Thursday, August 15, 2019

Heart Attack


            A few days ago, we learned that Kim had a heart attack. Kim was pretty sure that’s what was happening when she was wading for Petoskey stones – a clenching tightness in her chest that was different from the array of pains that are part of her daily life. She has been dealing with fibromyalgia and arthritis for many years, and cancer and then surgery related back pain for the last several. But this was different, and she knew it. We sat on our Adirondack chairs as she described the pain and we discussed whether to call 911. I fetched her two aspirin from the house, but the pain was starting to release before she took them, and about 40 minutes after it began, the pain was gone. We sat there for about half an hour, waiting to see if there would be a return and vowing to call 911 if it happened. It didn’t. We made our way carefully up the stairs to the house. I held her hand firmly.

            Later that afternoon we spoke with a doctor who was conveniently visiting our neighbors, Rick and Sandy. We described the symptoms to him, and he suggested that we see our physician “better sooner than later,” by which he meant “better sooner than too late.” We had appointments on Friday (this was Monday) for our annual physical with our family doctor, an excellent diagnostician, and we decided to wait. This may have been a mistake, but we got away with it.

            Friday’s doctor’s appointment confirmed what he called “irregularities” on her EKG, what he described as a “T-wave inversion.” Though this was a term that I had not encountered as an English major, I knew that it was not a good thing.

            Now, what?

            We went from the doctor’s office to the cancer center for Kim’s monthly infusion and then spent much of the drive home processing the news. Kim says that during her attack she thought, “Better to die quickly of a heart attack than suffer a lingering painful death from cancer,” whose return she is awaiting, instantly adding, “but not yet.” (This echoes St. Augustine’s famous prayer, ““Lord, make me chaste – but not yet!”)We have been thinking in terms of our Ten-Year Plan, with five active years in our new house and then, maybe, five more somewhat compromised years. The prospect of sudden death changes all that.

            One of the first changes we made, after committing to a healthier diet and daily walks, was to add to her “Five Wishes” end-of-life instructions, “NO CPR!” Chest compressions would mean a likely breaking of the cage apparatus enclosing her spinal cord, leading, most likely, to paralysis. Nope – rejected option in your mid-70s, though a possibility when younger.

            The doctor said that he usually recommends a stress test following a heart attack like Kim’s, but he cautioned that a stress test sometimes itself leads to heart failure, and with Kim’s no CPR instruction, this might not be a good idea. They made an appointment for the stress test in a week, allowing that much time to think and talk it over. The other option, he said, is to “let nature take its course.” This is what she decided to do.

            Now, what?

            Kim told Ben, our grandson, “I’ll do whatever the hell I want, for as long as I can,” but we are making some changes. Thursday, before the official diagnosis, we decided to trade our new mattress for an upgrade to a bed that allows the head, knees and/or feet to be raised, with a wave and vibration functions. It’s an expensive version of the hospital bed we rented for Kim when she was rehabbing at home for a month following her surgery. Just in case. We are eating more oatmeal, less bacon and red meat, more veggies, less sugar – a tough one if you’ve tasted Kim’s scones, cookies and pies. Karen, our neighbor, has brought us cucumbers and lettuce – before she knew of the heart attack. We are talking about cutting our nightly drink. I wonder if talking about it is good for heart health.

            Saturday found Kim planting flowers, almost as if nothing had happened. She did, however, ask me to dig a somewhat deep and difficult hole, and she took over watering our extensive new plantings because, she says, she finds it “relaxing” and “zen-like.” She pointed out to me that newly planted perennials don’t look great until the third year, which I think is a good thing. Our newly planted trees will start to fill out in 5-10 years. We are just about finished with the installation phase of our landscaping – and our lives – and we are moving into the maintenance phase.

            Kim is pissed off at me for writing this, as calling attention to herself in this way is not her style, not who she is. But I need to write it for me, as a caretaker. Yesterday we worked with Rick and Sandy to build a small rock wall. Kim, with her stubborn German heritage, was right there with us, but she was only lifting the smaller rocks.

Thursday, August 8, 2019

Trans


            Transitions are a normal part of life: puberty, retirement, job changes, marriage(s), divorce, illness, a new haircut, etc. If you are lucky, and maybe it’s not a matter of luck at all, the transition can lead you to a sense of wholeness. This might happen when you marry the right person, or perhaps when you find the right job or career. Both of these happened for me. As a teacher and as Kim’s husband I found, or created, my wholeness, and now I am working on adding to that wholeness my roles as a writer and home owner – more transitions. One’s identity is a suite of roles – but that’s the subject of another blog post.

