Monday, December 05, 2022

Duncan Turns 10, and What I'm Reading

This weekend we celebrated the 10th birthday of our sweet big dog, Duncan. It was a special milestone because he has been grappling with medical issues for the last few months. We're grateful that our boy has made it to this birthday.

Big boy with a little birthday hat

Duncan started to have severe skin and digestive issues in the middle of this year. It was a suspected allergy, either to something in his food or something in the environment. The vet treated it with diet changes (expensive hydrolyzed food which he was NOT a fan of), topical applications, and injections of a neutralizing antibody, among other things. The problem was somewhat within control but then, we noticed a lime-sized lump under his "armpit". A needle biopsy showed mast cells, immune cells responsible for immediate allergic reactions. This is a form of skin cancer in dogs. 

Long walks in the fresh air

Duncan had surgery in late October to remove the tumor. The good news is that he recovered quickly from the surgery and his allergy symptoms have disappeared for now. His skin and digestion is back to normal for now, and he is feeling energetic and happy. 

The bad news is histopathology on the tumor showed that is a grade II tumor with actively dividing cells, so there is a chance the cancer has already spread and could recur. We weighed the pros and cons and decided not to treat him with chemotherapy for now. We are letting him live his life and enjoy each day with all the things he loves the most- treats, love and hugs, long walks and trips to the dog park.

Soaking in the sunshine

Sitting pretty

 * * *

Book report-- 

First up, books that are written for children or about children, but make for meaningful and satisfying (and quick) reading for adults--

Carrie's War by Nina Bawden, first published in 1973, tells the story of a brother and sister who were evacuated from London during WWII and sent to live with strangers in a mining town in the Welsh countryside. It is a wonderful coming of age tale and a wartime classic.

Another book set in wartime- White Bird by R. J. Palacio (published in 2019) is a beautiful graphic novel that tells the story of a young Jewish girl hiding in France in WWII. This is a very sad and very good story of how ordinary humans are extraordinarily kind and brave. 

Room to Dream by Kelly Yang (published in 2021) is the third installment of the Front Desk series. This was a fun and uplifting read. The plot line of a tween writing a newspaper column seemed unrealistic but I was surprised to learn that in fact this is exactly how the author embarked on her writing career at a very early age! Amazing!

On to fiction for adults--

This year I've been enjoying books by Elizabeth Strout. I love her perceptive writing about about inner lives and the human condition. The most recent one I read is Oh William!, published in 2021.

I always enjoy a juicy mystery for mindless reading. One I picked up at a used book sale was a good read- The Murder Room (Adam Dalgliesh #12) by P.D. James, published in 2003.

I have been reading many good non-fiction books--

A Taste for Poison: Eleven Deadly Molecules and the Killers Who Used Them by Neil Bradbury, published in 2022, was an easy and informative read, with case studies on some of the world's best known poisons. The author covers case studies with some (not in-depth) coverage of the molecular modes of action of these poisons. The most fascinating chapter for me by far was the one on Polonium-210. 

Rogues: True Stories of Grifters, Killers, Rebels and Crooks by Patrick Radden Keefe, published in 2022, was another crime-related read. This is a collection of Keefe's long form articles from the New Yorker magazine- several articles were fascinating, giving glimpses into the worlds of death penalty attorneys, wine forgeries and money laundering in Swiss banks, among other things.

Midnight in Chernobyl: The Untold Story of the World's Greatest Nuclear Disaster by Adam Higginbotham, published in 2019, is a gripping and well-researched book. We have all heard about this nuclear accident that is basically a synonym for nuclear accidents, but I felt like I finally learned more about what really happened, why it happened and how it was handled. Right after I read this book, my husband and I watched the HBO mini-series Chernobyl- also fascinating and worth watching. I'm still thinking about this book and series.

A book that I picked up partly because it sounded interesting, and partly because it is relevant to my work, is Making Numbers Count: The Art and Science of Communicating Numbers by Chip Heath and Karla Starr, published in 2022.  This is an engaging read, especially for anyone whose work involves science communication. Humans are bad at truly understanding anything bigger than very small numbers, so we should think of alternative ways to communicate numbers by translating them. Some examples from this book- Try focusing on "1" instead of a larger number. Instead of saying there are 400 million civilian owned firearms in the US, say there's one for every man, woman and child, with 70 million left over. Recast in different dimensions. A million seconds is 12 days. A billion seconds is 32 years. Or saying that 1% is a penny out of a dollar. Convert to familiar objects. Instead of measuring the recommended serving size of a food in ounces, say that it is a size of a deck of cards.

