"There is no more lovely, friendly and charming relationship, communion or company than a good marriage."
--Martin Luther

Tuesday, 9 February 2016

Top Ten Tuesday: Valentine's Day Edition

Ah, Valentine's Day. So, this one time, I went to see the movie Titanic in theatres with my friend. (Yes, I am that old.) We went out for coffee beforehand, and I thought my friend was next to me, so I leaned and said suggestively, "It's almost Valentine's Day...." Yeah, that wasn't my friend. It was a man. It was very awkward. And that, friends, is my best V-day story.

Anyway, now it *is* almost Valentine's Day, and today's Top Ten Tuesday topic is anything Valentine's related, so I'm doing my favourite couples from literature.

1. Anne Shirley and Gilbert Blythe from Anne of Green Gables: Duh.

2. Elizabeth Bennet and Mr Darcy from Pride and Prejudice: You all saw that coming too, didn't you?

3. Constantine Levin and Kitty from Anna Karenina: That would be the *other* lovers from the book, the less depressing ones. I adore this couple. Their engagement is the cutest thing ever.

4. Margaret Hale and Mr Thornton from North and South: This is one of my favourite books and I love this couple. It's like Pride and Prejudice, but with some politics and the Industrial Revolution mixed in. Margaret Hale is so feisty.

5. Henry and Clare de Tamble from The Time Traveler's Wife: Swoon!

6. Maud Bailey and Roland Mitchell from Possession: Two academic nerds who fall in love while solving a literary mystery. Be still my heart!

7. Anne Eliot and Captain Wentworth in Persuasion: I love this happily-ever-after moment.

8. Lou and Will from Me Before You: Pardon me while I bawl my eyes out, but this love story is so tragic and beautiful.

9. Eleanor and Park from Eleanor and Park: A modern-day Romeo and Juliet. I loved their quirky romance.

10. Alana and Marko from the Saga series of graphic novels: They both have such strong personalities, and they go through so much to stay together.

Happy Valentine's Day!

Tuesday, 2 February 2016

Top Ten Tuesday: Favourite Historical Settings

I looooooove history. I mean, I majored in it, and I still read a lot of history books for pleasure. I also like historical fiction, but I am super picky about inaccuracies, so I am frequently disappointed. Today at Top Ten Tuesday, the topic is favourite historical settings OR settings you'd like to read more of. I'm doing a little bit of both.

Favourite Settings
1. Nineteenth Century Russia: No surprise for here, given I'm a die-hard russophile. Actually, I'd extend this back into the eighteenth century too, since I am fascinated by Catherine the Great.

2. Mid-twentieth Century USSR: I'm thinking the 30s to the 50s. There was so much going on in this period, like intrigues, purges, war, but also art and literature.

3. World War II: Predominantly in Europe, but I'm fascinated by WWII and will read books about many contexts including China (Shanghai Girls), Malaysia (Breaking the Tongue), and Kenya (Nowhere in Africa - a fabulous film by the way).

4. Tudor England: When I was a kid, I was obsessed with Queen Elizabeth I, and that interest has never died.

5. 1960s North America: It was definitely an era of change, and I find it fascinating.

6. Victorian England: I'm not sure why. Maybe it's the fashion...

7. Ancient Rome: I've never been a classics scholar, but books that take place in this time period really draw me in. One of my favourites is the Mark of the Lion series by Francine Rivers.

Settings I'd Like to Read More of:
8. Historical India: I've read a few books, but not nearly enough.

9. Australia and New Zealand: Sadly, I know very little about the history of these countries, even though we are culturally so similar. Last year, I read Swords and Crowns and Rings on a friend's recommendation, and it was really interesting, so hopefully I'll get to more Australian historical fiction at some point.

10. Pre-Columbus Americas: I don't know that I've read anything that falls into this category, but I would love to find books that fit the bill.

What about you, readers? What are your favourite historical settings?

Wednesday, 27 January 2016

Infertility and Depression: Let's Talk

I am writing this as part of the Bell "Let's Talk" campaign, which aims to reduce the stigma of mental illness.

Let me give you a hypothetical scenario: Imagine that for about 18 months now, your friend has been intermittently complaining about pain in her leg. She doesn't mention it every time you speak, but often enough that you realize it's an ongoing problem. You start to realize that she's actually cut back on social engagements due to this pain. She has not seen some of her friends because they always want to go out and do active things, but she can't go with them because of this pain. She seems to have given up on it ever getting better, and you get the sense that this is something that troubles her most days, if not all the time, and it seems to be getting worse.