            But sometimes these transitions operate at an even deeper level. Mike was a fraternity brother of mine in college, and now she is Michelle. She made the transition just a few years ago when she was in her 70s. Last weekend Michelle came to visit us at our home on Torch Lake. Kim and I learned a lot, and as frequently happens, the questions grew along with the answers:

Did Michelle find or create her new identity?  She reports that she didn’t actually “find” it, for she always knew that her assigned-at-birth male gender did not fit. (Think about wearing shoes that are the wrong size, to make a trivial analogy.) In a sense she did “create” her new identity, for she made a conscious choice and then acted on her choice, but she did not create herself the way a painter starts with a blank canvas. Michelle uses an archeological analogy, where she brings to the surfacea self that had long been buried. In a talk she gave at our Amherst reunion, where we reconnected, and again at our home, Michelle was clearly bringing her female self to the surface. She chose her clothes carefully, and her style is distinctly feminine. We did not see her without make-up, and her wigs are flattering and, dare I say, appealing. While many of our conversations were rather academic, dealing with hormones, psychology (she is a psychotherapist), diet and surgery, she also enjoyed “girl talk” with Kim. I was excluded from these, though I did catch some discussion of manicures and pedicures. I learned that some of the girl talk had to do with Spanx panties, and I wondered if the ghost living in Michelle responded to women’s panties the way I do when Kim lets me fold the laundry.

Does Michelle wish to “pass” as a woman, or does she wish to be identified as a “trans” (transgendered person)?  It was hard for me to tell. At one point she compared herself to a missionary bringing the Word about trans as real people to the unconverted, who she expected to find here in northern Michigan. (In her talk, available at MichelleAllisonLMFT.com,on the ‘About Michelle’ page) she very helpfully explained what terms are currently offensive, which are OK. Who knew?) This would suggest that she wants to be identified as “trans,” but I’m not sure. Her voice is the same as it used to be, but Kim points out that her own voice is lower than Michelle’s, who is doing vocal exercises to feminize her voice. She has great legs, for a woman, and shows them off. Her back and shoulders appear rather masculine, perhaps the result of her building a large stone wall even after her testosterone was chemically blocked, but this judgment might be a result of my own stereotypes about women.

Does she want to have a romantic relationship?  Yes, and she is pursuing relationships through online dating sites. With a man or a woman?  The examples Michelle discussed, briefly, were with women, though most likely lesbian women. I did not inquire about how those physical relationships might work, but as a person in his mid-70’s, I don’t think that’s as important as I did in my youthful 60s. In any case, it’s none of my business.

Are doctors being trained to deal with the trans population?  The traditional set of specialties does not appear to offer a comfortable fit. But the trans population in the U.S. is surprisingly (to me) large, with the latest estimate 1.4 million adults, and so larger hospitals are certainly equipped to provide care. I’m not sure how insurance companies deal with all this.

How did Michelle’s transition impact her friendships?  Not very much. She is still in touch with her old friends, and she repeatedly said how her ex-wife is her best friend, despite the understandable turmoil that led to their divorce. When I dropped Michelle off at the airport in Traverse City, I told her that I was very happy, despite all the changes, that the same Mike who was my friend at Amherst, the same intelligence, wit and perception, is still very much alive. And why not? I use this continuing friendship as an excuse for slip-ups in my use of pronouns, where I reverted to he/him instead of the she/her sitting with me.

How did I feel about having Michelle, a trans, as a guest?  Kim and I discussed her visit a little beforehand, often making pronoun errors, but these errors largely disappeared as soon as we greeted Michelle. The only discomfort I felt was when we went to restaurants and to one Land Conservancy event, but this discomfort was entirely in my anticipating weird or offensive responses from waiters, waitresses, or Conservancy personnel. I was very pleased that either everyone saw Michelle as female or they saw her as a valued person/customer, with us, and her identity as transgendered was ignored. Five years ago a trans person would have been a real curiosity, but that’s not the case anymore, even among people who may never have met one. Good for us.

Michelle, when she left us, described her experience with us as “transformative,” something she knows something about. What did she mean?

