… but it made my tongue tingle …

One of my favourite treats when I was a kid was a Dip Dab. I loved the combination of the small, flat, red lollipop teamed with the impossibly fine sherbet sugar that fizzed on my tongue. They seemed to have disappeared over the years but a while back I noticed that they were back in the shops again.  Should I just savour the memories or should I try one again?  With my daughter as the perfect cover I bought us one each.  Worried it would disappoint I settled down to try it … but it made my tongue tingle 🙂

dip dab

I’ve written this post as part of Julia Skinner’s 100 Word Challenge for Grown Ups. You can find out more about the challenge here.

The Drool Room

I returned from holidays to find a copy of Ira Socol’s book ‘The Drool Room’ in the post, a gift from Pam Moran.  I found myself unable to put it down, similar to ‘The Housekeeper + the Professor‘ but that’s where the similarity ends.  I’m finding it hard to describe my thoughts on the book – it is such a personal, moving and brutal book in some ways as Ira described his experiences through school and through his life.  To say that his journey through school was difficult doesn’t even come close as he was a kid with Dyslexia and Attention Disorder Hyperactive Disorder (ADHD) back in the days when very little was known or recognised about these disorders.  I’ll be upfront here and declare my lack of knowledge of these disorders, particularly ADHD, but this book has given me a real insight into the problems that so many children have, as they attempt to make their way through an education system that may not work for them.  I find books written from a child’s perspective, which deal with difficult topics, an uncomfortable read so the first half of Ira’s book was difficult – I was like the child behind the sofa looking out though her fingers at a scary movie!  But it drew me in and I couldn’t put it down.  I’ve been very lucky, both in my own education and that of my children so far, that we have all had an easy run in school.  I know it’s not like that for everyone though, and reading this book brought me back to my own schooldays, as I recalled some of my classmates being ridiculed, made to feel stupid, physically pushed around and worse by some teachers.

As Ira moved on to give an insight into his life after school, and his time as a cop in New York City, you got the sense of a man on the edge managing to hang on by his fingertips and stay in control.  The brutal honesty which which Ira tells his story is what makes this book so powerful for me.   Telling your story warts and all, laying your soul bare for all to see, is not an easy thing to do, and yet this is what Ira has done.  What also really worked for me was the novel in stories format – it isn’t a book with a very distinct start, middle and end – instead it crosses over with snippets of stories which give insights and creates lots of questions, some answered some not.   For me it was a book of two halves, his early school years and his time as a cop with very little connecting the two or extending beyond that and yet that’s all that’s needed.  At the end we get a tiny peak at the motivation behind the book; reaching out to other kids who are struggling, with an authenticity that you can’t argue with.  And this is the Ira that I have begun to know through my various interactions, both virtual and in person.

My final thought on the book is I suppose the motivation that drives many of us – our children.  There are many characters and relationships dealt with in the book but the most intangible of the characters in some ways is the author’s son and yet there he is at all the crucial points in the latter half of the book.  So much is left unsaid and yet what little is said says it all.

The Housekeeper + The Professor

Last Saturday, due to an unexpected change in plans I took the opportunity to read “The Housekeepr and The Professor” in one sitting.  To say that I loved the book doesn’t even come close to describing how much I enjoyed it.  To be honest, I think the enjoyment came in part from abdicating all responsibility on Saturday and reading the book from cover to cover.  It’s been a long time since I’ve done that and it felt great 🙂 It has to be said though, that most of the enjoyment came from the telling of such a beautiful, simple story in a way that resonated with me on so many levels.

At first glance, the story was one I was probably guaranteed to love as the Professor in question was a Maths professor who had a passion for numbers and the interconnections between them.  As someone who has thought in numbers all my life it was comforting to read that others do that too, and that I’m not completely barmy!!  I even learned some things about interconnections between numbers (such as: that perfect numbers are numbers for which the sum of their positive divisors (excluding the number itself) equals the number – 6, 28 and 496 are the first 3 perfect numbers).  The interspersing of these facts throughout the story was certainly a factor in my enjoyment of the book.

In case I’ve turned you off the book with all this talk of Maths, this story is about so much more than the Maths.  You can’t help but connect with the professor, who, as a result of a car accident, could remember everything before the accident but only had an 80 minute memory after the accident. For a number of years prior to her death, my grandmother suffered from a form of dementia, which meant that her long term memory was fine. but her short term memory deteriorated to a point where she couldn’t remember something that had happened 10 minutes before.  We were lucky that she remembered all of us, so that gave her a sense of comfort as the deterioration continued.  It was difficult to see her go through the various stages of her illness and the real fear that she felt as she lost her grasp on the present.  Reading the story of the professor and his coping mechanisms brought back many memories.  It also brought to mind some of the moments of light relief we had when she said things she really shouldn’t have.  I must admit, we did wonder if she didn’t sometimes use the fact of the deterioration of her mind, to say things that she had been thinking all along!

For me, the real strength of the book came in the relationships between the main characters – the relationships between the housekeeper and the professor, the housekeeper and her son and the professor and her son.  The tenderness and compassion shown by the housekeeper to the professor was beautiful to observe.  On the part of the professor, you got the sense that despite the fact he could not remember her from one day to the next, there was a connection on some level.  It was like he became the father she never knew.  The relationship between the housekeeper and her son was such a strong one and yet you could feel some of the tensions that exist between a mother and her 10 year old son as he starts to get more independent.  To be honest, I’m not sure how much of this is actually in the book, as the last few years in my house have been filled with these same tensions and maybe I just wanted to see them 🙂

For me though, the standout relationship in the book was the one between the professor and Root (the nickname he used for the housekeeper’s son).  The connection and loyalty felt by one towards the other really reminded me of the relationship between grandparent and grandchild.  These relationships are so important to both young and old and Ogawa painted it perfectly.  I was lucky enough to have great relationships with my grandparents and my children are also blessed to have great relationships with their grandparents.  In truth, our move out of Dublin when my now 12 year old was almost 2 was in part down to our wish to nurture those relationships.  It’s fascinating to watch the way in which your own parents interact with your children in a way they never did with you.  This is probably due in no small part, to the fact that the responsibility of making the hard decisions is removed from the equation, so that leaves all sides free to enjoy the relationship.  Root’s love of the eccentric old Maths professor really jumped off the page as did the love that the professor had for him.

For me the best books are the ones that leave you wondering in the end.  I have read so many books which have kept me in their grip right to the end, but then, in a bid to tie up all loose ends, they completely ruin the integrity of the book.  There were many relationships in the book that were hinted at but not elaborated on and in that I think Ogawa got it just right.  She focussed on the main characters and let them tell their story.  One of the joys of the book, that struck me after I had finished it, is that, even though I didn’t know the names of the characters, I almost felt like I was in the house with them as they went about their daily routines.

I’ll finish with a word of thanks to Catherine Cronin for her recommendation of this book.