Monday, June 27, 2011


I just finished rereading James Clavell's Shogun. I enjoyed it the first time I read it, a couple of years ago, and I enjoyed it this time, too. Although the lengthy internal monologues get kind of dull after a bit.

The copy of Shogun I have was rescued from a family friend who let me go through a bunch of books she was cleaning out of their house. I snagged Master and Commander - which is a naval novel - and Shogun.

The version of Shogun that I have was issued in 1975, as an accompaniment to the "spectacular twelve-hour maxiseries from Paramount Television."



But wait! It gets better!

The book's cover is entirely dedicated to gratuitous exaggeration and aggrandizement. To show you the difference between today's movie tie-in books and this earlier television tie-in book, I submit the following:

Now: Now a major motion picture.

Now: The best-selling book by John le Carre.

Now: Now a major BBC drama.

Yep, those were the days, eh? Back before Pizza Hut sued Papa John's for claiming their "we're the freshest" ads were false advertising.

Back when people watched twelve hours of television devoid of smoke monsters and Flava Flav.

Back when men were men, women were women, and Richard Chamberlain had an awesome 1970s hair-do and wore eye-shadow to try to make himself look Asian, even though his character was British.

Yep, those were the days...

Friday, June 24, 2011

Learning to Let Go

Of what, you may ask, are you learning to let go, Ms. Strainedconsciousness?

Because you are grammatically correct, you do not end your sentences with prepositions. Good for you!

I am finally letting go of books.

Or some of them, at any rate.

When I make my big move to Houston at the end of July (eep!) I will only be able to take 2 of my 3 stunning bookcases with me, and that means I must either A) rent a storage unit for my bookcase and its attendant books; or B) temporarily house my bookcase at my parents' home and cull the wheat from the chaff, so to speak.

I really don't want to pay for storage, and seeing as I'm clearing a huge drafting table out of my parents' house, my mother and father have graciously offered to allow my bookcase to stay with them, rent free.

Major Tom Shadowmaker is looking forward to having a friend / bookcase with whom / which he can discuss the trauma of being abandoned by yours truly.

In case you have not noticed, dear reader, I am quite obsessive about books and reading. I began reading Shogun - all 1,210 trade paperback pages of it - for the second time on Sunday. I am on page 622, as of dinner-time tonight.

That's about 100 pages per night, give or take.

So going through my books... it's difficult. I have a few stacks on the floor that will definitely be carted to Half-Price Books, and there are a few sitting on an almost empty bookcase because I can not make up my mind.

It's infuriating.

They are books I have only read once. One - The Elegance of the Hedgehog - I am waffling about because it was so heart-wrenching that I do not know if I will be able to read it again. At the same time, it was beautiful, poetic, a masterpiece of writing - and more impressively of translating, as it was originally written in French.

The second book - Suite Francaise - was also disturbing, but beautiful. I'm not sure if I want to get rid of it because... well... I read about World War II a lot. I don't necessarily read about the actual battles, or the politics of them, but I do read a lot about tangential figures of the war, such as Unity Mitford (one of Hitler's close friends and an Englishwoman. Also the Dowager Duchess of Devonshire's sister).

I've read Maus, the graphic novel about WWII wherein the Jews are mice and the Nazis are cats.

And yes, I've read the two-part biography of Hitler available in every Barnes and Noble bookstore, the open possession of which once prompted a less literate friend to ask why I had read it.

I wanted to shake her, to shout: 'Why have you not? Why don't you want to know about the evil that can happen in this world? Why don't you want to understand it so that, maybe, we can help prevent it happening again?'

The books are part of my trying to come to grips with the ease with which a society can turn its back on one segment of the population, demonize them, and attempt their eradication. I don't understand the concept of hate, how people can turn their backs on a whole segment of society.

Back to Suite Francaise, a book written in the midst of the Nazi occupation of France, not published until it was discovered in a suitcase and made public sometime in the last decade (I want to say even the last five years). It tackles the more difficult issues, those not written about very often: the French who allowed their chateau to be turned into a sanitarium for ill children that was then occupied by the Nazis; the chaos of the French as they fled south from Paris, hoping to reach safety; the emotional and social turmoil of a Frenchwoman, her townhouse occupied by Nazi officers, when she falls in love with one of the Nazi officers and is ostracized by her neighbors.

I'm still not sure if Hedgehog will make the cut, because just the thought of it makes me want to cry, but I think I've decided about Suite Francaise: it's coming with me to Houston.

Thursday, June 16, 2011

Now With Fewer Wrinkles!

I went to see Dr. Pain and my neurologist/best friend, Thursday morning. I used to go to the doctor, feeling all hopeful: Hooray! There's another medicine to try! This one might be the answer!

These days, though, doctors' visits are just another source of stress, much like trying to figure out if I should be typing "doctors' visits", "doctor's visits", or "doctors visits".

No, seriously, it happens every time I blog about anything medical. What is the answer?!?!?!?!

Anyhoo, I went to see Dr. Pain, and he asked me about a pain medication my neurologist had prescribed. I explained the circumstances and he looked back at the list of drugs I'm currently ingesting. "What is the Depakote for? Not epilepsy..."

"No, it's for migraines," I sighed.

