Wednesday, December 22, 2010

Yeas and Nays of July through December 2010

It's been another excellent six months of reading, and I only have two "nays". So, as I've done in the past, rather than giving you six yeas and six nays, I'm giving you 10 yeas and 2 nays to add up to 12.

Yeas (alphabetical by title)

American Pastoral by Philip Roth
I don't care what you say. You must read it. It very well might be The Great American Novel of the late 20th century. It's the only Roth I've ever read, and I'm afraid to read anything else by him because I can't imagine it would measure up to this. I owe you a TBR challenge blog post on it, which I hope to deliver soon.

Beowulf by Garth Hinds (well, and also by "unknown")
I was skeptical about reading one of my all-time favorites in graphic form, but Hinds won me over. His illustrations still haunt me, and I love how faithful he was to the epic.

The Bhagavad Gita ascribed to Vyasa
It took me forever to read it, but I loved it, found it fascinating, especially all the parallels between it and The Bible.

Cakes and Ale by W. Somerset Maugham
I already waxed poetic here.

Jane Eyre by Charlotte Bronte
I have to reread it every decade or so just to make sure it's still one of my all-time favorites. Rest assured: it is.

Guards! Guards! by Terry Pratchett
Nobody writes contemporary, scathing satire at its British best better than Pratchett. Oh, and he cleverly disguises it as fantasy. And, here, he gives us dragons.

The Haunted Looking Glass: Ghost Stories Chosen by Edward Gorey
I wish the ghost of Edward Gorey would come down and pay me a visit. He can bring along M.R. James if he likes.

The Likeness
by Tana French
I don't care at all if elements of her plot are completely unbelievable. The woman can flat out write, and she keeps me turning pages way past my bedtime.

Othello by William Shakespeare
(You may have guessed this might be here from my last blog post.) The Duke in James Thurber's The Thirteen Clocks notes that everyone has talents, and his is being wicked. Iago's talent puts that duke to shame. And has any female character ever been more heartbreaking than Desdemona? Tragedy just the way it should be.

Squirrel Seeks Chipmunk
by David Sedaris
He's David Sedaris. He can do not wrong. Probably a book that ought to be read once a year. I'm sure I missed a lot on the first reading; his brilliance is often hidden in the subtlety missed while laughing. You can read more thoughts I had here.

Bel Canto by Ann Pratchett
Unlike Tana French, I did care at all that elements of her plot were completely unbelievable. Readers ought to be forewarned that a book requires suspension of all disbelief. Otherwise, we might feel duped. Again, more thoughts here.

Death Rites
by Alicia Giminez Bartlett
Still hoping something got lost in translation, as I noted here.

Saturday, December 18, 2010

Bob and Emily Talk VIII

It's an extremely hot night in August (hard to believe, but maybe imagining such a night will help keep you warm in this unusually cold December we've been having). It's also somewhat late on a Sunday night. Bob and Emily have spent the evening playing board games (also hard to believe, in December, that Bob and Emily ever have time to play board games) and splitting a bottle of wine (not so hard to believe). Now, they are reading. Bob: the Sunday comics. Emily: Othello.

Emily: You know, Iago is one of the most despicable characters ever created.

Bob: Oh yes. Evil. He was a Republican, you know.

Emily (ignoring that comment): That's the brilliance of Shakespeare. He created a true sociopath before anyone even talked about sociopaths. The man had no feelings.

Bob doesn't respond. He's laughing at something in the funnies. There's silence for a while.

Bob: You know, if someone were to ask me, I'd say that, after an exhausting weekend and drinking half a bottle of wine isn't exactly the best time to be reading Shakespeare.

Emily: Well, I'm enjoying it immensely.

Nobody asked him, right? Obviously, though, this is not the time to have a deep conversation with him about Shakespeare's views on women as argued by one of the notes she read from this 1903 The Modern Reader's Shakespeare edition, a note that stated " ought to be considered a very exalted compliment to women, that all the sarcasms on them in Shakespeare are put in the mouths of villains." That will have to wait for some other Bob and Emily talk.

Thursday, December 16, 2010

Dog and Cat


Ohboy!oh boy!ohboy! You've come to listen to my story. I'm just so, so happy about that! Wait a minute. Before we get started, will you give me a belly rub? Oh, thankyou!thankyou!thankyou! You are just terrific!

Anyway, a little over a week ago, I came to live with these two people. It's been great fun so far! I have my own crate where I sleep at night. I have my own bed, where I sleep and chew things during the day. They take me outside for walks, and there's so much to sniff and see and do. It's so exciting! Really, I promise you.

