heard that yet another version was set to be released this year with Ricky Gervais doing the voice of Mole... does anyone know, did that project get shelved or is it still in the works? Just curious. 

The Reluctant Dragon

Perhaps not quite as famous as The Wind In The Willows, I think I first read The Reluctant Dragon when I was about nine years old. I recently found my old copy in a box of books in my mom's storage. I remember really liking the book but not much else so I figured it was time for a refresher. I think it took me maybe 45 mins to read (and I'm a slower reader), it's that short but so adorable! The dialogue is very fun and witty, making the story move very quickly. And I loved that the dragon spoke like "a perfect English gent"! This is the story of a dragon who makes his home on a hill above a quiet English village but instead of wanting to attack the villagers, he wants to be friends with them, recite poetry, eat delicious foods, and just bask in good friendship. How do you convince a bunch of medieval villagers of that though? There's one little boy (just known as The Boy) who lives in town who climbs up the hill every day, not showing a moment of fear around this dragon but instead is the first of the humans to offer up his friendship while explaining that the rest of the town won't be won over so easily. 

The Reluctant Dragon illustration by Ernest H. Shepard
"Do for goodness' sake try and remember that your a pestilential scourge or
you'll find yourself in a most awful fix."
The Boy to The Reluctant Dragon

The dragon has a pretty funny hashing out with St. George, the knight you may have read about in legends who was reputed to be quite the dragon-slayer. They calmly and sensibly discuss the terms of a faux battle to appease the riled up locals --  where George is allowed to strike the dragon, how much noise will be made, etc... all as if it were some business deal between friends!

Written in 1898, I wondered if this book was maybe the idea behind Disney's Pete's Dragon but it turns out Disney did a 1941 cartoon adaptation of this book, sticking with the book's title for the cartoon. Though I thought I had seen just about every old Disney movie out there, I can't seem to remember this one. 

The dragon has the characteristic high, squeaky voice of so 
many characters in early Disney movies. Not quite how I pictured 
the dragon in the book but still a cute clip:

and this was a little before my time, but I found this ABC-TV clip of a show where Grahame's characters The Reluctant Dragon and Mr Toad were given a show together... anyone see this when it was on?

"Banquets are always pleasant things, consisting mostly, as they do, of eating and drinking, but the especially nice thing about a banquet is that it comes when something is over, and there's nothing more to worry about, and tomorrow seems a long way off."  ~~ Kenneth Grahame's The Reluctant Dragon

Grahame uses a unique humor to teach kids the importance of really getting to know people before you judge them. People (or dragons) may seem scary or anti-social on the outside but maybe they really long for people to take an honest, non-judgemental interest in them. :-)

Friday, July 27, 2012

Have You Read Anything By Charles Martin?

On one of my recent perusals of a local Goodwill Store book section, I found a couple of books by this guy Charles Martin. Had never heard of him before, but I was intrigued by the covers. Come to find out he's a Christian author with a number of books already under his belt! Christian fiction is not something I actively seek out but it's not something I necessarily steer clear of either. I enjoyed both of these books so much, I unashamedly googled Charles Martin and to tell you the truth, had I not read about his Christian roots, I would not have guessed anything about it from the writing. These books do not preach at you, they just have beautiful, simple but powerful stories about loving marriages. I saw my own marriage in these books, the lengths my husband and I would go to for each other (fingers crossed no such thing happens because Martin writes some pretty hardcore medical problems for his leading ladies, part of the pull of the story -- you get so pulled into the characters you want to know if they'll pull through).  One thing that really appeals to me about these books is they're not overly sappy. The men are like my husband, there's no doubt they love their wives but they don't have to spout sonnets 24/7 or burst into tears over how achingly beautiful life is all the time. Not saying they can't feel that way on the inside but I'm a bit of an old fashioned girl. I like men TO BE MEN, throw me a nice letter or a surprise gift, improptu trip or something from time to time but if you profess too much, the special moments stop being so special. I like that Martin lets his men be men and his ladies be sassy but loving. I would say if you like Nicholas Sparks, Martin is better! I like a few of Sparks' books but some of his recent stuff gives me cavities (figuratively, of course. I care for my books too much to gnaw on 'em.. :-P).

