On November 12th, my dad, William Frank McNeil, passed away. He was 58 years old. You may see his obituary here.
Yesterday was his funeral. I gave a eulogy there that I have reproduced below.
In Loving Memory
One of the first things people often say to me when they get to know me is, “You’re such a daddy’s girl,” and my response always is, “Of course, why wouldn’t I be? I got a great one.” I hear so many stories of absentee fathers. Quiet fathers. Fathers who don’t know how to talk to their daughters. Fathers who clearly wish their daughters were sons. I never had any of those problems with my dad, and I know he had to fight to make that so.
My dad had a hard life. He lived so much in his far too short 58 years. He worked so hard. Harder than I realized when I was little. One of my earliest memories is of running to the door to meet him at the end of a workday yelling, “Papa Papa,” and he would pick me up and immediately play with me. As an adult now I realize he was coming home from often 12 to 14 hour shifts doing physical, hard labor. He could have so easily begged off as being tired. Too tired for the antics of a 4 or 5 year old. But he never did. He always met me with this overwhelmingly positive response. It was like I was the center of his world.
But my dad didn’t just love me or spoil me. He was also tough on me in lots of little ways that helped me be who I am today. My friends often tell me, “Amanda, you’re so brave.” What they don’t realize is that I’m really not. At least, not naturally. My dad taught me to be. The best example of this is when I went away to college.
When I was 17, my dad took me to tour Brandeis University in Boston and he told me, “This is it. This is the one for you.” And I listened. But when I got there, I had a major freak-out that many first-generation college students have. Brandeis was a top-level, historically Jewish college, and I was there on scholarship. I was surrounded by people and a culture that I knew nothing about. I felt like I was on an alien planet…or at least in Europe. They talked about things I had no understanding of and bonded over going out shopping and to restaurants….and to their ski chalets. When my computer broke the first week of school, I cried, and my roommate said, “Well just buy a new one” not understanding that that was just not possible. I called my dad crying, begging him to let me come home and go to culinary school instead. He told me no, that being a chef was a hard life and physically difficult, and he wanted more for me. He told me, “You belong there, Amanda. You’re smart as a whip and you are not a quitter. Don’t forget our family motto. To conquer or die. You can conquer this.” Then he made a deal with me. He said if I was still miserable by Christmas I could come home. I thought he was caving. I realize now he was just smarter than me and knew I would be happy at Brandeis by then. Oh, and he somehow magically got a computer and sent it down to me.
My dad was not perfect. He had a hot temper when I was young…it mellowed with age. He was stubborn. He would have periods of being very down and sad. He often didn’t take care of himself as well as he should, putting oxygen masks on literally everyone else on the plane before himself (that’s a metaphor, my father did NOT fly in airplanes.)
But. My dad was always willing to admit when he was wrong and say he was sorry. He always tried…so hard. So incredibly hard. He didn’t stagnate. He changed his opinions if given enough new factual information. He was funny. So incredibly funny. His dry wit in the face of terrifying things like a triple bypass is something I strive to live up to. He had a near-magical way with animals. I literally never saw him meet an animal that didn’t immediately glom onto him with love. And he was so incredibly smart. He was able to do insanely complex math in his head…math that would make my head spin if you gave me a high-powered computer to help me do it. He read voraciously at a speed I have never seen anywhere else. He had an eye for beauty. His furniture he crafted were truly works of art.
My dad always told me that my brother and I were the best thing he ever did. That he’d go through everything again just to have the two of us. All he ever wanted was for us to have better lives than he had. To have physically easier jobs. To get to enjoy life more. To have partners who truly loved us. The best advice he ever gave me was to never settle and to wait for your one true love. It was hard in my early 20s when it seemed everyone else around me was coupled up. But my dad’s assertion that it’s better to be alone than to be with the wrong person kept me strong and waiting. And then I met Phil. And I brought him home to meet my dad. My dad was a bit skeptical since Phil is an engineer….and my dad did not have the best experience with engineers in the shops. So he quizzed him with a math problem that usually stumped the engineers, and Phil got it right. And my dad said well, he’s an engineer but he’s no dummy. He was just teasing us though. He sat me down and told me very seriously how much he liked Phil. that Phil clearly made me happy. Happier than I’d ever been before.
