Doing my epidemiologic duty

Before I post anymore on books, yarn, my cats, or anything even remotely fun I’m gonna have to do a little PSA about swine flu aka H1N1 flu.

1. The number of cases reported with this strain is a drop in the bucket compared to the number of flu cases reported every year with seasonal flu. If this were truly a killer flu nearly every person who has contracted the swine flu in the US would be dead right now rather than 1 out of about 250 (and that kid brought it with him from Mexico). Also, Mexico is still undergoing it’s regular flu season right now – they’re probably seeing plenty of seasonal flu strains, too.
2. The precautions being advised to prevent infection with swine flu – handwashing, cover your cough, using kleenexes insetad of hankies, staying away from sick people, etc. – are the EXACT SAME as the precautions you should be taking to avoid getting sick at all. The same – you can prevent catching the common cold this way. Amazing.
3. If you actually have symptoms of influenza (high fever, cough, sore throat, body aches, rhinorrea, etc) you need to stay home. If you have to go to the doctor, call ahead and tell them your symptoms so they know you’re coming. This is important regardless of whether you have swine flu or seasonal influenza because, guess what, the symptoms are EXACTLY THE SAME. Do not go shopping, to the movies, the theatre, bars, etc. Stay home (if you haven’t been to Mexico/have close contact with someone who was in Mexico and is now ill then you probably don’t have swine flu you have either a cold or seasonal flu).
4. Do not listen to anyone who says the 1918 flu pandemic killed hundreds of thousands. That’s a known fact but completely unrelated in this case. Times change and we change with them. Medical epidemiology and medical care has advanced light-years since 1918 and we have a far better understanding of how the influenza virus works and far better supportive care.
5. You cannot (repeat: CANNOT) get swine flu from eating pork or pork products. This is why the leaders of the state of Iowa have started calling this thing H1N1 flu instead of swine flu; too many people with absolutely no idea how influenza viruses spread have been shooting off their mouths and now have incited panic among the world’s pork importers/exporters (I even read a report that someone in Egypt is going to start culling hogs). Get real people. There are plenty of parasites, etc., that you can get from eating undercooked pork. So if you want to freak out about pork, freak out about worms and then cook your pork thoroughly.
6. Calm the frick down, people. Use your head for what the good Lord made it – rational thought. Wash your hands, don’t put your fingers in your mouth/touch your face, and go about your business.

End of lecture. Visit www.cdc.gov if you’re really having a panic.

stuff I read

The Amazing Adventures of Dietgirl

Instead of reading things I already own (and have started) I picked up a copy of Shauna Reid’s The Amazing Adventures of Dietgirl yesterday.

And read the whole thing in one sitting, all 400 pages of it. There’s a lot of white space.

My “official” review is on the BN site. It’s a good book – well-written, uplifting, inspiring. The addendum here is to confess my gloating when I started the book (thank God I’m not even remotely as fat as that) and serious jealously when I finished (bugger, she managed to get to her goal weight and find a nice guy who liked her before she got there) followed by wallowing in self-loathing for about half an hour about those dratted 40-50 pounds that seem to follow me around constantly.

Melissa needs to stop being a whiny bitch.

BNBC · stuff I read

Gearing up for Wives and Daughters

Oyez, oyez, the Literature by Women group at BNBC will be starting its discussion of Gaskell’s Wives and Daughters on Monday April 27. This is a week ahead of the rest of the BNBC groups, due to my miscalculation, but it gives us an extra week because we’ll finish on time with them at the end of May (and since this is a slightly longer book than normal for a one month pick we’ll need it).

Be there or be square.


"Smaller" doesn’t mean "easier"

Customer: Do you have the Wicked book?
Me: Are you looking for the novel or the Grimmorie?
Customer: The novel?
Me: That’ll be over in Fiction.
(make to take the customer over there and wait while Customer collects a pre-teen from the kids’ section; I handed the customer a copy of the original trade edition)
Customer: This isn’t a children’s book?
Me: No, Gregory Maguire has a few childrens’ books – Leaping Beauty, What-the-Dickens – but the Wicked Years series are all adult novels.
Customer: So what is the reading level?
Me: Well …
(how do you say this nicely)
… since it’s an adult novel it’s written at least at the high school level.
Customer: Oh…she (nods at pre-teen) only reads at the 7th grade level…do you think this would be appropriate?
Me: Um, I think that’s your decision since this is a book intended for an adult reader.
Customer: I guess we’ll pass on this one, then. It looks too hard.
(about five minutes later the customer passes me and holds up a copy of the mass-market Broadway tie-in)
Customer: We decided to take this one. It’s smaller.
(I smiled and pointed her toward the register)

Dude. Just because the actual size of the book is smaller doesn’t make it any easier. It’s the same in the trade as in the mass market.

