My first Maigret

simenon - maigret1a

I have finally started on my first Inspector Maigret novel, after hearing and reading all the good things about this famous creation of Georges Simenon’s. So far (at the halfway point, that is), I am happy to report that it is living up to expectations.:)

Simenon has been described as the most economical of writers, following closely the advice given by Colette to “Be simple. Never try for literary effect. Leave out every word or syllable you can.”  Although the writing is often economical and taut, it is however, not without its literary flair. The wonderful feel for places and people that Simenon has is one of the reasons for the Maigret novels’ appeal. It is said that Simenon’s empathy, and his insight into how people behave when they approach the breaking point, is what lifts his work high above the common run of crime fiction.

I think I am rather inclined to agree with that, after coming across the excerpts below in the first half of Pietr the Latvian:

Inside every wrong-doer and crook there lives a human being. In addition, of course, there is an opponent in the game, and it’s the player that the police are inclined to see. [….] Some crime or offense is committed. The match starts on the basis of more or less objective facts. It’s a problem of one or more unknowns that a rational mind tries to solve.
Maigret works like any other policeman. […] But what he sought, what he waited and watched out for, was the crack in the wall. In other words, the instant when the human being comes out from behind the opponent.

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

It’s a long way from Gare Saint-Lazare to Hotel de Ville, there’s a whole city centre to get through. Between six and seven in the evening, pedestrians flood the pavements in ocean waves, and traffic pulses along the streets like blood pumping down an artery. [….] He reached the ghetto of Paris, that’s to say, the area around Rue de Rosiers, in the Marais. He sidled past shop fronts with signs in Yiddish, kosher butchers and window displays of matzot. At one corner, giving on to a passageway so dark and deep it looked like a tunnel, a woman tried to take him by the arm, but let go without his saying a word. Presumably he had made a strong impression on her.

Seeing that this is just the first of all his 75 Maigret novels, one can certainly look forward to taking one’s time in getting better acquainted with the Inspector, I guess.

I don’t think I could have made a better choice than to have started off with this, for this year’s Paris in July.

Oh, and if you are interested to go on a trail of Maigret’s Paris one of these days, do check this out.:)

 

 

 

Box The Third

BBW Box 3a

So, here goes my third (and final, phew!) box from the box sales. Once again, there are quite a number of finds in here that I am pretty excited about.:)

First up, Holloway by Robert Macfarlane, Stanley Donwood & Dan Richards.
Holloway – a hollow way, a sunken path. A route that centuries of foot-fall, hoof-hit, wheel-roll and rain-run have harrowed deep down into bedrock. In July 2005, Robert Macfarlane and Roger Deakin – author of Wildwood – travelled to explore the holloways of South Dorset’s sandstone. They found their way into a landscape of shadows, spectres & great strangeness. Six years later, after Roger Deakin’s early death, Robert Macfarlane returned to the holloway with the artist Stanley Donwood and writer Dan Richards. The book is about those journeys and that landscape. Moving in the spaces between social history, psychogeography and travel writing, Holloway is a beautiful and haunted work of art.

I still have two of Macfarlane’s works on my shelves unread. Maybe I should start with this slim volume to get me warmed up to his writing.

The Faraway Nearby by Rebecca Solnit.
I have already mentioned how thrilled I was with this find in an earlier post, and will continue to share whatever interesting bits I come across as I read along.

Maiden’s Trip: A Wartime Adventure on the Grand Union Canal by Emma Smith is a classic memoir of the writer’s growth to maturity with her two teenage friends as they joined the Grand Union Canal Carrying Company as boaters when Britain was at war. This will keep the other volume of her biography As Green As Grass: Growing Up Before, During & After The Second World War, in good company before I get to them.

The Mystery Guest: An Account by Gregoire Bouillier is “… a true story of how a bottle of Bordeaux, a nonconsensual work of conceptual art, and a seemingly innocuous comment at a dinner party enabled one man to unravel the mystery of his being dumped, to explore how literature shapes and gives meaning to our lives, to let go of his heartbreak and his dependence on turtlenecks, and to — in the most unexpected of ways — fall in love again.”
I was a bit intrigued when I read the blurb on the book, plus it was a slim volume so it didn’t take much effort to just slip it into the box.