Seven weeks ago, my dad came and stayed with us for a week while we got ready for our wedding and got married. Daddy helped me bake my bridal pie. It was the last time we’d ever cook together, after 29 years of doing so, though I obviously didn’t know it then. He watched me marry my best friend. He danced our father-daughter dance with me, and while we were dancing he whispered to me, “I am so proud of you,” and I swear that he meant it more than he did at my college graduation.
There are so many things that I will never get now that my father is gone. I never got to go to a Patriots game with him. He won’t see me turn 30. He will not get to see me pregnant or meet any kids Phil and I may have one day.
My world I live in now is so different from my father’s world. I worry out loud to my husband that no one will know where I come from. And he tells me. You are your father’s daughter. Your father lives in you, whether you realize it or not. You have his sense of humor, his chin, his temper. You are short and stubborn. And incredibly determined. But what I really hope is to emulate my dad in another way.
My dad was a good man, but he was quiet about it. He was never ever prideful. In fact one of the few times he would yell at me was if I got too full of myself. He lived Jesus’ commandment, “When thou prayest, enter into thy closet, and when thou hast shut thy door, pray to thy Father which is in secret; and thy Father which seeth in secret shall reward thee openly.” I think this commandment speaks to more than prayer. It speaks to any good you do. My dad did the right thing because it was the right thing to do, and he never called attention to it. And he was rewarded for it. Just look around this room, and you can see it.
Daddy, in the face of so much hardship and opportunities to do otherwise, you were a good man. And I will miss you every day of my life.
I was looking forward to this week’s theme of Nonfiction November the most, because one of my favorite parts of being a librarian is “reader’s advisory.” Reader’s advisory is when you chat to a person about what they enjoy reading, what they’re interested in, what they’re looking for, and recommend a few books to them as books they might enjoy reading. (I don’t get to do this a ton as an academic medical librarian, but it does still come up sometimes). I view this as a book blogger version of that.
For this, I thought I would select out a few of my favorite fiction books and seek out nonfiction books that would pair well with them. If you read and enjoyed the fiction, consider checking out the nonfiction. Of course it will also work the other way around! If you’ve read the nonfiction book and enjoyed it, consider checking out the fiction.
First Pairing: Sled Dogs
The Call of the Wild
Buck is a spoiled southern dog enjoying a posh life when one of the family’s servants steals him and sells him away to be a sled dog for the Alaska gold rush. Buck soon goes from an easy life to one of trials and tribulations as the result of humans fawning over a golden metal, but it might not be all bad for him in the wild Alaskan north.
Gold Rush Dogs
Jane G. Haigh
Dog lovers and history buffs will delight in this collection celebrating the beloved canines that offered companionship, protection, and hard work to their masters in the Far North.
Why pair it?
Buck, the main character (and dog) in The Call of the Wild is trained to be a sled dog for the gold rush (not the Iditarod). This nonfiction book is about the gold rush dogs.
Second Pairing: Women in Ancient Japanese Court Life
An aging empress decides to fill her empty notebooks before she must get rid of them along with all of her belongings to retire to the convent, as is expected of her. She ends up telling the story of Kagaya-hime, a tortoiseshell cat who loses her cat family in a fire and is turned into a woman by the kami, the god of the road.
Diary of Lady Murasaki
The Diary recorded by Lady Murasaki (c. 973 c. 1020), author of The Tale of Genji, is an intimate picture of her life as tutor and companion to the young Empress Shoshi. Told in a series of vignettes, it offers revealing glimpses of the Japanese imperial palace the auspicious birth of a prince, rivalries between the Emperor’s consorts, with sharp criticism of Murasaki’s fellow ladies-in-waiting and drunken courtiers, and telling remarks about the timid Empress and her powerful father, Michinaga. The Diary is also a work of great subtlety and intense personal reflection, as Murasaki makes penetrating insights into human psychology her pragmatic observations always balanced by an exquisite and pensive melancholy.
