Another slow month of reading. Only three finished books. But I’m also reading a few other volumes that are a thousand or so pages each so my reading has increased from the past few months. But my GoodReads challenge is going to be dismal this year. Welp, 2020. Ok here we go for the short list. And as always, please use the comments to let everybody know what you’re reading. I get so many good recommendations from everybody.
Too Much and Never Enough: How My Family Created the World’s Most Dangerous Man, by Mary Trump. I haven’t read a Trump book since…. Oh I can’t remember now. I just need a break from thinking about him and I hate him infringing upon my reading time which is sacrosanct. But somebody got me into this book so I put in for it at the library and managed to snag an e-copy. It’s actually surprisingly quite well written. It goes on more about the family than I had known about which was probably the most interesting part since we have heard everything else about him post-presidency. And now I hope never to read another book about him that isn’t titled “Downfall: the Jailing of an American President.”
Death at La Fenice by Donna Leon. This is a murder mystery set in Venice. Leon has a series of these with the same detective. It’s a good beach read and it’s set in one of the most beautiful cities in the world. What’s not to like? I’ll give another one a try at some point.
The Disreputable History of Frankie Landau-Banks by E. Lockhart Young Adult fiction gets saddled with the worst genre name. It’s almost designed to keep adults far, far away. This is a shame because YA actually has some amazing writing and compelling stories. This one goes immediately to the top of my list of favorite YA novels. (I always get jumbled what’s in the genre so if you are asking me to choose my favorite of all time, I’ll blurt out Code Name Verity and later think of a dozen or so more)
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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?