There's only one problem. The house is haunted. Every so often, I encounter this strange, orange, striped beast. Oh, it's horrible! It growls at me and makes this very odd noise that sounds like it's having trouble breathing. It's a sort of a "ssssssss" sound. But I won't tell you anymore. You wouldn't want to hear it. I'm putting up a brave front for the humans, though. If they would only let me, I'm sure I could chase it away.

Oh well, that is the only bad thing about this really, really awesome place. I've gotta run now, so I can go outside and eat some sticks and acorns.


This used to be a safe haven, a place where I could sleep 18 hours a day. The only things I had to protect everyone from were dustballs, moths, and the occasional stray hair tie. But not anymore. No sleeping for me. Now, I have to remain ever vigilant, and the only way I can get any sleep is to hide under a quilt.

You see, we have been attacked and are being held hostage by this horrible beast that makes whining and yipping noises and races toward me whenever it sees me. Somebody, please help! I am afraid we will all die from lack of sleep and relaxation if this goes on much longer.

Sunday, December 05, 2010

Music Monday/Lyric Lundi

(Posting a day early, because I'm sure most won't read it till Monday, and I happen to have time today.)

Merry Christmas, everyone. This is one of my all-time favorites (not played nearly enough on the radio, as far as I'm concerned, this time of year. Why is it that all these Christmas stations pop up all over the place in December, and all we get are 47 different versions of "White Christmas" and "Have Yourself a Merry Little Christmas" instead of classics like this one?) If I'm in the right frame of mind, this song can still get me teary-eyed. It's hard to believe it's over 25 years old. It's also hard to believe that, even back in the eighties, a time I consider to be the beginning of the decadence decades Americans have been living through for the past 30 years, we seemed to have more compassion and concern for others than we do today. I may be wrong, but my guess is that an effort like this in 2010 would be nowhere the success it was in 1984.

I love the original video for this song, but I particularly like the version I am posting here, because it combines two of the mega rock star efforts at the time, Band Aid and USA for Africa. Look at all those cool 1980s pop stars coming together. Oh, and look how incredibly young they all seem! Sting looks like a teenager, doesn't he? (And, yet, I thought he was so manly and good-looking back then. Little did I know he was to become even more so -- just as I have become more womanly and good-looking myself, of course.)

Saturday, December 04, 2010

God Bless the American Health Care System

It's that wonderful time of year at my company known as open enrollment. This means:

a. We get to waste an hour and a half of precious working hours attending mandatory HR benefits meetings explaining our health insurance options to us, even if we are planning to opt out of them.

b. We get to spend precious working (and nonworking) hours comparing options, trying to figure out what our best choice is, and praying we've made the right one. (In fairness to the company where I now work, this process isn't anywhere as nightmarish as it was at the last company where I worked.)

Luckily, I am freed from "b," because I get all my medical benefits through Bob. The Presbyterian Church USA very generously provides these free to all ministers and their wives for life. But let's say I weren't so lucky. Here's what would be happening.

My employee co-pay would be going up yet again. This has happened every year, everywhere I've worked, for at least the past eight years or so. Note: no one has gotten a raise anywhere I have worked for the past three years. Still, we are expected to pay higher insurance co-pays every year. This means everyone I've worked with who has opted into the medical benefits plans offered by these companies has actually been getting pay cuts for three years.

I would have to pay $400 a month for medical, dental, and eye insurance for Bob and me. (Oh, and if Bob could get insurance elsewhere, say from The Presbyterian Church USA, but we chose to put him on my plan, we'd have to pay an extra $50). We'd also each have to pay a $500 deductible before anything other than a routine office visit (each of those for a primary care physician would cost us $20. To see a specialist would be $30) would be covered. That's $4840 in medical expenses in 2011 if all Bob and I do is each visit our doctor once for a physical, don't get sick at all otherwise, and have absolutely nothing unusual show up in those physicals that requires other tests.

Now, let's say Bob is fine and doesn't need to see a doctor the rest of the year. However, something odd does show up in my physical, and I have to go see a specialist ($30) who prescribes some tests. Let's say those tests cost $500 (not at all out of the realm of possibility). We now have to tack on $530 to that $4840 for a grand total of $5370 (because, of course, my deductible has to be met, so I'm responsible for that full $500). Now, let's say I need some sort of treatment, and let's pretend the treatment costs $3000. We'll be kind and also pretend the insurance company agrees to pay for it. They will only pay 80%. I have to pay the other 20%. Tack another $600 onto my health care costs for 2011. We now have a total of $5970.