Why pair it?
Fudoki features tales being told by an aging empress that illuminate women’s lives in ancient Japan. This nonfiction period piece is a diary by a real woman with an insider’s view of the same court life. Although not written by an empress, she was an empress’s companion.
Third Pairing: We’re Living in the Future the 1800s Scifi Imagined
The Time Machine
Nobody is quite sure whether to believe their eccentric scientist friend when he claims to have invented the ability to travel through time. But when he shows up late to a dinner party with a tale of traveling to the year 802,700 and meeting the human race, now divided into the child-like Eloi and the pale ape-like ground-dwelling Morlocks, they find themselves wanting to believe him.
In the Beginning…Was the Command Line
This is “the Word” — one man’s word, certainly — about the art (and artifice) of the state of our computer-centric existence. And considering that the “one man” is Neal Stephenson, “the hacker Hemingway” (Newsweek) — acclaimed novelist, pragmatist, seer, nerd-friendly philosopher, and nationally bestselling author of groundbreaking literary works (Snow Crash, Cryptonomicon, etc., etc.) — the word is well worth hearing. Mostly well-reasoned examination and partial rant, Stephenson’s In the Beginning… was the Command Line is a thoughtful, irreverent, hilarious treatise on the cyber-culture past and present; on operating system tyrannies and downloaded popular revolutions; on the Internet, Disney World, Big Bangs, not to mention the meaning of life itself.
Why this pairing?
Wells and Stephenson are both considered masters of the scifi genre. In this nonfiction piece, Stephenson explicitly draws comparisons between modern culture and the one envisioned by Wells in The Time Machine.
Fourth Pairing: Scandinavia Is Perfect….Or Is It?!
In the Sweden of the near future women who reach the age of 50 and men who reach the age of 60 without having successfully acquired a partner or had children are deemed “dispensable” and sent to live in “a unit.” These units appear at first glance to be like a high-class retirement home, and indeed they have all the amenities. The residents, however, are required both to participate in medical experiments and to donate various organs and body parts up until their “final donation” of their heart anywhere from a year or a few years after their arrival in the unit. Dorrit arrives at the unit depressed, but accepting of her fate as the result of her independent nature, but when she falls in love, she starts to question everything.
The Almost Nearly Perfect People: Behind the Myth of the Scandinavian Utopia
The whole world wants to learn the secrets of Nordic exceptionalism: why are the Danes the happiest people in the world, despite having the highest taxes? If the Finns really have the best education system, how come they still think all Swedish men are gay? Are the Icelanders really feral? How are the Norwegians spending their fantastical oil wealth? And why do all of them hate the Swedes?
Michael Booth has lived among the Scandinavians, on and off, for over ten years, perplexed by their many strange paradoxes and character traits and equally bemused by the unquestioning enthusiasm for all things Nordic that has engulfed the rest of the world, whether it be for their food, television, social systems or chunky knitwear.
In this timely book he leaves his adopted home of Denmark and embarks on a journey through all five of the Nordic countries to discover who these curious tribes are, the secrets of their success and, most intriguing of all, what they think of each other. Along the way a more nuanced, often darker picture emerges of a region plagued by taboos, characterised by suffocating parochialism and populated by extremists of various shades.
They may very well be almost nearly perfect, but it isn’t easy being Scandinavian.
Why this pairing?
The Unit is a unique dystopia in that it is set in Sweden and takes various aspects of Swedish culture to their dystopic extremes. Since Scandinavia often comes across as idealistic, it was interesting to see a dystopia set there. This nonfiction work takes a long tough look at Scandinavia and exposes the minuses (in addition to the pluses) of living there.
That’s it for my pairings! I hope you all enjoyed them. I know that I certainly found a few new books for my wishlist!