Provence, 1970: M.F.K. Fisher, Julia Child, James Beard, and the Reinvention of American Taste by Luke Barr (who happens to be the great nephew of M.F. K. Fisher), tells of a singular historic moment. “In the winter of that year, more or less coincidentally, the iconic culinary figures James Beard, M.F.K. Fisher, Julia Child, Richard Olney, Simone Beck, and Judith Jones found themselves together in the South of France. They cooked and ate, talked and argued, about the future of food in America, the meaning of taste, and the limits of snobbery. Without quite realizing it, they were shaping today’s tastes and culture, the way we eat now.” 
I foresee spending some rather delectable hours in this, and in Judith Jones’ The Tenth Muse: My Life In Food.
“Living in Paris after World War II, Jones broke free of bland American food and reveled in everyday French culinary delights. On returning to the States she published Julia Child’s Mastering the Art of French Cooking. The rest is publishing and gastronomic history. [….] The Tenth Muse is an absolutely charming memoir by a woman who was present at the creation of the American food revolution and played a pivotal role in shaping it.”

doris drucker

Doris Drucker’s catchy title Invent Radium or I’ll Pull Your Hair: A Memoir caught my eye and upon closer inspection, confirmed it’s place in the box. “Rothschilds and radium were the horizons of Doris’s childhood. Born in Germany in the early twentieth century, she came of age in an upper-middle-class family that struggled to maintain its bourgeois respectability between the two World Wars. Doris Drucker (she met her husband Peter—of management fame—in the 1930s) has penned a lively and charming memoir that brings to life the Germany of her childhood. Rather than focusing on the rise of Hitler, Drucker weaves history into her story of the day-to-day life of a relatively apolitical family.” I am looking forward to this.:)

I seem to have been collecting quite a few of Simon Garfield’s works lately, the latest being this, To the Letter: A Celebration of the Lost Art of Letter Writing, which was found at the sale. As this happens to be a subject that has always been close to my heart, adding it into the box was a no-brainer. The lovely dust jacket that came with it was a bonus, I must say.

I was also quite thrilled to find Jennifer Kloester’s Georgette Heyer: Biography of a Bestseller among the stacks. Never mind the fact that I have actually not read any Georgette Heyer so far. Anticipation is half the fun, don’t you think?😉

American Eden: From Monticello to Central Park to Our Backyards: What Our Gardens Tell Us About Who We Are is yet another one which seems to hold much promise.

I have never heard of Phillip Lopate before but his collection of essays in Portrait Inside My Head: Essays is described as a collection that “….. weaves together the colorful threads of a life well lived and brings us on an invigorating and thoughtful journey through memory, culture, parenthood, the trials of marriage both young and old, and an extraordinary look at New York’s storied past and present.”
I think I’ll like that.

niall williams - history of rain I have been curious about Niall Williams’ History of the Rain for some time now but had never really planned to get a copy of it (especially not a hardcover) until I saw it in this particular edition. The cover sort of sold it to me. But I am really interested in the contents too, after reading this: “We are our stories. We tell them to stay alive or keep alive those who only live now in the telling. That’s how it seems to me, being alive for a little while, the teller and the told.” So says Ruthie Swain. The bedridden daughter of a dead poet, home from college after a collapse (Something Amiss, the doctors say), she is trying to find her father through stories–and through generations of family history in County Clare (the Swains have the written stories, from salmon-fishing journals to poems, and the maternal MacCarrolls have the oral) and through her own writing (with its Superabundance of Style). Ruthie turns also to the books her father left behind, his library transposed to her bedroom and stacked on the floor, which she pledges to work her way through while she’s still living.

 

BBW Box 3bManaged to find yet another rather good spread of travel, photography & cookbooks to add into the box. Interestingly, one of the books, Mariel’s Kitchen, is actually written by Ernest Hemingway’s granddaughter, Mariel.

