Now that I’m into the third month of the pandemic, my new at-home life just feels like normal life. Virginia is opening up a bit more, but I expect to be working at home indefinitely, and it will be a while yet before churches and theatres are open, so I don’t expect to be getting out much more in the near future. Trips to the grocery store and farmers’ market, monthly-ish shifts at my church’s food pantry, and daily-ish walks in the neighborhood are my main activities away from home.
I’m enough of a homebody that stay-at-home life has felt manageable, and I’m extremely fortunate not to have to deal with health stress or worries about job loss at this moment. I’ve been surprised that my use of social media has actually gone down with my increased solitude, and I’ve been pondering why that is. I don’t know if it’s just the (entirely understandably) highly emotional tenor of the conversation that’s putting me off or if having it serve as a primary vehicle for human contact has made it feel less useful than before. Personal messages, usually through text, just feel so much more real and vibrant. Anyway, it may well be just a phase, as my mood around social media tends to ebb and flow.
As for reading, this month was sort of on the slow side. I just finished rewatching The Americans, and I found myself much more eager to watch that than to read this month. Have you watched it? It’s so good! And totally stands up to repeated viewings. It is intense and violent, but the characters’ emotional journeys are so complex and interesting, and it took turns it didn’t even occur to be to expect. The 80s details are spot-on, and the final episode is one of the very best series finales I’ve ever seen.
I’ve also taken up a pandemic project, learning to crochet. I’ve wanted to learn for years, partly to give myself something to do while watching TV and movies, so I don’t snack, scroll Twitter on my phone, or fall asleep. I ended up subscribing to a few crochet subscriptions, so I don’t have to get out to yarn stores or deal with the pressure of deciding what to make. As I get better and more aware of what I like to make, I’ll strike out on my own. My first completed project was a one-handled bag via Happy Hook Crocheting. I also am working on an afghan through Annie’s Afghan Block of the Month Club and will be starting a shawl today via KnitCrate. (Yes, I went a little overboard, but I want to have enough to do. My next worry will be what to do with all the things I make.)
I’ve also been celebrating my cat Natasha’s being cured of FIP (feline infectious peritonitis)! Until recently, FIP had no cure, and a diagnosis usually meant having to decide how much supportive care to get and when to euthanize. And, even now, the process of getting the cure is, well, tricky. The Atlantic had a great article about it and how the cure of FIP is linked to a COVID-19 treatment. It’s pretty wild. I was lucky that Nat’s treatment went smoothly. I was able to get it in pill form, and when the pills were coated in a little bacon-flavored pill paste and a dab of Churu, she thought they were treats and gobbled them down. At the end of May, she had her 90-day post-treatment blood work, and everything looks great! She’s just two years old (FIP tends to attack young cats), so I hope we will have many more years together.
But even with all of that going on, I did manage to read a bit, most of it pretty ok. Here’s what I read:
White Fragility by Robin DiAngelo. This book rocketed to the top of the best-seller list as people have sought to become more educated about racism in the U.S. I already had a copy, so I decided that now was the time to read it. It was … ok. I think it had value for white readers who already believe that racism is a problem but who haven’t spent a lot of time in anti-racist literature. But I’ve read lots of books and articles, listened to lots of podcasts, and watched lots of films about the subject, so not much here was new to me. I picked up a few helpful ideas, but I wouldn’t say that this is the book every white person must read. And, honestly, I think something like White Rage by Carol Anderson or The New Jim Crow by Michelle Alexander are more useful as beginning texts because they really look at the big picture. DiAngelo’s focus on white people’s reaction to diversity education in the corporate sector felt a little limited.
The Meeting Point by Lucy Caldwell. This book is about an Irish woman and her missionary husband who go to Bahrain to with their young daughter and the teenage girl who becomes wrapped up in their lives. It’s a pretty gripping book in that the characters’ emotions are huge, and I was interested to see how it would all wrap up. I didn’t really buy one of the key relationships, and the ending felt really swift, but I really liked some of the introspection toward the end as the characters reflect on what happened.
Riviera Gold by Laurie R. King. The Mary Russell/Sherlock Holmes mysteries are consistently enjoyable, and this one was no exception. Set in Monte Carlo in 1925, this one involves Mary’s efforts to find her and Holmes’ former housekeeper, Mrs. Hudson. Of course, a murder intervenes, and Mary and Sherlock must investigate to keep their old friend out of trouble. It was such fun and my favorite book of the month.
All Adults Here by Emma Straub. This was the selection for the Old Town Books subscription service and book club, and it is a nice book about nice people who are doing their best even though they don’t understand each other. It centers on a family comprising a mom and three adult children with their own children. It’s full of misunderstandings, many of them long-standing, and it was pleasing to see the characters grow in understanding of each other. It sometimes felt a little too perfect New England small-town liberal to me, with everyone having the exact right social attitudes, but, at the same time, there was something comforting about it.
A Candle for St Jude by Rumer Godden. This book about a London dance school was a bit of a roller-coaster for me. The head of the school, Madame Holbein, just seemed so mean and self-centered and outright cruel to one of her most talented dancers. I didn’t really care about seeing her succeed at putting on the big ballet recital in celebration of her 50 years as a dancer. But I did care about Hilda, the young dancer and choreographer who Madame Holbein seems to resent for no reason. As the book goes on, it becomes clear that Holbein cannot deny real talent when she sees it and that Hilda could use some pushes to improve.
Dearest Anne by Judith Katzir and translated from the Hebrew by Dalya Bila. Another roller-coaster. This book is about the sexual relationship between a 14-year-old girl and her 28-year-old female teacher, Michaela, and it’s written from the perspective of the girl, Rivi, who is both reflecting on the relationship after Michaela’s death and writing a diary about it in the moment. Because Rivi is young in the diary (which she addresses to Anne Frank and signs as Kitty), she doesn’t see the relationship for what it is, and the reader is brought along through her detailed descriptions of their erotic encounters. An alert reader will note plenty of troubling aspects of the relationship along the way, but it’s only toward the end, when Rivi is an adult, that she realizes how irresponsible and selfish Michaela was. For a long time, it’s not clear that there will be any such reflection, and I wasn’t sure what my ultimate reaction to the book would be. I’m still mulling it over — there are a lot of layers to what’s going on.
As for July, I’ll finish The New Jim Crow, which I’m reading with a group at church. I also started the ebook of The Vanishing Half by Brit Bennett, which I’d checked out from the library, but then a hard copy arrived from Old Town Books after I’d just read couple of chapters, so I’ll hold off on reading it until closer to the book club date. My library has officially opened up to curbside service, so I’ll start working through my holds list there pretty soon. And I’ll continue reading from my shelves!