Tuesday, March 31, 2020

March 2020 Book Stack

Month two of my 2020 book challenge—to read 50 books from the stack by my bed (and other unread volumes already in the house). Last months here: January, February.

On the bright side of the COVID-19 pandemic is plenty of time to read, although I have to admit to spending far more time watching TV than reading, and the dumber the better C and I had recently begun watching "The Crown," but most nights I vote for "My Name is Earl." I even gave "Tiger King" a try, and it definitely took my mind off of the coronavirus, but it gave me even worse nightmares than I already had, so no more. It's also kind of fortuitous that I'm confined to home with this giant stack of books and a goal of reading them all this year, but it's also kind of a bummer that my reading choices are limited to books I already have (okay, so I've ordered a few books online—after all this thing could go on for a year or more!). It's also unfortunate that even if I finish reading all the books in the stack, I won't be able to get rid of them, which was kind of the ultimate goal—decluttering. Alright, enough complaining, on to the books.

One of my mothers-in-law gave me Where the Crawdads Sing for Christmas, and I'd been saving it up for just the right time. I'd loved Delia Owens's earlier, nonfiction books—Cry the Kalahari and The Eye of the Elephant—in my 20s and was excited to see where she went with fiction. She did not disappoint, painting all of the intricate details of a South Carolina marsh and the young girl who is abandoned there by her family, left to fend for herself and grow up on intimate terms with all of the birds and animals of the area. Oh, and there's a suspected murder. And a really satisfying ending. I really like the way that the two timelines of the story converge, the present time one progressing by hours or days while the past jumps ahead by years. I'm amazed and delighted that a book in which nature figures so prominently ended up being such a huge bestseller. It gives me hope for the future.

I also finished reading a book I'd started last fall but got a little bored with in the middle: In Beauty She Walks by Leslie Mass. It's the trail journal of a woman who hikes the Appalachian Trail in her 60s. Because it covers every day of the hike without compression, it's a very long book, and because she doesn't run into too much conflict or difficulty, it's a little slow. Or at least it was a little slow a few months ago when my life was all rush-rush-rush. When I picked it back up, after social distancing was initiated, it was a pleasant escape. I think people especially need books about traveling and being outdoors while also being removed from regular 9-to-5 life during these times of social isolation (hint, hint to all the publishers I've sent my book proposal to).

The Beginning of Everything, by Andrea Buchanan I'll be reviewing for Literary Mama, so I won't say much about it here and now, except that it's the memoir of the author's experience with living with the excruciating pain that resulted when a hole tore in the dura mater covering her spine and her long, slow road to recovery. As I read it I couldn't help thinking about how much more challenging the COVID-19 world is for people enduring other medical issues as well as for those going through marital problems (Buchanan and her husband divorce in the midst of her illness). It's one thing to be trapped at home with loved ones who can be kind of irritating in large doses; quite another to be trapped with anger, acrimony, or worse.

I finally convinced Z to read The Outsiders, and when he chose it for his independent reading for English class, his teacher added Rumble Fish, which I decided to read also. I kind of thought I hadn't read it, because even though I'd loved The Outsiders, I did intentionally read sad books until I was in my 30s. But enough of the story was familiar that I decided in the end I had read it; it just hadn't left as much of an impression on my as The Outsiders and I can see why: the story is a lot shorter and a lot less complex, and I just didn't build up as much of an affinity for the characters. 

I read one more book, the last of the mysteries that I picked up last spring at the crime writing conference I went to, but it wasn't very good, so I'm not going to mention it here. In fact it was so bad that I figure I can't do much worse, and I've planned to write a mystery over the next few months of sheltering in place.

What books have you found to escape into these days?

Friday, March 20, 2020

We're In This Together

How are you doing as the world as we know it appears to be dissolving around us? I've been feeling a little dislocated and unmoored and like everything is not quite in focus. The last time I felt like this was eighteen-and-a-half years ago, holding four-month-old M on my lap on my sister's couch, 2,000 miles away from home, watching airplanes fly again and again and again into the World Trade Center towers. It strikes me that my oldest son's life has been bracketed, so far, by these two world-changing events: 9/11 and COVID-19. Yet he was too young to remember the former and he hasn't quite grasped the implications of latter (not that any of us have, really).

