From Left to Write: A Literary Medicine Cabinet

It’s been so long since I touched this blog…literally, six months…but this month’s From Left to Write book club pick brought me crawling back. I just couldn’t stay away, which is nothing short of a miracle considering I barely had time to read with everything going on in my personal life.

But here I am, and this book, frankly, literally couldn’t have come at a more crucial moment for me. I found this quote from the Washington Post that basically sums up the power of novels:

Some novels are loving, lifelong companions; some give you a clip around the ear; others are friends who wrap you in warm towels when you’ve got those autumn blues. And some…well, some are pink candy floss that tingles in your brain for three seconds and leaves a blissful void.

It makes me think about the hundreds of books that fill my bookcases: some have been with me since childhood (Louisa May Alcott and Christopher Pike, I’m looking at you!); some have shocked me to my core (the most recent of which being Marieke Nijkamp’s This Is Where It Ends, which I may or may not be dying to write about but can’t because the book isn’t available to the public until January); some just make me ridiculously happy (and one in particular, Adriana Trigiani’s latest, All the Stars in the Heavens, which I don’t even have yet — it’ll be here next week — but which already has a long-reserved spot on my shelf!); and some, as Monsieur Perdu described it, give me that temporary cotton-candy sugar high and then fall off the edge of my memory (which, to preserve a sense of decorum around here, shall not be named). But every book I own, regardless of the color of its cover or how fluffy or rock-solid its contents may be, serves a purpose to me. Certain books raise interesting, sometimes controversial questions, while others simply put a smile on my face. Some make me want to scale a volcano just so I can be rid of them, while others tie themselves so strongly and thoroughly to my heart that it might actually cause me physical harm to let them go. I want to force people to read some titles, while I’m embarrassed to admit that I’ve read others (like I’m fairly certain that there’s a special place in hell with my name on it just for reading the garbage prose that is Fifty Shades of Grey). I like to think of my books as medicine. They’re my cup of comfort, my apple a day — though being able to read a book a day is nothing more than a pipe dream! — and I like to keep my bookcases, my personal literary medicine cabinet, stocked at all times. A book really can cure just about any ill if the reader lets it.

Disclosure: This post was inspired by the novel The Little Paris Bookshop by Nina George, where Monsieur Perdu–a literary apothecary–finally searches for the woman who left him many years ago. Join From Left to Write on October 8th as we discuss The Little Paris Bookshop. As a member, I received a copy of the book for review purposes.

Top Ten Tuesday: Back in the Day

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It’s been a very long time since I last participated in the Top Ten Tuesday list, a meme started by The Broke and the Bookish. My last post for it spoke to ten books I’d like to reread.

This week’s Top Ten Tuesday is asking all of us to name books from our pasts that we’d like to revisit! So here we go —

The Top 10 Books From My Childhood and Teen Years That I’d Like to Pick Up Again!

The Baby-Sitters Club, by Ann M. Martin – Because what preteen girl in the 90s wasn’t reading these books?! They’re clean (no sex, drugs, or anything else that today’s YA is saturated with), relatable, and totally retro. I can’t speak from experience as I only have a son, but I imagine these books would be really fun to pass down to a daughter!

The Sweet Valley Saga, by Francine Pascal – These two books make up some of the first historical fiction I ever read. The fact that I was already so familiar with Elizabeth and Jessica Wakefield through the Sweet Valley Twins and Sweet Valley High books made me want to know more about their family and where they came from. Anyone with an interest in fictional genealogy should seriously read these two — I still have my original copies on my bookshelf today! (Though I do need to pick up copies of The Fowlers of Sweet Valley and The Patmans of Sweet Valley. Oh, Hubs….)

The Silver Blades series, by Melissa Lowell – This little series was published back in the mid-90s when figure skating was at the height of its popularity, and the Tonya Harding-Nancy Kerrigan scandal was rocking the sports world. Though it was too late for me to start training to become the next Kristi Yamaguchi by then, I could still imagine living the Olympic dream through Nikki, Danielle, Tori, and Jill, the four young protagonists of these books.

Siddhartha, by Hermann Hesse – I crossed paths with Siddhartha not by personal choice, but through a class assignment in eighth grade. I remember thinking that I’d be really bored by the book when I started reading, but it affected me profoundly and I was sad to let it go when I finished with it. It’d be interesting to see if it could still affect me as deeply twenty years later!

The Immortal, by Christopher Pike – Even in middle school, I was always a fan of ancient mythology. In seventh grade, when my classmates and I were required to study French, Spanish, and Latin for a marking period each, I found myself excelling at and really interested in Latin. One of my favorite assignments involved translating a Greek myth into English, so naturally I was thrilled to read a new, kind of scary take on gods and goddesses when The Immortal was published that summer. Ancient history though it may be, I still have my copy of this book on my shelf as well!