I am particularly excited about Annie Leibovitz’s Pilgrimage, which took her to “…..places that she could explore with no agenda. She wasn’t on assignment. She chose the subjects simply because they meant something to her. The first place was Emily Dickinson’s house in Amherst, Massachusetts, which Leibovitz visited with a small digital camera. A few months later, she went with her three young children to Niagara Falls. “That’s when I started making lists,” she says. She added the houses of Virginia Woolf and Charles Darwin in the English countryside and Sigmund Freud’s final home, in London, but most of the places on the lists were American. The work became more ambitious as Leibovitz discovered that she wanted to photograph objects as well as rooms and landscapes. She began to use more sophisticated cameras and a tripod and to travel with an assistant, but the project remained personal.” The site of Thoreau’s cabin at Walden Pond also made it into the list. That should be interesting.

BBW Box 3c Another lovely volume that combines both beautiful photography with good writing is Catie Marron’s City Parks: Public Places, Private Thoughts.

City Parks captures the spirit and beauty of eighteen of the world’s most-loved city parks. Zadie Smith, Ian Frazier, Candice Bergen, Colm Tóibín, Nicole Krauss, Jan Morris, and a dozen other remarkable contributors reflect on a particular park that holds special meaning for them. Andrew Sean Greer eloquently paints a portrait of first love in the Presidio; André Aciman muses on time’s fleeting nature and the changing face of New York viewed from the High Line; Pico Iyer explores hidden places and privacy in Kyoto; Jonathan Alter takes readers from the 1968 race riots to Obama’s 2008 victory speech in Chicago’s Grant Park; Simon Winchester invites us along on his adventures in the Maidan; and Bill Clinton writes of his affection for Dumbarton Oaks.

I just love the idea behind this project. Public places, private thoughts.

Still on photography, Giselle Freund’s Photographs & Memoirs offers a sort of photographic diary of the 20th century,  “….. with more than 200 photographs spanning five decades and put together by the artist shortly before her death features, among others, Freund’s coverage of the last pre-Nazi May Day rally in Frankfurt in 1932 and of the 1935 international writers conference in Paris; intimate early color portraits of Walter Benjamin, James Joyce, Sartre, Marcel Duchamp, Simone de Beauvoir, and many others.”

ROYGBIVROY G. BIV: An Exceedingly Surprising Book About Color by Jude Stewart is one book you probably have not heard of before but likely to find ‘exceedingly surprising’.:)

Color is all around us every day. We use it to interpret the world―red means stop, blue means water, orange means construction. But it is also written into our metaphors, of speech and thought alike: yellow means cowardice; green means envy―unless you’re in Germany, where yellow means envy, and you can be “beat up green and yellow.”

Jude Stewart, a design expert and writer, digs into this rich subject with gusto. What color is the universe? We might say it’s black, but astrophysicists think it might be turquoise. Unless it’s beige. To read about color from Jude Stewart is to unlock a whole different way of looking at the world around us―and bringing it all vividly to life.

Perhaps Stewart’s book will also help me to better appreciate the explosive use of colours that the renowned textile artist Kaffe Fasset is known for,  in his Dreaming in Color: An Autobiography.

:)

Box The Second

BBW Box 2b (2016)a

Here we go again…. un-boxing the bounty from  my second trip to the box sales, which turned out to be no less fruitful than the first, but a lot more relaxed as it happened to be on a weekday.

First up, three more additions to my ‘armchair gardening’ reads.  I was most thrilled to find Anna Pavord’s The Curious Gardener after having read some good things about it. Though I have yet to read her other book that’s sitting on the shelves (The Naming of Names), something tells me that she’s my cup of tea and I won’t regret collecting her works.
Our Lives In Gardens by Joe Eck & Wayne Winterrowd is new to me but I love the title and what it suggests, and the same goes for Clyde Phillip Wachsberger’s Into The Garden With Charles: A Memoir.

The Mark Kulansky and A Card From Angela Carter were picked mainly due of their convenient size for filling up the odd spaces in the box, but it’s fair to say that they do seem to have something interesting to offer between those slim covers too.

The Irene Nemirovsky biography by French biographers Philipponnat and Lienhardt looks likely to be another promising read. “This book elegantly balances her life and the work, painting a portrait (if at some distance) of a spirited young asthmatic writer, daughter, wife, and mother.” I wonder if I should read Suite Francaise first before starting on this.

