Please forgive me if this post is all over the place. This is, easily, the most difficult post I have ever written.
I have been wanting to begin writing posts for some time about the literary forces that have shaped my reading history – be it classics, genre books, authors, or people. Today I want to talk about a person who guided me through the earliest part of my reading journey – My older brother, Louie.
It’s virtually impossible to talk about my reading history without mentioning him. Lou was an avid reader in our childhood. He clipped through Science Fiction and fantasy books with a devotion that I could only marvel at. Lou was the first person to share books with me besides our mother. But he didn’t share “Mom” books. He definitely shared “Lou” books. He always knew the best “Lou” books. Through Lou I discovered such authors like Madeleine l’Engle and C.S. Lewis, J.R.R. Tolkien and Lewis Carrol. And it didn’t just stop at books. For years Louie fed me on a steady stream of movies and shows, silliness and dark humour and music. We shared MST3K and Monty Python, Fantastic Planet and Lightyears (Gandahar). We watched every ridiculous Science Fiction monstrosity and all of the ludicrous sword and sorcery 80’s (I shudder to say) films. He never picked on me too much for things I enjoyed unless I did the little sisterly thing and continuously watched a movie over and over again. Reading books again and again…that was another story.
Louie shaped me year in and year out. He is the reason that I am a Science Fiction and Fantasy reader, though while he was more versed on the tech end I went more towards the magic end. Scratch that, I ran towards the magical end screaming all the way. But in the ways of genre fiction Louie pointed the way and I simply followed the path. I did wander off at times to do my own thing but we always met again to talk over books that we agreed on, either things he had read that I had given him or vice verse. There were always books in our conversations.
Louie was diagnosed in 2008 with brain cancer. An initial surgery revealed he had an Astrocytoma tumour, generally a more mild tumour in cancer terminology. It was removed and he was given radiation therapy to reduce the remaining cells. He was cancer free for four years. In June/July of 2012 he started exhibiting signs of fatigue which we attributed to him relocating his home. An emergency trip to the hospital revealed a new mass growing and he went through another surgery. This time he had a Glioblastoma; a vastly different and infinitely scarier type of tumour. This one was vascular, inoperable, and aggressive.
Louie was given a year to live.
During that time I mentally prepped myself for my brother’s death. I said goodbye to him in a thousand little ways and I thought I was prepared. After a month of rapid decline the doctors told us that his battle was at an end. We gave them the DNR and moved him into home hospice for comfort care. I was one of his caretakers and I was in the home at his end. He couldn’t communicate and was in and out of lucidity, but he knew we were there. And I knew he was there…and that’s all that matters.
Lou died last Saturday, August 3, 2013. He was surrounded by the people he loved and in as little pain as we could make him be. And that was all we could do for him.
He will be missed. Every day.
One of the biggest struggles in the last year for Louie was the loss of his reading. The tumour pressed on different areas of his brain, impacting different systems and functions as it grew. Reading was among the first functions to go. He couldn’t keep the words straight, or it made him tired, or dizzy, or nauseous. I think he lamented that (and not drawing) more than anything (until walking became a problem). Lou had books that he would never read and that irritated him. He had books that I had bought him that he couldn’t talk to me about. I had books that he had been trying to get me to read for twenty years that I hadn’t gotten to yet. Even audio books were a chore.
During his first surgery (and recovery) I had gifted him with a number of books – The Lightning Thief, Flora Segunda, Lamb, Crooked Little Vein… Louie read them all and enjoyed them, particularly the Flora Segunda books (which he owned the second one in hardcover. I can’t even tell you how infrequently that happened). When I was in Lou’s home last week, in between hospital visits, I found the ARC of Flora’s Fury that I had given him after reviewing it. I broke down. He had said he wanted to reread the whole series, and now he never would. And it broke my heart.
And now I’m at a loss, because there are so many books that he really wanted to read…and that he wanted me to read…and now I will never get to talk to him about them.
For years he recommended Dune and Hitchhiker’s Guide, The Space Trilogy, and Stainless Steel Rat. He pointed me towards Asimov and Harry Harrison and William Gibson and Rudy Rucker and Philip K. Dick…And of course I never read any of them. His opinion of Richard Bachman was unquestioned. His views on Orson Scott Card changed in his adulthood when Card’s political and social views defied my brother’s very essence. Card had always been a God in Lou’s pantheon of writers and then he grew up, married a man, and Louie’s viewpoint on Card changed significantly. He and I decided to strip the copies of the Card books that Louie owned. We wanted to send them to Card’s publisher in protest. We never actually did this because neither of us could bring ourselves to willingly destroy books.
Louie changed my view of reading and, in doing that, he changed my world. He taught me that other worlds can be fun, that having my head buried in mysticism was okay, and that a love for fantasy made me stronger, not weaker. He taught me that imagination is just as important as fact and that it made me more human. Lou never flinched when he saw me reading something that he could have easily made fun of. He just came over and asked what it was, and if he didn’t know about it we talked about it…and then he borrowed it from me afterwards. Lou wasn’t scared of genre criticism and he taught me never to be either. He just would roll his eyes and tell me that people were stupid to judge something they didn’t bother to learn about. And then his nose would be back in the book.
I will miss my brother. He was, and is, my only sibling and I now have to learn how to talk about him in past tense. There is nothing more heartbreaking than that.
I will truly miss him.
I want to find a way to honor him. To that end I’m starting an ongoing project to read the books that he has always recommended me, one by one…even if it takes the rest of my life (which it will, he enjoyed so many books). I am sad that I will never get to speak to him about his favourites. However, better late than never, right? I know of no better way to remember him.
Louie James Tourtois – April 9, 1974 to August 3, 2013.
Rest in peace, brother.
– Follow the Reader –