Book Thoughts: Book Connections



Do you ever read a book and are amazed at how it connects to another totally unrelated book you've read?

This happened to me while I was reading The Gene. There is a section in the book discussing sexuality and the search for the "gay gene." The author, in explaining outdated ideas about homosexuality, references a book written by a psychiatrist in the 1960s in which that author "proposed that male homosexuality was caused by the distorted dynamics of the family" in particular a smothering mother* and distant father. This antiquated idea immediately made me think of Strangers on a Train which I read earlier this year.

In Strangers on a Train by Patricia Highsmith, a man decides to murder the wife of a stranger he just met on the train. This man becomes obsessed with the other passenger. He dreams of them being together. He hates women, all except his mother who he is creepily attached to. And he wants to have his father killed. I wondered why Highsmith kept harping on this mother/father dynamic. I vaguely recalled that this was a thing during that era but had no idea why people believed it. I don't think Strangers could be written this way today. At least I hope not. I think readers would find this trope old fashioned and outdated. I did anyway.

Of course that made me think of all the beliefs discussed throughout The Gene. At one point, people thought that men's sperm contained a tiny man and that women just grew them in the womb, like geraniums. (I have so many questions for these people.) They were positive this was how it was done. That made me remember a book I haven't finished yet: But What If We're Wrong? by Chuck Klosterman. Klosterman proposes that every single scientific idea we have today could be completely wrong- even gravity! In a few hundred years people will be laughing at the beliefs we have today. Maybe even sooner.

So, two unrelated books jumped to mind while reading The Gene. I'm sure for someone else, it would be different books. The more you read the more connections you can make to just about every new book you come across. What's interesting is how those connections are made without even trying to make them.

Has this happened to you recently?

*The 20th Century was definitely the "Blame Your Mom for Everything" era. 

The Stuff We're Made Of: The Gene

the gene

Genetics fascinates me. Just looking at family photos makes me wonder why does so-and-so look more like this ancestor than that one? Why did I end up with this nose? But genetics is more than skin deep. It shapes how we behave, and what challenges we will face in life.

The Gene: An Intimate History by Siddartha Mukherjee is the biography of the gene. The story begins when the gene was just a twinkle in Darwin's eye. By the beginning of the 20th Century, scientists knew what the gene was but hadn't laid eyes on it yet. Once the gene was discovered it seems that our knowledge of the material that makes us us increased rapidly to the point we are at now, poised to eliminate genetic illness.

Of course, it isn't as easy as zapping our genes with a laser and taking care of the problem. There are many steps to get there and technologies still to be discovered. Once people realized genes were a thing, they tried to manipulate them, with often disastrous results. The atrocities carried out by the Nazis began as a way to control humans' genes through eugenics. Gene study was tainted by these horrors and scientists had to rebuild the gene's reputation. Following this was a series of dramas: infighting, competitiveness, hubris, and tragedy. But also amazing discoveries!

Dr Mukherjee highlights the most important stories in the gene's life. He tells the tales of the men and women who devoted their lives to puzzling out what makes up the gene. Throughout the book he tells his own personal story with genetic illness, the thread of schizophrenia in his father's family. The Gene also features the stories of other devastating illnesses: hemophilia, Huntington's, sickle cell anemia, breast cancer, and cystic fibrosis. It also looks at the role genes might have in shaping personality, identity, and sexuality.* Finally, Mukherjee speculates on the future of the gene and how it might influence our evolution.

The Gene is more readable than your high school biology textbook. Mukherjee uses real world examples to explain complex ideas. Even so, I had to slow down and reread parts. There are ideas I'm still confused about- the gene variation of humans as they moved across the globe for one. I just couldn't visualize it and understand it completely. I admit when the science was dense I sort of zoned out. It was hard for me to focus. Most of this was early in the book. Once The Gene hit the mid-20th Century mark I found it more interesting and easier to follow.

The Gene is a big book (600 pages, 80% of it reading material). I had it out from the library and if I didn't feel the rush to finish it I might have let it languish in the Currently Reading category on Goodreads for some time. I DID finish it and with a few days to spare!

The Gene is a very interesting history of a branch of science that affects us all. I recommend it to anyone with an interest in genetics.

*The studies on sexuality discussed in the book were all on gay men. I wondered, where are the lesbians?! It seems like only looking at half of this demographic won't give science the whole picture, right?

The Gene: An Intimate History

Lazy Sunday Thoughts: A Weird Week and a Sad Goodbye



This has been a weird week.

After a run of bad luck (including stepping on a nail), I was called back to work. Yay, money! I'm trying to get my ducks in a row before I start working. With the summer almost ended, I'm looking forward to a regular schedule with a kid in school where she belongs. She is so bored I is making me nuts!

I'm almost at the end of The Gene. Turns out this book is very long and science heavy (duh). I like it but have to read sections more than once to get what is being said.

I actually enjoyed most of the Olympics this year. I'm not a professional sports watching person. I have no interest in teams, but pit countries against each other for big, shiny, metal discs and I'm there!



