The amount of books that I have read this year is really down. I just realized it’s probably because I’m working from home and that a lot of my reading happened while I was commuting on the train into Boston. So only two this month.
The Caliph’s House: A Year in Casablanca by Tahir Shah I think I discovered this one googling about books about traveling. British author Tahir Shah buys a mansion in Morocco which belonged to a caliph and needs renovating. Actually, now that I think about it, this is similar to Under the Tuscan Sun that I read last month except there are caretakers who believe that djinn inhabit this house and get angry about everything. Quite a culture shock on how to navigate through the red tape, slums, and gangsters of Casablanca. Shah is an immersive writer who brings you right into his world.
The Song of Achilles by Madeline Miller Whoa. I went into this book blind. It somehow made its way onto my library queue and it was the only book available when I finished The Caliph’s House so I figured I would read a few pages before returning it to the library. Instead, I was transported into Miller’s retelling of The Iliad. This is easily one of the best books I have read this year and may be one of my all time favorites at this point. Not even going to say more. Just download a sample from Amazon, if you like the first chapter you’ll love the rest.
What did you read last month?
I know, I know. I’m late. As you can see by the amount of posting I have been doing lately, I haven’t been online as much. Still social distancing although I did have to venture out for an inspection sticker for my car and Mrs. C had a training session where she had to fly. So now we’re back huddled in for a bit, getting more angry by the day at these fools who can’t put a mask over their face. But let’s get to this round of books.
The Life of Greece by Will Durant Volume 2 of Will Durant’s mindblowing A Story of Civilization. I’ve had this volume in my library for several years and just wasn’t ready to tackle it. It probably is a bit outdated (it was written in the 30s) but Durant’s prose is engaging and addictive. I bought several other volumes from Amazon before I even finished reading this. “No great nation is ever conquered until it has destroyed itself.” – Will Durant
Gates of Fire by Steven Pressfield This is definitely inspired by Durant’s book when I wasn’t ready to leave Greece and looked for historical fiction and came up with this. A retelling of Sparta’s Battle of Thermopylae which is wonderfully told through the eyes of a slave of the Spartans who is captured. If you loved 300 and wanted a more in depth look, this is for you.
Caesar and Christ by Will Durant Volume 3 of Durant’s book (I told you I was blowing through them.) This picks up in the early days of Rome and takes you to when the empire begins to crumble. And yes, I have started reading Volume 4 which is even more immense and deals with the Middle Ages.
The Southern Book Club’s Guide to Slaying Vampires by Grady Hendrix The Key Lime recommended this in last month’s book post and it’s a fun quick read. I’m making a mental note here to see what else Grady Hendrix has written but I have a feeling I’m going to forget if I don’t write it down. So many books, so little time. Even with lockdown.
Under the Tuscan Sun by Frances Mayes So lockdown has me missing travel. I watched this movie a few weeks ago and it seemed like perfect escapism for the current climate. The book doesn’t have too much in common with the movie and unless you are really into renovating an old house in Tuscany, you probably will do what I did; speed reading mode activated.
If It Bleeds by Stephen King Just finished this last night so technically it should be on next month’s list. Well, reading Stephen King is always comforting. Even if you don’t like the plot, he has a way with characters. This has 4 short stories (or three short stories and one novella). I loved the first one about an old man, and iphone, and a grave, and kind of got into the one about the rat. The other two just didn’t grab me. So a perfect short story collection in my eyes.
What have you been reading?
Three books this past month. Last year I was reading three a week. Oh well. Weird times.
Men Without Women by Haruki Murakami. I read this at the beginning of May which feels like years ago now. I still was having difficulty focusing on longer fiction so shorts fit the bill. This collection was surprisingly good considering that all of the stories deal with loneliness and longing. As all short story collections go, some are much better than others here and I may have skimmed one or two but these type of books are always like going up to a buffet, taking what you like and leaving the rest.
Of a Feather: A Brief History of American Birding by Scott Weidensaul. So, I have been working from my home office since March 10 now. The window overlooks a little wilderness and plenty of birds. I’ve never even thought about birding until the Wirecutter had an article about doing it from your window. Well, I have binoculars. I can download some apps to get started. Why not? Of course, the next step is to read up on it. This was the only book available from my online library and it certainly lives up to its title. It had enough historical birding anecdotes to keep my interest for most of the book but there are some skimmable parts. If you’re into bird watching, you’ll enjoy it.
I, Claudius, by Robert Graves. This is a reread. I read it several years ago, almost gave up reading in the beginning of it, but kept going and it’s now one of my top 10 books I have ever read. I thought I would give it another go to see if it still held my attention. There’s certainly enough detail that a second glance at it is definitely helpful. This is just an astounding piece of historical fiction that places you right in the center of Roman politics and intrigue that all comes to a head when Caligula becomes emperor. Can you imagine living in a time when the head of the state is an insane narcissist whose every single impulse causes chaos and destruction until the foundation of society is at the brink of collapse?