Earth is overcrowded and overheated but people still don’t want to become colonists to other planets. The colonies on the other planets are so boring and depressing that the colonists spend all of their money on Can-D — a drug that lets them imagine themselves living in an idealistic version of Earth. The only trick is they have to set up dioramas of Earth first. The drug is illegal on Earth but the diorama parts are still created by a company there. When the famous Palmer Eldritch returns from the far-flung reaches of space, he brings with him a new drug, Chew-Z, that doesn’t require the dioramas. What the people don’t know, but one of the manager of the Can-D company soon finds out, is that Chew-Z sends those who take it into an alternate illusion controlled by Palmer Eldritch.
I love Philip K. Dick, and I have since first reading Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep? So whenever I see his books come up on sale in ebook format, I snatch them up. I picked this up a while ago for this reason, and then randomly selected it as my airplane read on my honeymoon. Like many Dick novels the world of this book is insane, difficult to explain, and yet fun to visit and thought-provoking.
The world Dick has imagined is hilarious, although I’m not sure it was intended to be. Presciently, Dick sets up a future suffering from overpopulation and global warming, given that this was published in 1965, I find it particularly interesting that his mind went to a planet that gets too hot. Even though the planet is unbearably warm (people can only go outside at night and dusk/dawn), they still don’t want to colonize other planets. Colonizing the other planets is just that bad. So there’s a selective service by the UN, only instead of soldiers, those randomly selected are sent to be colonists. The wealthy can generally get out of it by faking mental illness, as the mentally ill can’t be sent away. This particular aspect of the book definitely reflects its era, as the 1960s was when the Vietnam War draft was so controversially going on.
I don’t think it’s going out on much a limb to say that drugs had a heavy influence on this book. Much of the plot centers around two warring drugs, and how altered perceptions of reality impact our real lives. One of the main characters starts out on Earth hearing about how the poor colonists have such a depressing environment that they have to turn to drugs to keep from committing suicide. But when he later is sent to Mars himself as a colonists, his impression is that in fact the colony is this downtrodden because no one tries very hard because they’re so much more focused on getting their next hit of Can-D. The Can-D has caused the lack of success on the planet, not the other way around. Whether or not he is accurate in this impression is left up to the reader.
Then of course there’s the much more major plot revolving around the new drug, Chew-Z. Without giving too much away, people think Chew-Z is a much better alternative to Can-D, but it turns out chewing it puts you under the control of Palmer Eldritch for the duration of your high, and if you overdose, you lose the ability to tell the difference between illusion and reality. The main character (and others who help him) thus must try to convince the humans that Chew-Z is bad for them before they ever even chew it. The main character has another side mission of getting people off of Can-D.
It sounds like a very anti-drugs book when summarized this way, but it felt like much more than that. People chewing Chew-Z can come to have an experience that sounds religious – seeing the three stigmata of Palmer Eldritch (a stigmata in Christian tradition is when God shows his favor on someone by giving them the marks of Jesus’ crucifixion. In this book, the three stigmata are three bodily aspects of Palmer that are unique to him). However, the experience of seeing the stigmata is in fact terrifying, not enlightening. The drugs thus represent more than drugs. They represent the idea that we could possibly know exactly what a higher power is thinking, and perhaps that it might be better to just go along as best we can, guessing, rather than asserting certainty.
All of this said, a few weaknesses of the 1960s are seen. I can’t recall a non-white character off the top of my head. Women characters exist, thank goodness, but they’re all secondary to the male ones, and they are divided pretty clearly into the virgin/whore dichotomy. They are either self-centered, back-stabbing career women, or a demure missionary, or a stay-at-home wife who makes pots and does whatever her husband asks. For the 1960s, this isn’t too bad. Women in the future are at least acknowledged and most of them work, but characterizations like this still do interfere with my ability to be able to 100% enjoy the read. Also, let’s not forget the Nazi-like German scientist conducting experiments he probably shouldn’t. For a book so forward-thinking on things like colonizing Mars and the weather, these remnants of its own time period were a bit disappointing.
