For reasons that will become clear, this is a late, double-bill edition of What I’m Into – the Mysterious SuperVirus ME Relapse edition. Which means that these past two months, although I couldn’t do much writing, I was into watching a lot of TV, and as I began to improve in April, reading some books. So I have LOTS of great recommendations for you! (Scroll down for more details about my month, plus birthday pictures – but first – book reviews!)
- Malestrom – Carolyn Custis James. What does the Bible say about the nature of manhood? This is a follow-up to her widely-praised book, Half the Church, but whereas her first book focused on the damage of patriarchy to women, this book focuses on the concept of manhood, and how patriarchy damages men. It is a brilliant book – she writes engagingly and fluently about how patriarchy is currently damaging cultures across the world, and she goes through the Bible looking at examples of where God’s followers, and ultimately Jesus, challenged patriarchal values and showed truly what it is to be a man as God intended. She is clearly an incredibly gifted Bible teacher, and I found her fresh insights and rigorous scholarship riveting. It is a book I would love men (particuarly pastors) to read – but I fear that, ironically enough, patriarchal values will mean that men are less likely to read it because it’s written by a woman. I hope I’m proved wrong and that men and women alike explore the issues raised in this book, because it is a discussion that needs to happen. A brilliant book – highly recommended. Get it for $10.29 for kindle, $14.24 Hardback from Amazon.com, £6.99 for kindle, £12.99 Hardback from Amazon.co.uk or £9.73 Hardback from Wordery.com (UK)
- Night-Driving – A Story of Faith in the Dark – Addie Zierman. When We Were On Fire, Addie Zierman’s first book, was possibly the best Christian memoir I’ve ever read, so I had high hopes for her second book, and I wasn’t disappointed. How can you believe in God when you can’t feel God anymore, when your faith has gone dark? This is the question Addie wrestles with, as she takes a 3,000-mile road-trip down to Florida to escape the Minnesotan winter. (With two children in the car under the age of five). Addie is the master of spiritual memoir, and she not only captures the relentlessness of winter and mothering two small children, but the loss of childhood faith, and the search for more. This is a must-read for anyone struggling with a dark night of the soul, or anyone feeling the weariness of parenthood. Funny, poignant, beautiful – I highly recommend it. Get it for $11.24 from Amazon.com, £10.62 from Amazon.co.uk or a bargainous £7.65 from Wordery.com (UK)
- Surprised by Oxford: A Memoir – Carolyn Weber. This is the story of how a Canadian atheist, studying a Master’s degree in English Literature at Oxford in the 1990s, was wooed by a man (and his belief in Christ) and through subsequent discussions became persuaded of Christianity. It’s long, but an enjoyable read, and as someone who’s lived in Oxford before, I thoroughly enjoyed the trip back down the cobbled streets of memory lane. She describes Oxford life as it is – with the earnest, intellectual (and occasionally pretentious) debates and discussions that Oxford students and dons have about religion in pubs and coffee shops. She interweaves her study on poetry throughout the book, which is beautiful but sometimes hard-going, even for a literature graduate like me, because the poem extracts are often quoted without context or explanation. This would appeal especially to anyone who’s lived in Oxford or lovers of literature and theology. Get it for $11.99 from Amazon.com, £11.20 from Amazon.co.uk or £8.58 from Wordery.com (UK)
- To Rise Again at a Decent Hour – Joshua Ferris. This is a Man Booker Prize-shortli
sted novel, and I absolutely loved his previous book, Then We Came to the End, so I had high hopes for this one. The narrator is a dentist who is searching for meaning in life and feeling vaguely suicidal, when one of his patients begins to impersonate him online, stealing his identity and writing strange things about a ‘religion and people more persecuted than the Jews’. In its favour: it’s wry and sardonic, and I laughed out loud several times, especially in the beginning. But the parts about the supposed religion were unnecessarily long and convoluted, and the protagonist isn’t very likeable, though he is hilariously tragic. As a sardonic examination of the narcissism of America’s Generation X, it’s pretty good, and it’s definitely worth a read, but in terms of story and reading experience, I would vote for his other one, Then We Came to the End, Booker-Prize shortlisted or not. Get it for $10.00 from Amazon.com, £5.52 from Amazon.co.uk or £6.57 from Wordery.com (UK)