Michelle’s response:

Hi Dave,

Well, here are my comments. Probably far longer than you can use, but as you know I’m a person who has a lot to say. And brevity is not my long suit. I don’t know how to tell you to use these. I’d like to say some are not that important, but since this blog is kind of a portrait of me, I feel a certain compulsion to ’get it right.’ You can edit or publish anything in these comments you choose (or dare as in the case of the sexual stuff). By the way, I have no problem telling you that I retain a penis which is pretty functional—another reason I will not be likely to pass. I think most of what I’ve written addresses the questions you raised. And I assume you can figure out which of my text goes with your questions. I hope I haven’t made too much annoying extra work for you. And thanks for giving me the option to respond and comment—it was a lot fun writing about this stuff, and I may have come up with some formulations I’ll like enough to use in some future setting.

Love, Michelle

I have pondered long and hard about your understandable use of my dead name. I appreciate that ‘Michelle’ is new to you, both as a name and a person. You have a history with my former self and have only recently been exposed to me as I am now. Here is an opportunity to understand some things about twists and turns of gender dysphoria. For reasons that are purely non rational, seeing my dead name in print multiple times is very unsettling; knowing it will be read by a large number of your subscribers (almost all of whom will never know me) still multiples this discomfort. I’d really like to give you license to write and express in your most authentic voice--but in this instance I really just can’t pull off the degree of distress tolerance that would be needed.

On friendships, most who have known me more recently comment that I express a brighter mood and seem way more comfortable in my own skin. That is certainly how I see myself; for those friends I am a new and improved version of the person I used to be.  Version 2.0

Being a guest in the ‘up north’ part of MI seemed uneventful to me. I’m touched that you had some anxieties about how I would be received. Although there are places in our Great Land where I might not be warmly welcomed, I perhaps naively assume the Stringers would not nest in non-affirming territory. I mentioned that I have waited to be at least mildly called out in public, even in the very Blue state of Connecticut. After three plus years out (and with my very overt attention seeking, femme presentation) it’s still smooth sailin’. I make it a policy to stand tall and proud, and I think that helps make it work for me.

Remember there is one’s gender identity: deeply felt in the recesses of the mid brain and uncovered (or found) by one’s own personal archeological enterprise. There is then a social expression of that gender identity. This is where one’s creativity comes into play. Viewing myself as an artist, I do see my body as a canvas to be decorated: personal ornamentation is also a common way of describing it. 

‘Girl talk’ and related activities (clothes, jewelry, hair styles, shopping as a woman) are among the most rewarding of feminine experiences. These are moments when I feel my female identity most strongly and am so proud to be in the company of my sisters. Their acceptance and inclusion of me into their circle of intimates is the best! 

Regarding responses to intimate female garments, here is where your cis male nature contrasts with my trans awareness. If I understand you correctly, your access to women’s intimate garments is a brief window into a private and special domain. When I wear my clothes (which are women’s clothes in every manner), I typically have a feeling of overall wellbeing and pleasure in these actions. The contrast for me is between my closeted life, where cross dressing was a very guilty pleasure and a bra was ‘hot stuff', and my current life whereby this is the only manner of dressing I know anything about.  And what I know about it is that it is completely without guilt or shame--and that is a most deliciously exhilarating feeling. Gender euphoria  displaces gender dysphoria.

‘Passing’ can be a rather vexing issue.  While I want to present as looking very youthful (for my chronological age), attractive and feminine, I’m also very proud to be trans. I entertain the conceit that it makes me ‘a very special person.’ Add in my less than feminine voice and other ‘tells’ I’ll likely be read as trans anyway, so why not let it work for me. My ideal would be to be convincingly a female and able to pass, but then choose not to pass. Youth and a pile of feminizing surgeries will work wonders. However, youth is behind me and I have little interest in spending my remaining years in a state of post-operative recovery. In the interest of accuracy, my most recent and highly effective elimination of testosterone was achieved surgically (orchiectomy).

Medicine for trans people. In general there are few experiences less appealing for a trans person than a medical visit ( a public bathroom can be fraught also). The word gets around who are the trans friendly practitioners (and that includes therapists as well). Everyone I see is at least very good, and most are terrific. And it’s getting better. Insurance companies are the bane of everyone’s healthcare, even more so for the trans population. They determine what is ‘medically necessary’ to address one’s gender dysphoria. And those decisions are made exclusively by cis people, the vast majority being white men. I suspect that they are among a large segment of our population who at a deeper level suspect that gender dysphoria is not all that ‘real.’ Top surgery for trans males and gender affirming bottom surgery for both genders are well covered, but a whole array of other procedures are not.

