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The Economics of Coronavirus: A Reading List

I’ve been thinking a lot about what the world will look like once the COVID-19 pandemic is over, but my speculations are mostly social and political. I know absolutely nothing about economics beyond balancing my checkbook, which is why I took particular notice of this article from Five Books.

As we deal with the economic fallout of coronavirus, what lessons can economic theory and economic history teach us as we navigate the months ahead? Ricardo Reis, professor of economics at the London School of Economics—and consultant to both the Bank of England and the Federal Reserve—recommends four books and one article to help us think through the economic challenges posed by Covid-19.

The Essential Stephen King

“If you’ve never read his books, here’s where to start.”

Because I abhor horror, I avoided Stephen King’s books for a long time. I did once decide (in my early 30s) that I should probably give him a try and read The Tommyknockers, an experience that validated my assessment.

However, both Stephen King and I have changed in the intervening years. I still avoid straight horror, but I have enjoyed several of King’s not-so-horror works, e.g. Hearts in Atlantis, Bag of Bones, Misery, The Girl Who Loved Tom Gordon, Mr. Mercedes, and 11/22/63.

If you’ve never read Stephen King’s works or have read only a few, here’s a list of suggestions to get you started in the following categories:

  • “I Want to Read a King Classic”
  • “I Want to Drive Into the Skid”
  • “I’m a Scaredy-Cat, OK?”
  • “Actually, I’m Not a Scaredy-Cat, OK?”
  • “I Have Time to Begin an Epic Journey”
  • “I Want Pure Suspense”
  • “I’m Looking For a Big Fat Read”
  • “I Want a Great Crime Novel”
  • “I Want a Deep Cut”

I especially appreciated the entry under “I’m a Scaredy-Cat, OK?”:

It’s fine to not like scary things! That doesn’t mean you can’t read some Stephen King. Though he’s most famous for his horror novels and stories, at this point he has written a significant amount outside of the genre. Early in his career — less than a decade after the publication of his debut novel “Carrie” — King released “Different Seasons,” a collection of four novellas. Three of them have nothing to do with the supernatural. Two of them were adapted into top-tier King movies: “Rita Hayworth and Shawshank Redemption” became, well, you know, and “The Body” was filmed as “Stand By Me.” Both are set in Maine in the early 1960s, and both give a sense of how lovingly King can draw his characters

In addition to his skill at characterization, King is also a master of description. If you’re an aspiring writer looking to write great description, check out King’s The Girl Who Loved Tom Gordon.

 On Isolation and Literature

“Isolation is one of the fundamental themes of literature, the kiln of experience whereby a human is able to discover certain aspects of character, personality, and existence through journeying to the center of their being (though results are certainly varied),” writes Ed Simon in this survey.

the isolation of crafting literature, even if done in a crowded room, is such that any writer (and reader) must be by definition solitary, even while entire swaths of existence are contained inside one human skull. . . . Beyond the relatively prosaic fact that there have been reclusive writers and secluded characters, isolation is also the fundamental medium of both reading and writing. . . 

Covering works by early religious writers through authors such as Thoreau and Emily Dickinson to Virginia Woolf, Thomas Pynchon, and J.D. Salinger, Simon writes, “Isolation is not a medium for literature, nor is it a method of creating literature; it is the very substance of literature itself.” He associates this principle with the rise of the novel as a literary form that allows readers to live temporarily within interior space, the worlds a particular text creates within their heads.

The Coronavirus Is Rewriting Our Imaginations

Science fiction author Kim Stanley Robinson writes:

In mid-March, in a prior age, I spent a week rafting down the Grand Canyon. When I left for the trip, the United States was still beginning to grapple with the reality of the coronavirus pandemic. Italy was suffering; the N.B.A. had just suspended its season; Tom Hanks had been reported ill. When I hiked back up, on March 19th, it was into a different world. I’ve spent my life writing science-fiction novels that try to convey some of the strangeness of the future. But I was still shocked by how much had changed, and how quickly.

