As I mentioned in my last post on When I’m 64, our book group is reading a book by Aimee Nezhukumatathil called World of Wonders: In Praise of Fireflies, Whale Sharks and Other Astonishments and hearing we were reading it was delightful because I’d sat in on a Zoom meeting between Aimee Nezhukumatathil and Ross Gay (the impetus for When I’m 64) and thought I would probably like World of Wonders. I’ve read one essay/chapter and I know I am going to love it. Not only is the writing delightful, but the book is illustrated beautifully by Fumi Mini Nakamura.
I’ve written here and there about my friend Jeremy. I just calculated (for an Amazon review of his book) that we’ve been friends for 47 years. We met when his British grammar school and my high school participated in an exchange. Students from Benton Park Grammar School outside Leeds visited Larkin High School in Elgin, Illinois the spring of 1974 and students (myself included) from Larkin visited Benton Park. I stayed with his family in 1974 and we visited back and forth for several years after that.
I remember my reaction when I found out that Jeremy had a stroke (horrified and deeply sad but relieved he was alive) — but I am not positive how I heard about it. I’m thinking it was Christmastime 1997 and Frances, Jeremy’s wife, sent us a Christmas card with a letter explaining what happened. Thinking back, it seemed to be years after his father’s sudden death (which I remember distinctly because Jeremy’s brother Nick called me), but it was only nine months later. Another trick my mind played on me is that I thought our 2002 visit to England when we stayed with Jeremy and Frances for a few days was much more than five years since the stroke.
Jeremy seemed pretty much his old self during that 2002 visit. We may have spoken about his stroke, but I am not sure. It was mentioned — I know my mom was worried when Jeremy said his vision was not what it used to be. My mom encouraged him to wear glasses even though he said he was too vain.
We’ve kept in contact with Jeremy and Frances on a semi-regular basis (although for years and years they sent us a Christmas card with Jeremy’s fun letter (whimsically drawn and captioned) and we, while delighted, sent nothing back. Once or twice I’d send a letter, but not often enough).
More recently, Jeremy’s daughter and I connected on Facebook and I’d relay news to Jeremy through her. Finally within the past 5 or so years, Jeremy has joined Facebook and that’s how we usually communicate. It was through this connection that I learned that Jeremy had written a book about his stroke. At the time it was only available on Amazon UK, but I bought it anyway. It took a long time to get here (early Covid days), but it eventually arrived. I must have been reading something else or busy languishing or something, because I put it on a shelf and promptly semi-forgot about it. I say “semi” because when I did spy it on the shelf I felt guilty for not reading it.
Hoover the Talking Seal
I finally opened Hoover the Talking Seal and began reading it on our recent trip to Lake Gaston where I had no cell or Internet coverage. I really enjoyed reading it and kicked myself for not opening it sooner.
There are many things to like about this book. For me, personally, it’s being able to read Jeremy’s words again. During our early friendship we wrote weekly letters to each other (I have a suitcase full of his letters to me in the attic kneewall). Receiving a letter from him was always a delight. Reading his words in this book was as delightful.
Jeremy is a talented writer. He has been for as long as I have known him. He has a way of writing to the average person so the average person will understand, but he does not “talk down” in his writing. Hoover the Talking Seal tells the story of one man’s stroke and the rehabilitation that followed. It’s told with humor, humility and frankness.
Jeremy’s stroke caused changes in his vision which he writes about in detail. In addition to being a talented writer, Jeremy is also a talented artist. Accompanying the narrative in the book are several illustrations that Jeremy created to show others what he was seeing. He was given some sort of Royal recognition for these illustrations, maybe he mentioned it in the book, but I cannot find exactly where it is.
I’ve been filling my time lately with books and videos. I’ve been either reading or listening to books or podcasts about books. I’ve been watching whatever will take me away from the thoughts in my head.
Other than current book group books, I’ve decided to read books I own: hard copies, e-books or audio books or books I can borrow from the library. I’m starting with the book group list of books that Diana sent out a few months ago. I’ve gone through the list and highlighted what I read (or remembered reading).
I began with A Constellation of Vital Phenomena by Anthony Marra. This book was one I was pretty sure I would not finish. Our book group met to discuss it in September of 2017 and I’d not gotten very far in it. It took place during the Chechen wars and I could not handle the background. I don’t think I even noticed how beautifully it was written because of the atrocities that were described. I tried to read it again, a few years ago, but ended around the same place I stopped the first time. I finally decided I was going to read/listen to it or make the decision it would never be for me. I am glad I did because it turned out to be one of the most beautiful, haunting, sad books I have ever read. I’ve recommended it quite a lot since I finished reading it last month.
The next book I read was our current book group read, Have You Seen Luis Velez? by Catherine Ryan Hyde. I liked it, but I really like books about friendships between young and old. The young man in this book was 17 and the older woman was 92. The book was light and pure escapism. It was about fitting in and the kindness of strangers. Just what I needed.
Then I moved onto another book I had trouble getting into: The Elegance of the Hedgehog by Muriel Barbery. The book group met to discuss this in February of 2009. I don’t remember if I went to that meeting or not. I did want to read it but I remember feeling it was too heavy to read at the time. I’ve since picked it up a couple of times, but never long enough to get into it. I finally finished it last week — reading some via my KIndle and listening to some via the library’s Libby app. My thoughts are that if the whole book was as good as the last quarter I may have finished it long ago. I reviewed it on Goodreads.
I finished Firefly Lane by Kristin Hannah yesterday. I would not have read this had I not seen the Netflix series based on it and if the series had not ended on a cliffhanger or three. I was compelled to finish it, but it left a bad taste in my mouth once I read the author’s note at the end. I felt like a fool spending my time reading this and having my emotions played with when it was basically a public service announcement. I reviewed it on Goodreads which includes a hidden spoiler.
Yesterday I went back to the bookgroup list and started The Secret History by Donna Tartt. This book was a book group read before I joined the group, I believe. I am not sure I like it, but I am going to give it a couple more days.
Dean and I are watching the remake of All Creatures Great and Small on PBS. It’s good. I expected to feel nostalgic for the actors from the original series, but the actors in this remake are quite good. It was a little jarring to see Mrs. Hall played by someone young and attractive. And I admit that I missed Peter Davison as Tristan at first, but I might like Callum Woodhouse even better.
I binge watched Emily in Paris over a couple of nights. Fun, funny, escapism.
I also binge watched Bridgerton and Firefly Lane. Loved Bridgerton and thought Firefly Lane was good, except that it ended with several loose ties.
I need something to watch now. Any ideas?