Overall, though, this is a complex book that deals with human perception and ability. Are we alone in space? Can we ever really be certain that what we are seeing is in fact reality? How do we live a good life? Is escapism ever justified? Is there a higher power and if there is how can we ever really know what they want from us? A lot of big questions are asked but in the context of a mad-cap, drug-fueled dash around a scifi future full of an overheated planet and downtrodden Mars colonies. It’s fun and thought-provoking in the best way possible.
4 out of 5 stars
This month I’m participating in Nonfiction November, a book blogger event cohosted by four different bloggers (not including myself) that brings our attention to our nonfiction reads. Each week has a different topic, and this week’s asks us to look back at our year in nonfiction.
So far in 2015, I’ve read 6 nonfiction books. They are, in order of when I read them:
- Liar, Temptress, Soldier, Spy: Four Women Undercover in the Civil War by Karen Abbott (review)
- Drugs for Life: How Pharmaceutical Companies Define Our Health by Joseph Dumit (review)
- Cat Sense: How the New Feline Science Can Make You a Better Friend to Your Pet by John Bradshaw (review)
- Anarchism and Other Essays by Emma Goldman (review)
- Garlic, an Edible Biography: The History, Politics, and Mythology behind the World’s Most Pungent Food–with over 100 Recipes by Robin Cherry (review)
genre: food, cooking, history
- Toms River: A Story of Science and Salvation by Dan Fagin (review still to come)
genre: science, public health, history
I think it’s interesting to note that exactly half of my nonfiction reads were by women and half by men.
Now, on to the discussion questions about my reads!
What was your favorite nonfiction read of the year?
I’d have to go with Liar, Temptress, Soldier, Spy: Four Women Undercover in the Civil War. Although I have a BA in History, I never had much interest in the Civil War. This book’s title intrigued me, and then the content more than lived up to it. It held my interest, was easy to read (without being dumbed-down), and I still learned a lot from it.
What nonfiction book have you recommended the most?
Definitely Garlic, an Edible Biography: The History, Politics, and Mythology behind the World’s Most Pungent Food–with over 100 Recipes. I actually texted two of my friends while I was still reading it with snippets about garlic. Since a lot of my friends enjoy cooking and gardening, and this hit on both of those interests, it led to me recommending it more often than some of my other reads.
What is one topic or type of nonfiction you haven’t read enough of yet?
Usually I read at least one self-improvement nonfiction read a year. I am working on one, but have yet to finish it. I also haven’t touched a memoir this year, which kind of surprised me.
What are you hoping to get out of participating in Nonfiction November?
I hope to meet other book bloggers who also read nonfiction! I’ve met a couple of my best book blogger buddies through niche events like this, and I’d like to add some more. :-)
Hello my lovely readers!
I hope you didn’t mind too much the influx of wedding this month. It was so hard for me to not talk about it all in the months leading up to it, and I really enjoyed getting to finally talk about it. I also really hope my insight helps some future brides and/or grooms out! Thanks so much for your patience in the slow-down on the blog in the last few months and for all of your awesome congrats and support.
The book of the month for November will be:
How was my reading, reviewing, and writing this month?
October books read: 3 (1 scifi, 1 horror, 1 nonfiction) I was on my honeymoon for half the month, you guys.
October reviews: 4
Other October posts: 1 announcement (MY WEDDING), 2 wedding planning tips posts
Most popular post in October written in October: Announcement: I Am Married!!! Well, I would hope so! ;-) Thanks so much for all the congrats and support, you guys!
My favorite post of October: It obviously has to be the post where I got to announce my marriage, so we agree this month! I also really enjoyed writing up my wedding planning tips for everyone. I really hope future wedding planning brides/grooms will find them useful.
Most popular post in October written at any time: Book Review: The Jungle by Upton Sinclair
October writing: When I got back from my honeymoon, I started working on building writing back into my daily routine again. My goal for November is to finish up two parts of the multi-part miniseries I’m working on.
Coming up in November: I have 4 books to review, plus I plan on participating in Nonfiction November as much as possible. Also stay tuned for the promised post about my honeymoon!
Happy November and happy reading!