Thursday, 23 April 2015

Forget me not: Books on Dementia (we love you Alison Holst!)

New Zealand drew a collective awww of sadness at the news Kiwi cooking legend Dame Alison Holst is suffering from dementia. What Kiwi home in the 70s, 80s and 90s didn't have at least one of her cook books on the shelves? It's been lovely to see the outpouring of support for Dame Alison and her family in tweets, Facebook posts, media articles, opinion pieces and blogs, and in conversations around office water coolers. I particularly loved Campbell Live's tribute to her legacy with her chef son Simon baking his mum's all time favourite recipe on the show.

It's also heartening that so many of us are now talking openly about this cruel, relentless and all too common disease. I watched first-hand as it slowly stole my Nana away from my family over a decade of gradual decline. It's become a bit of a "pet" subject for me and I am drawn to books that deal with dementia. Here's a few of my favs, both fiction and non-fiction, that deal honestly but respectfully with the subject.

Still Alice - Lisa Genova
You've probably heard of this novel now because of its famous, Oscar winning movie starring Julianne Moore. Beautifully and touchingly written, it is the story of Dr. Alice Howland, a linguistics expert who tragically begins losing the very thing she has built her successful career around - language. We follow her as her brain is besieged by early onset Alzheimer's, and the devastating impact on her and her loving family.

As a staggering true fact, Lisa Genova originally could not get a publishing deal for this novel so self published it: it's now sold hundreds of thousands of copies.

Making the Rounds with Oscar: The Extraordinary Gift of an Ordinary Cat - David Dosa
Like many cats, Oscar enjoys the good life: as the resident feline at Steere House Nursing and Rehabilitation Center, he spends his days chasing his tail til he's dizzy and sleeping in the sun. But soon the staff of the Rhode Island facility notice something extraordinary: usually Oscar, in true cat fashion, ignores the patients. Until that is, he senses they are nearing their death. Then, Oscar will stride purposely into a patient's room, curl up on the bed, and begin his vigil, staying with the patient until their passing and bringing comfort and companionship to them and their families.

There were many tears shed during my reading of this beautiful non-fiction book!

Elizabeth is Missing by Emma Healey
Unreliable narrators are huge in fiction right now and they don't come much more unreliable than dementia sufferer Maud. Naturally no one is going to listen to someone who is losing their memory, but Maud is adamant her friend Elizabeth is missing and she must help find her. But Maud is also seized by memories of her sister's disappearance decades before. What is real and what is her mind playing cruel tricks on her?

This is a real page turner of a thriller that's also compassionate and realistic of the impact of dementia on those who care for sufferers.

Slow Dancing with a Stranger: Lost and Found in the Age of Alzheimer's - Meryl Comer
This memoir reminds me a little of Still Alice but in real life. Dr Harvey Gralnick is a gifted doctor and blood disorder researcher cruelly struck down in his mid-fifties by early onset Alzheimer's. This unflinchingly honest and poignant story is told by his wife Meryl, a broadcasting journalist who gives up her career to nurse her husband at home. Meryl doesn't want your pity or your praise for her selfless sacrifices - and they are abundant. Instead she tells her story in the hope of raising awareness of, and trying to get more research undertaken on, this silent thief of minds.

I read this book in two sittings and was grabbed from the start by both Meryl's candour, and the dignified and respectful way she writes about her husband's descent into dementia.

Tuesday, 21 April 2015

A List of Lists: Reading Challenges

I am a huge fan of reading challenges. Oh, who am I kidding. I'm a huge fan of challenges in general - especially when I come across them in list form. If there's a list of things that need to be ticked off, then by golly I will try to do that.

Working in the library means that yes, I have access to and often read a lot of books. Why not make a list of them, or read particular ones? Why not try to expand my reading repertoire?

Thus began my main reading challenge - a family wide one (we're very bookish) with a whole bunch of relatives all seeking to mark off a list to see who can finish it first. ("It's not a competition though!")

And, because I like to make life hard for myself, I also set my own personal challenges - another 3 in fact -

Dana's Reading Challenge List
  1. The family 'Reading Challenge' - 52 Books in Different Categories
  2. Adult Fiction - 26 books, one for each letter of the alphabet
  3. Young Adult Fiction - 26 books, one for each letter of the alphabet
  4. Children's Fiction - again, 26 books, one for each letter of the alphabet
Why, Dana? Why do you do this to yourself? Especially the books in alphabetical order, and in YA and Children's? Well, I'll tell you why - in another list!

  • Forcing myself to go by letters means I'll probably pick up books I wouldn't think of, just because the letter won't have anything I normally read;
  • This situation - "This looks like such a lovely book... BUT it's children/YA fiction." should happen less. Why not judge a book by its cover and read it for that instead of whats on the inside (or who it's 'meant' for)?
  • Being a young(er) library assistant means that when kids or teens need a recommendation, co-workers often send them to me for help.
    Having a limited knowledge of children/teen fiction means that I've steered too many kids towards 'popular' series - The Hunger Games, Geronimo Stilton, anything by Robert Muchamore for someone after 'action-y books'. While the books are popular for a reason, I'd like being able to cater to a kids preferences better. If they've read The Hunger Games, Divergent series, The Maze Runner - what can they read next? What else is there? You know, I don't know... But I'm hoping reading 52 books that aren't adult will help me find out.
  • Also, I like lists. Did I mention I like making lists, and crossing things off of lists? 

So I figure, since I've made so much work for myself already, I might as well make a little more and share my reviews with you as well every so often (as I share them on my family 'Reading Challenge Page' on facebook anyway).

But not today. Today I'll just share the original Reading Challenge with you. Let me know if you have any challenges of your own going on! Or, if you have any recommendations (for example, I'm not a fan of classics, so if you have a favourite then let me know, because choosing it myself would just be 'whatever-classic-is-the-shortest') for either the categories OR the alphabet ones I'm doing. I've already started, and have crossed some off, but don't let that stop you from giving me your opinions!

Or anything else to do with lists, or goals you have in mind to complete by the end of the year. Because, as I said - I love lists (and I can't be the only one).

Friday, 10 April 2015

Sneak Peak: Poldark:Or Brooding Men In Tight Breeches

Tall, dark and brooding .  It's a thing.  A very valid thing.

And if it's your kind of thing then the new version of Poldark is just what you've been waiting for.

There are men in tight breeches giving manly stares and women, who act all damoselling (it's a word, at least in my world it is) and wear dresses where breathing is most likely a problem.  There's also love lost and love found and treachery and hard times and of course the beautiful Cornish scenery which is swoon worthy all on its on.

And then there is Aidan Turner, he of Being Human and Hobbit fame, who is most definitely swoon worthy if tall, dark and brooding is your thing.  Throw in a couple of shirtless scenes (and yes there are some) and I'm sold.

And if you find that waiting week by week is just a bit too long to go for your fix then you'll be very pleased to know that there is a whole series of books about the Poldark family and their friends starting with Ross Poldark by Winston Graham.  And even better there is the original series, Poldark,which we have at the library on DVD.

Swoony feels all round.

Thursday, 9 April 2015

Your Favourite Media

An interview with myself in which I ask myself about my reading habits. So meta!

Hello. What is your favourite kind of media?

Books! Hands down, it’s books. I mean, you can’t live without music, and I love blogs, but books are my number one.

Where do you get your books from, the library? Or do you buy them?

I get most of my books from the library. I sometimes buy books but usually after I’ve test-driven a library copy first.

So you re-read books?

Sometimes. I mostly read nonfiction, so if I buy a book I’ve already read it’s for future dipping-in, rather than for reading it again from cover to cover. I like to have books around.

What do you mostly read?

Mostly nonfiction. My favourite books are ones about interior decorating, but anything might take my fancy: architecture, art, photography, craft, biography, history, science, social issues, fashion, whatever.

Do you ever not finish reading a book?

Yes, all the time. There are too many excellent books in the world to waste time on lame ones.

How many books do you usually have on your library card at a time?

You can only get out 35 books at a time, so I’m usually in the 30s. It’s probably a good thing that there’s a limit to how much you can borrow at one time. And thank goodness for due dates! Deadlines are great for getting books read.

I hear that! What do you think of e-books?

I think e-books are great for books that don’t have pictures. I like being able to touch a word and get the definition, and I like the iPad for reading at night. If it’s just text, like a novel or a biography, then e-books are excellent for that.

So you read e-books yourself?

Sometimes, but only for books with no pictures. Don’t laugh.

I’m not laughing?

Anyway, I don’t think that, for example, coffee table books could really work on e-readers. Like, if there are a lot of photos or pictures I’d rather look at them in a big glossy tree-book. But I love e-audiobooks, especially about science or history or something, if it’s told in an interesting way. And podcasts! Yeah!

Where do you get ideas for what to read next?

I read the Auckland Libraries New Book Lists every month and have a bit of a reserving frenzy. I also get ideas from magazine reviews, and stuff I see in bookshops or read about on blogs. Or word of mouth. Just anywhere, really. I have a bit of FOMO about books and a bit of anxiety if I’m behind on my reserving.


Yeah totally. Being at the bottom of a long line of holds is…challenging! I like to have a lot of books at home, all the time, and lots of books coming in. A big fear of mine is being stuck somewhere with nothing to read. And don’t even get me started on magazines. American Vogue, British Vogue, Australian Vogue, there’s a new issue every month! Vogue anxiety, I has it.

What is your favourite book?

That’s like asking someone who their favourite child* is! I’ve thought about this before, and while I can’t seriously pick just one book, I’ll say ‘Pineapple: King of Fruits’ by Fran Beauman.

Is that a book about pineapples?

Well, yes. But it’s also about history, trade, colonialism and horticulture. It was one of the first nonfiction books I read that just sparked something in me, where I just thought “Yeah! Nonfiction is for me!”

You’re a total nerd.

What’s your point?

Do you keep track of all the books you read?

Yes I do. I have Library Thing account where I record nonfiction books I’ve read that I really like. But I’m way behind on updating it, so I also have lots of lists. Like, a lot of lists. I have list anxiety.

Would you like to tell me anything else about your reading habits?

Once I brought a wheelie suitcase to the library with me to pick up all my holds. It was one of my cleverest ideas ever!

Thanks for sharing your favourite media here at PopculturAL. Readers, stay tuned for the next exciting instalment of Your Favourite Media, where I will interview someone who is not me. Honest.

*I do not have a favourite child, but I concede that it might be whichever one is asleep.