So, we’re three days into April and the beginning of March feels like another world, doesn’t it? Yet despite it seeming like the longest month ever, I ended up doing very little reading, and when I did read, the results were not great. The call for self-isolation hasn’t really put much more time in my hands because I’ve been working at home on my normal schedule, but with more to fret about.
My March books were ones that in a different time, when my mind was less overwhelmed, I might have liked better. But right now, I think a strong narrative and absorbing story was more necessary that I realized. And the less concentration required, the better. By the end of the month, I was spending my time watching an old season of Project Runway—OMG, the twins!—and movies I’d seen before. And my favorite book of the month was a reread.
The Spirit Catches You and You Fall Down by Anne Fadiman. This is a fascinating account of the medical history of a Hmong girl in California who developed epilepsy at a young age and the medical establishment that couldn’t navigate the language and cultural barriers. Fadiman is both generous where people were making honest mistakes but trying their best and critical where people were letting stereotypes get in the way of giving good care.
The Odd Woman and the City by Vivian Gornick. Vivian Gornick’s memoir of her life in New York City is a book that I might have liked better if I’d read it at a different time. As it was, the meandering style failed to really draw me in. I liked bits and pieces of it, but it hasn’t stuck with me at all.
The Sisters Brothers by Patrick deWitt. The first part of this western was a little too episodic for me (again with the wanting a strong narrative arc), but it got much better toward the end, when the brothers finally meet the man they’re supposed to kill.
A Visit from the Goon Squad by Jennifer Egan. This may be the biggest disappointment of the month, only because I could imagine liking it so much more than I did. But, as it was, each story that made up this novel in stories wasn’t quite exciting enough on its own, and my brain was too distracted to hold onto the connections between the characters so that I could see how it all fit together — and I think that the novel’s brilliance is in how the pieces fit together. I did think the story in PowerPoint was clever and surprisingly moving. Thinking about this in comparison to Girl Woman Other, I can see where Evaristo succeeds in making a novel where each individual story is great on its own and the connections are fun to pick out. For me, Egan only succeeds on the latter front, and I was simply unable to appreciate that aspect of it.
Bring Up the Bodies by Hilary Mantel. This was my second time reading Mantel’s second book in the Thomas Cromwell series, and it’s just as good as it was the first time. One of the things I love in this series is how portentous every supposedly triumphant moment is. In Wolf Hall, we saw Anne Boleyn’s rise alongside plenty of clues that it wouldn’t last. Now we see her fall, as Cromwell’s rise that began in Wolf Hall continues. And Anne’s arc is full of portent for Cromwell himself. These are such delicious books.
As for April, I received my copy of The Mirror and the Light from my local indie, which is relatively new to the neighborhood and now struggling after having to close for COVID-19. I’ll probably finish reading it today. I’m also continuing to read Come Be My Light, about Mother Teresa as my Lenten book. I managed to get to the local library the day before it closed and pick up The Good Lord Bird, which I had on hold. That will be my last library book for a while, unless I decide to borrow some ebooks.
I hope to do more reading in March. My work schedule has changed, giving me more time off, and I’ll probably take a full week later in the month. As worrying as this time is, in a lot of ways, I’m very lucky. I have a comfortable home and a cuddly cat who herself is in remission from a bout with FIP, a mutated version of a feline coronavirus that was previously fatal. (If she makes it to the end of May, she’ll be considered cured.) I have a whole bookcase full of books and plenty of entertainment to stream. And social media makes it possible to reach out in a way that would have been inconceivable 20 years ago. As it happens, my mood this month has swung between really appreciating social media and really wanting nothing to do with any of it. But I’m glad the option is there.
I hope all of you are doing well in these strange and difficult times. Stay safe and healthy everyone.