The Dead Don't Dance

Dylan Styles is orphaned at a young age and goes to live with his grandparents, Pappa & Nanny, in an old farmhouse in South Carolina. Dylan grows up, meets lovely, lively Maggie and gets married. Maggie and Dylan continue to live in the old farmhouse (which Dylan inherits after his grandparents pass away). Dylan has a "city job" as an English professor but feels his real interest lies in continuing his grandfather's farming work... problem is, the farming isn't really making any money. Maggie has complications with a pregnancy and winds up in a coma. Dylan, refusing to let his wife go, starts to look at where his priorities have been and where maybe they need to be now. There are some great side characters in this story, mainly in Dylan's English class, such as Marvin, the class clown, and Koy, the emo chick who becomes an important friend to Dylan. My favorite character was Dylan's ball-bustin' best friend Amos (who is also the town sheriff), who never lets anyone wallow in self-pity. I know with the coma and all that, it sounds like this would be a sap-fest, but seriously, the characters are compelling and the dialogue feels real. There is a sequel to this book called Maggie. Haven't had a chance to read it yet... but soon :-)

Me Phi Me, "Revival"
Reading The Dead Don't Dance
 had me remembering this song :-)
If you're trying to place where you might have heard 
this one before, it was on the Reality Bites soundtrack.
That's right... going a little old school for y'all! 

Trace Adkins, "Muddy Water" 
The ending had me thinking of this song... 

Where The River Ends

A similar story, concerning a South Carolina couple, Doss and Abbie Michaels, but with a "wrong side of the tracks" element thrown in. Doss is a struggling artist, Abbie is a socialite /model/ politician's daughter who throws her social status to the wind, deciding to marry Doss and promote his artwork.  With Abbie's encouragement, Doss develops a reputation for making beautiful paintings from visually unattractive subjects. 

Again, Martin writes in a sick wife, this time it seems terminal. Ironically, the woman that taught her husband to see the beauty in ugly struggles to find how her husband can still be attracted to her as she gets more and more sickly and more dangerously thin each day (combination of the illness and the treatments). Doss in a similar way struggles to show her he sees the beauty of her soul, which always makes her beautiful inside and out to him. But ladies, you know how resistant we can be to believe such things when we feel that low. My favorite scene in the whole book comes when Abbie is in the hospital for a treatment and her husband keeps hearing the nurses talk about her or mention her on the overcom, but they refer to her by her room number, "1054". He gets fed up and calls the whole floor staff to his wife's room:

I'd like to introduce you all to my wife. This is Abbie Michaels. You can just call her Abbie. She's a wife, a daughter, a friend, she has a tendency to talk with her hands, she likes Lucky Strike jeans and she sees beauty where others don't. She is not and has never been '1054' {to which a head nurse starts to say HIPPA laws mandate...}... I know you all work hard. A lot harder than most give you credit for. I am thankful for what you do and how you do it, but HIPPA's wife is not lying in that bed. I need to ask you to look at the woman in that bed and not think of her as a number. Not a statistic. Hope is what feeds us. And to be honest, it's running in short supply around here. 

BOOM! Gotta love that kinda fella, not afraid to demand respect for the woman he loves! Doss, working off of a sort of bucket list of 10 "normal life" things Abbie wants to do in her lifetime (things that have no connection to her fame or family money, just everyday living moments), decides to take her on a river trip from SC to Florida, rather than have her wither away in the hospital. This book ponders the question of whether, in one's final days, it's better to have quantity or quality of life. Do you fight just to have more days in general or do you make the most of the days you think you have? The one problem I had with Doss is he always seemed to get tangled up in confrontations with people but didn't have a bit of fighting ability, ever! He would talk brave but physically he was always getting whooped on! :-S Sometimes it's best to nod or shrug and move on lol. 

"All My Love" by Led Zepplin
Doss talks about how special this song is 
to him and Abbie

One of the elements of the story I really enjoyed was all the art history and amazing paintings that were special to Abbie & Doss woven throughout the story. I love art history so having a character tell these stories was like candy to me :-)

"Woman In A Grove" by Jacek Malczewski
"People are always telling me I'm beautiful. Okay, so what. I've spent most of my life in front of the cameras. People use my image to sell a product. That's all. At the end of the day, they've used me -- my face or figure, which by the way I had nothing to do with -- to tell everyone how they are not like me. Hence, you're not beautiful. Or, you're not pretty. Or, you don't measure up. If you want to make great art, something that can reach beyond time and space, find someone, find someone who isn't and show them that they are. Paint the broken, the unlovely... and make them believe." ~~ Abbie

Abbie and Doss visit numerous art galleries and museums in their time together -- some of their favorites mentioned:

"While her body is provocative, it is drawn in such a way that leads you time and time again to her face, the angle of her neck,the inviting drop of her shoulders, the playfulness in her eyes, the relaxed crossing of her legs. It's what a nude should be." ~ Doss

How dedicated are you to your art? When Bernini was in the process of sculpting this bust, titled "Damned Soul", he burned his forearm with a hot iron to get the face of agony just right!!