But whatever floats your boat.

BNBC · stuff I read

The Physick Book of Deliverance Dane

I received a copy of The Physick Book of Deliverance Dane as part of the First Look Book Club program at Barnes and Noble Book Clubs online (I’m a reader-moderator for the “Literature by Women” group, too). The book is due for release on June 9 and I am terribly pleased with myself because I actually managed to finish a First Look book. I gave up on the last three because I just wanted to throw the copies against the wall in boredom/frustration.

Now, this is a first novel so I was trying to cut the author some slack and not expect quite so much out of it (high expectations may have been a problem with the last several offerings). As such, Deliverance Dane is a nice book, good to read for the summertime, light, with a little bit of mystery, romance (not the sappy or erotic kind), and magic. Connie Goodwin is a good leading lady, smart, determined, and disciplined with the requisite goofy parent (or so Connie thinks). The novel follows Connie’s progress through the summer of 1991 while she prepares her dissertation topic and simultaneously tries to clean up and sell her grandmother’s old house. The two plot lines inevitably intertwine leading to the denouement of the novel.

It is quite hard to talk about the inner workings of Deliverance Dane without spoiling too much of the story. In my opinion, this is because the author has done too much foreshadowing early in the book and I’m not exactly sure where I should draw the line on spoilers. Suffice to say that I had the endgame of the book figured out quite early and, while the descriptive part of the narrative was very nice, I was bored by the last fifty pages (I did finish). I was probably helped along in my deciphering by a good working knowledge of alchemy – I am the NDC for Alpha Chi Sigma Professional Chemistry Fraternity – history, Latin, and witchcraft; at times I felt a little ahead of Connie which made her look like she ought not to deserve her doctoral candidacy in history at Harvard University.

Overall, Deliverance Dane is quite nice to read. Good for a hammock and some lemonade if you have any handy.

stuff I read

The Wars of the Roses

I finished The War of the Roses in what seems to have become a minor obsession with Alison Weir’s histories and biographies. I decided that it would be better to read myself into the fifteenth century rather than jump straight into The Princes in the Tower. This is a book with a much different feel than the three previous Weirs I read; those all had a single subject, more or less, which gave a very intimate feel whereas The War of the Roses covers a period stretching from the deposition of Richard II to the final Yorkist victory of the War (about 100 years) and is more expansive in scope. There are more people to keep track of, too, what with fathers and sons sharing the same name and title (and you have to remember which title goes with which family). Weir includes a series of family trees in the back so if you get a little lost you can always double-check (I wish these weren’t hand drawn, though; since this was a reprint edition the publisher could have had the genealogies re-formatted).

The book does center around the reigns of Henry VI and Edward IV so the most well-described figures surround those two monarchs. Henry comes off as a rather sympathetic character, a man more suited for the church than statesmanship, inheriting the crown by the age of one and raised by a pack of self-aggrandizing magnates who, rather than bringing the York contingent into the court circle, alienated them and set the stage for events to come. Margaret of Anjou, Henry’s wife, is not an endearing person, is politically a disaster, and comes off quite mean-tempered and vengeful; I didn’t get the feeling there was much to rehabilitate historically in Margaret, as opposed to Isabella, Eleanor, and Katherine, so perhaps Weir didn’t bother. It is also a rather chilling book when you think back on all the deaths Weir had to record in the pages, from state-ordered executions and mob lynchings to brutal medieval battles; so many people.

On to The Princes in the Tower.


No Nobel for words? I don’t think so….

I hadn’t read the Post this week so I was pointed in the direction of this article by the Elegant Variation blog by Mark Sarvas. Thanks!

Marie Arana, whose opinion I generally respect, wrote an op-ed piece calling for the elimination of the Nobel Prize for Literature. Oh, really?

