Book Heaven

Where the world of books and life intersect

Location: South Amboy, New Jersey

I am deeply involved in trying to solve the discrepancy between being interested in zen and trying to acquire all the things I've been accumulating

Friday, August 26, 2005

Bring On Those Leeches!

It's a well known fact that I can't bear to part with any form of printed matter -- books, magazines, newspapers, -- once they come into my possession, their life is spared. The one exception is medical books of which I am very fond. I have been passing these along to my wife's heart surgeon who is also a lover of books and a sometimes frequenter of the Strand.

I am also always cutting medical articles out of The New York Times and there was a real beauty in yesterday's paper entitled "Age Old Cures Like the Maggot, Get U.S. Hearing" by Gardiner Harris. It seems that in these increasingly high tech times, one disease cure is decidedly low tech. Well known in medical lore, it was always presumed the leech went the way of the horse and wagon but leeches are being used today by high tech surgeons like microsurgeons. This is the part I really loved: Leeches are also extraordinarily sensitive to proper blood flow and so can offer immediate feedback on how well surgery went, said Dr. Bruce Minkin, a hand surgeon in Asheville, N.C. "It won't attach if there's not good arterial blood coming in, and sometimes that tells me that I need to go back in ," Dr. Minkin said.

The part about maggots was even more interesting. Maggots it seems can clean up wounds that will not heal with normal techniques. They give an example that would be hard to top:

And during World War I, a doctor described seeing two soldiers who had been left wounded on the battlefield for days. When their clothes were taken off, thousands of maggots were found in their wounds. Once the maggots were removed, the doctor was astonished to find clean, pink living flesh. That doctor, William Bayer of the Johns Hopkins School of Medicine, became maggots' modern medical champion.

Maybe if you missed out on raising ostriches you can get in on the ground floor of maggot farming. Now that the government has convened a two day panel of medical advisers to regulate the industry, can speculation be far behind. Maggot futures here we come!!!

Tuesday, August 23, 2005

The Melville Channel

Until the Melville Channel launches (I do expect to see it in my lifetime) I will have to content myself with the already expanding universe of all things Melvillean. One of the reasons I can't retire is that the Newark Public Library has half a shelf full of inaccessible Melville stuff including one book I'm just dying to get to -- Melville's Reading by Merton M. Sealts, Jr. (University of South Carolina Press, 1988). This rather hard-to-find volume discusses books that Melville either owned (he was a real book fiend!) or had access to. Before I treat myself to that though I've got to get to Hershel Parker's two volume biography, surely the most definitive biography of any writer. A few books might possibly be longer, but at 940 pages for volume one, I wouldn't count on it. It's hard to imagine the kind of scholarship that went into creating this two volume biography.

In the preface to the first volume is this opening statement made by H.M. Tomlinson, in the London Athenaeum, 4 June 1921:

Now is the time to tackle that book about him. If this task is neglected a little longer, so that some priceless recollections of Melville, now available, are lost, and documents and other evidence of the man, which now exist, are buried still deeper beneath the litter of the years, then the book about him will be but tentative, and will leave the mystery darker than ever. And what a jolly task the writing of that biography would be! If only one lived near Nantucket.

One wonders what Tomlinson would think if he held Parker's work in his hands. Turning to any page in the book will fascinate you and I must admit that I cheated and skimmed some pages that mention Melville's acquisition of books. His life is even more interesting than his work and thanks to Parker no stone has been left unturned. Now if only I don't get sidetracked by some other book .......

Monday, August 22, 2005

With Breathless Excitement

If only we could recapture how we read when we were children, burning with interest, with breathless excitement, unwilling to put down our book to eat or sleep. Often we can remember the actual circumstances of where we were sitting, the injunctions of our parents to come to the table or go to bed. My memory of my childhood literary enthusiasms is still vivid. I read The Three Musketeers on a visit to my beloved Aunt Henrietta, in Watseka, Illinois, the time I nearly died.

I can't begin to match Diane Johnson's remembrance of reading The Three Musketeers probably because I never finished the book when I was her age (nine or ten at the time). I bet I read the Classics Illustrated comic though but sadly I don't remember the circumstances of that either. I do remember where I was when I read the classic Mickey Mouse comic story, "Island in the Sky." I was waiting for a pizza with my parents and I remember being very upset with myself for getting a drop of oil from the pizza on the comic. The disparity in these remembrances probably accounts for the fact that I am pounding out these words for this blog while Diane Johnson is writing a timeless book like Into A Paris Quartier (National Geographic Directions, 2005). Mystery fans may remember Johnson as the author of Dashiell Hammett: A Life. The thing I find most mysterious is that on the copyright page it shows Johnson's year of birth as 1934 which would put her at 70 or 71 years of age. If that is a recent photo of her on the inside back cover maybe we should all depart for Paris posthaste.