I was glad to be able to finally get my hands on The Joy of Eating: The Virago Book of Food, after finding a copy of The Joy of Shopping at the sales some years ago. “Beatrix Potter wove one of her most malicious tales around the roly-poly pudding. Colette counted the nuts she would pick before falling asleep in the French countryside. Dorothy Wordsworth noted her pie-making sessions in her diary and Anne Frank observed the eating habits of her companions in hiding. Food is a constant in our lives, and it has always been a basic ingredient of women’s writing—in household books, cookbooks, diaries, letters, and fiction. In this anthology concentrating on international food writing by women, indulge your appetite with such diverse writers as Edwidge Danticat, Barbara Pym, and J. K. Rowling.” Sounds fun!

Next, is a beautiful hardback copy of Marilynne Robinson’s Lila. I seem to be collecting Robinson’s work based on the strength of the good reviews I’ve read but have not actually read any of it for myself yet. Should really rectify that soon.

Witold Rybczynski’s City Life is completely unfamiliar to me but I am curious to find out more after reading the blurb. “Witold Rybczynski looks at what we want from cities, how they have evolved, and what accounts for their unique identities. In this vivid description of everything from the early colonial settlements to the advent of the skyscraper to the changes wrought by the automobile, the telephone, the airplane, and telecommuting, Rybczynski reveals how our urban spaces have been shaped by the landscapes and lifestyles of the New World.”

Thoreau is another writer I really want to get acquainted with. A person who can find such contentment and pleasure in solitude and quietness holds great appeal for me, and so finding a copy of the Penguin Nature Library edition of his Cape Cod was a much welcomed sight.

The slim volume of Trollope’s biography by Graham Handley was yet another good choice for acting as a box filler.

Blessings for the Evening by Susie Larson makes for a great gift book. It’s filled with pages of beautiful photography of landscape, nature and animals combined with encouraging Biblical scriptures meant to be read as one prepares to wind down and retire for the night, reflecting on the day gone by with thankfulness.

The Hungry Ear: Poems of Food and Drink edited by Kevin Young.
Poetry is said to feed the soul, each poem a delicious morsel. When read aloud, the best poems provide a particular joy for the mouth. Poems about food make these satisfactions explicit and complete.” Some of the poets whose works can be found in this collection are Elizabeth Bishop, Robert Frost, Seamus Heaney, Adrienne Rich, Gertrude Stein, Sylvia Plath and W.B Yeats, among a host of others.

BBW Box 2a (2016)

Next comes the pile of architecture, food and design coffee table books. Finding Peter May’s beautifully photographed Hebrides, was a real bonus. The breathtaking landscapes that serve as the background to his Lewis Trilogy are a real visual treat.

A Table in The Tarn: Living, Eating and Cooking in Rural France by Orlando Murrin, a former journalist and cook who gave up his life in London to open a gourmet bed and breakfast with his partner in southwestern France. The premise for this has certainly whet my appetite for more.

And I had no idea that stone could be so interesting a subject until I came across Dan Snow’s Listening to Stone and In the Company of Stone: The Art of the Stone Wall. It’s an ancient skill–building with only what the earth provides. No mortar, no nails, nothing to hold his creations together except gravity, an invisible glue he can sense in the stones’ “conversations” of squeaks and rumbles. 

BBW Box 2c (2016)

In a voice as expressive as Annie Dillard’s and as informed as John McPhee’s, Snow demonstrates astonishing range as he touches on such subjects as geology, philosophy, and community. We learn that stone’s grace comes from its unique characteristics—its capacity to give, its surprising fluidity, its ability to demand respect, and its role as a steadying force in nature. In these fast-paced times, Snow’s life’s work offers an antidote: the luxury of patience, the bounty and quietude of nature, the satisfaction of sweat. “I work with stone,” he ultimately tells us, “because stone is so much work.”

