First Lines: The Strange Library

Haruki Murakami’s The Strange Library is a strange little book. It tells the story of a lonely boy who went to the city library because he wanted to learn about tax collecting in the Ottoman empire–“Ever since I was little my mother had told me, if you don’t know something, go to the library and look it up”–and gets locked up. Together with a mysterious girl and a tormented sheep man, they plot their escape from the nightmarish library.

It’s surreal and dreamlike. You know that people don’t get locked up in subterranean library-cells required to learn books by heart, because their brains will get eaten if they fail. You know stuff like that doesn’t happen, but Murakami’s matter-of-fact tone sells it to you wholesale. Integral to the dreaminess is Chip Kidd’s design, and The New Yorker has more on that.

Book read
Haruki Murakami – The Strange Library (Fushigi na toshokan, translated by Ted Goossen, art direction and design by Chip Kidd)
First line
The library was even more hushed than usual.


It didn’t expect #80 on my list of 100 things to be that easy. But then again, when I made that list, I didn’t expect to be in a hospital for a week and a half.

Item completed
Spend a week without touching a computer
Period spend without touching a computer
February 25th, 2015 to March 10th, 2015

“And this, too, shall pass”

Two weeks ago today, I entered the hospital. This past Monday, I was sent home. Here is, roughly, what happened in between.

The operation where the goat-swallowing Boa Constrictor got replaced with a garden hose, started around 8 A.M. on Thursday, February 26th, and by, say, 3:15 P.M. I was on the ICU. I don’t have the exact details about how it went down–I slept through the whole thing–nor do I really want to know them, but apparently some additional fiddling around with my valves and aortic roots was required. Google the David Procedure if you want the bloody details. Legend has it that by 10 P.M. I was awake enough to request a phone call, but I have no memory of such an event.

I vaguely recall Medium Care. There was a woman brought in in the middle of the night, and she kept going on about her nicotine patches. Sometime Saturday morning I was moved again, this time to to a regular care unit. Until Wednesday evening, details are sketchy. An echo revealed some excess fluids around my heart, which needed to be drained. (Basically, they put a needle and a tube through your thoracic diaphragm. Which, somehow, hurts all the way down to the bones in your shoulder.) Tapping off roughly a liter and a half of what looked like tomato juice seemed to help a lot. That next Thursday morning, a week after the procedure, I was feeling a lot better.

However: me feeling better has no medical value whatsoever. Another echo was required. I waited for one all Thursday, and by the time we’d reached Friday evening, two echoes said there still were some fluids left, but that the drains weren’t quite draining them anymore. So they got to go out–a huge relief on my pour shoulders–I had to stay under observation over the weekend, and on Monday, well, we’d see what course to take based on what another echo would show.

Luckily, after perhaps the most boring weekend ever, the fluids were all but gone Monday morning, and I was sent home.

At the moment, I think I’m doing pretty damn well. Although the pain in my chest is more than manageable on some common pain killers, sleeping is still a struggle. During my stay in the hospital, I barely managed to get a decent night’s sleep. My chest hurt and was very uncomfortable, and those beds didn’t help either. Plus, there seemed to be some mental block. As soon as sleep got inevitable, I got all worked up. It’s getting better, and while it’s not like I’m awake all night, it sure feels like it.

At this point, I have to give a shout-out to the medical personnel and the lovely nursing staff at the Sint Antonius ziekenhuis, all the people who kept in touch, send a card and/or looked me up.

A super special shout out goes out to my parents, the boy wonder, and especially The Missus, without whom …, etc. etc. Luv you, babe.

Tell It Like It Is

It’s not unlike in that song “The Future Soon” by the great philosopher Jonathan Coulton:

It’s gonna be the future soon
And I won’t always be this way
When the things that make me weak and strange get engineered away

Except that it’s not quite exactly like that. I’ll get to keep the strange. So, perhaps, RoboCop–the original nineteen-eightysomething version, not that remake–would be a better way to look at it: the alternative is less pleasant.

Not that they’re going to turn me in a robot. Or enhance my sight with X-ray vision, get me all weaponized or cool shit like that. In that way, it’s totally unlike another of mr. Coulton’s songs, “Better”.

What they are going to do, is pop open my chest (no, not quite like in Alien), cut out the section of my aorta that looks like a great big snake that has consumed but not quite digested a goat, and replace it with a piece of what my mind insists on calling a garden hose.

If you’d happen to think that, Jesus jumping Christ on a cracker, that sounds exactly like some major piece of open heart surgery, you’d be right. Because that’s exactly what it is. Some genetic defect haunts my family, and now it seems to have caught me as well.

C’est la vie.

Apart from every now and then when I think about it too much and the whole fucking thing scares the bejeezus out of me and I fall apart, except for those times, the operation doesn’t worry me that much: they turn this particular trick all the time, and the risks of anything (in the broadest sense of the word) going wrong is very small. All I can to do is lie down, count to ten, inhale deeply and wake up on the ICU, say, seven to eight hours later all fixed and stuff. The alternative is waiting till I officially have an aneurysm or it dissects and it all goes horribly wrong. And we wouldn’t want that, would we?

The part that I’m absolutely not looking forward to is the recovery. Reportedly, it takes your breastbone six weeks to grow back together, and during that time you have to take it slow. Like a glacier. Other than that, it is supposed to feel like a very bad case of sore muscles.

Oh, well. By the time this post appears online, surgery should be well underway. I’ll let you know how it went as soon as I’m up to it.

First Lines: The Poison Eaters and Other Stories

Included in the second Humble eBook Bundle, The Poison Eaters and Other Stories is a damn fine collection of stories by Holly Black. I knew that Black had co-written the Spiderwick Chronicles series–and the movie they made out of that was enjoyable enough.

Black can turn out a fine tale. There’s vampires, faeries, werewolves, enchanted libraries, unicorns and Bacchanalia. What’s not to like. As I progressed, I found myself liking her stories better and better. She’s made it on my ever growing list of writers I should explore some more.

Book read
Holly Black – The Poison Eaters and Other Stories
First line
Matilda was drunk, but then she was always drunk anymore. (from The Coldest Girl in Coldtown)