Depakote is a drug of last resort in the fight against migraines, just FYI. I'm being taken off of the Depakote; its multiple side-effects can be cumulative over time, and I'm already experiencing some of them, namely tremors.

(In Brooklyn accent) I'm shakin' like a leaf.

At least, my hands are.

"How often are you getting migraines?" he asked.

"Almost every day," I replied. "Sometimes I wake up fine, but get them between 10:00 a.m. and noon, and sometimes I wake up with them."

"Have you considered Botox?" he asked.

My neurologist/best friend and I had discussed Botox back in December, during my 30-migraines-in-30-days-athon, but then I'd improved... temporarily.

I told him I'd discuss the Botox with my neurologist/best friend at my appointment with her two hours later.

I engaged in some retail therapy, then went to see my neuro, and I told her Dr. Pain wanted me to try Botox. She seconded the notion, and tomorrow, I will call Dr. Pain to set the wheels in motion.

At my first treatment, I will receive 21 injections of Botox, beginning in the forehead area, going over my head, and down into my neck and shoulders. My almost-permanently furrowed brow will no longer be able to furrow, which might be a good thing.

Saturday, June 4, 2011

So Many Books!

This is Suzanne Collins, my new
literary girl-crush.

Because of my migraines (broken record) I've had plenty of time to read. I go home after work, pop a frozen Paleo-approved meal in the microwave, and a few minutes later I'm lying in bed, reading, because the most comfortable position when I'm migraineriffic is the one known as "supine."

A couple of months ago, I bought The Hunger Games by Suzanne Collins after hearing its title mentioned a few times. I don't remember where I heard about them, just that the reviews were always rave.

Did I mention there are actually three books in The Hunger Games' series? And that the most recent one was just released, so it's only in hardback? And that, in honor of its release, Barnes & Nobles had a boxed set of all three in hardback for a slight discount off their cover price?

Did I mention that? I did?


I went to B&N intending to spend about $30. I spent about 2.5 times that much, because I also bought a biography, which will not be discussed in this post.

Totally worth it.

I went through the books in seemingly record time. I devoured them. They are on a par with Harry Potter, in my not-so-humble opinion, insofar as compellingness goes.

Compellingness is a word, now. Deal with it.

The Hunger Games is the story of a sort of post-apocalyptic society called Panem, in which a girl named Katniss lives. Katniss is introduced on the morning of the annual Reaping, which is a ceremony held in each district. A boy and a girl, between the ages of 12 and 18, are chosen during the reaping. Why?

Because, this is a post-apocalyptic version of the Christians and the Lions in the Circus Maximus. In retribution for a revolt staged by the districts 74 years before, the districts must send two of their children into an arena where they will fight to the death to see who wins.

There is no truly happy ending to The Hunger Games series, but the ending is still wonderful. Katniss grows and develops, and learns more about the evils in Panem, and the evils in those she loves. She also learns about goodness, and devotion, and love for others. She is not a perfect heroine, but one who is believably flawed.

They are not easy books to read, either. Some of the characters introduced to the reader are killed or injured in horrific ways, and I went through I don't know how many tissues as a result. Psychological torture and sexual abuse are discussed over the course of the three books, although not in great detail.

After I read the biography I'd bought, I read them again. THAT GOOD.

I recommend them to anyone aged 13 and over (they're about on par with a PG-13 movie).

In other news, The Hunger Games is currently in production to be released in 2012. Fortunately, all of the characters in my head bear a resemblance to the characters chosen by whoever cast the actors.

If you want to know what else Ms. Collins has written, I can fill you in on that, too. She wrote a wonderful series of books perfect for ages 8-12 called The Underland Chronicles.

They are about an 11-year-old boy named Gregor and his 2-year-old sister Boots who have lived a somewhat traumatic life in New York City. The reader meets Gregor during the summer, when his other sister is en route to a sleep away camp for city children, his mother is at work, his grandmother is essentially bed-ridden, and his father is-

Well, that's just the thing, isn't it? His father disappeared two years prior, and has never been heard from since. But Gregor, to stop snoopy questions, tells people his father has moved to California.

While Gregor does the laundry, Boots crawls around their building's laundry room, and comes across a swinging ventilation grate. She opens it and - oops! Down she goes. When Gregor figures out what has happened, he follows, and at the bottom he finds Boots and... um...

Four foot tall talking cockroaches who believe his sister is a princess.

There is a race of people living deep in the earth called, suitably, the Underlanders (Gregor, you, and me all being Overlanders), and there is a continuous state of tension between the Underlanders and the 6 foot tall talking rats that live underground. And they all believe that Gregor is a great warrior whose appearance was foretold by the Underlanders' founding father.

The books are wildly imaginative and a rip-roaring ride. Giant flying bats carry the Underlanders around, but they're also equal to Underlanders, insofar as social status is concerned.

Throughout the series, multiple moral lessons are taught, such as the dangers of biological warfare (no, I'm not exaggerating) and how ingrained hate can become between two different species/races/religions. The lessons aren't repetitive. There is no dead horse here being beaten. The morals are woven subtly into the stories. The books could be an interesting way of beginning a discussion about some of society's problems today.

So, there you have it: eight books by Suzanne Collins, all of them highly recommended for different readers of different ages.

Now get out there and read.