All that is if I stay within the network of doctors who participate in this particular insurance plan. I will have to pay way, way more if I visit a specialist who doesn't participate. My insurance company will only pay 50% of the average cost of a particular procedure, no matter what the doctor charges. That's just great, isn't it? Let's say the doctor charges $3000, but the insurance company tells me that the average cost of that procedure is $500 (and how am I going prove otherwise without spending hours and hours doing research?). I'm stuck paying $2500.

That's just medical plans. Let's not talk about dental plans. Bob and I do have to pay a little for one of those, again offered through the PC(USA). Most dental plans have annual caps of about $1500-$2000. Anyone ever have a root canal and a crown? Poof! There goes $1500+ right there. God forbid you get that toothache in January. You're basically without insurance for the rest of the year, despite the fact you're still paying for it.

And then, there's eye care. If you happen to be a contact lens wearer, you can get either glasses or contacts, but not both. Despite the fact every eye doctor I've ever seen has insisted contact lenses correct vision better than glasses do, insurance companies still think of them as "unnecessary." Come to think of it, most dental insurance companies also think of bridges and implants as unnecessary -- we're all just supposed to go around toothless, I guess.

Luckily, as I said, I don't have to worry about paying for medical insurance. However, let's look at something that happened to me this past year despite the fact I'm insured. I had an annual mammogram that indicated something was not quite right, and I needed to have another mammogram and possibly an ultrasound. I went and had both this second mammogram and an ultrasound. Who wouldn't? We're talking about breast cancer here. I don't see this as some frivolous procedure, something like Botox injections.

(Thank God) everything was okay, but then, about a month later, I received a huge bill in the mail from the hospital. The bill indicated that none of the charge was being covered by my insurance company. Bob called to see what was going on. He was told that our insurance company only pays for one mammogram a year. Again, so sorry if you've got cancer, and it's only June. You'll have to wait till January to find out, by which time your tumors will have had a chance to grow. As far as I'm concerned, that's not just outrageous: it's criminal. It's also stupid. The insurance company would be far better off, if it is cancer, paying for early detection and treatments than having to pay for the sorts of treatments and hospital stays they might have to if the cancer gets to more advanced stages.

Again, I am lucky. I could afford to pay for that second mammogram, but I am very aware of the fact that many in this country can't. And that's why, I don't care what you say, you will never convince me that we have "the best health care system in the world." Well, actually, it may be the best, because it certainly seems like it might be the best system for getting the rich richer while depriving critical care to those who need it.

I wonder what would happen if every American were to decide not to buy into health care insurance. If no one supported the insurance companies, would things finally have to change? Unfortunately, of course, it will never happen, because too many have been duped, often by false fears, into believing it's a fine system, that the insurance companies all have our best interests in mind. Still, I can fantasize...

Wednesday, December 01, 2010

And Another Reading List Meme

Okay, so when I commented on Thomas's list that I stole (which came from Facebook, and, supposedly, the BBC), he suggested I really ought to take a look at this list from The Modern Library. So, I give you, yet another list of "reads" and "unreads." (I promise this is the last for a while.)

Blue = read
Italics = partially read
Bold = Will never read
Red = been in the TBR tome forever

I've commented when felt moved to do so (especially on those titles not included in the BBC list).