Like many Canadians of my generation, I watched The Tragically Hip's final concert last night on CBC. I'm still thinking about it. I even dreamt of it. It's hard to explain why their music is so important. Maybe the reason they never caught on outside Canada is because they write about Canada for Canadians- with all our warts, not the Canada we try to sell tourists in our dreamy, over-saturated commercials. Their songs are full of villains and heroes: escaped prisoners, greedy explorers, the falsely imprisoned, missing hockey players and painters. They sing about places and events most people outside of Canada have never heard of (and some of us here haven't either). They are as Canadian as Margaret Atwood and snowmobiles. Still there is something universal about them too. The songs are about relationships, falling in love, being afraid and perplexed about life. The stuff we all can relate to.

For me, the music of The Tragically Hip is a part of my youth. It played in the background as I stayed up all night reading Stephen King novels (are you surprised?), I listened to it in friend's cars on road trips, my musical friends covered the songs in seedy bars, and it was on the radio as I worked my first retail job at a dollar store. That someday I'll be listening to the songs, remembering those moments, and knowing Gord Downie is gone is a harsh realization. I'm glad we all got the opportunity to say goodbye this way. It was the best wake I've ever attended.

Anyway, on that happy note I leave you to enjoy the rest of your weekend or start of your week!

Hello August!


I realize it's the middle of August and I'm just saying hello to it now.

Summer has been busy and full of distractions. I have started around 5 books since the summer began and I'm in various stages of reading them. Usually when I get like this I can listen to audiobooks but even with those I have a hard time concentrating. Goodreads reminds me that I'm 9 books behind in my 2016 Challenge. Whoops.

So no reviews from me for awhile longer.

What have I been doing instead during this slump?

Watching Bullet Journal Youtube videos.

Watching Happy Planner videos.

Watching cross stitch videos. (The community is called Floss Tube! I've actually learned some new techniques.)

Working on cross stitch patterns for my Etsy Shop.

Running.

Knitting.

Gardening.

Enjoying nature.


I will return to book blogging eventually, I do want to, but life is too short to worry about when. I also might write some non-book related posts.

Until then, I hope you keep well and safe! And do lots of reading for me.

Victorian Chaise-Longue Time Machine

The Victorian Chaise-Longue


Time travel isn't all fun and games. Sometimes, instead of having sexytimes with a red headed Scotsman, you end up trapped in the body of a sickly Victorian woman. That's the situation Melanie Langdon finds herself in when she falls asleep on her antique-store find.

In 1953, Melanie is recovering from a bout of tuberculosis. Her disease was discovered during her pregnancy. She carried the baby to term but was forbidden by her doctor from seeing him. Now it appears that she will get to meet her baby, move out of her bedroom and unto her chaise-longue. Her nurse tucks her into the seat for a rest, and everything seems perfectly normal, but when Melanie awakes she finds herself in a strange house in strange clothes with strange people, who keep calling her Milly. Even though this Milly person is very ill, her sister Adelaide is gruff and even angry with her. Melanie tries to explain her situation, but the right words won't form. When she does manage in communicate some idea of what happened to her, people try to hush her up. Melanie is stuck inside this body in a time that is not her own.

The Victorian Chaise-Longue is a short novel, but it took me quite awhile to finish it. It gave me anxiety. Melanie is unable to get anyone to listen to her. She's treated either with anger, annoyance, or pity. Melanie isn't even able to figure how Milly ended up convalescing on the chaise-longue. She believes if she tells the right person, a clergyman or a doctor, then they would get her back to her own time. Not a successful plan.

It's interesting to read this as a woman in 2016. The 1950s wasn't the best time for women. Melanie is the wife of a lawyer, but she is spoken to like a child and her male doctor bans her from even seeing her new baby. The excitement would be too much for her. Exhibiting any kind of emotion is met with disapproval. Her TB will get worse if she's a little giddy? Melanie believes that men will solve her time traveling problem. After all, men are in the positions of authority in her world, why wouldn't they fix this for her?

Hashtag: Not all men
Melanie also has issues with sex. For some reason, she comes to the conclusion that losing control during sex (which she wasn't even having at the time this all went down), lead to her losing control over keeping herself in her own time.
It is the ecstacy that is to be feared, she said with a shuddering assurance, it is a separation and a severance from reality and time, and it is not safe. The only thing that is safe is to feel only a little, hold tight to time, and never let anything sweep you away as I have been swept...
Despite all this, Melanie's life is a cake walk compared to the Victorian era she ends up in. They do not have an understanding of how TB/consumption works or how to treat it. No one listens to her when she tries to explain treatment. The air is bad. The clothes suck. She doesn't understand the customs and acts inappropriately which enrages Milly's sister. She is treated roughly, even violently, for reasons she can't fathom, and no one bats an eye at it.

The author, Marghanita Laski, shut herself up alone in her house and created an atmosphere where she was able to replicate the terror Melanie felt in order to write the book. It worked. This isn't ghosts in the attic scary, but scary psychologically. The thought of being trapped not just on an ugly piece of furniture, but in another person's dying body is pretty disturbing. Also, maybe read this on a day that's a good one for women.

If only Melanie could have said this.
Recommended.