Romance! I’d like to see what an intimate romantic relation in my proper gender would be like. An interesting artifact of attempting intimate relationships as my former self was that I really wanted to be the woman I was with--you can see how this might impede genuine intimacy. My pool of available candidates is relatively small due to my age (older folks are more straight and non queer). Most women who identify as lesbian, will categorically preclude any involvement with a trans woman (they require a ‘real’ or woman born woman). I retain my orientation toward women despite my gender shift. If I get lucky, it will be a woman who is bi, or more properly pan sexual; meaning they are attracted to a variety of gendered identities. As far as the details of sexual activity, it’s not that complicated. Those who wish to be penetrators can use their penis (if they have one) fingers or dildos; those who wish to be penetrated can offer their vagina or anus; and all the other options such as oral sex and touching are of course available.

Finally, using ‘trans’ enables me to bring in other words containing that root. Very often my very presence in certain spaces is ‘transgressive’ (hopefully in a kind way); also, I seek to be ‘transparent’ with my various agendas available for easy inspection. And I try to have experiences that are ‘transformative’ in that I am changed, usually in some way related to emotional experience or a deepening sense of identity. My visit with you and Kim was transformative in that I left having been ‘opened up to some new delights…’  as per the Rumi poem I use in my presentations. I hope you both felt some of that also.

Thursday, August 1, 2019

I Get a New Car


            Getting a new car was a big deal for me. Let’s examine that sentence:

            “Getting?”  I didn’t exactly “get” the car because I was leasing it – a new experience for me. When I rent a car at the airport, I don’t think of it as “getting a new car.” Several people had explained to me the economics involved – how it really makes sense to lease rather than buy. I can’t recall the details of the argument, but I do know that I drove away with my bank accounts fully intact, the two checkbooks I’d carried to the dealership unopened.

            “New?”  It was a 2019 Toyota Highlander, and even though there were 2020s on the lot, I still count it as new. It had about 100 miles on it, which did make it less than new, and it did not have that toxic “new car smell,” but it was significantly newer than my 2013, so “new” it is. Or was – until I drove it away. The main reason I know it counts as “new” is that feeling of anxiety about getting a ding or scratch – something I’d long gotten over with my 111,230-mile old car. (By the way, did any of you notice when my odometer reached 111,111? Probably not. Sometimes these significant moments pass by without sufficient attention’s being paid . . ..)

            “Car?”  Of course, it’s a car, assuming SUV fits into that general category. But my experience when Awring, our salesperson, started explaining stuff made me realize that what I had purchasedleased was really a computer with wheels attached. We spent maybe 20 minutes getting my phone hooked up and then downloading an “Entune” app that would allow me to find the price of gas at nearby stations, among other things. The computer system on the car makes it difficult to ram into slow cars when I’m driving in cruise control, and it has beepers that go off when I wander to the edges of my lane on the highway – a feature I will have to turn off because it beeps so often and so annoyingly. I did, with Awring’s help, get the GPS to work with “Go Home” programmed in, and I can look on the screen and see the weather that’s taking place just beyond the windows of my car. One of my goals for tomorrow, when I plan to begin reading the 4 manuals filling the glove (Who puts gloves in there?) compartment, is to figure out how to turn on the radio and set up my favorite stations. I’m giving myself a week to figure it out. Awring phoned to say I should call her if I have any questions. I suspect she knows what she is inviting, but she did it anyway.

            “Was?”  Was. A few days ago.

            “Big deal?”  I’m not sure how big the deal was. I know how it works when purchasing a car – the negotiation, the “I’ll have to check with my manager,” etc. People smarter than me can figure out how much the car cost the dealer, figure in a reasonably small profit margin, check out the value of the trade-in, etc. Not me. I let Kim do the negotiating, as I tend to say, “Yeah, that sounds OK – where do I sign?” Kim’s much tougher. In unfamiliar leasing territory, she simply said, “Let’s just skip all the negotiating crap. Go get your best deal for us. Plus, we want all-weather floor mats.” I tried to read Kim’s reaction to the offer Awring brought back, but Kim told me nothing, so I said, “Yeah, that sounds OK – where do I sign?” The good news – I’ll never figure out if I got a good deal or not. I don’t know how to compare, and I wouldn’t do it now if I did know how.