1. Ulysses - James Joyce. I plan to start with more accessible Joyce when I eventually do (supposedly in 2011. We'll see) and decide if I'm brave enough to move onto this one or not).
2. The Great Gatsby - F. Scott Fitzgerald.
3. A Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man - James Joyce. See #1. This is the one I plan to read first.
4. Lolita - Vladimir Nabokov
5. Brave New World - Aldous Huxley
6. The Sound and the Fury - William Faulkner. The book that convinced me what a genius Faulkner was.
7. Catch-22 - Joseph Heller
8. Darkness at Noon - Arthur Koestler. Is it terrible for me to say that it just sounds too much like a "boys' book"?
9. Sons and Lovers - D.H. Lawrence. No interest.
10. The Grapes of Wrath - John Steinbeck. It just wasn't the right time when I started it, but I know it's a brilliant work and will return to it one day.
11. Under the Volcano - Malcolm Lowry. Has just always seemed too depressing, which is a ridiculous reason not to read something. I mean, like the Hardy I've read isn't depressing?
12. The Way of All Flesh - Samuel Butler. Read it in college. Remember absolutely nothing. nothing. about it.
13. 1984 - George Orwell
14. I, Claudius - Robert Graves. I've been pulling it from shelves and putting it back for years. Maybe I just ought to give up on the notion of ever reading it.
15. To the Lighthouse - Virginia Woolf. An all-time favorite.
16. An American Tragedy - Theodore Dreiser. I think I've said before that I couldn't get through it, but scenes from it have stuck with me all these years, a friend of mine recently read it, and I've been thinking about revisiting it. We'll see...
17. The Heart is a Lonely Hunter - Carson McCullers. And I've got a nice biography of hers to read when I finally get around to reading this one.
18. Slaughterhouse Five - Kurt Vonnegut. Believe it or not, I haven't read any Vonnegut.
19. Invisible Man - Ralph Ellison. Powerful stuff.
20. Native Son - Richard Wright. Devastating stuff, very much like An American Tragedy.
21. Henderson the Rain King - Saul Bellow. I tried to read Bellow when I was too young, couldn't get into him, and have never really given him another chance. At this point, I doubt I ever will.
22. Appointment in Samarra - John O'Hara. Don't know anything about this one, so probably won't ever read it.
23. U.S.A. (trilogy) - John Dos Passos
-- The 42nd Parallel
-- 1919
-- The Big Money. Just never been interested.
24. Winesburg, Ohio - Sherwood Anderson. Another one I never seem to get around to reading.
25. A Passage to India - E.M. Forster. Want to reread.
26. The Wings of the Dove - Henry James. I haven't read as much James as I would have liked.
27. The Ambassadors - Henry James. See #26.
28. Tender Is the Night - F. Scott Fitzgerald. Tried but just couldn't get into it.
29. The Studs Lonigan Trilogy - James T. Farrell
Young Lonigan
The Young Manhood of Studs Lonigan
Judgment Day. No real interest.
30. The Good Soldier - Ford Maddox Ford. Ditto.
31. Animal Farm - George Orwell
32. The Golden Bowl - Henry James
33. Sister Carrie - Theodore Dreiser. Despite my experience with An American Tragedy, I really do want to read this one.
34. A Handful of Dust - Evelyn Waugh. Have seen the movie...
35. As I Lay Dying - William Faulkner. Like James, I haven't read as much Faulkner as I would have liked.
36. All the King's Men - Robert Penn Warren. Loved it. A masterpiece.
37. The Bridge of San Luis Rey - Thornton Wilder.
38. Howard's End - E.M. Forster. Another one that went in the TBR tome after seeing the movie when it came out (so you can see how long it's been in the TBR tome).
39. Go Tell It on the Mountain - James Baldwin. As a multicultural studies editor, I really ought to be more interested in reading James Baldwin, but I'm just not.
40. The Heart of the Matter - Graham Greene. I've never read any Graham Greene, although I want to, but this isn't the book of his that's been in the TBR tome forever.
41. Lord of the Flies - William Golding
42. Deliverance - James Dickey. I haven't seen the movie, either.
43. A Dance to the Music of Time (series) - Anthony Powell
-- A Question of Upbringing
-- A Buyer's Market
-- The Acceptance World
-- At Lady Molly's
-- Casanova's Chinese Restaurant
-- The Kindly Ones
-- The Valley of Bones
-- The Soldier's Art
-- The Military Philosophers
-- Books Do Furnish a Room
-- Temporary Kings
-- Hearing Secret Harmonies. Never even heard of these (she notes, while polishing her ignorance badge).
44. Point Counter Point - Aldous Huxley. I probably ought to read Brave New World first.
45. The Sun Also Rises - Ernest Hemingway. I will read Hemingway one day...
46. The Secret Agent - Joseph Conrad. Just loved it!
47. Nostromo - Joseph Conrad. But have no desire to read any other Conrad.
48. The Rainbow - D.H. Lawrence. Okay, so should I read Lawrence?
49. Women in Love - D.H. Lawrence. I mean, three of his books, and we haven't even gotten to 50 yet? (Actually, I may have read this one. I can never remember if we read it and saw the movie in one of my classes in college, or if we just saw the movie.)
