Pandemic Diary #69
December 28, 2020
As this hell of a year comes to a close, I found myself looking back over the reading I have done while many of us, pathetically not all, have been Sheltering In Place.
Over the years there have been two authors that “get me”, both Californians by birth, and both women. Ursula K. Le Guin, born across the bay from me in Berkeley, California, and Joan Didion, born in my hometown. Their voices have been a soft spot to land during this world turmoil.
Both have written eloquently about growing old, loss, and divergent paths, and I have been reading their books rather consistently throughout this year.
I would suggest a book from either author, but their writing is so varied, I am sure if you spend some time with either you will come away replete.
I normally read about a book a week, but this year I was surprised that that number was down considerably. I am sure that part of that is the lethargy of COVID. I saw a Tweet the other day saying they had not read a book this year, and felt it was anxiety from the pandemic, but that a book given to her at Christmas got her going again. I thought, that doesn’t mean you were too distracted to read, you just needed the right book.
I had some fits and starts as well trying to find that right book. I threw myself two challenges at the beginning of all this, Dante, all three books of The Divine Comedy, and The Brother’s Karamazov.
I read Dante aloud while walking in circles around the living room, a bonus — exercise my body, overwhelm my brain. Dante was a perfect read for this election year. The man knew his politicians and exactly where he would place them in the after-life. This is a man who said “The darkest places in hell are reserved for those who maintain their neutrality in times of moral crisis.” That line by a 13th century poet is why Dante is still relevant today.
An adventure into The Brothers Karamazov, still sits unfinished after 7 months. I realized I need a whiteboard to keep everyone straight while I read. I will finish it one day.
I reached into the back shelves to find a few that had aging pages that smelled divinely of old books.
One was The Plague by Camus, a read I loved, and could not put down. That contrasted with Been Down So Long It looks Like Up to Me by Richard Farina. Farina lived an extraordinary life, but as far as the book, I must agree with a review I read on the website Goodreads.
“Smirky superior hectoring hipster cultivates cringe making condescension, bullying braggadocio and sexual sneering in wearisome war on straight society. I really would have liked our protohippy hero Gnossos Pappadopoulis to die of a drug overdose around page seven but he didn’t” (god I wish I could write snark like that).
I usually gravitate to non-fiction, especially history. Maybe it was the need for escapism, but this year there were not as many of those in my repertoire. I picked up Eiffel’s Tower by Jill Jonnes, In Ruins by Christopher Woodward and, The Grandest Madison Square Garden: Art Scandal, and Architecture In Gilded New Age New York by Suzanne Hinman. All three were a joy, sure there is history but the weaving of stories, lives, and events make them worth a gander.
Camus’ The Plague was a marvelous piece of fiction. But real plagues are also subjects of two books I read this year. I highly recommend one of them. The Pandemic Century: One Hundred Years of Panic, Hysteria, and Hubris by Mark Honigsbaum. I read this one in two sittings, I just could not put it down, but be prepared to crawl under your bed and wonder if you should ever emerge. This science-based book discusses, in layman’s language, how the degradation of our environment and our constant need for progress are pushing us deeper and deeper into a world where pandemics may occur with more frequency. It conjured up memories of a screenplay I cogitated on, and yet never wrote. That is okay because Cory Doctorow did a far better job than I would ever have done with Masque of the Red Death a short story in his book, Radicalized.
This has been a year with a spotlight on Black Lives Matter, and I pursued the subject in my own way through two books. Uncle Tom’s Cabin by Harriet Beecher Stowe was the first. Like others, I thought I had read it in high school, I had not. A sad commentary on our society is that the book is as fresh and relevant today as it was the day it was written. The other was The End of White Politics How to Heal Our Liberal Divide by Zerlina Maxwell. The book is a quick read and incredibly eye-opening. It was another appropriate read this election year.
I am not one to read a book more than once. I admire (I think) people who say they have a favorite book they have read 10 times. A second round to refresh my memory years later is more my style, and that means Jack Kerouac was around quite a bit this year.
I have absolutely no reading style, no preferences, no go to’s and no “you will love this book” (once that is said, you won’t). I get book reading suggestions from NPR, newspapers, friends and, even Twitter, and sure some have been sow’s ears and not silk purses, but books for me are like cocktail parties, you have absolutely no idea who is going to show up or how the night will go, but you are dressed and ready to dive in and see what happens.
The vaccine is on its way, but I don’t expect many of us will be emerging until late spring. I look forward to spending much of my time the first quarter of this coming year between the covers of books. Now I just have to figure out which ones.
If you have suggestions, feel free to leave them in the comments.
San Francisco weather: 54 degrees and cloudy
NYSE DOW compared to one year ago: +1629
COVID cases in the US: 19,588,656
Deaths from COVID in the US: 341,316
OED word of the day: Throgmorton Street — Allusively: the London Stock Exchange; London Stock Exchange members or traders collectively; the financial sector of the City of London in general
Days since Shelter In Place was initiated: 288
Reading: No Time to Spare by Ursula K. Le Guin
My Black and White Picture of the Day
Something Silly From the Internet: