I recently finished reading The Book of Negroes, an outstanding novel by Lawrence Hill. This book is basically the fictional memoir of an amazingly strong, intelligent, witty African woman named Aminata Diallo. The book chronicles Aminata’s life: beginning as a girl in Africa, then covering her abduction and subsequent life as a slave in South Carolina, and following her eventual path to freedom. As Aminata migrated from one life to another, I learned a lot about the transition of policies regarding slavery and the slave trade in the United States, Canada, and England during the late 1700s and early 1800s. I found this novel to be an exceptional piece of historical fiction because it is both educational and emotionally engaging. Aminata is now one of my favorite heroines in literature.
I had my first Remicade infusion last week. Remicade is a drug that is used to treat a number of autoimmune diseases, including Crohn’s. The drug is an antibody to tumor necrosis factor-alpha (TNF-alpha), a chemical that cells release to regulate inflammation. So basically, the presence of Remicade in a patient’s body should prevent inflammation that is mediated by TNF-alpha. This drug can’t be taken in pill form because the patient’s digestive system would destroy the drug’s activity. Instead, Remicade is adminstered by an IV infusion.
My first infusion appointment lasted three and half hours! When I arrived at the infusion clinic, I was happy to see that rather than a typical hospital setting, there were four cushy recliners in a room with large windows and a big flat screen TV. The TV was off though, as the other three patients were reading or napping while they were being infused. The first thing my nurse did was weigh me, since Remicade is administered according to your body weight. After getting some more information about my medical situation, she hooked up my IV and I started getting infused with a steroid (I think it was hydrocortisone), which is used to reduce one’s chance of having an allergic reaction to Remicade. Then the Remicade was infused, slowly at first (so that if I had an allergic reaction, there wouldn’t be so much in my system), then faster. As I was being infused, I read a book (The Kite Runner – fantastic!!) and two nurses checked my body temperature, pulse, and blood pressure every half hour or so. Once the full dose of Remicade had been infused, I had to wait for an hour, again to make sure that I wasn’t having a bad reaction (watching for signs like itchyness, hives, or flushing). I felt fine and headed back to work afterwards.
My next infusion is two weeks after the first one, then another four weeks later, and from then on I should be going regularly every two months. I’ll also need to continue with the monthly blood tests, to make sure my body is tolerating the Imuran and Remicade. I’ve been feeling pretty good the last couple of days – I really hope these treatments are starting to work!
I have a hard time enjoying books when I don’t like the protagonist. In Gustave Flaubert’s classic novel, I found the title character immature, incredibly selfish, and making so many stupid decisions. She was really irritating. Girlfriend needed someone in her life (a sister, a friend) to tell her, repeatedly, “Emma, your husband might be a bit of a dud, but stop acting like a teenager with an all-consuming crush on every boy who pays attention to you. Stop with the lovestruck idiocy and self-pity. Don’t be so materialistic. Learn to make yourself happy, develop some real interests, and go take care of your daughter!”
I suppose creating such an unlikable main character may have been a breakthrough in literature back in 1856, but I’ve never hoped so much for a character to meet her tragic end. The book is well-written and clever, and the subject matter was probably new and scandalous and noteworthy at the time it was first published. The social commentary and peripheral characters are interesting. In general, I can see Madame Bovary‘s value in the evolution of the novel, but it was honestly a rather annoying read.
This post may verge into TMI land for some readers, but I’ve found other people’s personal accounts of inflammatory bowel disease-related experiences helpful and sometimes comforting, so I am sharing mine here.
If you’re lucky, you won’t have to worry about your first colonoscopy until you’re in your 50s or 60s and need to start getting screened for colon cancer every five to ten years. But Crohns-y me had my first this week, and I can look forward to many many more over the coming years.
Ever since I read Reading Lolita in Tehran a few months ago, Daisy Miller by Henry James has been on my reading list. I’ve stopped by the library a couple of times in hopes of borrowing Daisy Miller, but it’s a popular book and hasn’t been there. I grabbed James’ Washington Square the first time, and found it to be a good read – nothing too extraordinary, but good. The second time, I borrowed James’ The Wings of the Dove. I knew it had been made into a movie, so I figured it must be good. Well…I found this book to be unreadable. After struggling to read about forty extremely convoluted pages, I had a muddled idea of what James was trying to describe, at best. To decide if I should persevere with this rambling, confusing book, I read some reviews on amazon.com, and found others who seemed to have similar feelings about The Wings of the Dove.
From Amazon reviewer JAD:
In this work dating from 1902, Henry James writes favoring obscurity over clarity, circuitousness instead of directness and vagueness rather than subtlety. When the reader struggles valiantly onward, it is much as if one were to attempt to hack one’s way through the trackless Amazonian rain forest using only tweezers and butter knife, all the while, wondering whether is it worth so much to learn so little. It is a question each reader must answer for herself or himself…..Kudos to all valiant readers who persist to the end.
From Amazon reviewer J. Breithaupt:
It’s astonishing to me that this thinly plotted, atrociously incomprehensible tangle of verbiage ever gained a reputation for being a ‘great work.’ Sadly, this was my first reading of James, and I’m powerfully dissuaded from wading any further into his inky depths. What a craven mess…..Meanwhile, for those interested in a far superior example of American fiction in the immediate post-Victorian era, try Edith Wharton’s brilliant and deeply moving “The House of Mirth,” which appeared just three years after “Wings…” With the former, you’ll occasionally re-read its sentences because you’ll want another taste of their construction and underlying wisdom, not – as with the latter book – because you are trying to decipher their unintentionally elusive sense.
This book is only the second in my life that I have given up on (the first being A Tale of Two Cities), and absolutely deserves the literary smackdown those reviewers gave it. I’m going to rent the movie and move on.
I just finished reading a great book, Marching Powder, by Rusty Young and Thomas McFadden. This book is a memoir of Thomas McFadden’s experiences as a prisoner in San Pedro prison in La Paz, Bolivia. There were good times and very very bad times in the prison and I was surprised and entertained by the many hats that Thomas wore as a prisoner: Thomas the tour guide, Thomas the shopkeeper, Thomas the restauranteur, and Father Thomas, to name a few. This engaging page-turner shares the friendships, corruption, drugs, and humor that shaped one prisoner’s life.
I just finished reading The State of Africa, by Martin Meredith, over the weekend. I’m glad I read this book, because now I at least have some understanding of how most of Africa got to be in the dire situation it currently is in. But, this book was the most tragic and depressing thing I have ever read. I’m normally a pretty quick reader, but it took me over three months to read this 600+ page book. The number one reason for my slowness? A person can only take in so much tragedy in one sitting. And topics like genocide, child soldiers, and AIDS don’t make for very good before-bed reading. I was incredibly disappointed, over and over again, with the African leadership. I feel so badly for the people of Africa, because most of them just want a peaceful life and the means to be healthy and happy, but their leaders are working against them. Almost all of Africa’s leaders can be described as greedy, corrupt, and selfish and ruthless to the extreme. Nelson Mandela provided the only true ray of light and hope in the 50 years or so of African history that the book covered. South Africa was very lucky to have such a magnanimous leader.
As an aside, The Boy Who Harnessed the Wind, by William Kamkwamba (with Bryan Mealer), was a great book that prompted my acute interest in African history. It’s an inspirational autobiography by a Malawian teenager who developed windmill-generated electricity for his family by reading at the library, picking up useful pieces of junk around his village, and his own cleverness and hard work.