Category Archives: Saturday Seven

Saturday Seven: Cold and Flu Season Reads

Saturday Seven is hosted by Long and Short Reviews.

We’re well into the depths of winter now here in Ontario. Cold and flu season is in full swing. I spent the last several weeks fighting and just recently finally getting over a stubborn cold myself, so communicable winter illnesses like these have been on my mind. How do you stay healthy when everyone is sniffling and coughing their way through January? Will we ever come up with a cure for the flu or the common cold?

Today I thought it would be amusing to talk about books that approach these questions from a wide variety of perspectives. My list begins with one of the most common ways that germs enter a body, explores what happens when an epidemic occurs, and ends with the one of the greatest medical discoveries of all time.

Three of these books are non-fiction, and four of them are fiction.

5. Gulp: Adventures on the Alimentary Canal by Mary Roach. 

One of the most common ways to catch a cold, the flu, or other diseases is to touch your face after you’ve touched someone or something that is carrying those germs. That virus then travels from your eyes, nose, or mouth into your body and begins replicating.

While this book spends most of its time talking how the digestive tract works in general, it also discusses the body’s defences against germs and how someone’s diet can affect their chances of getting sick. I was simultaneously fascinated and also a little grossed out by the author’s descriptions of how all of these things work.

 

1. Flu: The Story of the Great Influenza Pandemic of 1918 and the Search for the Virus that Caused It by Gina Kolata. 

Imagine how terrifying it must have been for our ancestors to watch their loved ones die from this strain of the flu or from the secondary infections they developed as a result of it. Normally, influenza kills people who are very young, very old, or who have underlying health conditions. It must have been even more frightening to see so many young, healthy adults succumb to it.

Antibiotics and life support machines didn’t exist in 1918, so there was little the hospitals could do in general to help patients who had severe reactions to this virus. People either recovered or they didn’t. All the doctors and nurses could do was watch and wait.

What I enjoyed the most about this book was how much detail it went into why this strain of the flu was so deadly, how it disrupted the daily schedules of the people who encountered it, and why it faded away.

2. The Stand by Stephen King.

The Stand was the first story I ever read about a virulent strain of influenza accidentally being released and killing off 99.4% of all humans. It ignited my interest in this genre.

While the plot soon veered off in other directions, the first few chapters went into great detail about why the U.S. army weaponized this virus to be so deadly in the first place, how it ended up being introduced into the general population, and what happened once people began dying in droves.

 

3. Oryx and Crake by Margaret Atwood. 

As regular readers of this blog know, I’m a huge fan of Margaret Atwood’s stories in general. What appeals to me the most about Oryx and Crake is how much time she spent describing what the world would be like after all but a handful of humans died in a terrible pandemic.

Some species flourished after mankind died off either because or in spite of all of the ways we bio-engineered them. Other species weren’t so capable of looking after themselves without a friendly human to feed them and keep them out of mischief. The buildings, trees, and land in general also changed in many ways as the Earth quieted down.

4. The Plague by Albert Camus. 

Don’t read The Plague if you’re easily grossed out by detailed descriptions of disease or what happens to a body after someone dies. The communicable disease that these characters come down with is a particularly nasty one, and there were never enough people around to take care of the ill or bury the dead.

With that being said, there are a lot of poetic passages in this book once you get past the descriptions of what happened when the characters fell ill.

5. I Am Legend by Richard Matheson.

Most post-apocalyptic novels assume that everyone who comes down with the disease that’s destroying humanity will die. This one describes a world in which infected people remain alive but are changed into something that is no longer human. By the time the first scene began, there is only one human left in the entire world.

That’s all I can tell you about the plot without giving away spoilers, but I was fascinated by the idea of a virus that permanently and severely changes someone’s personality, habits, and ability to communicate rather than outright kills them.