This book surprised me... how much it tugged at my heart. Similar books usually have me internally yelling "AHH C'MOON!" where the woe-is-me thrown into overdrive. But Martin's characters thankfully feel like real people. The ending in Where The River Ends has a bit of a what-you-might-expect-tearjerker wrap up but until then you really want to be on the boat ride with these two!

"River In Forrest" from
"The river can be a magical place. As much as I've been here, I still don't quite get her. No matter how you hurry or how hard and fast you pull on the paddle, the river controls the tempo. She stretches every minute and steals back every second. Rivers do this naturally. They don't give two cents about the destination. Name one straight river and I'll show you a man-made canal. People make a big deal about how their watch automatically sets itself to atomic time from a tower somewhere in Colorado, but if we were smart, we'd set our watches to river time. We'd wrinkle less and wouldn't grow old as quickly." ~~ Doss Michaels

Wednesday, July 11, 2012

Odd Couples

Here's a couple books for you to check out that have unusual couples, unusual in that you might have an "ick" or "what tha..." moment here and there reading about them, but the writing is so good, I had to throw some props their way!

THE GIANT'S HOUSE by Elizabeth McCracken
(National Book Award Finalist .. figured it couldn't totally suck..)

This is the story of Peggy Cort, a 26 yr old "spinster" librarian living in the Cape Cod area in the 1950s where she meets 11 yr old James Carlson Sweatt, who suffers from gigantism. By the age of twelve, James is 6'5. James and Peggy develop a friendship at the library, Peggy giving him books that take his mind off of his disability and social awkwardness. Somewhere in the midst of their friendship, Peggy finds she's actually falling in love with James but realizes this is an inappropriate feeling to have towards someone still not legal. She can't seem to shake her deepening affection for him so she just keeps it to herself, struggling with seeing James grow up over the years, learning to flirt as a teenager, struggling with not knowing how to dance, etc. With everything that goes on, at the toughest moments James always comes back to Peggy, one night confessing his own feelings. You'd think this book would be really awkward to read but nothing inappropriate happens. James grows up, becomes a man and Peggy continues to help him as his condition worsens. It's actually really sweet (and bittersweet) the way this relationship develops between them. The one problem I did have with the story was the last few chapters, the way McCracken decided to wrap things up confused me, it felt a little disjointed and then like she quickly brought it back and tried to tie things up neatly.  But definitely give this one a try. It's a slow burn kind of read, doesn't really race through, but the development in itself is powerful.

There's some great quotes in this book. Check it out:

On history:

For some people, history is simply what your wife looks good in front of. It's what's cast in bronze, or framed in sepia tones, or acted out with wax dummies and period furniture. It takes place in glass bubbles filled with water and chunks of plastic snow; it's stamped on souvenir pencils and summarized in reprint newspapers. History nowadays is recorded in memorabilia. If you can't purchase a shopping bad that alludes to something, people won't believe it ever happened. 

On Love:

Despite popular theories, I believe people fall in love based not on good looks or fate but on knowledge. Either they are amazed by something a beloved knows that they themselves do not know; or they discover common rare knowledge; or they can supply knowledge to someone who's lacking. Hasn't everyone found a strange ignorance in someone beguiling?

I loved him because I wanted to save him, and because I could not. I loved him because I wanted to be enough for him and I was not.
Truthfully, this is the fabric of my all my fantasies: love shown not by a kiss or a wild look or a careful hand but by a willingness for research. I don't dream of someone who understands me immediately, who seems to have known me my whole life, who says 'I know, me too.' I want someone keen to learn my own strange organization, amazed at what's revealed; someone who asks, 'and then what, and then what?' But you can't spend your life hoping that people will ask you the right questions. You must learn to love and answer the questions they already ask. Otherwise you're dreaming of visiting Venice by driving to Boise, Idaho. 