“The virus is rewriting our imaginations,” he writes, because it has awakened our realization of the significance of our place in history. “We realize that what we do now, well or badly, will be remembered later on. This sense of enacting history matters.”

The Haunting of Shirley Jackson

“Since novels like [The Haunting of] Hill House and We Have Always Lived in the Castle and short stories like “The Lottery” made Jackson one of America’s most famous horror authors, critics and Hollywood have tried to get to the heart of what makes Jackson’s work so enduringly scary,” writes Emily Alford. 

Alford examines both the works themselves and film adaptations to arrive at her answer: “her work’s simplest theme: madness is born of too much time alone.”

© 2020 by Mary Daniels Brown

Categories
Quotation Reading

Reading in the Midst of COVID-19

I MISS THE LIBRARY: AND OTHER THOUGHTS ON QUARANTINE READING LIFE

When it comes to reading, read whatever you’re able to get through without finding yourself distracted or filled with an overwhelming sense of dread. If that means listening to audiobooks because you just can’t focus on reading a page, so be it! Need to order some new books online because you just aren’t in the mood for something you bought a year ago and haven’t gotten to? Do it! When we started quarantine, without even thinking about it, I immediately made it my goal to read three books that have been sitting unread in my bedroom for years. My own emotional addiction to the myth of certainty had me briefly convinced that this was, in fact, unencumbered free time to finally get to those books I haven’t gotten to. Full disclosure? I got through one of those books, and by “got through” I meant read the first few chapters before putting it down because I did not register a single word I had just read. It’s hard on a good day to force yourself through something just because it’s been two years and you should just read it already, but when the world is a constant raging dumpster fire, forget about it.

Categories
Fiction Review

3 Recent Thriller Reviews

To help me break out of a reading slump at the onset of the COVID-19 health emergency, I turned to the books I’ve always trusted to draw me in: thrillers. These three books were among the first I read at that time.

While you can never go wrong with a book by Harlan Coben, the other two didn’t serve me quite so well. I had a twitchy, uneasy feeling while reading both The Holdout and Before She Knew Him. There were specific reasons why both of those books bothered me, and I’ll try to talk about those reasons without giving away too much information in my reviews. 

But I’d like to include a caveat here for my comments on those two books: I was reading them during a time of general upset and unease, and it’s possible that general feeling affected my reactions. Part of what bothered me pertained to the subject matter of each, but perhaps I would have faced them with more equanimity under more normal circumstances.

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The Boy From the Woods by Harlan Coben

The Boy from the Woods

Coben, Harlan. The Boy From the Woods
Grand Central Publishing, 2020 
ISBN 978-1-5387-4814-5

Recommended

The novel opens with a news story from April 18, 1986, about a feral boy, between 6 and 8 years old, found living in the woods in New Jersey.

Then the narrative moves forward to April 23, 2020. Soon we meet the formidable Hester Crimstein, well-known and powerful defense attorney who has appeared in Coben’s earlier books. Her teenage grandson, Matthew, seeks Hester’s help in finding out what happened to his friend, Naomi Pine, who has stopped coming to school and doesn’t answer her phone.

When the boy was discovered in the woods 34 years earlier, he was found because he used to come visit 6-year-old David, Hester’s son, in the woods behind the Crimstein house. Hester and her husband long ago gave up the big house to David’s family, where Matthew and his mother continue to live since David’s death in a car crash 10 years earlier. Hester knows that, to find Naomi, she’ll need the help of the boy from the woods, known as Wilde.

Harlan Coben’s books always combine compelling characterization with pulse-pounding plots,

but this book’s emphasis on characters made it a comforting reading experience during the current health pandemic. All of the characters in this novel care about other people and want to help them. Wilde is a particularly interesting character, even if his backstory does challenge credulity a bit. And I especially appreciated a subplot involving the 70+-year-old Hester and the local sheriff. 

The novel’s ending suggests the possibility that we might meet Wilde again. Whether that happens or not, The Boy from the Woods gave me comfort during troubling times.

