It Can’t Happen Here (Sinclair Lewis)-As we all know, unfortunately it did happen here. This is a novel written many years before Trump came to power about a president named Berzelius Windrip who bears a remarkable similarity to Trump. He even decides he wants to live at a hotel rather than at The White House. The results of Buzz Windrip’s presidency are disastrous just as the results of Trump’s presidency have been and will be disastrous. Many people are killed or put in concentration camps as a result of going against Buzz. I hope it doesn’t come to that with Trump but I wouldn’t put it entirely out of the realm of possibility. Things don’t end too well for Buzz or his supporters either and I’m sure that’s how it will go for Trump and his supporters too. There were no winners in the 2016 election.

In the beginning of the book the protagonist is reluctant to take part in the resistance against Buzz Windrip but by the end of the book he has become one of the leaders of the resistance. Resistance is what we need in our real world that is unfortunately emulating this novel and fortunately I’m continuing to see a lot of people resisting against all the bullshit of Trump and his administration.  While I’m not an active member of the resistance, I am rather fond of my Resist t-shirt that features a picture of Smokey the Bear (brought to me courtesy of the National Park Service.)

Since this was billed to me as being representative of Trump and the clusterfuck that surrounded his election, I found myself frustrated that certain relevant points pertaining to it were not included in this book but I had to remind myself that the author didn’t actually intend for it to be representative of him, as it was written before he was even born.  I’ve heard this is not one of Sinclair Lewis’s best books but I haven’t read any of his other books and I liked this one well enough.

A Monster Calls (Patrick Ness)– This YA novel is a quick read. Some editions include illustrations. The plot concerns a boy whose mother is dying of cancer and the monster that comes to visit him. This book made good use of allegory. Fantasy and reality were well blended. The painful, complicated, conflicting emotions that are experienced when a loved one is dying were explained in a way that young readers could understand.

A friend asked me if I thought the book was too predictable. I didn’t think it was too predictable. The parts that were predictable were that way because they had to be and there were parts that defied expectations. I liked the part where the monster told the boy a fairy tale in which it seemed pretty obvious who the good guy was and who the bad guy was but the boy was shocked when the monster punished the person he thought of as the good guy rather than the person he thought of as evil. The monster then explained why the man he thought of as good deserved to be punished.

Lily and the Octopus (Steven Rowley)– After I read a book about a human dying of cancer I decided to read a book about a dog dying of cancer. I was drawn to the book because the dog had the same name as my dog.  I didn’t realize that the octopus in the title symbolized a tumor growing on the dog’s head. Like A Monster Calls, this book makes use of metaphor and allegory, blends fantasy and reality.  It’s a sweet story and it tugs at your heartstrings, especially if you’ve  ever loved and lost a canine friend. Make sure to have plenty of tissues handy when you read this.

American Gods (Neil Gaiman)– I read my first Neil Gaiman book, The Ocean at the End of the Lane a few years ago and I was blown away by it. Ever since then I’ve been vowing to read more Neil Gaiman books but I didn’t get around to it until this year. I chose American Gods because I’d heard good things about it and there’s a show based on it coming out soon.

I find it kind of challenging to describe this book. The plot involves a guy who has just been released from prison and experienced the death of his wife taking a job as a bodyguard for a mysterious conman. They then embark on an epic supernatural journey that involves the old gods of mythology trying to fight against the new ‘American Gods’ that are taking their place. These new gods reflect America’s preoccupation with things such as celebrities, media, technology and drugs.

This is a book full of symbolism, a lot of which I’m sure went completely over my head. It is a blend of fantasy, mystery and horror. I don’t like any of those genres on their own but when they’re all blended together in a literary way, it works for me. I found this book creepy and unsettling. Since I’m a morbid person I can appreciate a book that leaves me feeling that way. Neil Gaiman is an author unlike any other author I’ve read.

My Stroke of Insight (Jill Bolte Taylor)– This book was assigned to me by my therapist. It is a memoir written by a neuroscientist who experienced a stroke. Given her profession, she obviously had some special insights in to what happened to her neurologically. While reading this book it was often unclear to me whether these were insights she had while she was having/recovering from the stroke or insights she arrived at after the fact.

I had no idea that a stroke could be in any way pleasurable so I was shocked by the feelings of deep euphoria she experienced when the stroke hit. She described it as a feeling of being at one with the universe, of there being no boundaries between herself and the rest of the world. While I would never wish to have a stroke, that does sound like a pretty cool feeling that I wouldn’t mind experiencing. I think the closest I ever came was that time I was on a (legally prescribed) Ketamine trip.

The euphoric feelings were a result of the damage the stroke did to the left hemisphere of her brain. Before she got into the details of her stroke in the book she spent some time describing the differences between the right and left brain. Among those differences is that the right brain tends to be peaceful, accepting, interconnected with the world and living in the moment while the left brain tends to be judgmental, focused on the past and views the self as a separate entity.

Of course the left brain also performs some vital functions and the stroke left Jill Bolte Taylor severely impaired. It took her 8 years to recover. The decision to recover was a conscious choice for her. I applaud her decision because my lazy butt would have been very tempted to remain impaired and floating on cloud 9, rather than put in the hard work towards recovery and get back all the negative emotions associated with the left brain.

One of the main reasons Dr. Taylor decided to recover was that she wanted to share the insights she had gained from her stroke to help not just other stroke victims but people in general. She believes people can lead  more peaceful, fulfilled lives if they allow themselves to tune in to the propensities of their right brain.

She does provide some valuable insights. She noted that while recovering from the stroke she was drawn towards people who gave off positive energy and who focused on her accomplishments rather than on what she could not do, that those were the kind of people who were instrumental in her recovery. Whether you’re recovering from a stroke or not, it’s best to surround yourself with those kind of people and limit contact as much as possible with negative people who point out your faults.

The insight she provided that I found the most valuable and that spoke to me the most was when she pointed out that when a negative thought or feeling floods the brain, it only has a natural biological lifespan of about 30 seconds or so. If it persists after that it’s because the person is choosing to focus on it and we can learn not to focus on it, to shift our focus to something else. God knows I have a tendency to perseverate on negative thoughts and emotions. After reading this book, now more so than ever, when I experience a thought or emotion that is causing me distress, I make an effort to say to myself “Enough already, brain!  Let’s stop thinking about this for now.”

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