What is the appeal of Curtis Sittenfeld?
Another burned supper.

I love it when writers get sick.

Well, not really. But nobody can write about illness and recovery, like, well, people who write for a living.

A while back I read and enjoyed American journalist Sarah Lyall's book The Anglo Files, about her encounters with British culture. Lyall, it turns out, is married to former editor and publisher Robert McCrum (who is a Brit, and has written a biography of P.G. Wodehouse). When I did some more looking into this couple, I learned that McCrum is also the author of a memoir, titled My Year Off: Recovering Life After a Stroke, and thought, hmm, I'd like to read that.

It's fascinating.

Yearoff I read the book over the course of two nights. At the age of 42, McCrum suffered a severe stroke that left him paralysed (I mean paralyzed; wow, have I been reading a lot of British books lately) on his left side. Only a few months previously he had married Lyall; when he suffered the stroke, she was on a business trip and he laid in his house for an entire day before he could fight his way to a phone. That part of the narrative is scary enough, but the genius of the book is his recounting of his very slow recovery and his growing realization of what it really means to live in a human body (augmented by his and Sarah's diary entries from the time).

If you've had a health scare of any kind, or spent time in any hospitals or recuperating from an illness, this is the book for you. I myself didn't suffer anything like this guy did, I simply went from a lifetime of no doctor visits to a lot of doctor visits, but a lot of his thought processes were very similar to the ones I found myself having.

Take this entry, from his diary about a month after suffering the stroke: "I have developed a concept of the 'good' waiting period and the 'bad' waiting period. A 'good' waiting period is one where you know the outcome, and where you know that you are going to leave when they say you'll leave, or where you will be doing things when they say you'll do things, and a 'bad' waiting period is when you don't know what is going to happening, and you are just hanging about." (p. 113.)

Now, I guess no one really needs to get sick to figure that one out. Somehow, though, you don't, until you get sick, or the unknown is hanging over you.

Sarah's diary is also quite interesting, including her entry from the same day as Robert's, above. "I don't know what it's right to hope for--I have to learn how to hope for the best but prepare myself if it doesn't happen. And so does Robert. He seems sure that it will be okay, but I wonder if he really believes it, and I wonder how realistic he's being, and I wonder if his hopes, too, are going to be dashed in the end. I pray to a God I don't believe in. But I had an absurd thought the other day, that the thing about God is that even if you don't believe in him, he listens to you. Maybe there's some religion in me after all." (p. 114.)

I won't tell you how it ends, but I can say that the book ends on a happier note. It's fantastic. If you know anyone who's had a stroke or you want to understand it better, it's particularly valuable; otherwise, for anyone who's struggled with sickness (and that's pretty much everybody) it's a great, great read.