The luxury of patience……. hmmm, I think we could definitely use some of that too when it comes to dealing with our never-ending, ever-growing stacks of unread books! :p

 

What’s Your Story?

stories 1a

What’s your story?
It’s all in the telling. Stories are compasses and architecture; we navigate by them, we build our sanctuaries and our prison out of them, and to be without a story is to be lost in the vastness of a world that spreads in all directions like arctic tundra or sea ice. To love someone is to put yourself in their place, we say, which is to put yourself in their story, or figure out how to tell yourself their story.

Which means that a place is a story, and stories are geography, and empathy is first of all an act of imagination, a storyteller’s art, and then a way of traveling from here to there. What is it like to be the old man silenced by a stroke, the young man facing the executioner, the woman walking across the border, the child on the roller coaster, the person you’ve only read about, or the one next to you in bed?

We tell ourselves stories in order to live, or to justify taking lives, even our own, by violence or by numbness and the failure to live; tell ourselves stories that save us and stories that are the quicksand in which we thrash and the well in which we drown, stories of justification, of accursedness, of luck and star-crossed love, or versions clad in the cynicism that is at times a very elegant garment. Sometimes the story collapses, and it demands that we recognize we’ve been lost, or terrible, or ridiculous, or just stuck; sometimes change arrives like an ambulance or a supply drop. Not a few stories are sinking ships, and many of us go down with these ships even when the lifeboats are bobbing all around us.

Rebecca Solnit, ‘The Faraway Nearby’.

Those were the opening lines of this book that had got me in hook, line, and sinker.

“In this exquisitely written book, Rebecca Solnit explores the ways we make our lives out of stories, and how we are connected by empathy, by narrative, by imagination. In the course of unpacking some of her own stories—of her mother and her decline from memory loss, of a trip to Iceland, of an illness — Solnit revisits fairytales and entertains other stories: about arctic explorers, Che Guevara among the leper colonies, and Mary Shelley’s Dr. Frankenstein, about warmth and coldness, pain and kindness, decay and transformation, making art and making self. Woven together, these stories create a map which charts the boundaries and territories of storytelling, reframing who each of us is and how we might tell our story.”

I think it has just succeeded in making that improbable leap to land itself right on top of all my stacks of TBR (both physical and digital).  And that’s no small feat. Am so very thrilled to have stumbled upon the sole copy of this book at the Big Bad Box Sale over the weekend.

(Yes, there have been subsequent trips to the box sale, and yes, you will get to see them soon!)😉

 


The Big Bad Wolf Box Sale: Box the First

BBW Box 1a (2016)

So, this is the sale where you pay for the box and get to stuff it with as many books as you wish, as long as the box can be closed and sealed, flat.

I have to say that I was quite impressed with my own packing skills (hahah!) considering the fact that I managed to squeeze all the above, and the ones below (plus a few thick hardcover volumes of food/ healthcare books that my mum wanted that are not in the photo), into one 32.5cm x 46cm x 20cm box.

BBW Box 1 (2016)

The Willa Cather letters was an unexpected (but utterly delightful!) find. A lovely hardback volume, with a beautiful dust jacket. I have to confess that I have yet to read any of her works, but have read so many good things about her that I am determined to get acquainted soon.

The two pretty volumes of Gerald Durrells (A Zoo In My Luggage; The Aye-Aye and I) are the lesser known titles compared to his popular Corfu trilogy, with The Aye-Aye and I being Durrell’s final adventure.

What made me pick out Evan S. Connell’s Mr Bridge was mainly because I had spotted its Penguin Modern Classics spine, and rare is the occasion where I see one and don’t bring it home. Now I guess I’ll probably have to look out for Mrs Bridge, too. :p

Julian Barnes’ Through the Window: Seventeen Essays (and one short story) looks rather promising as well. “From the deceptiveness of Penelope Fitzgerald to the directness of Hemingway, from Kipling’s view of France to the French view of Kipling, from the many translations of Madame Bovary to the fabulations of Ford Madox Ford, from the National Treasure Status of George Orwell to the despair of Michel Houellebecq, Julian Barnes considers what fiction is, and what it can do. ”

Adding on to my growing pile of ‘armchair gardening’ reads, are Richard Goodman’s French Dirt: The Story of a Garden in the South of France and The Roots of My Obsession: Thirty Great Gardeners Reveal Why They Garden. Delicious titles, don’t you think?