- Exposure – Helen Dunmore. This is a slow-build, tense, not-quite-thriller novel about someone falsely accused of spying in the Cold War in 1950s Britain. What was particularly outstanding about this book was the characterisation – the narrative followed three voices in the conflict, and it was utterly compelling. I hadn’t read anything by her before but now I want to read her other books. It’s a relatively slow start, but the interesting characters are utterly captivating. Like Ian McEwan’s Saturday the menace builds slowly, and is a tense page-turner by the end – I heartily recommend it. Get it for $13.75 from Amazon.com, £11.89 from Amazon.co.uk or £11.87 from Wordery.com (UK)
- The Vanishing of Dr Winter – (Posie Parker Mysteries #4) – L B Hathaway. I’m a huge fan of this cosy crime series, set in the 1920s. This one was a little different to the others -a missing person rather than a murder, and lots of flashbacks to the First World War. For me it was really interesting to think about how the First World War would have impacted the mood of the 1920s, and it was another great Posie Parker story, this time set in Cambridge. I love love love this series – check them all out – they’re so reasonably priced. Get it for $3.95 from Amazon.com, or £2.79 from Amazon.co.uk. See the whole series on Amazon.com or Amazon.co.uk
March/April – Mysterious SuperVirus (plus M.E. relapse)
I had such great intentions about what I would do in March – perhaps I would edit my Advent book, write lots of blog posts, do fun things to celebrate my birthday. Congratulating myself on having escaped the ME relapse that normally comes in January or February, I was lulled into a false sense of security. But over the mild winter, all the flu’s and viruses had been sneakily brewing into a super-virus flu and – WHAM – I got hit. (I wasn’t sure what to call it – virus sounds too mild, but I don’t know if it was the flu or not. It could have been Swine Flu, for all I know. So I’m going for Mysterious SuperVirus.)
The Mysterious SuperVirus hit the boy, and then me. When the boy gets sick, he is uncharacteristically subdued and affectionate. We cuddled up together in bed with sick buckets at the ready on either side, and I read him the story of Little O getting mumps, over and over, until he knew the words better than me. He got better, then worse, then had antibiotics and – bing! – after two weeks, he was off and bouncy again.
This is the difference between a healthy child and an adult with ME: after two weeks he was bouncing again, after two weeks I could barely walk. The virus had sapped the little strength I had, and I had to move into the bedroom next to the bathroom, because I could only walk a few paces, while hanging onto the walls. Days blurred into weeks. Showering (using a shower stool) was a mountain I could climb only once every four days. I couldn’t go downstairs, sit up. Sometimes Jon had to cut my food up for me, clean my teeth.
There were some bright spots: in the middle of March, it was my birthday, and although I was home alone, ill on my birthday, my friends got me awesome presents and cards to let me know I was thinking of them. And a few weeks later, Jon made me the most amazing Paleo Chocolate Cake ever, and my friend Jasmine made me the most amazing Paleo Carrot Cake ever, so I was well-cared for in cake.
For most of March, my mind was in that infuriating place of being active, and bored – but unable to concentrate on anything more demanding than a short TV program. I spent hours in bed, listening to music, staring at the walls.
It brought home to me of the privilege of being housebound rather than completely bed-bound. There is a significant loss of independence that comes with not being able to wash or dress yourself or sit up, or walk. So many people with ME are suffering in that state, staring at the walls, tired but wired, while also battling agonising pain.
Now we’re in May, and I’ve only just moved back into my bedroom. I’m well enough to walk from the bedroom to the bathroom now, but not quite well enough to do my daily trip downstairs without a wheelchair. So – we’re getting there, but it’s slow.
Jenny Rowbory turned 30
You may not know Jenny Rowbory, but you should. She is my all-time hero. She has been bed-bound for eleven years with a combination of very severe Myaglic Encephalomyelitis (ME) and rare vascular Ehler-Danlos Syndrome. She is an amazing friend, who is significantly limited, unable to talk or tolerate touch, and is now so weak that it’s difficult for her to hold an iPhone to contact people.