© 2020 by Mary Daniels Brown


The Holdout by Graham Moore

cover: The Holdout by Graham Moore

Moore, Graham. The Holdout
Random House, 2020
ISBN 978-0-399-59177-8

Ten years ago, 15-year-old Jessica Silver disappeared. When her teacher, Bobby Nock, is tried for her murder, everyone expects a quick conviction. But juror Maya Seale doubts his guilt and manages to convince the other jurors to acquit Nock.

Now, for the tenth anniversary of the Silver murder trial, a news channel plans  to reassemble the jurors for a documentary. Maya, now a defense attorney herself, originally refuses to participate but reluctantly agrees when one of the original jurors, Rick Leonard, claims to have evidence that Nock was in fact guilty. 

When Rick is found murdered in Maya’s hotel room the first night of the documentary reunion, Maya quickly becomes the prime suspect and is soon arrested and charged. She is represented by a distinguished attorney from the law firm where she works. Although he insists that she stay away from the case and leave the investigation to the firm’s team, Maya just can’t leave things alone.

About four years ago I served on a jury for a murder trial. The experience was emotionally draining, but I was impressed and soothed by how seriously all the jurors took their responsibility. Initially we did not all agree, but the discussions always remained civil and focused on the evidence.

There are lots of potential plot complications and red herrings in The Holdout that keep the story moving. But because of my own jury experience, I felt uncomfortable reading most of this novel. Everything that happens after Maya is charged felt outlandishly wrong. If I hadn’t been a juror myself, I probably would have accepted the story, in which all the pieces eventually fit neatly together, at face value. Instead, I found the story melodramatically improbable.

© 2020 by Mary Daniels Brown


Before She Knew Him by Peter Swanson

Before She Knew Him

Swanson, Peter. Before She Knew Him
William Morrow, 2019
ISBN 978-0-06-283815-5

Henrietta (Hen) and her husband Lloyd have recently moved into a house in suburban Boston, where they hope to live a quiet life. Hen, an artist, has rented studio space nearby where she can work on the children’s book illustrations she’s been hired to do and on her own etchings. Since she’s finally found medication that works to control her bipolar disorder, she’s hoping to get her career back on track.

When the neighbors Matthew and Mira invite Hen and Lloyd over, Hen doesn’t want to go but agrees to placate Lloyd. Hen is instantly drawn to Matthew when she sees him, although she doesn’t know why. When she sees an object displayed on the mantel in Matthew’s study, she begins to suspect he’s a serial killer.

I picked this book up because I’d read Swanson’s earlier novel, The Kind Worth Killing, and found it intriguing. But I became wary of Before She Knew Him right away with the revelation of Hen’s bipolar disorder.

I’m opposed to the use of mental illness as a mystery/thriller trope, and it shows up early here when Hen tells the police her suspicions about Matthew. It’s easy to dismiss the theories of a crazy woman, after all. 

As it turns out, this novel goes well beyond the simple usage of bipolar disorder as characterization. I can’t say more without giving too much away, but the whole basis for the rest of the story—for why the novel’s title is Before She Knew Him—makes no sense to me.

There is a need for realistic fictional portrayals of how characters struggle to deal with mental health issues, but those portrayals should focus on otherwise well developed characters who happen to live with mental illness. Before She Knew Him doesn’t do that in any meaningful way.

© 2020 by Mary Daniels Brown

Categories
Personal

Happy Cinco de Mayo!

Our great staff here at Franke Tobey Jones provided a Cinco de Mayo party at yesterday’s weekly tailgate happy hour. We are indeed lucky to live in such a caring retirement community.

© 2020 by Mary Daniels Brown

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Notes in the Margin Personal

The Glossary is Back!

Back in November 2019 I had to do a complete overhaul of my website. I started Notes in the Margin back in the mid 1990s, and I had accumulated a lot of content over the years. When the old website went down last fall, I had time to copy and paste a lot of that content into text files.

