Wednesday, April 01, 2020

March 2020: Worrying and Reading

I don't know what to make of these days. I've had three coronavirus dreams in the past week, so I obviously puzzle over it awake and asleep.

The book I read two years ago, The Great Influenza by John M. Barry seemed so fresh in my mind when the news about a possible epidemic started appearing in January. I remember I read the book because it was the 100th anniversary of what was the 1918 flu pandemic. It was a difficult but rewarding read. In these past few weeks, I've never been so glad to have read a book, because I felt it gave me a bit of warning/preparation.

Although I've been worried, (and on one particular evening, downright panicked), I also have felt grounded and secure in knowledge, thanks to Barry's book. This grounding has been a source of comfort in a time when all kinds of confusing information and indifference and even derision have been swirling around everywhere, and especially while I was being styled as a worrywart and a killjoy through February and March. That last (long-winded!) sentence might strike you as full of anger, and you'd be right.

 I have to admit that I have sometimes let myself wonder if this was my grief and anxiety of the past year somehow made palpable. Something about all of this brings out my dark, superstitious side, something severe and medieval. Is it the cognitive dissonance? In this age of advanced technology, we seem to be flailing; we don't have all the answers; we have to resort to ancient methods like social distancing and self-isolation to cope.

This seems gloomy, but I also know I've got reasons to be thankful. I've been talking more often with that bookworm I made (with the assistance of another bookworm) back in 1984. During his time off, he's been binge-reading books from the Who Was...? series. I also feel as if imminent catastrophe has reawakened--jolted awake -- part of my brain, and I'll be damned. It still works. In addition, I was grappling with an issue, and circumstances have provided a much-welcomed hard reset. There's coffee and books and book bloggers, most of them going through the same thing, so I'm still connected to my bookworm universe, perhaps even more tightly and significantly than ever.

Would it be weird to be thankful for Tiger King? My brain seems to crave and fully respond to fuckedupness that isn't a virus. I first noticed this response in some of my reading for March.

Only three books for the month! I'm having trouble concentrating. Other people are falling into books to escape, and reading more than ever. Which one are you?

1. Updike - Adam Begley. (biography)  Not just a biography, a literary biography, and best of all, footnotes on practically every page! Nice balance between the life and the work, and he's not too reverential. It made me want to reread the Rabbit Angstrom books. I'm totally in love with Adam Begley's style as a biographer. Excited to have discovered him. I can't wait to read his recent tome about Harry Houdini. Happy with myself for finding Updike for one dollar at Dollar Tree, but peeved that I put it away for almost two years.

2. Who Was...Jesse Owens? - James Buckley, Jr. (biography) The only thing I knew about Jesse Owens was that he competed in the 1936 Olympics in Berlin and his stellar performance made Adolf Hitler eat his words about the superiority of white people. James Buckley, Jr. does a great job of filling in the gaps. When discussing Jesse's family's move to Ohio when he was a child, I was pleased to see a sidebar about The Great Migration. He lived a varied and full life after the Olympics, and Buckley doesn't shy away from discussing controversy where Owens is concerned. The Who Was...? series is substantial, satisfying reading because the authors don't write down to their younger audience. They might have to downplay some of the particulars to keep things G-rated, but they tackle difficult or complex topics honestly.

3. Darling Rose Gold - Stephanie Wrobel (novel) I can't say enough positive things about this compact psychological thriller debut novel. Wrobel uses the case of Gypsy Rose Blanchard and her mother as a jumping-off point, then gives the facts a neat little twist. It's darkly funny and well-told. Got enjoyable whiffs of Shirley Jackson, Patricia Highsmith, Gillian Flynn. I loved everything, even the acknowledgments. The cover is stunning. I devoured Darling Rose Gold in a couple of sittings. Could not put it down. An excellent distraction (see above comments about Tiger King). I hope it's not too long before Wrobel's follow-up novel.

I've also been working my way through The Mirror and the Light by Hilary Mantel for several weeks, and while I am finding it entertaining, the multiple characters and machinations and the sometimes opaque writing style don't always lend themselves to my current state of mind. Still, I'm hoping to finish this book in a few days. I almost said 'by the weekend', but really. What's the difference anymore?


Marg said...

I hope you find a way to settle your anxiety. We are in for the long haul I think.

Sam said...

I find myself getting more and more anxious about this whole situation, Susan, and my reading concentration has really suffered. I think a lot of us are in the same boat right now.

What you say about going back to read the Rabbit series strikes a chord with me. I read those years ago but can remember so little about the character that reading them now would be like reading them for the first time. I suppose that's one of the few blessings of having a poorer and poorer memory.

Unruly Reader said...

Dearest Bybee, I'm just so glad you're safe and well. And also concerned for you, as I am for us all, as we experience this hard time. You've had one doozie of a year, and all I can say about that is that some years are just that way -- it's like all the bad happens in rapid succession -- and then you look back later and say, "Somehow I survived *that*" and you get to realize how strong you really are. (I'm wildly un-fond of such years. I detest them. Especially when they happen to those I care about.)

OK, to the books: I smiled when I read your glee at footnotes on nearly every page. I adore them, too.

-blessed b9, Catalyst4Christ said...

Why worry, dear?
Pray, pray, pray.
Leave it all in the handsOgod.
-Padre Pio

Jinjer-The Intrepid Angeleno said...

I haven't been able to read a single book this entire month, but I did add three books from your post to my Goodreads TBR: The book about the flu and the two Begley biographies.

Thanks and hang in there!