THE MOST WANTED by Jacquelyn Mitchard

This is the story of Arlington "Arley" Mowbrey a 14 yr old girl who, partly from a dare, partly out of a sense of charity, decides to write to Dillon LeGrande, an inmate at a South Texas prison who just happens to be 25. It starts out innocent enough because Arley doesn't expect anything more than a simple pen-pal sort of communication. But Arley feels a freedom in telling all her inner feelings to someone she figures it won't matter to. She figures the guy will think she's crazy and not write back. To her surprise (but not to the reader's 'cause c'mon 400+ pages here.. of course he wrote back!) she gets a letter from Dillon with him saying how moved he was by her honesty... and so starts the blossoming of their relationship. Did I mention Arley lied about her age to impress this guy she thought wouldn't care about her? Ahh plot muck :-). Well Dillon's not a total perve.. I guess.. he does take a pause and consider "okay.. she's 14" but then that leads to "well she's a mature kind of 14". Okay... bit of an ick moment there but hear me out. No, I'm not a wackadoodle myself endorsing these kind of things, I was disturbed by a lot in this book but because it was so well written I kept reading. And it helped that the story is broken up and alternated between the POVs  of Arley and Annie, her lawyer, who acts as the voice of reason in the story... oh, and Annie has a sweet, legal love affair of her own ;-)

 I thought Arley was a well developed character in that in the beginning we see her acting as if she knows exactly what she's doing but later as things get twisted up (as any adult could see from a mile away that they would), she freaks out and wants to be free of everything, though Annie tries to tell her it's too late, the proverbial bed's been made. I like that the teenage character actually sounded her age without going to the cliche airhead tone, but instead you get to see the mix of almost-adult thinking with the "can I get my mom to write a note" stage of life still in there. This book gets pretty dark as the story moves along. I hoped for Dillon to be that one in a million case of rehabilitated former sick puppy... seems like there were shreds of good guy in there. I was curious to know more about the backstory of Dillon and his brother but there wasn't much given. Oh, and Arley's mom? OMG.. that lady was pretty much flat-lining on the mom-o-meter. I don't think I've read such an exaggerated case of a woman having kids for the welfare money!

She did not neglect her children; neglect might have required more concentration than Rita was able to muster up.. Arley's mother simply did not love her, and not only did she not love her but she regarded Arley's school successes, as well as her timid attempts to involve herself in extracurricular activities, as a source of irritation, an obstacle that got between her and her right to cheap labor. 

Is it any wonder Arley turned out such a confused girl? Still, here's another book that offers great writing if you can get passed the taboo subject matter. 

"You asked somebody, they'd always say kin is kin. But that doesn't mean the same thing to people everyplace. When you grow up with all kinds of love from your blood kin, maybe you don't have that desperate hope for someone out there waiting who can make up for all the things blood never brought you. Someone who can look deep inside you and see things no one ever bothered to tell you were there." * Arley

Oh and btw.. wondering about Arley's name? Yeah.. her mom's one of those women who named all her kids after the towns they were conceived in... Arley is for Arlington, Texas... awkward name to try to pull off as feminine... poor girl  :-(

Monday, June 11, 2012

When In Rome...

I'm not sure I'd want to "do as the Romans do", at least not by Ancient Roman standards! Love is a beautiful thing, but how promising is it, when one person is a gladiator, condemned to death but allowed to live as long as he gives a good show in the arena, and the other is a house servant, once an educated girl from a respected family, but now enslaved and forced to do the bidding of the most ungrateful, spoiled biddy in town? Such is the question in Kate Quinn's historical fiction novel, Mistress of Rome. And before ye judge, no, this is not the standard supermarket bodice-ripper you may be imagining. This is actually a pretty well-researched historical novel, giving the reader a full on view of what it might have been like to live in those times, for ALL classes. We just learn about the world from the perspectives of Thea, a Jewish slave owned by bratty heiress Lepida, and Arius, the gladiator.

author Kate Quinn
image courtesy of

As fictional romances typically go, of course Thea and Arius have an instant connection, though actually meeting up takes some work. Luckily, Thea's mistress, Lepida, develops an infatuation with Arius and constantly sends Thea to the gladiator quarters with secret messages.  Over time, Thea's return trips back home take longer and longer (*wink, wink). It takes awhile for Lepida to catch on to what's going on, why her messages are never being answered by Arius, but once she does figure it out, she goes full-blown evil and finds a nasty way to split Arius and Thea apart. To spare you the spoilers / complete details of Lepida's sinister scheming, I will just say they end up spending years apart before finding each other again. By that time, Thea has a different sort of job, living in a different town, while Lepida naturally goes on to marry for money (to senator / bookworm Marcus Norbanus) and have an "oops" child she doesn't want or like. As the reader, you'll probably want to throttle Lepida, as I did, when you see how poorly she treats good-hearted Marcus. Never ceases to amaze me how the good guys always seem to fall right into the snares of the cruelest women. As for Arius, he finds his Thea in an odd relationship with Emperor Domitian (one that proves beneficial, in sort of a business-like way, to both Thea and Domitian). There's one other big surprise for Arius when he reunites with Thea but you'll have to read to find out