She is also a published poet – with some of my favourite poems of all time. She is fiercely intelligent, funny and compassionate. To celebrate her 30th birthday, I sent her 30 of her favourite things – as penguins. (Because – why not?) Buy her book of poetry, Rainbows in My Eyes for £8.50 from Amazon.co.uk, or from $5.00 from Amazon.com
(I watched a lot of TV in March and April…don’t judge)
- My Good Wife addiction got a little out of control in March, mainly because I had nothing else to do. Midway through Series 5, I did the “NOOOOO!” that everyone else who’s watched it will know about – but that season 5 ended up coming good again. In Season 6 I found myself praying for Cary Agos, and having to remind myself that we don’t generally pray for fictional characters. I got to the end of Netflix, and ended up paying for Season 7 episodes on iTunes till I’d caught up with it on Channel 4. BECAUSE I AM ACTUALLY ADDICTED. (But so far Season 7 is a little disappointing. I’m hoping it’s going to get better. And has anyone else noticed that McVey and Jason are basically the same character?? Bring back Polmar, I say…)
- Friday Night Lights – sometimes you need something to make you cry cathartically. This program about a coach taking over a school American Football team is not quite Nashville, not quite One Tree Hill, but somewhere in that zone.
- Once Upon a Time – SO good. I’m halfway through Season 1. The premise is that the wicked queen in Snow White has cursed all the fairy tale characters to live in our present world, with no memory of who they are, and destined to have no happy endings. There’s someone who’s entered into that village (like an unwilling Messiah figure), and things are starting to change. So it flashes back between the fairy tales (which are often twisted up) and the present day – and it’s brilliant. It’s much better than I imagined it to be, and I’m loving the way it plays with the original stories.
- House of Cards – I’ve been really excited to watch this, but at the moment it all seems a bit dark and bleak. Very MacBeth in characterisation, which is a nice homage, but I’m finding I have to rewind every time Kevin Spacey makes a long speech in his (slightly dubious?) accent. I’m waiting for it to get good. Does it?
- Garfunkel and Oates – a bit crude for my taste, but some of the episodes are really funny
- Kimmy Schmidt – is back! Not quite as sparky as the first season
- Jane the Virgin – watched one episode of the new series but it didn’t grab me. Does the series get better?
- Chuck season 3 – Kung Fu Chuck.
- American Idol – the last season. I really love this program – I will miss it.
- Sing it on – reality show, like a slightly more pathetic, real-life version of Glee.
- Carpool karaoke – stop whatever you’re doing and watch the YouTube videos of James Corden’s Carpool Karaoke. My favourites included J. Lo, Adele, Chris Martin, and One Direction.
30 Second Bible – #30SecondsOrLess
Jim Kast Keat did an amazing project for Lent – he got a wide variety of Bible teachers to summarise each book of the Bible in 30 seconds or less, and then he put together some images to make a video out of it.
Amy Young has a link to all the different books in the Bible and a check list so you can mark when you’ve heard them. For each book of the Bible, there is a 30 second summary, and 30 seconds on the good news of that particular book. This way you can cover all the books of the Bible in a little over an hour!
You may be particularly interested in my husband’s and my offerings:
- Tanya Marlow – The Secret Hero – Ruth Part 1
- Tanya Marlow – Patron Saint of the Grumpy – Ruth Part 2
- Tanya Marlow – The One Good Shepherd – Ezekiel Part 1
- Tanya Marlow – The Unexpected Places – Ezekiel Part 2
- Jon Marlow – A Series of Stark Contrasts – 1 John Part 1
- Jon Marlow – In the Flesh – 1 John Part 2
On Disability Benefit Cuts (my interviews and others):
- I was interviewed for Christian Today – after signing an open letter protesting the latest round of disability benefits cuts. Christian charities warn 600,000 affected by disability cuts
- Then, around the time of my birthday, I gave an interview for Premier Christian Radio (4 mins – scroll down the article for full interview) about how disability cuts were unjustified by the current budget – click here Christian MP Urges Government to Reconsider Disability Benefit Cuts
- A few hours after my interview for Premier Christian Radio, Iain Duncan Smith resigned as Secretary for Work and Pensions. I like to think it was entirely because of my interview that he decided to resign. (You’re welcome, Britain.)