I’m now happy to report that one of my original website’s most popular features, the glossary, is finally back. I spent three solid days (Saturday through today, Monday) updating all the old glossary material I had accumulated over the past 25 years, then copying, pasting, and formatting it in WordPress.

Please take a look and let my know what you think.

Categories
Book Recommendations Last Week's Links Publishing Reading

Literary Links

On Friday afternoon, Governor Jay Inslee announced an extension of his stay-at-home order through May 31 for residents of Washington State, USA. I totally agree with this decision. I’d rather continue self-isolating now than have to start all over again by opening everything up too soon and letting the virus overwhelm us again.

I do hope that all of you are staying healthy and finding solace in activities that soothe and comfort you. 

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What Can Your Book’s Copyright Page Tell You?

If you’re like me, you probably skip right over the copyright page when you open up a book to settle down and read. But here’s what we’re missing when we do that: “there’s a lot you can learn from all that tiny text. For instance, do you love that book cover? You can find out who designed it. Want to know what font the book is using?”

Two Paths for the Comic Novel (and the Funniest Books to Read in Quarantine)

Are you finding yourself wishing for comic novels to read during self-isolation? Muse along with New Yorker’s Katy Waldman:

Comic fiction sometimes seems less like a genre than like the treatment of a question: What is our disposition toward a fickle universe? Do we claim agency through humor? Or strive for a jolly and wide-eyed surrender? From an aesthetic perspective, one vision—pessimistic or optimistic, active or passive—isn’t better, or funnier, than another. But there’s a larger truth here. Before the shelter-in-place orders, I was not seeking out the books that made me laugh as a kid. Now I am. This fact somehow seems to get at the essence of comedy—an art that becomes more real, more fully itself, within a shared, tragic frame. With that in mind, here are some honorable mentions for the funniest books to read in quarantine . . .

How Pop Culture Got It Wrong with Dissociative Identity Disorder

Psychoanalytic psychotherapist and writer Maxine Mei-Fung Chung writes here about “Searching for accurate portrayals of a complex disease in an age of exploitative media.”

Here she examines “the portrayal of mental illness and personality disorders in literature, TV shows and movies—and the conflicting forces of entertainment versus a better understanding of the human condition.”

Her focus here is on dissociative identity disorder (DID), formerly called multiple personality disorder: “Perhaps if we are to better understand the condition we need to cease portraying those living with the disorder as psychopaths or wall-crawling lunatics.”

Male Leads in Fiction Sell 10 Million More Books on Average Than Female Leads

Kelly Jensen reports: “A new study by SuperSummary, a company which provides study guides for fiction and nonfiction, explored gender bias in their latest study ‘Strong Man; Beautiful Woman.’”

Jensen takes a pretty deep dive into the procedure and results of this research and offers some informative infographics to illustrate her examination. Here’s her conclusion:

despite women “dominating” publishing, their stories sell far less than those by male peers, are told far less frequently by men, and don’t permit them the same opportunities to be rich and powerful.

© 2020 by Mary Daniels Brown

Categories
6 Degrees of Separation

6 Degrees of Separation: All Roads Lead to . . .

It’s time for another adventure in Kate’s 6 Degrees of Separation Meme from her blog, Books Are My Favourite and Best. We are given a book to start with, and from there we free associate six books

This month, in keeping with the theme of the current pandemic, the starting point is The Road by Cormac McCarthy. In this evocative novel, a man and his son follow a road south in a post-apocalyptic world covered with ash and devoid of hope.

1. November Road by Lou Berney takes place in late November 1963. Frank Guidry, a mid-level mobster from New Orleans, realizes that, by delivering a get-away car to Dallas, he has become a loose end in one of the biggest events in American history. Without even returning home, Guidry hits the road for California in an effort to outrun the hitman he knows will be coming after him. On the way he meets a housewife who, with her two young daughters, has finally gotten up the courage to leave her no-good drunken husband in search of a new life in Los Angeles.