Arana’s main argument is that the “Nobel has shown a breathtaking proclivity for exalting minor literary talent. From first to last the choices have shown a lack of critical judgment and a surfeit of political zeal.” She notes that the committee skipped over Tolstoy, Proust, Kafka, Borges, Conrad, Greene, and Nabokov and choose middling authors in-line with the committee’s left-wing politics. Arana only notes two “native-born” leftist Americans who “wrested the laurels away” and won the prize: Steinbeck and Pearl S. Buck. She concludes by stating that she believes only 15 of the 105 winners deserved the prize.

Oh please. Only 15? At least half of the list is deserving of the award and some of the others I’ve never read so I can’t make a judgement call regarding appropriateness of the award. I don’t read French beyond tourist French so I only recently acquired a copy of a Le Clezio in English; similarly, a number of the initial Laureates were Swedish and long out of print so I can’t make the call on those. I think some of this sentiment comes from the fact that non-English authors (and even non-American authors in the case of some Brits) have a hard time getting published, even translated, in the US. I can’t speak for other countries and languages as to whether they consider some of their Laureates to be of “minor” talent.

And as to those lonely “native-born” leftist Americans? Did you forget about Toni Morrison (1993)? I don’t think she’s terribly right-wing. Sinclair Lewis (1930)? Eugene O’Neill (1936)? We also have Faulkner and Hemingway and claim Saul Bellow, Isaac Bashevis Singer, and Czeslaw Milosz in part. None of them strikes me as terribly conservative. TS Eliot was born in the US and he’s got an anti-Semitic streak (it’s large or small, depending on the critic you read).

Yes, there are major authors who were very deserving of the award and skipped over (i.e. Edith Wharton, and that is a crying shame) but when you only award one award per year to an author that is living and expected to still write you’re going to miss a few and there were a number of years where the prize was never awarded so we’re short about seven Laureates. Arana also calls out missed novelists and seems to forget that the Nobel Prize for Literature goes beyond novelists to include poets and playwrights (she also called Steinbeck “merely average” which is a low blow; he might not be my favorite but he certainly is good). Pinter and Pirandello are both excellent playwrights and Heany and Walcott are both wonderful poets. I’d also like to add that you have to be nominated for the prize and that the nominees are kept secret for fifty years. This page at the Nobel website explains the process to a degree.

We also have to remember that the committee is making a judgement call on taste and ability. Absolutely no two humans on Earth will have the exact same opinions on taste or ability of another human. As my dad says, unless you’re running against the clock (which is impartial) the judge will always be a partial observer.

In short, I think she’s out of line and she sounds bitter. She must have had money on Updike to win the last one in 2008. As for myself, I’d rather try and read most of the Laureates’ works before I pass judgement on all 105 of them (and that’s going to take some time).

stuff I read

The Beach Street Knitting Society and Yarn Club

I tend to be a bit guarded when referred titles that come from the new sub-genre of chick lit/knitting fiction; a number have the feeling that the plot has been recycled just so someone could add a main character who knits/learns to knit and then knitting/yarn/yarn shop/SnB saves the day. Hurrah. The Beach Street Knitting Society and Yarn Club (aka TBSKSAYC) gives the genre a whole new look. First off, Jo is written as a very confident woman and knitter who is able to turn a tragedy into a workable real-life solution; she comes across as someone you might want to know in real life, so kudos to Gil McNeil. The supporting characters are also wonderfully rendered, particularly Jo’s two boys, who reminded me very much of my brothers when they were kindergarten-age, and Jo’s wacky BBC-broadcaster/best friend Ellen. Secondly, I am very grateful to the publishers for not “translating” the Britishisms into Americanisms for the US publication; much of what gives the book it’s “real” feeling is the language and the entire story would have deflated if the sense of place was lost. Even though the plot of TBSKSAYC does revolve somewhat around Jo’s life as the new owner of a yarn shop, no previous knitting experience is required to enjoy the book; what makes the story sparkle are Jo’s descriptions of her life, either dealing with the moving company, trying to get two rambunctious boys to eat all their veg, or dealing with the paparazzi when a glamorous movie star patronizes the shop (sometimes all three at once). TBSKSAYC is a perfect read for summer vacation, whether just lying about on a beach somewhere or just wishing that you were. Jo’s story is endearing and you’ll find yourself rooting for her when she goes toe-to-toe with PTA mom Annabel Morgan or Jo’s snooty in-laws.
Thanks very much to Hyperion for sending me a review copy. I enjoyed the book.