What would you do? If you were her sister, or her close friend, you would probably be nagging her to go to the doctor. You would point out that this could be something serious, that you are really concerned. You might even offer to take her to the doctor yourself. If you knew a specialist, maybe you'd call them to try to get her in. You wouldn't just accept it or tell her to figure it out herself.

Yet, friends, this is what we do with depression. It happens all the time. It has happened to me. I cannot tell you how many people that I have talked to in the past 18 months, how many times I have said that I'm sad, that I cry most days, that I feel hopeless, that I struggle with feeling like I've lost many of my friends because I can't relate to their lives as parents. Some people act sympathetic, while others are clearly uncomfortable. Even my former doctor said she was concerned that I was showing signs of depression, but her response was to tell me to come back in 6 months and we'd talk about whether it was worse. (This is part of the reason why she is my former doctor and not my current one....) Yet no one ever stepped in. A few people suggested counseling, and one promised to follow-up with some contacts and never did. I'm not saying this to blame people, but rather to point out the difference in how we treat depression versus physical illnesses. If I had cancer, all of these people would be bending over backwards to help, bringing meals, driving me to treatments. I know this because I know and love these people. But when it's mental illness and not physical, we step back, because it feels so personal and we don't know how to help. As a result, those who are suffering in darkness get the message that it's "their" problem and that, as one person recently told me, "Only YOU can figure out how to help yourself." Is that true? Maybe, but would you say that to me if I had diabetes or cancer? Probably not.

The truth is, infertility and depression go hand in hand. Lots of sources corroborate this. It is hard to describe how debilitating the emotions surrounding infertility can be. There is something spectacularly awful when you fail at a reproductive norm; it's like you have actually failed at being a human being. Then you go into tests that are often embarrassing, and you often end up with hormonal supplements that play with your emotions. To add to that, for women especially the culture around motherhood is all-encompassing. It can be hard to make friends, because after a certain age, women's lives often revolve around children. This leaves childless women and single women out. It's hard. It's isolating. It is honestly a recipe for depression, and yet so many people brush it off with comments like, "You don't realize how hard it is to have children" or "You'll get there someday." Maybe, but a person struggling in darkness doesn't need someday, she needs help right now. She needs a hand to help her get out of the pit.

"Why can't you ask for help?" many will ask. "Why can't you pull yourself out?" The answers are as varied as the sufferers. Sometimes we ask, and are rebuffed, so we learn not to speak up. Sometimes the pit is too deep and too dark. When you are infertile, sadness and futility can easily become the norm. It's not as though I went to bed cheerful and woke up deeply depressed. My walk into depression was like walking into the ocean, where before I knew it, I was in over my head. It became normal to feel low, and then to feel sad. Treatments were difficult, and disappointment came month after month after month. After a while, it seemed incomprehensible not to be sad, to think that I could ever be happy when the dream I had had for my whole life had collapsed. After a while, it felt like the pit was all I knew.

If you are in the pit, please please keep speaking up. You may have to scream and shout, but do it until someone listens. If no one else will listen, I will. Email me if you need to. Being depressed does not mean that you are weak or that there is something wrong with you. It just means that you need help finding the light.

If you have a close friend who is infertile, really listen in to what he or she is saying. Don't ignore signs of depression or other mental illness. Come alongside others, urge them to see a doctor or to look into counseling, and don't let it slide. Many people like me are just waiting for someone to really see them, to realize that they are losing part of themselves, that this isn't normal. Don't let it happen without a fight. Sometimes the most loving thing you can say is, "You need help. Let me get it with you."

What's the end of my story? I don't know yet. I've seen two counselors, and neither one was a great fit for me, and I wasn't able to get another appointment until the end of February. I am strong enough to advocate for myself, but I know that not everyone is, so I want to keep the dialogue alive. "Let's Talk."

Tuesday, 26 January 2016

Ten Actors that Embodied a Fictional Character: An Alan Rickman Tribute

Today's Top Ten Tuesday topic is a freebie, so I'm using it to tip my hat and raise my wand to Alan Rickman, who passed away on January 14. Rickman was a wonderfully talented actor whose career I had followed since watching him as Colonel Brandon in Sense and Sensibility. I have since seen him in at least a dozen films, but I think most Harry Potter devotees would say that his portrayal of Severus Snape was beyond fantastic, that he truly became that character. Here is my tribute to fictional characters that I feel were really captured by the actors that played them. (I'm trying to limit this to cases where I've both seen the films AND read the books, so if you notice a glaring absence, it's probably because I rarely go to the movies!)

Pardon me while I weep uncontrollably...

1. Alan Rickman as Severus Snape in the Harry Potter series: Obbbbviously.

2. Rupert Grint as Ron Weasley in the Harry Potter series: There are so many fabulous actors in the series, but to me, Rupert Grint really is Ron. His expressions just kill me every time. The love potion scene is one of my all-time favourites.

