Thursday, May 29, 2014

No reading done inside the hospital room

Painful, painful IV line
This week started with a kind of crazy that begs to be written about. Monday, after lunch, I found myself heading to my dentist for an appointment. As per their protocol, they had to take my blood pressure because I needed some serious work done on my teeth. Lo, my BP was 220 over 120! Yikes!

So instead of having some dental work done, I ended up under the care of a general practitioner who was so worked up over my BP that she constantly checked me every 15 minutes. After 2 rounds of medication, with my BP showing no signs of going down, she referred me to the emergency room of the nearest  hospital.

Naturally, I just laughed it off. How serious could it be? Somehow, when the doctor said that my BP was just the right level to make me predisposed to having a stroke, that fell on deaf ears. So I took my time going to the ER, even stopping by at a convenience store to get a snack.

When I got to the ER and showed the referral slip from the doctor, I was confused as to why they were shoving this wheelchair to my face and asking me to get on it. It was at this time that it sunk—my BP screwed me over, and it was really as serious as people said. Well, life can suck vacuum cleaners.

My time at the ER was surreal. Never would I imagine myself being on a bed and wheeled from one test to another. There was radiology, lots of blood work, an ultrasound of sorts. I kept telling the staff that I can walk, really. But they wouldn't have none of it. For them, I'm just a ticking time bomb. I'm the guy who can literally have a heart attack at any moment.

Oh, I couldn't really get out of bed, much less go to the restroom to relieve myself. I had this IV thing and this electronic cuff which monitored my BP every 20 minutes or so. Kinda cool actually. But it did limit my movement. Most patients would just bring their IV to the restroom. I, on the other hand, couldn't do that. I had an electronic gadget attached to me, which required being plugged to work. So unless my numerous, lovable fat cells can produce voltage, I'm immobile while that monitoring thing is attached to me.

I was attached to this machine which showed my vitals.
Notice the BP of 140/87. Woot! Down from 220/120!
But of course, I was heavily medicated.
And so I got admitted to the hospital for 3 days. It was all a blur. Nurses coming and going. Doctors asking me the same questions. Kinda embarrassing to hear that I really needed to lose weight. Even more embarrassing—hearing that in front of your hospital guests. For some reason, every time a doctor comes in to give his or her advice, I would have guests. Ah, such is the mystery of life.

Anyway, I'm back home as I'm writing this. And I'm looking at the meal plan that my dietitian gave me. I'm supposed to stick to a low-salt and low-fat diet. (Good-bye, butter! Good-bye, bacon!) I also need to limit my caloric intake to 1,500 per day. Excuse me, before, I can consume 1,500 calories in just one meal.

You do lose weight when you get sick, right? But I didn't know that it would really be significant. When I was first admitted, I was 101 kilos. When I got out, I was only 98! Where could those 3 kilos go? I recall doing the number 2 just once. So it probably went somewhere. I guess being in a hospital sucks the life out of you, no? I just hope to never get back. Well, at least not any time soon.

Sunday, May 25, 2014

Creepy dolls

Dolls are creepy. And what's even creepier is if dolls find their way in the hands of Susan Hill. Yes, Hill of The Woman in Black fame has a new ghost story, and it involves decaying house, two young cousins, and lots of Gothic atmosphere. I knew at the onset that I would like this.

In Dolly, we meet Edward Cayley, an orphan, who would spend one summer at his Aunt Kestrel's creepy house in Iyot Lock. Edward would be spending the summer with his cousin, Leonora von Vorst. While the two children almost have the same ages, they couldn't be more different. Edward is pensive and sensitive, and Leonora is terribly spoiled.

Everything seems to be quite an uneventful summer, notwithstanding Leonora's tantrums and complaints. But this is a ghost story after all, and there must be a turning point for these innocuous happenings. In this novel, everything changes on Leonora's birthday, when Aunt Kestrel presents Leonora with a beautiful lifelike doll. But it's not what Leonora had in mind though. Leonora then flings the doll to the wall, cracking its porcelain face and storms out of the room. Edward takes it upon himself to get rid of the doll by burying it outside the house.

Years pass and Edward recalls the many times he has spent other summers at his aunt's. Leonora, on the other hand, never returns. It's only upon the death of Aunt Kestrel when the two meet again to discuss the terms of the will. It appears that their aunt has left everything to Edward. And what about Leonora? She gets the doll her aunt gave her on her 9th birthday. Edward shows Leonora where he buried the doll and reveals it. What was inside the box shocked them. The doll has aged in all those years it was under the ground.

Dolly doesn't stop here though. We get to read how Edward has suffered many sleepless nights hearing a disturbig sound, a sound made by someone, or something, scraping on paper. Edward knows that it's the buried doll, of course. It's calling out to him, as if it were asking him to set it free.

