Tuesday, March 29, 2005

BOOKS: The Time of Reckoning Is at Hand (part one)

Here's the thing about having an approximately 7-lb organism inside you:

It feels really, really weird.

How's that for stating the obvious? And yet all the parenting books and magazines and websites (oh, let's call a spade a spade... they're mothering books and magazines and websites because men have too much -- or too little -- sense to read how-to books about something as ephemeral as parenting) don't tell you this. They tell you that being pregnant is wonderful and/or magical and/or empowering, and they may even admit that it can be "uncomfortable", but not once have I read anything anywhere that antes up the fact that harbouring a large organism inside your own body
is just plain unsettling, not to mention outright bizarre. (Yes, yes, I know it's "natural" and all that, but so are
platypuses and, arguably, Anna Nicole Smith, and that doesn't make them any less strange.)

If you've never gestated a large-ish mammal before, here are some things that may surprise you:
  • When said mammal "kicks", this event is not the charming once-every-so-often experience that sitcoms would have you believe, in which everyone gathers round with their hands on the gestatee's stomach while she smiles beatifically.
  • Kicking is a persistent (i.e. sometimes dozens of times per hour) and frequently painful activity. Kicks can be directed at any number of your vital organs, frequently simultaneously. It is possible to be kicked under your ribs AND in the bladder at the same time, resulting in a having-to-pee-with-the-wind-knocked-out-of-you sensation that is not without a certain je ne sais quoi.
  • Kicking is visible from the outside of your body. This is exactly 87 times freakier than you would think it is. Imagine it thusly: you are inside a large balloon. Whilst pressing your back against one side of the balloon, you are able to leverage both feet against two other sides of the balloon, and you push out, distending the balloon so that it looks like two little teepees where each foot is pressing. Just for kicks, you keep your feet in this position for a minute or two, ignoring the gasps of pain coming from outside the balloon. Whee!
  • "Kicking" is actually a colloquial term for "fetal movement", which is a deceptively innocuous blanket term for a range of movements that would have made the Red Baron proud: loop-the-loops, barrel rolls, and possibly even the dreaded hammer head.
  • Kicking does not subside at reasonable times, such as during important work meetings, while watching America's Next Top Model, or WHILE TRYING TO SLEEP.
This last point is by way of getting to my main point (yes, I have one): no sleep = lots of reading. So without further ado (I think, but I'm not making any promises), here's the beginning of my two-part round-up of the books I've read since I last posted:

Don't Panic: Douglas Adams & the Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy by Neil Gaiman (#12)
It's strange that this is the first Neil Gaiman book I've ever read. I keep hearing how great his novels are, and I keep meaning to pick one up (recommendations, anyone?), but after reading a glowing review of this book on
Bookslut, it catapulted to the top of the list. And it did not disappoint.

(It's also kind of fitting that reading this book marked the beginning of my own writing dry spell, since one of its recurring themes is Adams's notorious issues with writer's block and deadlines. I can relate. Hoo, boy, can I relate. Did you know that Adams used to feverishly write some of the
radio scripts in one half of the studio, literally handing the pages off to the actors to read as soon as they were written? On one hand, it makes me feel sweaty and weird just thinking about that. On the other hand, you have to admire the dude's moxy.)

Gaiman's fandom is impressive. In addition to quoting liberally from the Hitchhiker
radio and TV scripts, he's also interviewed numerous of Adams's contemporaries, as well as researched Adams's foray into video game and web site development in the early heady days of the internet. (Remember those? Sigh...)

If you're like me and you're jonesing for
the new Hitchhiker movie (coming to a theatre near you on April 29th, which coincidentally is around the abovementioned fetus's release date... Acquilad tells me if my water breaks in the theatre, we must name the poor child Zaphod... pray for us), check out this book. It's a tasty little stopgap.

Mrs. Dalloway by Virginia Woolf
Speaking of movies, I have to confess that my chronology in getting to Mrs. Dalloway was all wrong. First, I watched the movie version of The Hours, which I liked quite a bit. (Julianne Moore is so fantastic, I've even almost forgiven her for
The Forgotten.) Then I read The Hours, and I liked it a lot, too, which is totally out of character, because I usually find that seeing the movie first ruins any book for me. So when I finally got my grubby mitts on a copy of Mrs. Dalloway
, I thought I'd love it, too. And I didn't.

