A Book to Read

I finished reading Let’s Take the Long Way Home by Gail Caldwell two days ago and like a good book will, thoughts of it linger in my consciousness. Yesterday, as I walked by a stack of them in the bookstore, a woman about my age browsed nearby.

This is wonderful.” I held the book up.

“Hmm. I thought it sounded depressing,” she answered.

I paused, surprised. Depressing. Yes, of course a book about the loss of your best-friend might sound like a downer.  Why was I surprised at her reaction?

“Oh, no,” I said. “Poignant, yes – but very beautiful – not depressing.” I wonder if she picked it up after I left.

Earlier in the day, a woman looking for a new parenting book called Little Girls Can Be Mean and I agreed how puzzling it is that girls are indeed, so often mean to each other -much more so than little boys.  Yet later in life, women’s friendships are so rich and loving – more than what most men get to experience. Boyfriends may come and go but our girlfriends remain anchors and our loyalty, fierce. Years have sometimes passed without contact with some friends but when we reconnected, it was as if no time or space ever separated us. My friends are now tightly woven into my life. During bitter times, they held me together, letting me cry, reminding me to laugh.

One dear one is as far away as Tasmania and another is  across the street.  Most precious of all is the friendship with my sister, Anne. We have the bonus connection of genetic understanding as additional cement. We get each other immediately and on every level. This is what Caldwell and Knapp had.

Let’s Take the Long Way Home is a loving glimpse into Gail Caldwell’s enviable relationship with fellow writer and dog-lover, Caroline Knapp (Drinking: A Love Story and Pack of Two)  who died while still in her forties, of cancer.  This gem of a book was borne out of Caldwell’s loss. Affecting, (I made the mistake of reading the last chapter during a lunch break at work) but not depressing.

I am fascinated by grief – or maybe not really grief itself, but rather, how us humans process profound sadness, the inevitable and dread part of the emotional spectrum of life. Gail Caldwell opens a door to this dark room and amidst the shadows of sadness you feel grateful for the experience – all of it: the pain, the love, life.

Sleep, perchance to… sleep? And a rambling about books.

Sometimes I wake in the dark, early hours wanting to write about something. Go on, get up and write, I urge myself.  The bed is so warm and the air so frigid, I never do. In the light of morning, I have no recollection of what inspired me in the dark. Not surprising really, since these days, I never remember so much as a flash of a dream. Nights are delicious, nourishing voids.

Not that I don’t miss crazy escapades of the remembered subconscious, waking with a sense of  having had adventures -but only a little. In years past, I suffered so many sleepless nights worrying, that I savour this gift of solid sleep, these nights, slumped on the couch by 9:00 PM.

Most nights, I try and read before conking out completely, curled up under the quilt – what luxury.  The stacks of books-to-be-read continue to grow into teetering towers around the house.  Advanced Readers Copies picked up from work are on every table and stacked on shelves of already full bookcases.  Currently, I am hooked on The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo by Stieg Larsson – a best seller that many friends and readers I share tastes with, have raved about.  I am half-way through and while crime thrillers are not my  usual reading taste, and the violence makes me wince, I  know I’ll need to read his next one too. Not exactly bedtime reading but I can’t put it down.  And still, no dreams (or nightmares!).

Borrowed from the store (a great benefit of my job) is Anticancer: A New Way of Life by David Servan-Schreiber, MD, PhD – a refreshingly, rare from an MD, holistic take on proactively dealing with this sucky disease. War of the cells and what we can do to stack the odds in our favor. Things we know, but I for one, need reminding of –  like layoff the white stuff – sugar, flour. Exercise. And drink red wine! Being positive and having friends – recently this attitude has taken a beating (by Barbara Ehrenreich of Nickled and Dimed fame for example)but I know what kind of person I prefer to be around and unless you’re really funny in your bleakness, I’ll choose the positive attitude any day.  Back to this book -it is interesting because the author is in this battle himself, and has survived past ‘the odds’ – something he poignantly addresses. This is the book I dip into between driving my teenager to and fro.

I even checked a book out of the library the other day – Pretty Birds a novel by NPR’s weekend edition, Scott Simon published in 2005, is my downstairs book.  I don’t know how I missed reading this since it is about Sarajevo during the war and I compulsively read anything on that time and place – whether fiction or non-fiction. The first few chapters of my memoir are set in Bosnia during the war so I can’t help reading other people’s work with a comparative eye. Of course, my story is more about the war of addiction and Sarajevo is the fitting (and true backdrop) for launching my story. I’ve only read a chapter but it’s already compelling.

Recent temperatures have been arctic and I long for spring – but I realize that when it comes, my reading time will shrink with the demand and draw of the garden and sun.  Maybe winter is not so terrible after all.


This morning, I popped the last white pill from the prescription bottle and tossed the empty bottle into the trash. After five years, it seemed unceremonious. There will be no more refills – I am done with Tamoxifen, the drug I diligently took to hedge my bets against breast cancer.  I am a pharmaceutical skeptic –  but was not willing to venture out on my own against this disease. I have diligently followed doctors’ orders, hoping to keep cancer at bay by religiously swallowing a pill every morning. Finishing the recommended protocol, I feel a mixture of relief and anxiety.  Fleeting thoughts that this little pill really was some kind of panacea. But I know better: there is no such thing.

The best I can do to try to edge up the odds in my favor, is to eat only the best of food, to drink red wine only in moderation, exercise these aging bones, but most of all, stay happy.  I am a complete believer in the mind-body connection.  I don’t think it was any coincidence that I was diagnosed only months after my husband’s suicide.  For years I had been tautly wound with stress, pain, worry, grief.  Since then I have learned to keep my toxicity radar finely tuned.  I try to pay attention more – to everything, starting with the breath – how life begins and ends.


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