In the novel's final chapters, we get to know how Leonora runs out of money and asks Edward to give her the house. She's down on her luck—divorced, with a 2-year-old baby daughter, and without money. Edward, now a successful man, agrees to have Leonora stay at Iyot Lock. But then makes a very unwise decision. He finds an intricate Indian princess doll in one of his trips and gives it to Leonora. She wouldn't accept it though, and sends it back to him. When he opens the package from Leonora, what the doll looks like now would haunt him. Gone were its beautiful Indian features. The doll now had the features of a crone.

Dolly is one chilling read. Like her other ghost stories, it's almost like a novella at 150 pages. It doesn't quite hold up to the scariness of The Woman in Black, the bleak mood of The Small Hand, or the sense of dread of The Man in the Picture. But it's still a very satisfying read. I just hope that Susan Hill never stops coming out with ghost stories.

Read this book if:
  1. You love short scary reads.
  2. You know that dolls are creepy.
  3. You'll read anything by Susan Hill.

Wednesday, May 14, 2014

My 100 favorite books

When the book club decided to have an unofficial discussion of Donna Tartt's The Secret History, I got really excited. After all, it's one of my favorite novels ever. I recall reading it almost 20 years ago and having been floored by Tartt's exquisite prose and thrilling story. I'm rereading it now. Because, you know, I've turned 40, so technically, I read The Secret History during my "mid-life," so I've forgotten most of its details.

Anyway, Tartt's novel made me think about my favorite books. I remember coming up with a list before, but I just haven't posted a blog entry about it. So last night, I wrote down in my journal my 100 favorite books. It took me a couple of hours.

The list surprised me. For one, I never realized how much I prefer fiction to nonfiction, and novels to other literary forms. No poetry book made it on my list, and I listed just 1 graphic novel as a favorite, even though I read a lot of those lately. Also, there's a dearth of locally published books in my list. Have to fix that ASAP.

So here's my list, dear readers. I've listed the books according to categories. I know that some of these categories may be debatable and that some books cut across different categories, but just indulge me and let's go with them. Except for the first group, my top 10, all the books in the other categories (the remaining 90 of them) are listed in no particular order.

My top 10
1. I, Claudius – Robert Graves
2. Independent People – Halldór Laxness
3. One Hundred Years of Solitude – Gabriel García Marquez
4. The History of the Siege of Lisbon – José Saramago
5. The Story of Mankind – Hendrik Willem Van Loon
6. The House of Mirth – Edith Wharton
7. The Secret History – Donna Tartt
8. The Woman in White – Wilkie Collins
9. We Wish to Inform You That Tomorrow We Will Be Killed with Our Families – Philip Gourevitch
10. The Stolen Child – Keith Donohue

Nonfiction (13)
The Moral Animal – Robert Wright
The Discoverers – Daniel Boorstin
A Heartbreaking Work of Staggering Genius – Dave Eggers
The Professor and the Madman – Simon Winchester
The Elegant Universe – Brian Greene
Hitler’s Pope – John Cornwall
Nobody’s Perfect – Anthony Lane
Gomorrah – Roberto Saviano
The Man Who Ate Everything – Jeffrey Steingarten
The Man Who Loved Only Numbers – Paul Hoffman
Deluxe – Dana Thomas
The Wives of Henry VIII – Antonia Fraser
The Omnivore’s Dilemma – Michael Pollan

Classics (30)
Jane Eyre – Charlotte Brontë
The Return of the Native – Thomas Hardy
The Portrait of a Lady – Henry James
An American Tragedy – Theodore Dreiser
Women in Love – D. H. Lawrence
Melmoth the Wanderer – Charles Maturin
The Monk – Matthew Gregory Lewis
Dracula – Bram Stoker
Siddhartha – Herman Hesse
Brideshead Revisited – Evelyn Waugh
The Grapes of Wrath – John Steinbeck
Henderson the Rain King – Saul Bellow
Of Human Bondage – W. Somerset Maugham
The Magus – John Fowles
Les Misérables – Victor Hugo
Anna Karenina – Leo Tolstoy
Stoner – John Williams
Don’t Look Now and Other Stories – Daphne Du Maurier
The Brothers Karamazov – Fyodor Dostoevsky
The Collected Stories of Vladimir Nabokov
The Collected Stories of John Cheever
Fantastic Tales – edited by Italo Calvino
Catch-22 – Joseph Heller
Ragtime – E. L. Doctorow
Forbidden Colors – Yukio Mishima
The Age of Reason – Jean-Paul Sartre
The Call of the Wild – Jack London
Invisible Man – Ralph Ellison
A Farewell to Arms – Ernest Hemingway
The End of the Affair – Graham Greene