Don't get me wrong. It definitely didn't suck or anything, and there were many, many passages I outright loved. But the book just didn't didn't hang together for me, and now I feel like a total rube. A guilty rube, at that.

The Comforters by Muriel Spark
Perhaps you've judged me harshly for my non-love of Mrs. Dalloway, and perhaps part of your judgment has been of the "she just can't handle quasi-experimental mid-20th-century fiction" variety. To which I reply, "Oho, but how does that account for the fact that I looooved The Comforters

This book (Spark's first novel, incidentally) sort of reminded me of the lighter works of Evelyn Waugh, another favourite of mine. (And by "lighter" I don't mean trivial or non-serious; I'm thinking of Waugh's ability to deftly handle sophisticated themes with a light -- even absurdist -- touch, as he does in
The Loved One and Scoop, both of which you should read, if you haven't already.)

The book's central conceit is introduced early on: Caroline, the main character (and a writer, natch, because if there's anything writers like to write about, it's other writers), begins to hear the sound of typewriter keys and a hidden omniscient narrator, who she realizes is narrating the events of the story as they occur. She is the only person who is aware of the fact that she's a character in a novel, so in the meantime all the other characters -- ordinary-seeming English folks -- get caught up in increasingly bizarre plot threads involving diamond smuggling, religious conversion, and suicide. I can't say that I'm 100 percent clear on the purpose of all this metaphysical wrangling, but that's what re-reading is for.

All righty. It's late. I have to hurry to bed and get started on my busy tossing-and-turning schedule. That's it for now. Thanks for reading, and don't forget to tune in for part


Jen Jordan said...

Neil Gaiman books - Smoke and Mirrors, a fantastic short story collection and American Gods, a brilliant, quick and wonderful read.

Rebecca said...

Gaiman recommendations - Neverwhere is a brilliant modern fairy tale. It's also a BBC movie, and it's pretty good, despite the somewhat suspect budget. His graphic novels are also excellent, and the most popular series, The Sandman, starts with Preludes & Nocturnes.

(Also? The Day I Swapped My Dad For Two Goldfish is a kid's book in the same vein as Robert Munsch and Dr. Seuss.)

Rob said...

I second Neverwhere; also, I like Gaiman's collaboration with Terry Pratchett, Good Omens.

Am I the only guy who read parenting books before his child was born? I read several - including the ones with the illustrations! You know, seeing that cross section view of the baby curled up in the womb really doesn't help the father connect. Or maybe I'm just a geek who will read anything put in front of him.

Anonymous said...

You can't go wrong with Gaiman. American Gods is my favorite-- the mythology feels so real-- but I also recommend Good Omens (co-written with Terry Pratchett) if you're looking for a laugh.

Tammy said...

Gosh, I'd never have guessed that Gaiman was so prolific. Or that he wrote children's books... that's definitely news to me.

I've realized recently that my local library branch has a terrible selection of pretty much everything, so I'll probably have to take what I can get (good to know that you can't really go wrong) until inter-library loans come to my rescue.

And to answer your question, Rob, yes, you are the only man ever to read a parenting book. But here's where I have to admit that I've only glossed over the books I have (which were all generously foisted on me by well-intentioned friends), because pregnancy and parenting books freak me out. If I want to scare myself, I'll dig up my old copy of The Shining.

Gwen said...

I agree that pregnancy can be nasty-feeling. Whenever a pregnant person walks into our office and gives us an update on all the kicking and contracting, my womb hurts and I feel like throwing up just remembering the plain sensation of having someone else inside me.

But the babies themselves are usually totally worth it. To me, at least.

landismom said...

One of my favorite (not!) pregnancy pains was being kicked in the cervix. Both of my kids thought that was fun. AIIIEEEE!

The Gaiman book sounds interesting. I just ordered something of his--I'll have to go dig it out from the pile of books threatening to topple onto my side of the bed.