I loved the complexity of all of these characters. The evil ones were over the top evil, the good were  noble in character but lived a flawed reality, which I found refreshing. I like that sort of realism, even in fiction. Arius has a streak of rage he constantly battles, but he centers it and does his best to avoid bringing unneccessary  harm to the innocent (doesn't always succeed, but he does try!). He spends much of the novel trying to win a rudius from the emperor (a wooden sword emperors gave out to certain prisoners who had won favor with them. Obtaining a rudius meant you were pardoned of your crimes, your freedom reinstated). Emperor Domitian, on the other hand, starts out as a respectable character but then his straight up whacked out crazy starts to come out more as the novel progresses. That guy is into some twisted, twisted stuff. The way Quinn wrote Domitian makes me think she was inspired by the real-life Roman Emperor, Caligula, who also started out as a respected ruler but became more well known for his depravity and drunken orgies (not saying there's anything wrong with one in it's own place and time --- Zoolander, anyone?  :-P --- just noticed the similarity). And wouldn't you know, here comes Lepida again with an interest in Domitian this time. Poor Thea can't shake that witch off!

She's beautiful. She's even sort of interesting, like the way poisonous snakes are interesting. But she's awful. ~~ Vibia Sabina, daughter of Lepida & Marcus, talking about her own mother!

Because no one ever notices me, you'd be surprised how much I hear. ~~Vibia Sabina

I was really impressed with all the strong female characters in this book. Often, with historical fiction anyway, you find maybe one strong woman in the book with everyone else telling her to pipe down. In this book, good or bad, all the women seemed to have strong voices and had the men actually listening to them, even Thea, being a slave girl, earned respect from many. I found the Empress really admirable. You don't hear much from her through most of the novel, other than the rumors going around about her, but by the end you find out she's actually a pretty ballzy, spirited woman who did what she had to do to survive a maniac for a husband. You also find out she has a sense of humor about the whole thing, even though she admits she feared for her life at times. Also, Calpurnia, the bethrothed of Marcus' son (from an earlier marriage) becomes a fun character once she learns to speak her mind without fear. I loved it whenever she put Lepida in her place!

I wouldn't say there are any HUGE surprises in the plot, but enough twists and turns to keep the historical fiction fan entertained. :-)  Looking forward to when I have a chance to read Kate Quinn's second novel, Daughters of Rome.

"ARE YOU NOT ENTERTAINED??" ~ Russell Crow in Gladiator

The midday executions dragged past, and then the gladiators marched through the Gate Of Life in their purple cloaks, pairing off for preliminary fights. My {Lepida's}daughter leaned forward, her eyes bending on the muscled armored figures. I looked at her irritably. "Since when is Little Lady Squeamish a gladiator fan?" "I'm not," she said, eyes still fixed on the arena. "I went for the first time at Matralia, and it was fairly awful. But it is interesting." I {Lepida} brushed a fly away from my wine cup. "You've got a crush on a trident fighter, I suppose."  "'s just that the gladiators are supposed to care about dying well, and all they care about is not dying at all." Her eyes traveled from the arena to the packed tiers of the Colosseum., the laughing, cheering crowds of plebs and patricians alike. "People don't seem to see that."

Thursday, May 17, 2012

I know it's been a bit since my last post. Just wanted to let everyone know I'm still around, just in the middle of moving my mom across states. Lotta little details to work out that have required most of my attention these last few weeks. Just about finished and should have her here in a few days and THEN more posts to come lol. Lots of good stuff to talk about! 

Til then, I saw this in the recent Serena and Lily catalog and found it inspiring, making me look forward to a more chill summer than the spring has been :-) So, here's me wishing you happy weekends full of fun reads outdoors! 

Might be kinda hard to read, but it says "The first hot day. Fresh cut grass. A nap on the porch. Dinner outside. Ice. Gin. Tonic. Lime. Under a ceiling of stars. It's about living as well outside as you do inside. Taking your aesthetic with you wherever you go. Recognizing the moment is beautiful and that all things are possible in summer."