Contemporary fiction (24)
The Chess Garden – Brooks Hansen
The Troublesome Offspring of Cardinal Guzman – Louis de Bernières
The Innocent – Ian McEwan
American Gods – Neil Gaiman
The Woman in Black – Susan Hill
The Wind-Up Bird Chronicle – Haruki Murakami
The World According to Garp – John Irving
The Crimson Petal and the White – Michel Faber
A Fine Balance – Rohinton Mistry
The Historian – Elizabeth Kostova
The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time – Mark Haddon
Salem’s Lot – Stephen King
Ghost Story – Peter Straub
Weaveworld – Clive Barker
The Elegance of the Hedgehog – Muriel Barbery
The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo – Stieg Larsson
Out – Natsuo Kirino
The Talented Mr Ripley – Patricia Highsmith
A Thousand Splendid Suns – Khaled Hosseini
The Unconsoled – Kazuo Ishiguro
The Bonfire of the Vanities – Tom Wolfe
The Shadow of the Wind – Carlos Ruiz Zafón
The White Tiger – Aravind Adiga
The Blind Assassin – Margaret Atwood

Science fiction and fantasy (7)
Inverted World – Christopher Priest
The Day of the Triffids – John Wyndham
A Game of Thrones – George R. R. Martin
Perdido Street Station – China Miéville
Dune – Frank Herbert
Twenty Thousand Leagues under the Sea – Jules Verne
Altered Carbon – Richard Morgan

Young adult and children's (8)
The Westing Game – Ellen Raskin
Pop Stories for Groovy Kids (Green Edition) – Nick Joaquin
The Chaos Walking Trilogy – Patrick Ness
His Dark Materials Trilogy – Philip Pullman
The Hunger Games – Suzanne Collins
Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban – J. K. Rowling
Across the Nightingale Floor – Lian Hearn
The Schwa Was Here – Neal Shusterman

LGBT (6)
Tales from the City – Armistead Maupin
Sucking Sherbet Lemons – Michael Carson
Faggots – Larry Kramer
The Farewell Symphony – Edmund White
Boy Meets Boy – David Levithan
Rainbow Boys – Alex Sanchez

Graphic novel (1)
Y: The Last Man – Brian K. Vaughan and Pia Guerra

I know that this list is a dynamic one, and it'll constantly change for some reasons. I'm still trying to find that poetry collection that will blow me away. And with my dead guy challenge this year, I might add more books in the classics category. I live in exciting times.

Monday, May 12, 2014

K is for Kipling

I have a certain feeling of ambivalence after reading Rudyard Kipling's Kim, my 11th writer in my dead guy challenge. After turning over the last page, I thought that it was merely a coming-of-age novel. But then I checked out the novel's summary online, and boy oh boy was I surprised. How could I have missed all those details! To say that I felt stupid would be an understatement.

Kim, the main character, is a boy of Irish descent living in India during the British empire in the 19th century. He's a ruffian, a jester, a street rat in Lahore. Then he befriends Teshoon Lama, a former abbot whose dream is to free himself from the Wheel of Things. Teshoon Lama is on a quest to find the River of the Arrow, and he and Kim find themselves in many adventures in their quest.

As the novel progresses, we witness how Kim grows from the unruly orphaned boy that he is to a chela (servant) of the lama, a student in an English school in Lucknow, a government appointee, a surveyor (a spy of sorts), and a key player in the battle between the British empire and the Russians. And this last role is where I have a problem with. I felt that Kim was never really offered a choice in his role as a spy. Everything was laid out for him to become one.

What I did like were the amusing parts where Kim and lama travel to many exotic locations in India. Also, I found their encounters with several characters (e.g., a prostitute, a sick child, a sorceress) charming. This is where Kipling's novel shines. As for the grand plot involving espionage, everything was like a blur. I would have preferred more details, more texture, on these parts of the novel.

Kim is still an entertaining read. Although one major aspect of my ambivalence toward is whether the novel can be enjoyed by children or not. I do see Kim in many bookstores under the children's section, and there's a Puffin edition of it. But the novel's political themes may be too overwhelming for young readers. I guess if the readers are guided to focus on the characters' adventures, then I guess it could very well work as a children's book.

Read this book if:
  1. You like your adventure stories set in exotic locations.
  2. You've always been curious about the actions of the British empire.
  3. You'll read anything by Nobel Prize-winning authors.

Monday, May 5, 2014

The bookshelf project #44

Well, it has been a while since I last posted another bibliophile's bookshelf. But while I was on Facebook hiatus, I got tagged in a photo by a fellow member of a book club, Chloe.

We don't see much of Chloe during our book discussions, as she's based away from Manila. (Cebu is about an hour's plane ride from the capital.) But we do get to interact with her online.

Chloe said that this wooden bookcase is a new home for her books. Although, she did say that there are still a lot of her books stored in boxes. Happy problem IMHO!

I love anything in wood, so I'm green with envy just looking at Chloe's shelf. Oh, and I noticed that the books stored in this shelf have been covered in plastic. Clap, clap, clap!

Hey, do you have a picture of your bookshelf, dear reader? Why not send them over to me! Email me at peter[dot]sandico[at]gmail[dot]com.