Chris West’s fascinating A History of Britain in Thirty Six Postage Stamps sounds like my kind of history book. Although I was never a stamp collector (I was more into coin collecting back then), this looks to be an exquisite volume that holds much appeal.:)

Being the Francophile that I am, I was thrilled to discover Lorant Deutsch’s Metronome: A History of Paris from the Underground Up. “Metronome follows Loránt Deutsch, historian and lifelong Francophile, as he goes on a compelling journey through the ages, treating readers to Paris as they’ve never seen it before. Using twenty-one stops of the subway system as focal points―one per century―Deutsch shows, from the underground up, the unique, often violent, and always striking events that shaped one of the world’s most romanticized city. Readers will find out which streets are hiding incredible historical treasures in plain sight; peer into forgotten nooks and crannies of the City of Lights and learn what used to be there; and discover that, however deeply buried, something always remains.”

If all I had managed to find in the sale was just this one book, I think I would still have felt that the trip was well worth it. Vivian Swift’s Le Road Trip: A Traveler’s Journal of Love and France has been on my wishlist ever since I knew of its publication four years ago. I became a fan of her works after chancing upon her first book When Wanderers Cease To Roam: A Traveler’s Journal of Staying Put, in one of the Big Bad Wolf sales some years ago. Her beautiful illustrations and charming doodlings are a delight to feast upon. Highly recommended!

I was also very happy to bring home the pile of Home and Living coffee table books in the second photo, as these books are usually out of my budget (even during their normal sale), so if ever there was a good time to grab them, it’s during the box sale. And grab them, I did!

All in all, each book in the box had averaged out to just around 1 USD (or less) each. Now, that’s quite a hard bargain to beat, wouldn’t you say? As the sale is still on till the end of this week, I am planning to make another trip or two, and hopefully come back with more goodies to share. Until then…. happy reading, everyone!:)

 

 

The Loveliness of The Long Distance Runner

long distance runner BW
source

Isnt’t that quite a lovely title for a story? An English love story, for that matter. And it was one of the twenty eight original works by masters of the craft (ie: Elizabeth Bowen, Katherine Mansfield, W. Somerset Maugham, Graham Greene, Thomas Hardy, Virginia Woolf – to name a few) that has been picked and edited by John Sutherland in The Oxford Book of English Love Stories. Plenty of gems to dive into, covering a whole spectrum on the timeless subject of love, and I’m sure it won’t be difficult to find a story that can just fit the mood (and ardour) of the moment.😉

I had picked the lovely title above as the first story to dip into, mainly because the words had spoken to my imagination and had conjured up a rather promising picture of what the story might be (well, turns out it wasn’t what I had imagined, but I loved it nonetheless!). I was also curious (and surprised) to learn that this piece was by Sara Maitland, whom I have so far only been able to associate her name with non-fiction works. Will definitely look out for her works of fiction too, from now on.

My lover has the most beautiful body in the world. Because she runs. I fell in love with her because she had the most beautiful body I had ever seen. What, when it comes down to it, is the difference between my devouring of her as a sex-object and her competitive running? Anyway, she says that she does not run competitively. Anyway, I say that I do not any longer love her just because she has the most beautiful body.

The Anatomy of Hope

Anatomy of Hope - Groopman

Dr. Jerome Groopman’s The Anatomy of Hope: How People Prevail in the Face of Illness, may not be the kind of book with a title that will grab your attention and make you reach out for it from the shelves, but I am glad I did. Not only did I find it to be insightful and informative, but it was also much more readable than I had imagined (no thanks to the title) and did make for a most engaging read. I was really taken in by the sincere humility and honesty in which Dr. Groopman’s voice came across on the subject matter.

I learned much, and found the writing to be really helpful.

Personally, the past few years have been a rather exhaustive struggle for me in trying to help someone dear in my life, see hope. Dr. Groopman’s insights and observations have no doubt given me now a better understanding on the matter,  and armed me with better tools to approach the subject, moving forward.