Scary Stories to Tell in the Dark, by Alvin Schwartz – I’ve never been a fan of horror movies and the covers on these books have always creeped me out, but reading Scary Stories was a rite of passage when I was growing up. Though not everyone enjoyed them, everyone read them; this trilogy is one of the few “horror” series I’ve actually had fun reading. It might be fun to reexamine them, especially once Joshua is old enough to read them.

And Then There Were None, by Agatha Christie – My first real mystery! And Then There Were None will always hold a place dear to my heart, and to my bookshelf. This book was the gateway to my love affair with mysteries, particularly with Mary Higgins Clark. It may be a very old book, but it remains among my favorites…and I think it’d be really fun to go back and reread it all these years later.

Sarah, Plain and Tall, by Patricia MacLachlan – Another book I read for school, and more historical fiction. The element of the novel that really stuck out for me when I first read it, and remains with me all these years later, is that of Sarah’s colored pencils, which she brings home from a visit to town to draw pictures of her former home for her new children. I hope Joshua gets to read this book when he’s in school; even if it’s not assigned, I’ll give him a copy anyway.

My Brother Sam is Dead, by James Lincoln Collier and Christopher Collier – Even more historical fiction! And this time it fed my interest in the American Revolution, which makes it even more important in my mind. My Brother Sam is Dead is a classic, and I see copies of it in the gift shop every time Hubs and I visit Historic Williamsburg in Virginia. Not only is it a great story of family and life during war, but it’s also a great teaching tool. Another book I have on my shelf that’ll be making its way into Joshua’s hands when he’s old enough!

Interview with the Vampire, by Anne Rice – This book is by no means a children’s or YA book, but it found its way into my hands at the tender age of 13, so it works for this particular list. This is the book that hands-down forever changed the way I read, and it’s why I saved it for last — not to mention that every other book on this list crossed my path before Interview did. This was the book that introduced me to the world of full-grown literature; I discovered just how descriptive a book could be, and how important it is for characters to really drive a plot. I developed a deep appreciation for vampire literature and for Anne Rice after reading this book, and it will forever be among my favorites. That being said, it’s been a long time since my last reading…so maybe I’ll make a point of picking it up again sometime soon.

So, have I listed anything that made you think, “OMG I LOVED THAT BOOK!!” or “Eww, what the hell was she thinking putting that on the list?!” Share your thoughts and what titles you’d add in the comments!

From Left to Write: No Staterooms for Me

I think the title of this post, for me, says it all:

Never in a million years would you catch me on board a cruise ship.

I don’t care if it’s docked or if it’s sailing at 20 knots across the middle of the ocean — I won’t go near one. I’m not sure that I’d just shrug it off as a completely irrational fear, either. At the risk of sounding alarmist, ocean liners haven’t proven their value to me. Between ships running aground (like the Costa Concordia), and outbreaks of illnesses among its passengers (such as the Royal Caribbean line’s Explorer of the Seas), fires (like the one that forced another Royal Caribbean ship to dock early), and outright sinkings (she didn’t let go, Jack!), it’s just not a risk I’m willing to take, even if it means missing out on sailing the open seas with Mickey Mouse on the Disney Cruise Line. At least we can make it up to Joshua by taking him to Disney World.

Dead Wake, fascinating as it was, merely solidified my beliefs. During World War I, when the events surrounding the Lusitania‘s sinking took place, submarines torpedoed ships that they thought might be carrying munitions, or for waving the flag of an enemy nation. Now, I don’t know much about cruise ships (nor do I particularly care to), but I get the feeling that Royal Caribbean and Norwegian Cruise Line ships aren’t carrying munitions — but anyone who watches the news knows that there are lots of people who don’t like our country right now and could attack a cruise ship full of helpless passengers to send a message. Add to all of that the fact that I’m just not a big water person, and it affirms that I’ll never set foot on a cruise ship. I’ve been on fishing boats and ferries and, though I don’t feel seasick, I don’t like it; if I can’t handle being on a boat for a short period of time, there’s no way I could willingly put myself on one for a week.

I’ll keep my feet firmly on the ground and let all of you have all the fun.

Does anyone share this fear (paranoia?) with me, or am I completely alone on this one? Share your thoughts in the comments!

This post was inspired by Dead Wake: The Last Crossing of the Lusitania by Erik Larson, a thrilling account of Lusitania’s last voyage across the Atlantic Ocean and the U-boat that attacked it. Join From Left to Write on March 26th as we discuss Dead Wake. As a member, I received a copy of the book for review purposes.