Monday, April 30, 2012

Cancer Awareness Memoirs

A more serious post today but one I felt compelled to put out there. Never know, there might be something in these books that someone going through a tough time really finds comfort in.

How do you slip back into the ordinary world? That was the problem confronting me after cancer, and the old saying, that you should treat each day as if it might be your last, was no help at all. The truth is, it's a nice sentiment, but in practice it doesn't work. If I lived only for the moment, I'd be a very amiable no-account with a perpetual three-day growth on my chin. Trust me, I tried it. People think of my comeback as a triumph, but in the beginning, it was a disaster. When you have lived for an entire year terrified of dying, you feel like you deserve to spend the rest of your days on a permanent vacation. You can't, of course; you have to return to your family, your peers, and your profession. But a part of me didn't want my old life back. 
*Lance Armstrong on surviving cancer 

I don't know that there are too many people left in the world who have not been affected by a cancer diagnosis in some way, either being the patient themselves or a family member / friend of the patient. Cancer has been pretty prevalent in my own life. My grandfather battled different cancers going in and out of remission for most of my life before finally succumbing in 2008. My mother and I have both had cancer "scares" with breast and cervical cancers (meaning it looked like something bad on an initial test but thankfully proved to be nothing dangerous on further tests). It's awful, frightening, infuriating... but between my own experiences and my past work around hospitals and hospice facilities, I am a firm believer in the power of faith, hope and determination. Does it guarantee a perfect outcome? No, not at all. Of course I know nothing is guaranteed. But I have seen plenty of instances where having such faith and determination do wonders to boost the odds of survival and winning back the quality of life one wants and deserves. These books showcase the power of not giving up ...

both by Olympic Medalist / Cyclist Lance Armstrong

Armstrong wrote It's Not About The Bike first, this being a memoir half about his cycling career, half about his cancer diagnosis and subsequent battle and how each affected every other aspect of his life, relationships, marriage, etc. As with most memoirs, Armstrong also divulges information about his life that isn't all that mainstream -- such as the fact that he's never met or even seen a picture of his biological father. His parents were together but split up soon after Lance's conception. Lance's mom ended up remarrying a man by the name of Terry Armstrong, giving Lance his famous last name but that relationship became strained during Lance's adulthood. It was my impression, while I read this, that this may have what led Lance to develop such a driving, independently minded personality. He doesn't expect help or handouts from anyone. While I certainly respect that, I have to say his tone came off a little "in your face". From page one, I was thinking "why is this guy sounding so defensive to his readers, most of whom he's never going to meet or have to answer to?" But don't let that sway you from hearing his story. He's got some good stuff here. Armstrong even admits in some sections that he may not be the most easy-going, approachable guy all the time. His celebrity persona (you know, the one in all those beer commercials and whatnot) seems pretty chill, and I'm sure he is when he gets to be around his family in his native Austin, Texas, but he's also incredibly serious and focused most of the time. So maybe he's not the biggest social butterfly out there but considering he's taken on and won the world's most difficult and grueling bicycle race in the world 7 FREAKIN' TIMES then yeah, one can understand his tunnel vision tendencies.

the yellow jersey, known as the maillot jaune, identifies the leader 
of the team,did you know the leader is determined after each 
day's race? So each race means the current leader has to prove
 himself with the best time all over again within their own team as
 well as compete against the other teams in the race!
I wonder if Queen's "Under Pressure" is on Lance's iPod :-P

I liked that Lance tried to incorporate humor into his book while talking about such heavy topics. Particularly with his cancer stories, while it may not have been funny at the time, it was a little funny to me how he describes going to a urologist after noticing one of his testicles was, as he described it, the size of an orange! The urologist's response after examining Lance? "This looks a little suspicious." I'm sorry but that's funny in its ridiculousness. I know had I been in a similar situation, my initial response in hearing a doctor say that would be "Really... that's your professional opinion. I drove all the way downtown to your office to hear that... ". And that stellar observation was the start of Lance's battle against testicular cancer. Wondering how he ended up having so many kids after coming out of that hell? He explains that too. I also appreciated how honest he was about everything. Right up front he tells the reader he's not sugar-coating anything and you can either read what he has to say or move on to another book. I didn't always like how he treated people trying to help him, especially the way he snapped at oncology nurses just trying to do their job, but I'm sure he's probably got moments he's not proud of... and  at times his arrogance annoyed me, he'd write about how much he'd learned about humility but then he would recall moments that displayed vain, disrespectful behavior. BUT... he did say he wanted to be honest with this book.