            “For me?”  For several days I’d been thinking about getting a new car. I knew my old car was due for an oil change, and getting a new car would save me about $50, so the time was right. I knew I wanted a Toyota Highlander – not because it was necessarily better than other cars, but because my last three cars had been Highlanders, and I figured a fourth would mean I would not have to learn much about how to operate it (wrong – see above). Still, I do not see myself as a Car Guy, and my old one was running fine. It was, and is, out of character for me to indulge in a new car. When I told my neighbor, Sandy, that I got a new car, she was surprised and delighted, adding, “You deserve it!” Deserve? Me? I don’t think in terms of what I deserve – that’s dangerous territory involving introspection and self-evaluation. I’m more comfortable with a non-judgmental what-I-can-get-by-with approach. Kim knows this is true when she examines my wardrobe.

            At this point I suppose I should include a picture of me with my new car. Nah. We’d already signed something at the dealership to decline having a Facebook photo of us + car. Really, it’s no big deal.

Comment from Phil Allen:
Suppose you don't have a mobile phone?  Can you still lease a car?  Or buy one?  Will it run if you don't connect your phone?  Partly to avoid learning the answers, I still drive my 2000 Toyota Camry.  It hasn't quite reached 111,111 miles, but when it does I will stop and wonder what to do next.  It doesn't seem worth repairing the blower or air conditioner.  I can still open windows in summer.  The blower works if it isn't set for low or medium.  On high, it's noisy, but I can still hear the radio.  

Thursday, July 25, 2019

Corrections


            About ten years ago we had a bat in our basement. I tried unsuccessfully to remove it, and so, with midnight approaching, I closed the basement door and went to bed. The next morning I found the bat trapped in a wastebasket with no helicopter skills. I easily took him outside and released him. This became my occasionally successful model for making corrections in the world.

                                                *     *    *     *     *

            One evening last week I looked out the window at the solar lights I’d installed (stuck in the ground) to light the way down the stairs to the lake. I noticed that several of the lights were off. When I approached one of them, it suddenly went on. Satisfied that I’d fixed it without touching it, I took a step away and it went off again. Puzzled, I went to check on the other non-functioning lights. I brushed some invisible debris off the sensor on one, and it came on – briefly, until I took my hand away. I suddenly realized that these lights only turned on when it was dark, and at 9 in the evening, it took my shadow to darken them. By 9:30 I’d fixed all the lights.

                                                *     *    *     *     *

            I’m trying to sell a Nantucket basket that I inherited from my mom, and the dealer wanted me to email him some photos. I’d taken some a few years back and stored them on my computer. I spent about an hour using my computer expertise to find it. Then I gave up and rephotographed the basket, and I decided to park those images in plain sight at the top of my computer desktop. I did so, parking them right next to a folder labeled “Basket Photos.” Then I dragged them into that folder with my original photos – problem solved.


                                                *     *    *     *     *

            The GPS on my 2013 Toyota suddenly stopped working. The problem was in the touch-screen. It had happened before about 6 months ago, and the thoroughly trained mechanics at the dealership could not fix it. But a salesman suggested that I slide a credit card around the rim of the screen, and I did so. It worked! A grain of sand or speck of stardust got dislodged, and I was back in business. I rely far too much on my GPS, and I get far too upset when I get lost (something Kim describes as “exploring”), so when my credit card solution (Credit cards solve a lot of problems, don’t they?) didn't work, nor did my fingernail or knife blade, I was ready to trade in my car. But then, miraculously, my fingernail fixed it while waiting for a red light to change. That fingernail saved me about $10,000, as I now figure that this car will be good for another couple of years.

                                                *     *    *     *     *

            “The chain came off of my chain saw. Do you know how to fix it?”

            “Sure, no problem.”

            “Hey – thanks!”

Tuesday, July 16, 2019

Your Favorite Books


            Good responses to my recent post on favorite books. Here’s what you said:

Angie George:
I have a long list of books. I have read most of these authors' books.
·     Dalva  by Jim Harrison
·     The Shipping News  by E Annie Proulx
·     Alias Grace  by Margaret Atwood
·     Bel Canto  by Ann Patchett
·     A Prayer for Owen Meany  by John Irving
·     Empire Falls  by Richard Russo
·     The Beet Queen  by Louise Erdrich
·     Musicophilia  by Oliver Sacks
·     My Life on the Road  by Gloria Steinem
·     Dinner at the Homesick Restaurant  by Anne Tyler
·     Beloved  by Toni Morrison
·     The Daughter of Fortune  by Isabel Allende
·     One Hundred Years of Solitude  by Gabriel Garcia Marquez


Fleda Brown:
Thanks for putting me on your list! I just read a wonderful novel by Rebecca Makai you might like, The Great Believers. It's a finalist for the National Book Award. She and I taught at Interlochen this spring.


