Last night, I hosted the monthly book club that I’m a part of with a few local girlfriends. Each month, we take turns hosting, which is exciting since the experience is always different.
I was excited to make use of my apples from apple picking last weekend to make a dessert for our book club. I decided to make an apple cake, as I’ve never made one and that just sounds delicious. Buuuut – it turned out horribly!
One, it didn’t even resemble cake in the least. Believe it or not, it’s done in that picture. But it’s still all lumpy and weird. What went really wrong though, was that I used stevia.
I asked around on Twitter a while ago if Stevia and baking were a go. I tried it on a cookie cake a couple of weeks back and it wasn’t terrible. A little dry, but still good. Well, this was freaking awful. The aftertaste of stevia is so bad in this cake that I can’t even eat it. It was sickeningly sweet even though the package says it measures cup for cup like sugar. Yeah, right.
That’s the last time I’m using Stevia! But I still needed a dessert for book club, so I got real creative and went to the store to get my favorite cookies ever.
And even those turned out pretty pathetic. At least they were edible though. Hint: top with pumpkin pie spice = really good!
Anyway, onto the book! This month my book club read The Diving Bell & The Butterfly by Jean-Dominique Bauby. In juxtaposition from my last book review, I absolutely loved this book.
It’s a memoir (my favorite genre) about the French Elle magazine editor who suffers from a massive stroke at age 43. He is in a coma for 20 days and when he wakes up, he is completely paralyzed all except for his left eye. His left eye is literally the only way he can communicate anything to the world.
The book is about his experience with his new illness, locked-in syndrome. He is all there mentally, but his body does not work anymore. He has to bed fed through a tube into his stomach. Nurses come to dress and bathe him. He is confined to a hospital bed or a wheel chair.
He writes the book through a woman who comes up with an alphabet system for them to communicate. She says letters and when she reaches the letter he wants to use to spell a word, he blinks his one eye.
The story features his experience in his “new life” as a paraplegic. The book was apparently published just two days before he died.
The whole concept of this book just blew my mind. The whole time I was reading it, I couldn’t help but obsess over the fact that each word was written by him blinking it out to someone else. It must have been so tedious. I can barely write a blog post sometimes with my own two hands. How on earth could someone write a book all in their head? Just that alone amazes me.
Bauby’s imagery is stark, vivid, and so poignant. I can only image what this book would have been were he able to sit at a computer or with a notebook and really write it himself. That being said, that is the one complaint that I and my girlfriends had about the work. We all felt like we wanted more from the book, more detail and more story. It’s only 132 pages after all. But he clearly gave what he could – all he could – if he tried to write a book in such a state.
The premise of the book is very sad. He was a young, successful man with his whole life turned upside down. The saddest scene for me was when his children visited him on Father’s Day. He claims he is now a “zombie father” and can never be there for his children again. I can’t image how devastating something like locked-in syndrome would be for a family to suddenly adjust to.
The concept of the diving bell & the butterfly is really unique too. A diving bell is a giant metal bell-shaped chamber for divers to descend in the ocean faster. It’s really odd-looking and I had no idea what it was before reading this book. The bell is never explained in the book, which I found frustrating. After a few references, I looked it up because the metaphor he is trying to make was becoming lost to me. Some passages were also lost on me. Bauby recalled a few interactions with past friends or events that just didn’t seem to fit into the story of the book. But I, again, have a hard time with that since someone else was helping him with the book. I will admit that there were times that I was confused in this book, though. It was originally written in French. The translation is very clearly good, but a lot of the book references French things that can’t be translated or French places and culture things that I didn’t understand. It made me want to learn French just so I could read this book in its original form!
The metaphor that this book represents is that his illness, locked-in syndrome, is like a diving bell that covers him, encapsulates him, and is very heavy. In opposition, the butterfly represents the free moments of life, whether that was in his life before the illness or the moments he takes to explore with his mind like he did for the book. Overall, I felt the metaphor was strange at first but have now grown to appreciate it as the explanation of the two extremes in life: what traps us and what is freeing.
I loved this book because it is unique, real, raw, and different. This book can easily be read in a sitting as it’s very short. It was a quick read, and I’d recommend it to anyone.
Questions for You:
- Do you like memoir? If so, do you have a good recommendation?
- What’s the last recipe you made that didn’t turn out? Do you know why? If I know what went wrong, it’s a lot easier to deal with!