I thought about this, how our minds naturally jump to picture the negative outcome and stall there. It is because the mind is frozen by fear, and fear overwhelms hope.

~~~~~~~~~~~~~

Hope can arrive only when you recognize that there are real options and that you have genuine choices. Hope can flourish only when you believe that what you can do can make a difference, that your actions can bring a future different from the present.
To have hope, then, is to acquire belief in your ability to have some control over your circumstances. You are no longer entirely at the mercy of forces outside yourself.

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

To hope under the most extreme circumstances is an act of defiance that [….] permits a person to live his life on his own terms. It is part of the human spirit to endure and give a miracle a chance to happen….

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

I’ve come to believe that the way the body talks to the brain powerfully shapes our sense of hope or despair. [….]
Hope, then, is constructed not just from rational deliberation, from the conscious weighing of information; it arises as an amalgam of thought and feeling, the feelings created in part by neural input from the organs and tissues.

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

The question of hope became more than just a subject of study for Dr. Groopman when a ruptured lumbar disc, sustained while he was training for the 1979 Boston Marathon, found the doctor himself becoming the patient. It was to be the start of a long and debilitating journey, of living life with pain as a constant companion, for the next nineteen years. After nearly having given up all hope of recovery, Dr. Groopman was finally referred to the ‘right’ doctor.

“What do I mean that you are worshiping the volcano god of pain?” he asked. “You interpret pain as a red flag, a warning that you are doing damage to your body. So you sacrifice things that you love, activities that give your life joy, to be kept free from pain. You say to the volcano god: ‘I will give up walking long distances if you keep me out of pain. I will give up lifting my children if you keep me out of pain. I will give up travel, because long trips stress my spine. Just keep me from pain.’
“But this god is never fully satisfied with any offering: It is appeased for only a short while. So the more you sacrifice, the more it demands, until your life contracts, as it has, into a very narrow space. I believe you can be freed from your pain. I believe you can rebuild yourself and do much, much more. [….] You think what I am saying is complete bullshit. You’ve lived all these years without any real hope, and it’s hard to open that door and glimpse a different kind of life.
[….] It’s your choice: to try or not to try. You can walk out of my office now and believe everything you’ve believed for the past nineteen years, and live the way you have. Or you can test me. And I’ll tell you now, I’m right.”

I am glad to let you know that those words were indeed put to the test, and finally he was able to recover back the ‘life’ that he had lost in those nineteen long years of chronic pain.

Dr. Groopman also managed to draw a very clear picture of the Body-Mind and Mind-Body Connection, with regards to hope.

This is the vicious cycle. When we feel pain from our physical debility, that pain amplifies our sense of hopelessness; the less hopeful we feel, the fewer endorphins and enkephalins and the more CCK (a chemical that blocks endorphins) we release. The more pain we experience due to these neurochemicals, the less able we are to feel hope.
To break the cycle is the key. It can be broken by the first spark of hope: Hope sets off a chain reaction. Hope tempers pains, and as we sense less pain, that feeling of hope expands, which further reduces pain. As pain subsides, a significant obstacle to enduring a harsh but necessary therapy is removed.

He goes on further to say that even by simply being able to alleviate a patient’s fatigue, which is a common unremitting symptom for many, by just a little, can have major impact on a patient’s sense of hope.

Without hope, nothing could begin; hope offered a real chance to reach a better end. Hope helps us overcome hurdles that we otherwise could not scale, and it moves us forward to a place where healing can occur.

….. no one is beyond the capacity to hope.

And the book closes with these parting thoughts:

….. we are just beginning to appreciate hope’s reach and have not defined its limits. I see hope as the very heart of healing. For those who have hope, it may help some to live longer, and it will help all to live better.

Hebrews 11-1 BW

A Little Goes A Long Way

penguin 5000 miles

Did you all hear of the story about the South American Magellanic penguin who swims 5,000 miles each year to be reunited with the man who saved his life?

It is one of the most heartwarming stories I’ve come across in a long while.

I think we all need to have more stories like this to be reminded  every once in a while, that the world can indeed be a much kinder place, if only we are willing to go the extra mile for a fellow living being, in need of a helping hand.