My Greatest Loss

You may have noticed that, prior to yesterday’s From Left to Write book club post, I haven’t published a word here since January 21. I promise there’s a good reason for that: On January 22, I discovered that I was pregnant! And almost immediately, the extreme nausea set in and I lost all desire to do anything. When you’re a stay-at-home parent who also babysits your nephew, stuck in bed is not a good place to be. My doctor scheduled an ultrasound for February 10, at which time we learned that little Bean was 7 weeks 3 days old, and that we could look forward to March 21 as the day that we’d announce our happy news to the world. We may or may not have gotten a little too excited about creating a new, small registry and starting to check Joshua’s baby gear to ensure it was ready for a new baby.

On March 3, we returned to the doctor for a routine ultrasound. As soon as the ultrasound camera focused on Bean, Hubs and I looked at each other and immediately knew something was horribly wrong. Where just a few weeks ago we saw a rapidly-beating heart and the beginnings of a healthy fetus, on this day we saw a lifeless figure floating around in its gestational sac.

Baby Bean’s little heart gave out at 8 weeks 6 days, on February 20 — just 10 days after we laid eyes upon them for the very first time.

Naturally, I kind of fell apart. There was not a book in the world that could take my mind off the questions kicking up a constant tornado in my brain, and I fell into the worst slump I’d ever experienced. All I thought I knew at that point was that it was all my fault, that I was guilty, that I had somehow unknowingly killed my baby. What had I done wrong? Did the nausea medication, which caused no problems for Joshua during that pregnancy, harm my Bean? Was it something I ate? Was I under too much stress? Was it because I sometimes woke up from a deep sleep to find myself lying facedown in bed? Was it my fault?

While I wrestled with that, I also had to make a decision: Would I rather choose to wait and attempt to complete the miscarriage at home, or would immediately signing up for a D&C (Dilation and Curettage, in which the patient is put to sleep in a hospital and the fetus is removed while their mother is under anesthesia) be a better option? I made the decision to wait it out for several reasons, among them a strong desire to avoid the hospital and general anesthesia (I’ve never been under before) and the fear of being completely unaware when Bean and I were truly and officially separated.

If I’d known on March 3 what I learned last Thursday, March 12, I may have jumped on the D&C. I started experiencing mild cramps that I later realized were contractions, and at one point I thought the baby had come out of me. I even went so far as to write a post on Facebook early on Thursday afternoon, letting my family and friends know that it was all over and that Bean was gone.

It wasn’t over…not by a long shot.

Right around 6pm, I started having contractions again, but this time the discomfort quickly escalated to an intense level of pain I’d never felt before. If you’d asked me to give you a rating between 1 and 10, I’d probably have screamed, “13!” and then punched you in the face. After a half hour of building pain, I started to feel as though I was having one extremely painful, ongoing contraction — one that made me so uncomfortable that I couldn’t stop moving. I had to walk, to rock, to shake uncontrollably; to stop moving just made the pain even worse. I came to the terrifying realization that I was in full-blown labor and that the pair of Advil I’d taken would do nothing to take the edge off of the pain. After several hours of begging God to please end this torture, I forced myself to lie down on my side, close my eyes, and count each inhale and exhale in an attempt to control the pain. I thought the effort would be futile, but at some point I passed out with Joshua falling asleep right behind me. My husband, who’d had to work late and was unable to help me, told me the following morning that I had been grimacing in my sleep when he finally made it home.

At 2am on Friday, March 13, I woke up in the same position in which I’d fallen asleep, but the pain was gone. I knew it was time. I walked into the bathroom and closed the door.

At 2am on Friday, March 13, I officially lost Baby Bean.

It’s been a rough week since then. I continue to ask myself what I could have done differently, or if Bean would still be alive had I asked for a different nausea medication. My days and nights have been full of “if only…” and “what if?” I’ll never have answers; if the answers were available, I’m not sure that I’d want them. All I know is that my Bean suffered and died, and that when I miscarried a small piece of me died as well. Though I never had a chance to get to know my Bean, to give them a name, to decorate their nursery, to hold them when they cried, to watch them sleep…they will always be my Bean. Their birthday — my due date — would have been September 27, 2015. I will think of Bean every year on that day, to take a moment to quietly wish them a happy birthday, wherever they are and whatever they’re doing. Living or not, Bean is my child and I will love them and keep them just as I do Joshua and any children that might be in my future.

And so, with that, I’d like to share the only picture I have of my little baby Bean and then let this matter go. If you or someone you know has suffered a pregnancy or infancy loss, please know that my heart is with you. If you have any stories or thoughts you’d like to share, comments are welcome.