When reading Colm Toibin’s essay collection I found the one on cancer particularly intriguing. Toibin spent hours using only Google to self-diagnose his condition. It took a long time before he finally went to a doctor and found that not only had he misdiagnosed his situation, but also that the cancer had already spread beyond its original site.
Typing symptoms into Google tempts many of us, but frequently we come up with the wrong conclusion. I am reminded of my neighbor who rushed over in the summer cradling his little dog. He was certain that the growth on the dog’s abdomen was cancer. Google had a photo that looked just like the one on the dog.
Fortunately he gave “Doctor Charlie”(my husband, not a doctor on tv or in real life) a chance to take a close look at the swollen bump. A calm inspection revealed that the dog was the victim of a very voracious tick, still attached, still feasting. With a deft hand and groans of disgust all around, Charlie removed and destroyed the tick.
No wonder so many veterinary practices use the above image to point out that Google isn’t a veterinarian.
Most of my reading consists of full length novels or complete books of nonfiction such as history and science. I have always struggled with compilations, whether of poems, essays or short stories. I end up avoiding them without questioning my dislike.
Since I have appreciated much of Colm Toibin’s fiction, particularly Brooklyn and Nora Webster, I picked up his recent book of essays A Guest At the Feast at our library this week. (As I did so the librarian told me he would be reading in Hartford(Connecticut)on February 7. He will be at the Mark Twain House for this event. Since it is a hybrid event, both in person and streaming, anyone can attend. It is at 7pm Eastern Standard Time in case you are interested.)
The first essay about his bout with testicular cancer was compelling and familiar to anyone who has experienced chemotherapy either first hand or in a close friend. Fully involved in this ordeal, I turned to the next essay. This one recounted his growing up in Ireland. I stopped to really wonder why I didn’t want to read on. In my mind once I pick up a book I like to read it through.
Finally I understood. I need to approach any anthologies, whether of prose or poetry, in small bites. I came to realize that my habit of reading–start to finish–is precisely the wrong strategy for such books. I need to read an essay, a short story or poem and then put the book down to let it sink in. If I still want to read I can turn to something else, probably a novel.
This afternoon I will read his thoughts on Pope Francis. I won’t be trying to connect it with cancer treatment! The essays were, in fact, written many years apart. Who knows. I may even check out a book of short stories one of these days.
I have enjoyed reading the novelist Barbara Kingsolver for many years. Each novel is original, unlike many authors who get in a pattern of a set locale or set time frame. In this 2022 book Kingsolver reworks Dickens’ David Copperfield with a character nicknamed Demon Copperhead by his friends and neighbors. Lovers of Dickens will find many characters in the book with names very similar to the original inspiration.
Kingsolver sets the book in very southwest Virginia, an area close to Tennessee and Kentucky, a part of the United States we think of as Appalachia. A region once supported by coal mining and tobacco farming, it is now better known for its abject poverty and opioid addiction. The poverty because the natural resources were tapped out. The opioid addiction because large pharmaceutical companies flooded the region with Oxycontin which they maintained was non-addictive.
At 560 pages this is not a quick read. In fact I read it in bits at a time allowing myself an opportunity to really take in the characters and their predicaments. Filled with violence, addiction, and hopelessness, Kingsolver’s writing also highlights the strengths of the people, their determination to get by and their tight family bonds.
I had no trouble connecting with David Copperfield before I had ever visited England. I hope that those of you who are unfamiliar with Appalachia can connect with this novel as well. Let me know what you think if you end up tackling it.
I pause each January 26 to remember my little sister Patsy. She died at 64, never making it into her 70’s to join me in old age. I still remember my mother coming home with this big(over 10 pounds) dark haired(the rest of us are blond/brown) brown eyed(ours are blue) baby with no name. She was going to be Jeannie(with the light brown hair) but a quick look at the actual baby required a new name. After two weeks she finally was named Patsy, much to my relief. At five I was not happy with an unnamed sister.
Along with the dark hair, dark eyes, height and build totally different from my own, she came with a much sunnier disposition than I ever could maintain. Her laugh still echoes when I think of her.
During the fall Charlie piles up leaves over the tomato patch to provide mulch for the soil in the spring. This year’s leaf pile attracted a lovely visitor for many mornings in December and January. We guess that he chose this spot for the heat that came from the pile of composting leaves. At any rate he settled down happily here for hours at a time morning through early afternoon.
Unfazed by our comings and goings, he occasionally–as here–looked up and then lay back down. Apparently since we are between dogs at the moment the fox thought our yard was fenced just for him. For whatever reason he clearly was as relaxed in the open area as I suspect he could possibly be.
While we have seen foxes in the nearby woods this is the first visitor to our yard. I imagine that once we have a dog again we will not see the fox. Nonetheless he was a welcome visitor to our yard. He came so often I even named him Rufus(couldn’t resist!)
Thanks to everyone who wrote to make sure I was returning to the blog. Life has a way of happening, taking us away from routines. Things have settled down and I can once again use my brain and imagination to get back to writing.