- Adita Chakrabortty for Guardian – Disability cuts are devastating families
- I know firsthand just how stressful benefit assessments can be – so this doesn’t surprise me. Benefit Cuts are having a Devastating Effect on Mental Health
- “[ME is] a paralyzing syndrome that is as near to an off-switch on life as one can imagine”
The PACE trial is still used as ‘proof’ in the UK that Graded Exercise Therapy has a good evidence base. This article helps expose the fatal flaws of the PACE trial. Editorial on PACE trial
- Great to see this stats magazine pulling apart some of the gross errors of the PACE trial methods – PACE: The research that sparked a patient rebellion and challenged medicine
“…CFS is really an umbrella term for a whole variety of underlying illnesses – some psychological or due to anxiety-related exercise intolerance, but many others down to neurological impairment, energy-production impairment or even autoimmune dysfunction. “We’ve been taking diseases that aren’t even related to each other, but because fatigue is the unifying symptom, we’ve thrown them in the same bucket and treated them the same,” Dimmock says. “If you prescribe a graded exercise regime to a CFS patient with an energy-production impairment, you can do a lot of harm. It’s like taking patients who all suffer from shortness of breath, but the root causes range from asthma to angina. You would never treat them as the same group of patients.” – Great Guardian article on ME – Is Chronic Fatigue Syndrome Finally Being Taken Seriously?
- Unfortunately, we still have a way to go in better understanding of ME. A book claiming that ME is psychosomatic (All in Your Head by Suzanne O’Sullivan) won the Wellcome book prize. Meanwhile, the Countess of Mar challenge neurologist O’Sullivan to get informed by the latest ME research and change her mind.
- What I’m Really Thinking: The Person With ME (Guardian)
- Stephanie Land in Huffington Post – Chronic Fatigue Syndrome isn’t what you think it is – it’s much worse
- Autonomic correlations with MRI are abnormal in the brainstem vasomotor centre in Chronic Fatigue Syndrome
- Always wise – Toni Bernhard – When You’re Chronically Ill: Giving Up vs Giving In
My amazing friend Alice Broadway got signed to Scholastic for a three-book deal. Ink is a story about “love, loyalty and the longing to live for ever” set in a world where “your every achievement, your every failing, your every significant moment, is tattooed onto your skin. When you die your skin is made into a book, so that your children and grandchildren can ‘read’ your life: a world where you will never be forgotten.” For those who like Young Adult Fiction, I think this could be the Next Big Thing. You saw it here first.
- “Reading is a social act, a creative act” – TED talk on What Makes a Bestseller
- Why do authors feel sad and drained after publishing their book? Esther Emery nails the whole vulnerability hangover thing
- The Panama Papers Leak – Explained with Piggy Banks
- Good to address a taboo subject in the area of mental health – The Mighty – When You’re Suicidal, But You Don’t Want to Die
- Annie Wright – 101 Self-Care Suggestions When it All Seems Like Too Much
- Victoria Coren Mitchell for Guardian – Child Abuse is Not a Grey Area
- My friend Emma Allinson in the Guardian – I was middle class and homeless
- Metro – Penguin swims 5000 miles every year for reunion with the man who saved his life
- Great video from Sheridan Voysey – 3 Questions to Ask When God is Silent
And finally…I started a trend!!
On a sunny day, I managed to get down to the front door via my stairlift, and because I was desperate to enjoy the sun, I lay down, halfway hanging out of my porch in a decidedly un-British way. It may not have been dignified, but it was delicious to experience the sunshine for that blissful half hour.
Then – because of the delights of Facebook – some friends also threw caution to the wind and sunbathed on their front door out of solidarity. I was really touched by all the photos that came in – people as far as Boston and Atlanta and Cyprus had all joined in my trend, #FrontdoorSunbathing (if you add a hashtag it makes it sound like it’s a thing). This made me smile a lot. (Note the person who left it a bit too late, and the sun had gone down…)
PHEW! Well done for making it this far.
Over to you:
- What were you into in March/April?
I’m linking up with Leigh Kramer for her magnificent What I’m Into Linkup.
This post contains Amazon and Wordery affiliate links, which means if you click through to Amazon.co.uk Wordery.com or Amazon.com from this site and buy absolutely anything in the world, you help this site, at no extra cost to you. I received a free advanced copy of some of the books above in exchange for my honest review, which these all are.