The Victorian Chaise-Longue

Final Thoughts on The Fireman #firemanalong

The Fireman

Now that's it's officially the last week of July and The Fireman Readalong, I think it's safe to write my final thoughts on the book.

From my last post:
There is a contagious fungus that causes spontaneous combustion in the human carriers. This contagion is spreading all over the world, with the added bonus of burning down just about everything.

Harper is a nurse in New Hampshire, trying to help as many people as she can. A difficult task since with the whole world in a panic and entering Mad Max territory. People with the contagion are being rounded up and sent off to death camps. Or worse, murdered by vigilantes who see sick people as murderous criminals.

Inevitably, Harper catches the pox, er, fungus and with the help of the Fireman escapes to a utopian abandoned summer camp inhabited by other sick refugees. But we all know what happens to utopias. Eventually they become dystopias.
I dunno. I liked The Fireman but didn't love it. It was a quick read. There were periods of action between long periods of people doing nothing. I had to push myself through those sections to get to the interesting bits. It's a book that's 750 pages and could have been cut down to a more reasonable size. It's not like we got some intense character studies during these slow bits. Nobody seems all that deep.

Speaking of shallow characters. Jakob is a one dimensional guy. He really ends up being a cartoonish woman hater. He very quickly becomes a murderer and shows no affection for his wife or their unborn child. He was too much. The Cremation Crew he hangs around with are just a bunch of guys who probably troll feminist websites in life before the plague.

Stuff I liked:
  • Women are front and center in this novel. They aren't damsels and can take care of themselves in this terrible world.
  • The fisherman. He might be my favorite character. Maybe it's because he is the quintessential East Coast older man. Rough around the edges, but kind at heart.
  • The lady in her forties got a love interest!
  • The whole idea of Dragonscale. It's a plague unlike any I've read in books before. It's beautiful, but deadly.

Stuff I didn't like:
  • All the pop culture references. I'm not a fan of too many references in a book (Ready Player One). I suspect it will date this book. 
  • If Dragonscale is set off by stress, I don't understand how these characters survived some of these very stressful situations. (Note: I'd be dead within a day with my anxiety!)

Iffy stuff:
  • Not sure how I feel about the ending. It's hopeful, but also everything leading up to it is pretty crappy. 
  • The title. I get that the Fireman is a mythological being to outsiders, but I'm not sure why he's the namesake of this book. Then again, I'm not sure what I would title it. 
So, kind of a mixed bag of feelings on The Fireman.

Hey Readalongers! I'd love to discuss this more with you. Leave comments and questions in the comments section.

The Fireman

Media Madness...Tuesday?

This is sorta Media Madness Monday but it's not Monday.

Since I'm not doing a lot of reading, I am doing a lot of other things. Including watching Netflix.


Grace and Frankie is a series I've been watching the last couple of weeks. The title characters' husbands have been having a twenty year affair and just announced that they plan on leaving their wives to be together. Both women are shocked, to say the least. As they watch the lives they've built crumble around them, they realize that no one else can understand what they're going through except each other. Despite their differences, Frankie is a hippie artist and Grace a retired business woman, they form a friendship.

The men find that happily-ever-after isn't as easy as they thought it would be. They still have ties to their ex-wives: children, grandchildren, and affection for the women they did love at one time. Getting disentangled from their past is complicated and messy.

The cast of Grace and Frankie is top notch. Jane Fonda (Grace) and Lily Tomlin (Frankie) have great chemistry. I forgot they were in 9 to 5 together. (Maybe Dolly Parton can have a cameo!) Martin Sheen and Sam Waterston play the ex-husbands. There are guest appearances by Ernie Hudson, Sam Elliot, and Craig T Nelson.

The writing is great. The characters aren't one dimensional. They all have anxieties, fears, and dreams. The women are given love interests and aren't shuffled off to the pasture. Their children are a big part of their lives, but not the only part.

What I like about Grace and Frankie is that it's something different, but still familiar. It's a sitcom, with the situation being great life changes in these characters' "golden years." They don't have to be in their 20s to have an interesting story. It's about relationships, family, sexuality and aging. No one is a bad guy. They are all just people trying to do the best they can.

Give it a try, if you don't mind lots of swearing and pot smoking.




The Black Tapes Podcast is a podcast I recently came across. It's a pseudo-serial type show. It follows that investigative journalism podcast formula, only this investigation is fictional. Alex, the journalist, investigates the creator of the Strand Institute, Dr Richard Strand, a skeptic whose life work is to debunk claims of the paranormal. He offers a one million reward to anyone who can prove existence of the supernatural.

Strand has a wall full of white tape cases, each one an investigated and debunked claim. On another smaller shelf, is a collection of black tapes. These cases are "as yet unsolved." Alex convinces Strand to let her investigate these black tapes. As the series progresses, Alex starts to see a connection in all these cases and discovers secrets in Strand's past.

The Black Tapes Podcast is for people who like The X-Files or Millennium. There is a apocalyptic theme to the series, with people  trying to begin the end of the world. It's fun, but don't listen to it after dark!

What have you been watching/listening to?