Johnson's book is the latest entry in a wonderful series from National Geographic. In an age of $15 trade paperbacks, these books look to be a real bargain at $20 for a hardcover. They feature attractive cover design and even the endpapers are impressive enough to make you want to collect the whole series (there appears to be about 20 so far). A combination of travel narrative with a bit of history sprinkled in, I have found them to be quite addictive though I have yet to actually purchase one (I've taken them out of the library so far).

I recently read in another book about Paris that there are some 10,000 books about Paris and this is a great addition to that collection. Suddenly though I am feeling kind of poor because I only have a handful.

Friday, August 19, 2005

Wiping My Butt

The other day I was wiping my butt (we're all friends here, right?) when I got the distinct feeling that I was mopping up a spill from the Exxon Valdez. If you're even a little bit observant you've probably noticed this unsettling phenomenon yourself. If not, you're even a more finicky eater than I am and that's not good. In my case I easily traced this occurrence to a piece of candy that was forced upon me the last time I got my hair cut. The barber has good intentions and though I never have a problem refusing something that is offered me, I do have a problem with this guy because he is so serious in taking care of his regular customers that I find it hard to refuse. The candy, purported to be European in nature, had a filling that made a Hostess Twinkie look wholesome. Needless to say I didn't enjoy it but considered downing it one of life's little concessions.

I've noticed this oil spill phenomenon on a few other occasions, most notably after eating at Chinese buffets which I no longer patronize -- most of them seem to have more unhealthy American food than Chinese anyway. This unsettling state of affairs is no doubt caused by some alien types of oils or food additives that would probably make Olestra look good. As I age I am getting much more concerned about what I put in my body although I was pretty much a nut case about this all along.

I have in fact decided to put on an all out blitz to get my cholesterol levels even lower and will soon begin logging everything I ingest. This latest project was born after a visit to the cardiologist when I observed him asking my wife how she got her cholesterol readings to improve so much. I was sorely tempted to pipe in that you have to start off the day with a pint of Ben & Jerry's (2 days worth of saturated fat) and then work in a good sized chocolate bar (actually brick sized) during the day, while making sure not to forget a hot dog or two on occasion. The sad fact is that the woman can eat virtually anything and not gain any appreciable amount of weight or even budge her cholesterol levels. I was pretty proud of myself for having finally gotten my HDL (the good cholesterol) out of the forties -- I hit 55 this time, attributable no doubt to my finally deciding to have a drink a day. My teetotaler wife on the other hand had HDL of 85 !

So I decided to pull out my copy of Cut Your Cholesterol by David Katz, M.D., and Debra L. Gordon (Reader's Digest, 2003), a book which you can probably still find in the bargain section at Barnes & Noble. I am still in the lowest risk group according to the way they rate you and obviously there's a lot more to it than your cholesterol level but it's something that you can tinker with. In my own case, a low fat diet did not give me good results at all. I actually have better results with higher fat levels but I'm very concious about where the fat comes from. Having a peanut butter and jelly sandwich every day for lunch and an ounce of dark chocolate at night hasn't adversely affected my readings at all. I'd probably even be better off if I upped the chocolate consumption but for me it's a mental thing and going higher would probably require hypnotism.

Also on the health front: although I haven't eaten any meat for years, I saw a new book in the library that claims that Alzheimer's may be linked to the consumption of meat. Avoid this one if you're a carnivore (sorry but I forgot the title).

Tuesday, August 02, 2005

More Bourdain!

I have my copies of Kitchen Confidential and A Cook's Tour. Why I even have a copy of his Bobby Gold Stories. They all pale however when compared to Anthony Bourdain's video ventures. You could watch the Food Network's A Cook's Tour over and over again without tiring of it, and how many things can you truly say that about? And so it is a real gift that Bourdain is back on tv again, this time in a one hour show (twice as good!) called No Reservations broadcast at 10 PM on Monday nights on the Travel Channel. The first two shows, on Paris and Iceland, were nothing short of spectacular and while I'm a little leery of how he's going to fare in next week's location (New Jersey Oy!) I'll certainly be glued to the set.