3. Colin Firth as Mr Darcy in Pride and Prejudice: Sorry Matthew Macfadyen fans, but you're all wrong. :P If I had a part B to this entry, it would be Colin Firth as Mark Darcy in the Bridget Jones films, because he is just the only Darcy the world needs!

Source (and more memes) found here.

4. Megan Follows as Anne of Green Gables: I grew up watching this mini-series and it is near and dear to my heart. I cannot imagine anyone else being Anne. RIP Jonathan Crombie. :(

5. Winona Ryder as Jo March in Little Women: I know there are several adaptations of this story, and I have seen a couple of them, but I just love the 1994 film version, and I felt like Winona really captured Jo's unique personality.

6. Viggo Mortensen as Aragorn in the Lord of the Rings trilogy: Is there any doubt? When I hear him speak in interviews, I am always taken aback because in my mind, he is Aragorn.

7. Vivien Leigh as Scarlett O'Hara in Gone With the Wind: I think she managed to capture a character who is actually quite complicated. Scarlett seems vapid and selfish from the get-go, but she's also tough and intelligent. I've always had an admiration for her as a woman who fought for survival and to be taken seriously, even if sometimes I balked at her methods. Leighs performance was perfection.

8. Gregory Peck as Atticus Finch in To Kill a Mockingbird: His portrayal was so good that it's hard to really separate the idea of Atticus from Gregory Peck, at least to me.

9. Jack Nicholson as Randle McMurphy in One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest: Honestly, it was a toss-up for this because I also thought of Nicholson in The Shining. He does crazy really, really well....

10. Noomi Rapace as Lisbeth Salander in The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo (and sequels): Obviously Rapace is not the only Lisbeth, because they made a set of English language adaptations too, but I thought she did a fantastic job and found no need to see the films again in English.

RIP Alan Rickman. We will miss you always.

Tuesday, 19 January 2016

Top Ten Tuesday: 10 Additions to the TBR

Today's Top Ten Tuesday topic is "Ten Books We've Recently Added to our To Be Read List". I add books to my Goodreads list all. the. time. It's ridiculous. And then periodically I go back and wonder why in the world I added certain books. Sometimes I'm reading a history book and found some interesting books in the bibliography. (This is why I have a lot of Gulag memoirs on my list. I'm going to have to space those out or it will be a very depressing season...) Other times, I'm watching a vlog and someone has a slew of fun recommendations. There are books that I add just because I see them at the book store or in the library. Here are the most recent additions:

1. Finders Keepers by Stephen King: I added this because it was on display at the library, and I wouldn't let myself take it home because all my OverDrive holds just came in at once!

2. Invisible Man by Ralph Ellison: This had been a book that was on my radar for a while since it's one of those seminal works of twentieth century American literature, but I finally added it on GoodReads to make it "official".

3. Captain Corelli's Mandolin by Louis de Bernires: Frankly, I don't have a clue what prompted me to look up this book, but it seemed interesting!

4. Six of Crows by Leigh Bardugo: You can thank a variety of book bloggers for this addition to the list.

5. Worlds of Ink and Shadow by Lena Coakley: I think I added this based on it popping up in my GoodReads feed and the fact that I'm mildly obsessed with Jane Eyre.

6. The Mystics of Mile End by Sigal Samuel: One of my classmates posted about this book on Facebook, so I had to look it up.

7. In the Land of Invented Languages by Arika Okrent: Some sort of rabbit trail must have led me to this book, but it sounds really cool! Nerdgasm!

8. Decolonising the Mind: The Politics of Language in African Literature by Ngugi wa Thiong'o: I don't know where I found this, but I'm interested in post-colonial Africa, so it will definitely be a good read.

9. The Stand by Stephen King: I had an awesome coffee date with a friend a few weeks ago, and somehow we got to talking about Stephen King. This was her favourite of his, and I've never read it, so onto the list it goes!

10. Salt to the Sea by Ruth Sepetys: I don't know where I heard about this, but I loved Between Shades of Grey and I have been interested in this shipwreck since reading Günther Grass's Crabwalk.

What about you, reader? What books have you recently added to the TBR?

Tuesday, 12 January 2016

Top Ten Tuesday: 2015 Releases I Hope To Read in 2016

The official title of this week's Top Ten Tuesday topic (as always, at The Broke and the Bookish) is "2015 I meant to get to, but didn't", but I wouldn't really qualify this list as such because I did complete most of the books that I meant to last year. These are all 2015 releases that I added to my to-read list, and hope to read within the next year or so.

