Seeing your parents grow old is a universal — and difficult — experience. In 2001, cartoonist Roz Chast could see the writing on the wall. Her parents were in their 90s, and not doing well. Her mother was in the hospital after a fall from a step stool, and her father’s senile dementia kept him homebound.
Can’t We Talk About Something More Pleasant? is a chronicle of two lives at their end and a daughter’s attempt to make that end dignified — while not losing her mind along the way.
Quite the read
I picked up Chast’s memoir at an interesting time. My husband’s grandmother and my own are both well into dementia, and we’ve had many conversations with our families about their challenges.
The thing that struck me hardest, and yet wasn’t surprising, was how much the experience exhausted Chast. Dying is messy, expensive, and often takes years. It’s awful for the person dying, of course, but can be soul-sucking for their caretakers as well.
I see a lot of myself in Chast, particularly how she handles her father’s dementia. She tries to be a good daughter, but frustration gets the better of her often.
The book left me shaken. It gave me glimpses into my future that I don’t want to dwell on. Not only may I someday end up caring for an aging relative…I will someday be that aging, dying person. Will I be a good caretaker when the time comes, and will I end up in a home myself someday?
Can’t We Talk About Something More Pleasant? isn’t what I would call a fun read, but I do think it’s valuable. Not only is it excellent storytelling, it also focuses on a taboo topic that should be talked about more. Even if it makes us uncomfortable.
(I read this book for the Monthly Motif Challenge. November’s challenge was to read a book I’ve been meaning to get to all year but haven’t yet.)
Teenagers Agnes and Janet stole clothing; Bridget stole milk; Ludlow pawned her employer’s spoons. In the early 1800s in Britain the sentence was not jail time, but transport.
These women — and thousands of others like them — were convicted by courts eager to populate Van Diemen’s Land (later Tasmania). Packed into ships like cattle, the convicts endured sickness and attacks from their captors. Of those who made it across the world alive, many arrived onshore pregnant.
The Tin Ticket tells the stories of four women and their incredible journeys from poverty in England and Ireland to exile in a country they were destined to shape for future generations.
Horrifying and amazing
If there’s one thing you can count on government for, it’s making terrible decisions in the name of nationalism.
For 80 years in the 18th and 19th centuries, the British Empire transported hundreds of thousands of men and women to Australia. Most of the 25,000 women exiled were first-time offenders convicted of minor crimes.
Author Deborah J. Swiss tells the stories of many of these women, focusing on Agnes McMillan, Janet Houston, Ludlow Tedder, and Bridget Mulligan.
Each of their stories is harsh and ultimately redemptive. Taken together, they represent the thousands of transported and abused women who served their sentences and then had to make new lives for themselves in a foreign land.
Not only did they survive, many of them thrived. They went on to marry, have children, and shape their society for the future. Their strength is incredible, and I’m so proud of all they did.
Most people know a little bit about archeology, or have heard about Machu Picchu, Pompeii, and the pyramids. But what do we know about the people who discovered these places, or any of the thousands of other archeological places of interest around the globe? What makes them obsessed with digging through the dirt an inch at a time?
Lives in Ruins: Archeologists and the Seductive Lure of Human Rubble is author Marilyn Johnson’s search for answers to these and other questions.
Worth digging into
I read one of Johnson’s books, This Book is Overdue!, about four years ago and was impressed by her level of research. So when I saw that she’d written a book about another fascinating topic, I scuttled down to the library and grabbed a copy.
The first thing this book does is eviscerate the romantic notions of archeology. Archeologists are finding great stuff, of course, but they’re slogging ankle-deep through mud, bugs, and red tape to do it.
Archeology is not a profitable job. The education is expensive, the work difficult and sometimes dangerous. Most outsiders don’t understand what it means to be an archeologist, or the value of the things they scratch from the earth.
Lives in Ruins reads almost like a set of short stories. Each chapter follows a different archeologist as he or she fights to discover and preserve the past. My favorite chapters focus on aspects I knew little about: marine and military archeology. I love the idea of volunteers and deployed members of the armed forces educating themselves on how to spot and preserve archeological finds.
Johnson has written another good book, one I recommend you check out — especially if you’re an archeology buff.
(I read this book for the Monthly Motif Challenge. August’s challenge was to read a book in which the season, the elements, or the weather plays a role in the story.)
Alex Mar is a writer and skeptic. Like many people in her age bracket, she doesn’t feel a connection to the religion in which she was raised. But she envies those who do — in particular, the witches.
Witches of America is a chronicle of Mar’s exploration of witchcraft, from its (surprisingly contemporary) roots to its current incarnations. Along the way, Mar questions her own biases, as well as asks herself why we believe the things we choose to believe.
For most, the term “witch” conjures images of green-skinned women, pointy black hats, or even the Salem Witch Trials. For the modern practitioners of Paganism, it’s a description of what they are.
Mar is a lapsed Catholic interested and confused by witches’ faith in their religion. What makes them choose pagan gods over mainstream ones? Are they different from the rest of us, or remarkably the same? How do they survive in a world that considers any kind of witchcraft evil?
I wanted to enjoy this book, but it couldn’t hold my attention. I don’t find Mar likeable, and many of the people and events she describes are too strange (and sometimes disturbing). I think it’s interesting that people are drawn to witchcraft and are able to find larger meaning in life because of it — but it’s just not my “thing.”
Witches of America would be perfect for those looking to learn more about the history of witchcraft and the practices of the different sects. I’m just not interested in Mar’s hand-wringing over her unsatisfactory professional and love lives.
We moved 10 days ago. All our boxes are unpacked, we’ve got power and interwebz, the commute to work is smooth sailing.
We also have no washer and dryer, no curtains, and my bank account is lookin’ real sad. Such is life.
Between moving and having a couple meltdowns about moving, I’ve actually managed to get some reading done.
Laughing All the Way to the Mosque
A series of short stories by author and television writer Zarqa Nawaz about growing up Muslim in Canada. It’s like Love, InshAllah, but with way more laughs. It’s a peek into a culture about which most Americans know little. Nawaz is an excellent writer, both thoughtful and hysterical. Her television series Little Mosque on the Prairie aired for six seasons in Canada — I need to get my hands on it.
This translated edition of Thomas Olde Heuvelt’s Dutch novel made me as nervous as a long-tailed cat in a room full of rocking chairs. I was wound up as tight as a drum a few chapters in, and Heuvelt spent the rest of the book winding me tighter. The final few chapters are gruesome and absolutely horrifying. The book’s theme — what is the true definition of a monster? — is intriguing and repulsive. Much like The Seeker, Hex terrified me and I couldn’t put it down until I finished it. So good.
Coming up next on my TBR is…well, I don’t know. I need to make a run to the library to renew my card; maybe I’ll see what’s on display when I go in. If you’ve got any recommendations for me, drop ‘em in the comments!