And what have you been reading?
Ahhhh, Memorial Day Weekend. It’s always special for me because not only is the weather mostly fantastic at the end of May, but my birthday usually falls on it, or at least close enough. (May 26 if you must know.)
So how will I be celebrating my 46th year on the blue marble? STAYING THE HELL AWAY FROM PEOPLE! I just can’t get over how this country has collectively decided that we just can’t even anymore with the pandemic and let’s just ignore it. Trump has the big share of this blame. He decided back in early April that opening up the country was what was in his best interest for his re-election chances and has now been gaslighting, scamming, and pressuring all the states to follow suit. I expect him always to make the worst choice possible. What really has astounded me is how many people who are not Trump fans, are now going along with it. I think we all underestimated the art of the con. Trump says things that people really want to hear. And even if you know that he’s a fraud and a liar, it’s awfully tempting to buy into it.
And yes, people have legitimate reasons for wanting states to reopen besides going to the beach. The economic impact of the lockdowns have been devastating. The Republicans are already stating that they are over helping Americans who have been laid off due to the pandemic. It’s either get out and face a possible ventilator in your or your loved ones’ future, or stay home and starve. If you even get to keep your home.
But Chris, do you expect everybody to stay quarantined forever? Well, no, but it would have been nice if we actually had a quarantine in the first place instead of this half-assed version that we’ve been faking for the past two months. We’ve done just enough to flatten the curve, but not bring down the numbers enough that we won’t be facing an entirely new curve in two weeks. And I hope I’m wrong on this. I want a return to normalcy as much as the next person. But not if it means risking the health of my loved ones or myself.
So what happens next? Everybody’s situation is different. I’m fortunate enough to be able to work from home. My boss has said that she expects us to be working from home until September at least. My wife on the other hand is on leave at least through June and most likely past that. Socially, I’m staying away from restaurants, beaches, anywhere where there are people. I think we collectively suck at social distancing. People gravitate towards each other. And the Covid-19 death toll keeps rising (over 97K as of this writing).
Stay safe Cynics.
If you’re reading this post and also want the country to start opening up because some people are just going to have to die to save the economy, can you list two or three people you know and love and are perfectly fine seeing die? Granted, this virus really fickle so may not abide by your death list.
I for one hate this lockdown and can’t wait to go back to work, but not if losing some of my friends and family to a terrible disease is the price we have to pay. How are we even at this point?
I’m slowly adding more books to my monthly totals. Ever so slowly.
Station Eleven by Emily St. John Mandel A worldwide pandemic destroys most of humanity? Sure, I’m in the mood for nonfiction. This book always gets rave reviews but I really couldn’t get into it. I tried before and gave up fairly quickly. I got through most of it this time and still it just didn’t work for me.
Exhalation: Stories by Ted Chiang I wasn’t really in the mood for short stories. The problem with any collection of short stories is the stories I get into end too quickly and other ones just throw me off from the beginning. This collection is pretty amazing. It’s one of the few books that have held my attention for the past few months.
The Practicing Stoic: A Philosophical User’s Manual by Ward Farnsworth Worry only about things that you can’t control Sure, EASY TO SAY WHEN YOU’RE NOT IN THE MIDDLE OF A PANDEMIC. I mean, the book was good if you’re looking for an intro into stoic philosophy.
What are you reading?
How are you doing?
I stopped going into work on March 10th. So I’ve been working from home for 6 weeks. I’ve pretty much stayed inside for the majority of that time and have taken social distancing extremely seriously. I did go to the supermarkets a bit more often earlier in March when it was still not quite clear how bad things were going to be and stocked up on most supplies. I haven’t stepped foot into an actual store now in about 3 to 4 weeks ago. I’ve lost count. I’ve been doing store pickups from Walmart lately which takes a while to get a scheduled time slot but it’s not impossible. My family has also abided by the lockdown orders (or suggestion? I don’t know what it means anymore)
Mrs C. is a flight attendant though. She has taken a short leave of absence so we have lost a source of income which is a pain but I’m still working from home so it’s not a disaster… yet. The stimulus check I probably won’t see until June or July (my direct deposit info wasn’t on file with the IRS so I need to wait) Another pain, but I’m a bit of a saver when it comes to money so we’re ok for the short term at least. How long this will go on though puts everybody except the wealthy on shaky footing.
Besides working from home, I’ve been practicing doing some sketching, binge watching Schitt’s Creek and Better Call Saul, playing my guitar more than I have in a few decades, and finding it difficult to read for some reason. Mrs. C has been doing a lot of baking. We found yeast and flour early on and have a good supply of it.
So we’re holding up ok. Cabin fever is getting to us a bit though. There’s only so much time you can spend in the house before it starts to eat away at you. But it’s for the greater good. Yes, we want everything to open up soon so we can go back to normal but also realize doing that prematurely would only set everybody back months and get a lot of people sick and killed.