1. Black Man In a White Coat: A Doctor's Reflections on Race and Medicine by Damon Tweedy: I added this to my Overdrive holds following a discussion in a medical spouses discussion group, and it sounds eye-opening and interesting. My hold has just come in, so will read it within the next few weeks.

2. The Tsar of Love and Techno by Anthony Marra: I have this on order from Amazon. Squee!

3. Career of Evil by Robert Galbraith: Thus far, I've enjoyed the Cormoran Strike books as some good, escapist, detective novel fun, and I'm looking forward to the next one, which has just come in on Overdrive. (Sidenote: Why must all my Overdrive holds come in at once???)

4. Visiting Hours: A Memoir of Friendship and Murder by Amy E. Butcher: One of my goals this winter is to read through a bunch of books that I bought on Kindle and forgot about. I purchased this in the spring because the author is a friend of a friend, so it's on my short-list to read by the end of March.

5. The Royal We by Heather Cocks and Jessica Morgan: I've been hesitant to add this to my list because it seemed a bit cheesy, but a lot of people I follow seem to have enjoyed it, so it will be a fun read during end-of-term stress.

6. Ms Marvel: Volume 4 by G. Willow Wilson: I had this on my fall TBR, but the library didn't order it, for some reason, even though they both the previous three volumes. I may have to bite the bullet and purchase it myself.

And a few others on my long-list:
7. Vengeance Road by Erin Bowman: This got some good reviews, and at some point I'll likely pick it up.

8. The Dark Days Club by Alison Goodman: I add this on a whim because of Emily on The Book Geek. At present, it's #159 on my Goodreads list and the library still hasn't got any copies, so I'm not likely to read it in the near future.

9. Symphony for the City of the Dead: Dmitri Shostakovich and the Siege of Leningrad by M.T. Anderson: I spent the summer of 2004 in St. Petersburg, where I had the opportunity to visit the Siege Memorial (where you can see Shostakovich's violin on display), as well as to attend a Shostakovich opera, so this is obviously high on my radar, but I don't know when I'll be in the mood for the heavy topic.

Me at the Siege Memorial. Grainy photos and date stamp courtesy of my old, non-digital camera.

10. The Mime Order by Samantha Shannon: This is a huge maybe for me since I'm just finishing The Bone Season, and it's intriguing, but I'm not in a rush to continue the series just yet, especially as the remaining five (!!) planned books are still unpublished. I'll probably get around to it one day.

Tuesday, 5 January 2016

Top Ten Tuesday: Resolutions (Bookish and Otherwise)

I don't do new year's resolutions. It's just not my thing. I did them in the past, but the combo of guilt and malaise killed them. Now I just resolve to do stuff when it's the right time to do it. This year, I'm focusing on JOY, finding it, living it, etc. I'll post more on that later in the week. However, today at The Broke and the Bookish, we're talking about resolutions, so I have a few in the back of my mind.

1. Finish school: This isn't a resolution as much as something I have to do unless I feel like coughing up another year of tuition.

2. Formulate a good strategy for job search, and pursue it: When I finished my M.A., I felt totally at sea about finding a job. I don't think I went about it in a methodical way, and I felt out of my element. I'd like to do better this time around.

3. Find a (good) therapist: This has been an ongoing struggle. If you've read a lot of my posts, you know that it's been a very difficult couple of years, and I think this would help me to deal with life.

4. Take a really good vacation with the hubs: It's been too long, and I've got Paris on my mind...

5. Redo my blog interface because it's looking a little sad.

6. Read more theology books: Last year I wanted to read more non-fiction, and I did, but now I want to focus on finding the joy in my faith, and I think good books will help. Any recommendations?

7. Read 52 books in my GoodReads challenge: Last year, I read 89, so I'm not really concerned about meeting that goal.

8. Finish 10 books in my Classics Club challenge list, so that I'm on track to finish my 50 books by June of 2018: Right now, I'm at 28 books at exactly halfway through the 5-year challenge.

9. Edit my novel and decide what to do about it: That's right, I wrote a novel. I finished it in 2014, but then school got crazy and it's just been sitting on my computer. I'd like to at least have it cleaned up a bit, even if I only share it with a handful of people.

10. Read more books from my Kindle: I buy them on sale, and then they just sit there. My winter TBR was supposed to be all about Kindle books, but it's January and I haven't started this yet...

It's not a resolution, but I'm thinking of reading a big series. This will depend on my job situation, but if I have some time on my hands after finishing school, I'd like to delve into one of the series that I have avoided due to school. That might be A Song of Ice and Fire or Outlander, or I might just re-read Harry Potter. :)