Why did I ride when I had cancer? Cycling is so hard, the suffering is so intense, that it's absolutely cleansing. You can go out there with the weight of the world on your shoulders, and after a six-hour ride at a high pain threshold, you feel at peace. The pain is so deep and strong that a curtain descends over your brain. At least for awhile you have a kind of hall pass, and don't have to brood on your problems; you can shut everything else out, because the effort and subsequent fatigue are absolute. There is an unthinking simplicity in something so hard, which is why there's probably some truth to the idea that all world-class athletes are running away from something. Once, someone asked me what pleasure I took in riding for so long. "Pleasure?" I said. "I don't understand the question." I didn't do it for pleasure. I did it for pain.

Alec Baldwin's "God Complex" speech in 
the 1993 film MALICE. Lances writes that 
during his cancer treatments, he was often reminded
of this scene. 
Livestrong - Lance Armstrong's foundation to raise funds for cancer research

Lance is retired from cycling now but he says during his TDF days, 
he burned through an average of 10-12 liters of fluids and 
6000 calories EVERY day he was racing!

I think my favorite part of this book (and I'm probably a little biased here) were Lance's stories about training in Boone, North Carolina.. which is just minutes from the town where my husband grew up, Beech Mountain (in fact, Lance trained ON Beech Mtn and had his vitals checked and tests run at Appalachian State University in Boone). Long before his TDF days, Lance was competing in the Tour DuPont, a grueling uphill race held from 1991-1996, part of which ran through Boone and Beech Mtn. If you're ever in the area, take a look at the steepness of those hills. It's hard to really appreciate that kind of dedication to a sport til you see that environment up close. I remember once, during the first year my husband and I were dating, we decided to go take the dogs for a walk around the neighborhood on Beech Mtn -- and yes, there is a town built ON the mountain. That walk was the hardest dog walk of my life! And I was just walking! But if you're not acclimated to it, the elevation will sneak up and clothes-line you. 

"Viva Armstrong" and other motivation phrases were painted along the road heading up 
to the town of Beech Mountain ( Elevation 5506 ft - highest town in 
Eastern United States)

Years later, when Lance revisits Boone, he had actually been semi-retired when he, with some coercion from his coaches, decided it was time to get back in the game. He talks about how those first trial runs back on the road kicked his ass. Given some time, a little bit of training on Beech Mtn and another batch of tests and he ends up breaking the odometer on the test bike, he was moving so fast!

I passed the rest of the trip in a state of near-reverence for those beautiful, peaceful, soulful mountains. The rides were demanding and quiet and I rode with a pure love of the bike, until Boone began to feel like the Holy Land to me, a place I had come to on a pilgrimage. If I ever have any serious problems again, I know that I will go back to Boone and find an answer. I got my life back on those rides. 

He even named his dog Boone and his cat Chemo! 

I thought this was pretty cool! This path, on the TDF route, floods 2x a day
every day during high tide. Also each year, the Foulees de Gois, a foot race,
is held, a race which STARTS at high tide. The path leads to the island of 

And a bit of comic relief in the middle of a heavy topic.... Armstrong points out that one of the biggest dangers to cyclists are motorists. Wonder if he ever had an Eric Idle moment... 

In Every Second Counts, we learn more about Lance's personal life, the good and the bad. By the time of this book, he is nearly free and clear of any fear of cancer coming back, though he reveals that he had to have check ups twice a year every year for 5 years before the doctor officially deemed him "cancer free". The first book documented the birth of his first son, this book discusses the birth of his twin daughters.

This book was a much shorter read, but I didn't find it as interesting as It's Not About The Bike. The writing felt more self-indulgent to me. I get that it's a memoir and to a certain extent, you have to expect a little of that "you can't imagine what I went through tone" but I just don't want to be beaten over the head with it. Still, I did enjoy the stories about his Olympic days -- Barcelona in 1992, Atlanta in 1996 and Sydney in 2000. In Barcelona, he said he was "a young, inexperienced hothead"; in Atlanta his lungs were riddled with cancerous tumors, but he hadn't been diagnosed yet. He said he "felt like I was dragging a manhole cover" trying to keep up with everyone; in Sydney he was hit with glitches and mishaps galore but still managed to take home Olympic bronze in cycling. 