Interestingly, it's not my kids' safety that's my first concern this time around, for possibly the first time ever. Rather our older friends and family members have taken up most of my worry space during the day. At night I dream about zombies, which is weird since I've seen maybe one zombie movie in my life.

At the same time, I've been feeling a lot of gratitdude. For living in a safe, warm home with plenty of outdoor space around us so we can get out and move our bodies. For C no longer working in the gig economy but now having a steady paycheck and a job that he can make work remotely. For M having gone to college close by so bringing him home was a simple matter. For having my family at home, for them being homebodies who won't mind weeks of social distancing, and for us having had practice living almost on top of each other in a tiny tent for a whole summer. For my kids being older and more self-sufficeint and healthy. For not having a wedding or graduation or big travel plans on the calendar for this spring. For having learned how to bake bread and make yogurt years ago. For having a ridiculous number of hobbies and a long 2020 to-do list full of tasks that I need to be at home to do.

In fact, I was starting to look at the next few months as a chance to catch up on many undone projects, to delve deep into reading and writing, and to play Little House on the Prairie. But then I read an article that said we may have to spend 18 months in social isolation, until a vaccine is available, and I went from feeling unmoored and out of focus to feeling like cymbals were crashing along my nerves. Half a year at home I can handle, but a year-and-a-half? Suddenly my kids' ages no longer seemed like an advantage. Missing out on a year of high school or college will be immensely disruptive, and with the economy cratering, prospects for meaningful, well-paid work will be even more dismal than they already were for new college grads. And what about those vulnerable friends and family members, whom we won't be able to see until 2022?

It's all a little too much to think about at once, so I watch dopey TV shows, stay up too late reading so I won't lie awake at night before I fall asleept to dream about zombies, and go outside in the morning mizzle to listen to the birds. The chickadees are singing their hey sweetie songs, the robins are descending in flocks, and the redwing blackbirds are in the tops of trees singing in spring, oblivious to human concerns. They'd be out there even if we weren't here to hear them, which doesn't sound like a comforting thought, but somehow it is.

This post went out this morning to subscribers of my newsletter, along with some bonus material. You can subscribe here.

Wednesday, March 11, 2020

A HIke Down Memory Trail

I've been listening to this podcast episode on Backpacker Radio over the last few days (it's taking days because it's really extraordinarily long for a podcast—2 hours—and my commute is only 25 minutes) about a family who hiked the Pacific Crest Trail with four kids aged 11-17. It's made me nostalgic for our Colorado Trail hike of nearly four (four!!!) years ago. Yeah, we took along 3/4 the number of kids, and yeah, we only hiked 1/5 the distance, but there's still so much I can relate to in their discussion. It's also made me (even more) antsy to get The Book out there. I think people are interested in these kinds of stories. Now I just need to find the publisher who's interested.

Thursday, March 5, 2020

February 2020 Book Stack

Month two of my 2020 book challenge—to read 50 books from the stack by my bed (and other unread volumes already in the house). Last month here: January.

I only read one book out of my stack last month, because it was long and fairly intense, Sophie's Choice by William Styron. I inherited this book from a friend who moved away years ago, and I knew nothing about it, except that it's among the canon of books everyone should read, and that whatever Sophie's Choice is, it's not a happy one. It's the very gripping tale of a woman in Nazi-occupied Poland and, later, Auschwitz, told through a young man who meets her a few years later in the apartment building where they both live. It was so good I didn't want to put it down, but sometimes the story got so intense that I had to put it down and cleanse my brain with some dumb comedic TV. My only complaints: I'm a little bit sketptical that a person's response to trauma would be to basically become a sex addict (Styron's wishful thinking?), and I found Sophie's actual choice, when the book finally gets to that point, to be a little anitclimatic. Not that it isn't terrible—because it is—but that part of the narrative felt a little rushed. Overall, however, a brilliant story and one that's important to read at this time, with the fascists taking over government and actual Nazis marching in our streets.

As an antidote to such an intense and tragic story, I needed to read something light and comforting and very low-stakes, so I turned to my go-to comfort writer, Jane Austen, who I like to read in the winter anyway. It's been years since I read Northanger Abbey, and an ironic gothic tale was exactly what I needed. It did not disappont. Fun and funny and thoroughly entertaining. It does not, however, count as a book stack book because, even though I already own it, I've read it before, so it doesn't help me toward my goal of reading all the unread books.
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