Doug Reilly:
This is a different type of list. If I were shipwrecked on a desert isle and allowed to have 5 books, I'd take the following:
·     Zen Flesh Zen Bones
·     The Tao te Ching
·     The Prophet
·     The Rubaiyat of Omar Khayyám
·     The Castle, Franz Kafka

The last can vary; the first 4 are fixed. I give this set to children of friends when they graduate from high school. Originally, I gave the set to a number of special friends. I often reread these books to remind me of wisdom therein.

Doug, your list differs from mine because yours includes books worth re-reading (assuming a long stay on the desert island). I might also want a book on obtaining food and water on a desert island . . ..)

Charmaine Stangl:
If I ever read a totally irresistible blog, it's this one.  This will be off the top of my head and also with some help from my little book of favorite quotes and recently read books.  Apologies for no italics or underlining -- I don't want to take the time.  Classics: East of Eden (almost finished re-reading after 30 years) and it's even greater than I remembered.  John Steinbeck has better insight into the human psyche than anyone since Shakespeare.  Huckleberry Finn (I always wanted to BE Huck), Jane EyreMadame Bovary, and Moby Dick (read when I was 17 and somehow identified with Ahab).  Sci-Fi -- Fahrenheit 451,  Modern Fiction:  Beloved (Toni Morrison) -- after 30 years or so there are scenes that are vividly etched in my brain, The Corrections (Jonathan Franzen), The Elegance of the Hedgehog-- absolutely unique among the many books I've loved -- and absolutely brilliant, A Reliable Wife (Robert Goolrick), All the Light We Cannot See (Anthony Doerr), The Goldfinch (Donna Tartt)  along w/ her first book, The Secret History, 2 books by Anthony Marra (magnificent!) : A Constellation of Vital PhenomenaThe Tsar of Love and Techno-- these are two of my favorites of my lifetime, The Book Thief  (Marcus Zusak) -- even if you think you know everything about the Holocaust this will blow you away.  Last category, "Precocious high school": Lady Chatterley's Lover and anything by Henry Miller -- the more forbidden, the more sought after.  Oops, I left one category out -- humor: anything by Augusten (sp?) Burroughs, especially Running With Scissors.  I also love David Sedaris.   What a great pleasure to escape into a good book!


Jeff Belth
Nice list of books!
But it seemed a bit short on non-fiction, so here are a few of my non-fiction favorites (although a few of these have some fictional elements) and "travel":
·     Arsenyev, Vladimir K. Across the Ussuri Kray  (or, the earlier edited/compilation version from the 1930s, Dersu, The Trapper, basis for the wonderful Kurosawa film Dersu Uzala, which I assume you have seen?)
·     Archie Carr, The Windward Road: Adventures of a Naturalist on Remote Caribbean Shores  (one of the absolute best!)
·     Isak Dinesen, Out of Africa  (soooo much better than the movie)
·     Howard Ensign Evans, Life on a Little-Known Planet  (my favorite general introduction to insects)
·     Aldo Leopold, A Sand County Almanac  (and Round River, a later compilation of additional essays)
·     Peter Matthiessen, Wildlife in America
·     Peter Matthiessen, The Tree Where Man was Born
·     Peter Matthiessen, The Snow Leopard
·     Harry Middleton, The Earth is Enough: Growing Up in a World of Trout and Old Men
·     Robert Michael Pyle, Wintergreen: Rambles in a Ravaged Land
·     Wilfred Thesiger, Arabian Sands
·     Bertram Thomas, Arabia Felix: Across the "Empty Quarter" of Arabia
·     Henry D. Thoreau, Walden (of course! and the Journal was one of the most moving experiences of my reading life) 
·     John Lloyd Stephens, Incidents of Travel in Central America, Chiapas, and Yucatan (and the sequel, Incidents of Travel in Yucatan)
A few fiction favorites:
·     Jean Giono, Joy of Man's Desiring
·     Peter Matthiessen, Shadow Country (my favorite of "recent times" until The Overstory  came along...although not as "uplifting" as TO, but oh, the language...! I just love anything, fiction or non-fiction by Matthiessen. His other fiction is wonderful too--At Play in the Fields of Lord, Far Tortuga, etc.)
·     Herman Melville, Moby Dick  (probably my favorite "classic." Just drove back from a family reunion in Massachusetts. On the way home we stopped by Melville's farm Arrowhead and stood in the room where he wrote MD, pretty amazing!
·     Alan Paton, Cry the Beloved Country
·     Jane Smiley, The Greenlanders
and one short story...
B. Traven, "Assembly Line" (from his short story collection, The Night Visitor)

And finally, for us artists: Walter Linsenmaier, Insects of the World. A "reference" book, not necessarily a "reading" book, (for that, see Evans above), but I consider it the greatest illustrated insect book of the 20th century (or maybe that should be expanded to greatest illustrated natural history book of the 20th century). Simply a classic. Some of the images have been engraved into my mind since I first discovered it when I was about 10 years old.