 

6. Miracle Cure: The Creation of Antibiotics and the Birth of Modern Medicine by William Rosen. 

Finally, we come to the idea of a cure. The introduction of antibiotics changed how modern medicine was practiced in so many positive ways. Surgery became much safer, and with the threat of infection greatly reduced we were eventually able to start performing risky procedures like organ transplants as well.

Before I read this book, I had no idea how dangerous it used to be to give birth, have surgery, or even do something as ordinary as accidentally cutting yourself and then developing an infection in that wound. No one was too young or too healthy to avoid a terrible death if the wrong strain of bacteria entered their body during one of those events. I wonder if a similar drug will ever be invented that cures the common cold or the flu?

My fingers are crossed that we’ll someday have such a thing. In the meantime, stay healthy this winter!

Saturday Seven: Fictional Food and Drinks I Want to Try

Hosted by Long and Short Reviews.

How often do food descriptions in books make you hungry? This is something that happens to me regularly, especially if I happen to be reading a description of a delicious snack or meal right before it’s time to make my own dinner.

While most of my cravings can be satisfied by the same or similar dishes as the ones I’ve read about, some authors describe food and drinks that don’t actually exist in our universe at all. Their imaginations have created all kinds of stuff that I’m dying to taste. If only there were a way for me to really try them!

This is what I’d want to eat and drink first if I had a magic wand and could make imaginary food and drinks appear in our world.

1) Fizzing Whizzbees from J.K. Rowling’s “Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban.”

A Fizzing Whizzbee is a large sherbet ball that makes people who eat it float a few inches off of the ground.

Ever since I first read the description of this treat, I’ve been desperately wishing that our muggle society had the ability to make such a thing.

While there are non-magical versions of this snack out there, they’re obviously not going to make anyone float. A sherbet ball that doesn’t have that exciting side effect doesn’t sound quite so fun to me.

2) Lembas from J.R.R. Tolkien’s “The Fellowship of the Ring.”

There weren’t many parts of Samwise and Frodo’s perilous journey to Mount Doom that I wished I could have experienced, but eating lembas was a huge exception to this rule.

I love many of the kinds of bread that we humans are able to make, so I can only imagine how much better Elven bread would be. Imagine only needing to eat a few bites of it before you felt satisfied!

Elvish food also appeals to me quite a bit in general. I believe in choosing quality over quantity, and the elves seem to agree with me on this point. All of their feasts always sounded so high quality and delicious in the novels.

3) Tru Blood from Charlaine Harris’ “Dead Until Dark” (Book 1 of the True Blood series).

Tru Blood is a bottled, synthetic blood substitute that ethical vampires drink in this universe.

While I almost certainly wouldn’t be able to stand more than one sip of it, I’d love to know if it’s as unappetizing as certain vampires claim it is. It might taste better to a human.  Either way, I’d want to find this out for myself.

4) Pan-Galactic Gargle Blaster from Douglas Adams’ “The HItchiker’s Guide to the Galaxy.”

I haven’t tasted any alcohol in years, but I’d break that record for a small taste of this volatile and unbelievably strong drink.

The instructions for making it are as creative as they are alarming, so I would definitely stop after that first sip.

5) Ent-Draught from J.R.R. Tolkien’s “The Fellowship of the Ring.”

If only all of you knew how tempted I was to make this entire post about the meals in the Lord of the Rings trilogy!

Ent-draught is made by mixing river water with possibly magical ingredients that only Ents know about. There is one type of ent-draught that refreshes the tree people of this series and other type that nourishes them.

Merry and Pippin, two fully-grown hobbits, were once given this drink. They each grew a few inches taller after that experience, so I’m eager to see if what would happen if a human drank it.

6) Pale Purple Melon from Suzanne Collins’ “The Hunger Games.”

The reference to this melon happened briefly and only once, so I’ll quote the section that mentions it to refresh the memories of everyone who has read this book:

While the table is empty, a long board off to the side has been laid with at least twenty dishes. A young man, an Avox, stands at attention by the spread. When I ask if I can serve myself, he nods assent. I load a plate with eggs, sausages, batter cakes covered in thick orange preserves, slices of pale purple melon. –  The Hunger Games, page 87.