2. The characters in Revolutionary Road by Richard Yates buy a house on Revolutionary Road in the suburbs hoping it will provide them the picture-perfect life of the American dream.

3. “Road dogs” are prisoners who watch out for each other while in the big house. In Elmore Leonard’s novel Road Dogs two former road dogs team up after their release to navigate their return to the world of hustles, cons, and scams.

4. In Ace Atkins’s debut novel Crossroad Blues, former NFL player turned music professor Nick Travers investigates the disappearance of an academic colleague who has disappeared while researching the mysterious death of Blues legend Robert Johnson. The novel’s title is also the title of a song written and recorded by Johnson about where he sold his soul to the devil in exchange for musical talent.

5. Donald E. Westlake’s comic caper novel The Road to Ruin features Westlake’s beloved hapless crook John Dortmunder and his band of misfits attempting to steal a corrupt corporate CEO’s collection of valuable classic cars. Since this is a Dortmunder novel, their elaborate plan does not go well. 

6. After Irish mob hitman Michael O’Sullivan’s son witnesses one of his father’s jobs, O’Sullivan’s boss orders the deaths of the entire O’Sullivan family in The Road to Perdition by Max Allan Collins. Michael and his adolescent son escape the attack that kills his wife and younger son. Father and son take to the road in search of safety for themselves and vengeance for the deaths.

All of these novels with the word road in their titles dramatize the metaphor of life as a journey. Whether the road functions as a means of escape or a path to salvation or paradise, it’s the journey rather than the destination that’s important.

© 2020 by Mary Daniels Brown

Categories
Author News Quotation

John Scalzi Quotation

Source: The Amazon Book Review

Categories
Discussion Personal The Classics Club

CC Spin #23: A Change of Plan

2020 Discussion Challenge

Thanks to these two bloggers for sponsoring the 2020 Blog Discussion Challenge:

You can join the discussion challenge at any time during 2020 by clicking on either link above.


Related Post:

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Earlier this month the Classics Club announced a return of its spin, in which we make a numbered list of books, then read the book on our list with the number chosen at random. Initially I welcomed the exercise, because I have been  having trouble reading and writing in the current pandemic. I hoped this spin would help me break out of that slump by compelling me to read and write about a particular book.

But my heart sank when the lucky number was called because my book with that number is Absalom, Absalom! by William Faulkner. I originally put this novel on my Classics Club reading list because it is generally acknowledged as Faulkner’s masterpiece, the book that encapsulates his literary vision of the American South. I knew that reading it would be challenging yet rewarding.

And therein lies the problem with having Absalom, Absalom! come up for me right now. While this novel is acknowledged to be Faulkner’s masterpiece, it is also universally acknowledged to be a difficult novel to read. It’s dense with biblical and mythological allusions, a story peopled by archetypal characters comprising a multigenerational family saga of interlocking stories.

In other words, reading Absalom, Absalom! requires a lot of patience and concentration, two qualities that I’m still short on, although I have been slowly improving in those areas. I’m afraid undertaking this project now would be counterproductive because I can’t give it the extended, intense focus it requires. I’m afraid the effort would end up frustrating me enough to force me either to do a sloppy job with it or to give it up altogether. 

I’d rather save Absalom, Absalom! for a time when I’ll be able to give this difficult project my best shot. For that reason I’ve decided that I’m not going to read Faulkner’s novel for this spin.

Instead, I’m going to read The French Lieutenant’s Woman by John Fowles, another book on my Classics Club list. I first read this book probably about 40 years ago, and I’ve been wanting to reread it for quite some time. I know what to expect and what I’m looking for in this book. I’m eager to reread this book and welcome the opportunity to do so now.

© 2020 by Mary Daniels Brown

Categories
Book Recommendations Personal Reading

World Book and Copyright Day

Source: World Book and Copyright Day

For additional information, including the importance of April 23rd, free book offers, and events you can watch “from the comfort of your armchair,” see this article from Newsweek.