I guess mine is a bit short on women too. Okay, here is another one....Sigrid Undset, Kristin Lavransdatter yes, Iceland, Vikings, etc., is another one of my side-interests). Speaking of Iceland, Halldor Laxness is worthwhile: Independent People  and Iceland's Bell  are the two I've read.

PS--I never did get around to responding to the TV series query, but two that we've enjoyed are Leverage  and White Collar. Another one is Longmire. I think our all-time favorite though (mine at least) is Lovejoy Mysteries  (a British series with Ian McShane). I don't think it is streamed anywhere though. 

Rex Rowan
I didn't create any categories. If I had, they'd probably be off-puttingly narrow ones like Best Birding Book and Best Novel About The Food Chain.

CLASSICS
·     Great Expectations - Charles Dickens
·     The Red and the Black - Stendhal
·     Jane Eyre  - Charlotte Bronte. My ideal for narrative prose, or perhaps prose of any sort.
MORE CONTEMPORARY
Pigeon Feathers - John Updike. It was his second short-story collection, and I also admired his first collection, The Same Door. He made his fortune as a novelist, but I think his best work was in his short stories, which better fit his lyrical sensibility, and in his book reviews and essays, which showcase his intelligence and his enormously wide reading.

The Time-Traveler's Wife - Audrey Niffenegger. It's like a seizure, coming on him unexpectedly. But instead of collapsing into unconsciousness, he finds himself in another time. He meets his own wife - several times - when she is young and he is older, so that when they meet in the normal timeline she has known him for years and he has no idea why this complete stranger is so ecstatic to see him. He meets his daughter several years after his own death. A brilliant novel, my favorite of the 21st century so far.

The Harry Potter series - J.K. Rowling. The first two (of the seven) were children's books. But beginning with the third they started getting longer, more adult, more dramatic, and more gripping. My wife and kids and I went to midnight book-release parties at Borders and stood in line to buy the latest novel, got home after 1 a.m., read the first chapter aloud, went to bed, and got up the next morning to start again, spending the entire weekend doing nothing but reading it aloud all the way through. We loved every minute of it, and I would definitely consider the Harry Potter series one of the great reading experiences of my life. As novelist and critic A.N. Wilson wrote when the seventh and last novel was published, "We have lived through a decade in which we have followed the publication of the liveliest, funniest, scariest and most moving children's stories ever written." P.S. Stay away from the movies. Apart from providing gainful employment for some first-class English actors, they're worthless (though the third, directed by Alfonso Cuaron, is a flawed exception).

My Family and Other Animals - Gerald Durrell. In the mid-1930s the Durrell family, a widowed mother and four children, moved from their native England to the Greek island of Corfu. Ten-year-old Gerald found the island a paradise, populated by friendly and eccentric Greeks and swarming with wildlife. Twenty years later he wrote about his youth with nostalgia, a professional naturalist's eye, and a hilarious sense of humor. He was the younger brother of the great novelist Lawrence Durrell, and he clearly got a good share of that literary gene, because he's a terrific writer.

I could go on (and on and on), but I'll spare you.

Tom Albani
A great catalogue.  Let me add:

Relatively current books  (many of which read like novels) about historical figures. For example when I began the last 100 pages of Grant  I remarked to my wife: This is sad; I’m going to miss old Grant.

  • Grant by Ron Chernow
  • Churchill, Walking With Destiny  by Andrew Roberts
  • Without Precedent, Chief Justice John Marshall  by Joel Richard Paul
  • Leonardo Da Vinci  by Walter Isaacson

Current books about current issues:

  • Hillbilly Elegy  by J. D. Vance
  • Bad Blood, Secrets and Lies in a Silicon Valley Startup  by John Carreyrou
  • The Soul of America, The Battle for Our Better Angels  by John Meacham
  • The Billion Dollar Spy  by David E Hoffman
  • Red Notice by Bill Browder

I’m struck by the fact that there is no fiction in my favorite current reading.  Perhaps my reading choices are influenced by a rush to understand the past before it is expurgated from bookstores, libraries, universities, etc. by the overwhelming wave of political correctness, trigger warnings, safe places and the other forms of wokeness determining the morality of historical actions through the application of current mores. 