2000 Olympics Bronze Medal

You should always honor your fiercest opponent: the better your opponent, the better you have to be. ~~ Lance Armstrong

Aside from the Olympics recollections, I also smiled at his impressions of NYC firefighters post 9/11. Being married to a firefighter myself, I was impressed that he got what these guys are really like. They're not the oiled up, bare chested, axe-wielding calendar guys they're made out to be -- least not while they're on duty... right hon? ;-D But after visiting 10 different firehouses in NYC, Armstrong notes:

Some people think heroism is a reflex, an anti-death knee jerk. Some people think heroism is a desire to matter, to be of use. Then there is the quieter heroism of "going to work every day and making a living for one's family," as New York mayor Rudolph Guiliani said of those people who died in those buildings. By the end of that trip, I decided it was some combination of the three. But whatever it was, these guys had it. 


Another really great memoir relating to cancer that I've read recently is Gilda Radner's book, It's Always Something. There's a good deal of humor in this book, as one might expect from an SNL legend, but there's also some pretty moving, bittersweet moments where she admits the toll her illness took on her marriage to Gene Wilder, friendships, family members, even on her work relationships. But I think the biggest thing I took away from reading this book is remembering the joy in small pleasures -- a happy look on the face of your dog, a trip to a favorite place, the days when the air is the perfect temperature and you couldn't feel more blessed. 

"Never let a gynecologist put anything up your nose." ~ quote from one of Gilda's nurses after a procedure mishap.

While we have the gift of life, it seems to me the only tragedy is to allow part of us to die -- whether it is our spirit, our creativity or our glorious uniqueness. 
~~ Gilda Radner 

Gary Allan - Life Ain't Always Beautiful
(But It's A Beautiful Ride)
one of my all time favorite songs
and a good reminder for me from 
time to time!

The Mr and I were just talking yesterday about how the song below helped us through some dark days (individually, before we got together)... sometimes it's good to just take a moment and "scream it out".... Reading It's Always Something, I got the impression Gilda wanted such moments from time to time during her treatments... 

 Sixx A.M. - Life Is Beautiful

I didn't know much about Radner before reading this book, outside of her SNL career, but found I something in common with her -- we both found our groove in high school performing in choir and drama and, here again, was another woman who also had fibrocystic breast disorder and ovarian cysts. She also mentioned having Epstein-Barr virus before developing ovarian cancer. Radner found support in The Wellness Community, where she met other cancer patients and their families, one patient being Tucker Smith, who played "Ice" in West Side Story. Radner admitted having a crush on him years ago, the film being one of her favorites. 

Tucker Smith as "Ice"
in West Side Story

Because my life was always stressful, a lot of people had told me that I should meditate. I thought meditation was some weird Indian yogi thing, and the only yogi I ever knew was somebody who could put a rope through his nose and make it come out his bum. I thought that was interesting but not something I wanted to do. I had heard about mantras and all that, but all I could think of was I would have to take my contacts lenses out to do that because I can't keep my eyes closed that long with them in; they start to hurt. It's hard enough to put them in in the morning without taking them out for forty-five minutes and then putting them back in. So, instead, I continued with my stressful life. ~~ Gilda Radner

Gilda's story of her battle with cancer is a powerful one, especially knowing how it turned out, but I really loved the love story of her and Gene Wilder. Her stories showed a side of him that rarely showed in films. It was cute to see how hard she had to work to convince him that marrying again was a good idea (he had divorce under his belt already and just seemed to want to date indefinitely); how she met him on her first movie role and couldn't concentrate on anything except "I wonder if he likes me?"; how she convinced him to let her co-star in Haunted Honeymoon -- written and directed by and starring Gene himself. I remember watching this film every summer -- you'd think it would be more of a Halloween film but nope, we did things a little backwards around our house back then lol. This is an adorable spoof movie btw.. worth checking out if you haven't seen it yet! Can you believe it only ran in theaters for 1 week??

The romance developing between them is such a sweet, funny story, which makes it brutally hard to read as she goes through the moments when she gets violently ill, then a little better, then ill again, all the while seeing the toll it takes on Gene. I was blown away how calm, patient, and loving he was with her even through her worst rages. His sense of humor gave her extra strength I'm sure. She tells the story of how he gave her a gift one year for her birthday with a tag attached that read:

This is not as loud as your mouth, but it's as delicate as your soul. Love, your husband. 

LOL sounds like something my husband would write in one of his jokey moods :-P The gift he gave her was a delicate looking necklace btw. 

Even though Radner's outcome is tragic, her insights on life, marriage, illness, etc throughout her treatment are beautifully honest and real. Definitely find yourself a copy, even if it's just a loaner from the library, and give this one a try :-)