50. Tropic of Cancer - Henry Miller
51. The Naked and the Dead - Norman Mailer
52. Portnoy's Complaint - Philip Roth. Until this year, this probably would have been bold. Stay tuned to this blog for more on Roth in the not-too-distant future (I hope).
53. Pale Fire - Vladimir Nabokov. Sadly, the only thing I've read by Nabokov is Lolita and I'm not sure I'll ever read anything else.
54. Light in August - William Faulkner. See #35.
55. On the Road - Jack Kerouac
56. The Maltese Falcon - Dashiell Hammett. It actually hasn't been in the TBR tome all that long, but I'm hoping to be reading it soon.
57. Parade's End - Ford Maddox Ford
58. The Age of Innocence - Edith Wharton. After I saw the movie (big mistake. Read the book first, if you haven't and haven't seen the movie).
59. Zuleika Dobson - Max Beerbohm
60. The Moviegoer - Walker Percy. This one probably holds the TBR record. We ran out of time in the course for which we were going to read it in college, and so it got dropped from the reading list, and I've been wanting to read it ever since.
61. Death Comes for the Archbishop - Willa Cather. I highly recommend reading it on your first visit to Santa Fe, NM.
62. From Here to Eternity - James Jones
63. The Wapshot Chronicles - John Cheever. I hope to get to this sooner rather than later.
64. The Catcher in the Rye - J.D. Salinger
65. A Clockwork Orange - Anthony Burgess. A mistake that this one was assigned in high school. I didn't understand it at all (having not studied behaviorism in much depth). Went back to reread it in my twenties after seeing the movie several times. It's a masterpiece (but you must read the original, English version, not the first version that was published in America that omitted the Epilogue, which ruined Burgess's scathing attack).
66. Of Human Bondage - W. Somerset Maugham. The book that sold me on Maugham.
67. Heart of Darkness - Joseph Conrad
68. Main Street - Sinclair Lewis. I love Sinclair Lewis and think it's a shame that he's sort of gone out of style.
69. The House of Mirth - Edith Wharton
70. The Alexandria Quartet - Lawrence Durrell.
-- Justine
-- Balthazar
-- Mountolive
-- Clea. They're even better if you've read Gerald Durrell's takes on "Larry."
71. A High Wind in Jamaica - Richard Hughes. Just discovered this one last year and absolutely loved it.
72. A House for Mr. Biswas - V.S. Naipaul. Maybe, one day, I loved the one Naipaul I have read (even if, right now, I can't for the life of me remember the title. It's somewhere in this blog. You can look it up if you're really curious).
73. The Day of the Locust - Nathanael West. It's too much of a "should," so I'm assuming I never will. (Of course, why I pick on it and not the billions of other "shoulds" out there, I can't fathom.)
74. A Farewell to Arms - Ernest Hemingway. When I get around to reading Hemingway, I think I'll start with this one.
75. Scoop - Evelyn Waugh. Read it in one night when I was suffering from insomnia. It was a great thing to do when suffering from insomnia. I loved it.
76. The Prime of Miss Jean Brodie - Muriel Spark
77. Finnegans Wake - James Joyce
78. Kim - Rudyard Kipling
79. A Room With a View - E.M. Forster. Another one I read in college that I don't remember at all. And suddenly, blogger denies me the ability to reformat (brown italics are not mine).
80. Brideshead Revisited - Evelyn Waugh
81. The Adventures of Augie March - Saul Bellow
82. Angle of Repose - Wallace Stegner. I definitely will one day, because I so love Stegner.
83. A Bend in the River - V.S. Naipaul. Ahh! That's the one I read, and I'd highly recommend it (despite my inability to remember the title).
84. The Death of the Heart - Elizabeth Bowen. I was supposed to read that one this year for my own TBR challenge. Stay tuned to see if I get it read in 2011.
85. Lord Jim - Joseph Conrad
86. Ragtime - E.L. Doctorow. After reading my first Doctorow this year, I'm much more interested than I've ever been, so it might be about to turn red.
87. The Old Wives' Tale - Arnold Bennett. Another swipe of polish is needed for the ignorance badge.
88. The Call of the Wild - Jack London. I love dogs. I love wolves. I love nature. Why am I not interested?
89. Loving - Henry Green
90. Midnight's Children - Salman Rushdie
91. Tobacco Road - Erskine Caldwell. Another writer I wish hadn't gone out of style. I love Caldwell.
92. Ironweed - William Kennedy. No interest.
93. The Magus - John Fowles
94. Wide Sargasso Sea - Jean Rhys. Don't watch the movie, though. Horrible. Nowhere near as good as the book.
95. Under the Net - Iris Murdoch
96. Sophie's Choice - William Styron
97. The Sheltering Sky - Paul Bowles
98. The Postman Always Rings Twice - James M. Cain. We maybe ought to read this one for the CT mystery book club.
99. The Ginger Man - J.P. Donleavy
100. The Magnificent Ambersons - Booth Tarkington