I'll end with the most unusual, delightful and really quite terrific book I read this year- A Swim in a Pond in the Rain: In Which Four Russians Give a Master Class on Writing, Reading, and Life by George Saunders, published in 2021. After class 10, pretty early in my academic life, I was directed to the science steam of education and have not taken any humanities classes at a higher level. This book is essentially a graduate level literature course in book form, a novel (no pun intended) experience for me. Saunders teachers a university class on the Russian short story. In this book he features 6 short stories (in their entirety) by Chekhov, Tolstoy and others, and methodically dissects them to give (a) insights into the art and craft of short stories and how fiction works in technical terms, and (b) even more profound insights into how the short story, and fiction in general, is a reflection of human values and how it fosters connection. Reading this book makes me wonder if I have gained anything at all from all the fiction I've read in my life, and makes me want to think about books more deeply. 

What have you been reading these days?


  1. The news about Duncan is heartbreaking. I'm so sorry he is going through this rough time.

    Definitely checking out the George Saunders book. I enjoy your book recommendations.

    Happy to see Elizabeth Strout mentioned. I started with My Name is Lucy Barton and couldn't stop. Olive Kitteridge is fascinating. Her writing is intimate and empathetic. Olive overhearing her daughter in law from the bedroom, I think about that often.

    1. Thanks Poorni. Fingers crossed the tumor doesn't grow back.

      Olive Kitteridge is indeed fascinating. I read "Olive, Again" earlier this year and the chapter you mention, the one with the daughter in law and son visiting, is the one I think about too!!

  2. Lots of love and hugs to darling Duncan!

  3. Hope your furry friend feels better!

  4. the dog who rescued me - Mira - turns 3 today. I am luckiest to have found her. she rescued me and i was fortunate and blessed to give her a home . dogs are really the best - whoever said diamonds are a girl's best friend clearly hasnt been owned by a dog yet :). much love to duncan.. i can tell you feel the same about him . our dog babies are the best !!!

    1. Happy birthday to sweet Mira! Yes, we absolutely feel like our Duncan is the center of the family and we are trying very hard to not think of life without him (in the near to middle future) and just enjoy each day. He does own us, fair and square.

  5. Be well Duncan.

  6. Happy birthday to dear Duncan. Hope he feels better soon. I was waiting for your book recommendations. Definitely I will try a few of Elizabeth Strout books. Thank you!

    1. Sushma- Hope you enjoy the books and thanks for the wishes for Duncan :)

  7. Sending hugs and love to your sweet fur baby and all of you ♥️ Sujata

  8. My heart broke reading about Duncan's health but there is a ray of sunshine after all. What a darling dog he is! Wishing him and his wonderful human family the very best.
    I always enjoy your book recommendations and will check out the ones you have mentioned. BTW - my own book has been recently published: Rajaraja Chola, King of Kings, about - yes - Rajaraja and the Chola dynasty. Do check it out, if medieval Indian history interests you!

    1. Thank you, dear Kamini! For now, Dunkie is doing well and for that we are grateful. Congratulations on your book!! I will most definitely check it out!

  9. janani srinivasanDecember 17, 2022 5:43 AM

    Sorry to hear about Dunkie Nupur sighhh. We were on vacation in India and had this amazing meal in Solapur at a place called Preeti dining hall lol.. it was very simple mostly varan bhat but I was telling my husband about your blog and remembering you. We had a hectic vacation..nearly 50 hours on the road ..and 10 different cities in 20 days but this was one of the most memorable meals haha.

    Hope you have a great holiday season !

  10. Love your book reports! I really love young adult novels but with my daughter reading less I have too. I studied humanities and have spent a long time working with scientists and scratching my head at their mysterious ways so I really love good science communication. That book about how to communicate numbers sounds really interesting. And I would love to read some russian literature.


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