30 October 2015


The problem with used book sales is the sieve of a brain that completely forgets that one already owns that book.

Case in point:

I, buying the book for the cover, picked up a pristine paperback copy of Margaret of the Imperfections not so long ago. When I got home, it went in the stack of books to be read. It was duly read. [It was okay - a couple of the stories were excellent, one needs to be turned into a play, and the rest were unmemorable.] I took it downstairs to shelve it, in alphabetical order with all* of the other fiction in the house, and discovered that I ALREADY OWNED A COPY. Clearly I am imperfect, or my memory is.

Figuring that, given a choice, one should always keep the hardcover in lieu of the paperback**, I plucked the hardcover off the shelf just to see if it rang any bells. I certainly hadn't remembered reading it ever before, but opening it up, I found an inscription on the flyleaf.


I bought the book for my mother, for Christmas, in 1991. When we packed out her house, I took it home and shelved it. I wonder if she ever read it. Probably, it would have been unlike her not to, but I can't know anymore. But our books tell the stories that we've forgotten.

* Well, most. There are books in other rooms.
** And now that I have the hardcover, who wants the paperback? Raise your hand. I'm mailing the paperback to a friend named Margaret.

27 October 2015

Matters of the Heart

Despite the fact that I have been known to rail about the lunacy of book logs for elementary school children, because they turn reading into a chore, into busy work, I have a deep and abiding love of keeping track of my own reading via GoodReads.

I mention this because I am 1) on a re-reading kick and 2) in a fallen-off-the-blog-wagon lull. In part, I make up for the lack of blog posts by micro posts on Facebook, and in tiny little "reviews" on GoodReads. Calling them reviews is a stretch of the imagination - it's more like a sentence or three to help me remember what I loved or liked or hated about a particular book.

Today, though, I finished a book and what I wanted to say was too weird and wide-ranging for GoodReads. And so, with that as preamble, let me tell you about the book I just re-read.

On Election Day in 2003, November 4th to be precise, an off year for elections, I moseyed over to the public school at which we voted. I know it was an off year, no presidents or senators to elect, but who was running and for what offices I have no idea. I can conjure up the horizontal beige tiles on the walls of the school stairway in my mind's eye, and I remember that the school's PTA was having their annual election day bake and book sale. Because I am incapable of walking past a pile of used books, I perused the stacks and came away with at least one book. Perhaps there were others; I can only remember the one. I am sure that I skipped the bake sale; as much as I like a cookie now and again, bake sales give me the heebie-jeebies: too many brownies made from box mixes.

On Election Day in 2003, I was almost 37 weeks pregnant.

On Election Day in 2003, the used book I bought at the election day sale was Walk On Water, by Michael Ruhlman. I bought it because I'd read other books by Ruhlman, about food and chefs, and I knew him to be a good writer. And the subtitle was intriguing: Inside an Elite Pediatric Surgical Unit. There I was, pregnant as all get out - sure, a book about pediatric surgeons was just the right thing to be reading.


It terrified me. It's about pediatric CARDIAC surgeons - the doctors who do repairs of congenital heart defects, open heart surgery on tiny little children who have been born with holes between the ventricles, or transposed vessels, or hypoplastic left heart syndrome. I read it compulsively, thinking about the little tiny baby still residing in my belly, hoping everything was fine with her, that her heart was perfectly intact.

She was born less than a week later, and yes, her heart was fine. Still is, as far as I know.

I pulled Walk on Water off my bookshelf the other day, though, because one of my blogging friends - someone I actually met a whole lot of years ago at a BlogHer conference - has a baby who was born with a ventricular septal defect, and her baby was having open heart surgery last week. [The baby is fine, the surgery was successful.]

Walk on Water holds up on re-reading. It's really good. A lot of it is technical, but it's written with a layman's flair, like when he describes sewing tiny arteries together as like sewing Kleenex, with needle holders, without the tissue moving. Really, though, it's about people - what parents think about, what drives the surgeons and the OR nurses. In part, it's about health care - pointing out that procedures like repairing a tetralogy of Fallot - which happens in 3.9 births out of 10,000 - are best done by surgeons who do many of them, in hospitals who do lots of pediatric cardiology, and therefore it would make more sense for Ohio to have one pediatric heart center instead of five. In short, it's an excellent read. But you might want to skip it if you're pregnant.