Would pale purple melon taste anything like watermelon, cantaloupe, or muskmelon? I’d like to think it would be every bit as delicious as all three of those fruits. After possibly being grossed out by Tru Blood and Pan-Galactic Gargle Blaster, this would also be a nice change of pace.

7) Wonka’s Everlasting Gobstoppers from Roald Dahl’s “Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory.”

I enjoy the real-life version of this candy quite a bit, but I’ve always wondered what it would be like to suck on a gobstopper that truly did last forever.

How about you? What fictional food and drinks do you wish you could try?

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Saturday Seven: Cold Weather Reads

Saturday Seven is hosted by Long and Short Reviews.

Since this is the first Saturday Seven, I’ll explain it briefly for my readers. It’s a weekly meme for writers, bloggers, and book lovers in general. Every week you pick any book, writer, or author-related topic you’d like and make a list of seven things that fit it. Go click on the link above if you’d like to learn more about this meme or if you want to read the contributions from other bloggers.

I talk about science fiction and fantasy quite a bit here, so many of my future Saturday Seven posts will probably be related to those genres somehow. If hashtags were a thing in blogs, I’d end this paragraph with #YouHaveBeenWarned. Ha!

It’s been bone-chillingly cold here in Toronto over the past few weeks. Temperatures like -25 C (-13 F for you Americans) have often been our daytime high when you factor in the windchill. We’ve had multiple extreme weather alerts, and our city government has opened extra warming shelters to keep everyone who is living on the streets alive through this cold snap.

I feel very grateful, indeed, to have a warm, safe place to live. While we’re waiting for the weather to warm up a few dozen degrees, I’ve been thinking about books that are best read when it’s far too cold to go outside for non-essential reasons.

1. The Lion, The Witch, and the Wardrobe by C.S. Lewis.

As freezing as Ontario is at the moment, at least we know that our winter weather generally ends by April. The citizens of Narnia had no such guarantee!

2. The Valley of Horses by Jean M. Auel.

While this is the second instalment in the Earth’s Children series, they can all be read as standalone works. This tale follows the adventures of a teenage girl named Ayla who attempts to survive in a harsh Palaeolithic landscape on her own for years on end. I wasn’t even allowed to ride my bike past a certain point in our neighbourhood when I was her age, so I’m always fascinated by how someone so young survived all of the challenges that came her way.

3. The Good Earth by Pearl S. Buck.

Wang Lung and his wife struggled so hard to survive. I always enjoy reading about how closely their well-being was tied to what the climate was like and how their crops did in any particular year.

4. Jane Eyre by Charlotte Brontë.

The chapters that dealt with Jane’s years as a student and teacher at Lowood School are an especially good read on chilly days. Even something as simple as a cup of hot tea and a piece of fruit feels like a luxury when you’re in that section of the storyline.

5. Robert Frost’s Poems by Robert Frost.

“Stopping by Woods on a Snowy Evening,” “Mending the Wall,” and of course the classic “The Road Not Taken” are a few of the best poems to read from him on days like today.

6. The Secret Garden by Frances Hodgson Burnett.

While I’m not a huge fan of gardening in real life, I did enjoy the descriptions of how Mary and Colin coaxed the abandoned garden back to life in this story after winter passed. They made it sound like such a magical process.

7. The Long Winter by Laura Ingalls Wilder.

This was my least-favourite Little House book the first time I read that series. I couldn’t imagine how Laura Ingalls and her family would survive such a long, snowy, and bitterly cold winter while they were also running out of food. My subsequent readings of it were much more enjoyable, although I still always wince when I reach the scene where Almanzo risks his life to leave town and buy wheat to keep everyone alive until spring.

What are your favourite cold weather reads? I don’t host comments on this blog, but I’d love to discuss it with you on Twitter.