Well, off to celebrate America’s Birthday wearing my new Nike Betsy Ross flag sneakers and listening to Kate Smith’s God Bless America.  Happy Fourth of July.

Steve Smith:

FAVORITE “CLASSIC” NOVELS
·     Tale of Two Cities            
·     Last of the Mohicans 
         
GUILTY PLEASURE
·      Certain Women  by Erskine Caldwell(read when I was 13…and should not have)

WHEN I WAS IN MY TWENTIES
            Seems like I just read college assignments and then the law.

WHEN I WAS A KID
·     All the Black Stallion books (Blood Bay Colt, Son of the Black Stallion, etc. by Walter Farley 
·     The Hardy Boys by F.W. Dixon and a committee who actually did the writing
·     Augusta Stephenson biographies  (John Wannamaker, Ben Franklin, Clara Barton, etc.)
BOOKS RECOMMENDED BY MY SONS
I have no sons, but my daughter has written 11 novels, a trilogy published by Random House and 5 other YA novels, which I have read; and 3 romance novels that I am not allowed to read.

BOOKS I RECENTLY READ AND LOVED
·     All of Nelson DeMille’sbooks
·     Most of John Sanford’s “Prey” books

Precocious High School Reading
            See above.

Author in Whose Book I Don’t Want to be a Character
            John Updike - He would see right through me. I tried his stuff but didn't like it.

BOOKS YOU PROBABLY NEVER HEARD OF
            I’ve never heard of many books.

I LOVE AMERICAN HISTORY
·     Washington, Hamilton and Grant by Chernow
·     John Adams by McCullough
·     James Madison  by forget who…
·     Scandal by ? about the Jefferson – Adams campaign
·     Team of Rivals by? about Lincoln’s cabinet
·     Treason  by? about Burr trying to start up a new country in the southwest            
·      Blood and Thunder  by ? about Kit Carson and the opening of the southwest (FANTASTIC)
·      Two books about Gettysburg (can’t remember – think one was calledGods and
Generals, 
orDevils and Demons) There was a movie based on this book.  I think the movie was titled “Gettysburg” of all things.
HUMOR
·     Anything by David Sedaris
·     Anything by Bill Bryson
·      Anything by Dave Barry

That’s all I got tonight


Gil Schmerler

Feel free not to use my thoughts in any follow-up blogs you might or might not write about books, but I was inspired to write by my reading-of-the-moment: Philip Roth's The Plot Against America.

I've always disproportionately enjoyed Roth, beginning with Portnoy's Complaint  and then his earlier novels and short stories, but ending after his fifth or sixth novel. Maybe because of the current political climate or because of his death - but more likely out of boredom - I picked up The Plot Against America. I'm about two-thirds through and enjoying it immensely and admiring it, and its author, extraordinarily.

I also was struck by your Books By People I Know category: My favorite is a recent one by my old roommate, Paul Levy '65: Finding Phil: Lost in War and Silence. (It's the brilliant account of his search - remarkably successful! - to track down the moment of the death of his uncle in World War II. In fact, I failed in my attempt to get the Amherst Alumni News to run the story of two 50-years-ago roommates unknowingly publishing within two years their books about dead relatives.)

In the category of Books by Professors Some of Us Had (not me) is English Papers: A Teaching Life  by William H. Pritchard. I loved it, as an Amherst English major, an English teacher, and a college instructor. If you haven't read it, Dave, you should.

In the category of Baseball Fiction That's Not Famous, I'd highly recommend David Carkeet's The Greatest Slump of All Time.

In the less exotic category of Recent Fiction I Enjoyed a Lot and From Which I Learned a Lot is Munich, by Robert Harris.

I won't bore you with the many other books I've admired through the years, particularly those years when I used to read a fair amount. This is enough for now.

Bill Lavery

The book I had to mention is by Carl Rovelli, entitled Reality Is Not What It Seems: The Journey to Quantum Gravity.  He just wraps his arms around the mystery and gaps in knowledge that is delightful.


My pleasures in reading the suggestions that folks sent in:
·     contemplating all the good reading in my future (just bought The Time-Traveler’s Wife - thanks, Rex)
·     remembering how much I enjoyed reading many of the works you named, even though I left them off my list
·     hearing your joyful, bookish tones of voice.