Categories
Personal Reading Writing

Reading & Blogging in the Time of COVID-19

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 Posts:

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All of my recent posts have been lists of COVID-19—related links. I just kept collecting these links, almost obsessively. Now that we’re approaching the end of our third week of self-isolation and social distancing here in Washington State, I’m finally beginning to understand why.

When we first started this virus-induced cocooning, I was excited. As an introvert who likes nothing better than to kick back with a good book, I’ve been practicing for this my whole life. Bring it on, I thought. I’m going to get a whole lot of books read.

However, I wasn’t prepared for the emotional onslaught that accompanies this medical emergency.

And so I began curating those lists of links. For about 10 days I spent most of my time reading article after article about what was happening here at home and around the world. Every time I thought that I should start reading a book, I felt completely overwhelmed. I have so many books on my TBR shelves that I got flustered wondering which one to pick up. The more I thought about which book to select, the antsier I got.

I couldn’t concentrate, couldn’t focus on any one thing, so I just kept going from one article to another about the advance of COVID-19. Reading individual news stories and articles didn’t require the extended attention necessary for reading a book.

So I thought that, if I wasn’t going to read books, I should write. How silly that thought turned out to be, since writing anything more than the occasional Facebook post requires even more focused attention than reading a novel. For about a week and a half I did nothing but make those lists and wonder what was happening to me.

woman writing in notebook

My life has been a series of research projects.

Ever since I was a child, my way of dealing with anything new and different—and therefore confusing—has been to read up on it. If I learn all about whatever it is, I can deal with it. In the past, knowing about something meant that I had some personal control over it, or at least how it affected me. 

But of course there’s no controlling this virus. No matter how much I learn about it, it is still in control. And nobody knows how all this is going to turn out. We’re experiencing anxiety at a whole new level. In fact, anxiety doesn’t seem like the right word to use here. This situation requires a much stronger term.

I came across an article byScott Berinato in the Harvard Business Review called “That Discomfort You’re Feeling Is Grief.” I found especially enlightening his concept of anticipatory grief, that is, grief in anticipation of how different our lives are going to be in the future than they were in the past because of this pandemic. There is definitely a grief component to what I’m feeling.

“There is something powerful about naming this as grief. It helps us feel what’s inside of us,” Berinato writes. But while I agree that just naming something helps us deal with it, I don’t think that grief quite tells the whole story by itself.

So for now I’m calling it generalized dread

I did finally manage to break out of my reading slump, although whether the naming process or simply the passage of time is responsible I’m not sure. Probably both contributed. The book that rescued me is Long Bright River by Liz Moore. I hope to write a review of it soon, although I fear the ability to concentrate enough to do much writing is still a little way off.

I hope you are all staying healthy and dealing with this new reality. I’d love to hear how you’re coping.

© 2020 by Mary Daniels Brown

Categories
Book Recommendations Personal

St. Patrick’s Day Reading

7 Books With Striking Green Covers to Read This St. Paddy’s Day

My own stack of green books appears at the top of this post.

15 IRISH CRIME WRITERS YOU SHOULD BE READING RIGHT NOW

This is reprinted from 2018.

8 Irish Writers We’re Lucky to Have on Our Shelves

10 Audiobooks with Incredible Irish Accents

13 Lucky Facts About St. Patrick’s Day

OK, it’s not about books, but it’s informative nonetheless.


© 2020 by Mary Daniels Brown

Categories
Book News Personal Publishing

Book-Related News for Self-Isolation and Social Distancing

B&N, BAM Remain Open

Publishers Weekly reports that Barnes & Noble and Books-A-Million are currently staying open. I would imagine, though, that this situation could change at any time, so you’d probably want to check with your local store.

A dystopian reading list: books to enjoy while in quarantine

The U.K.’s Guardian advises that, in addition to all the pandemic novels everyone is talking about, you might also want to read “some novels about being alone. You should also add some comfort reads, and poetry, and books about people being thoughtful and useful and kind.”

KIDLIT AUTHORS STEPPING UP DURING THE COVID-19 CRISIS AND QUARANTINE

Ashlie Swicker writes, “Around the country, people who care about children are coming together and using their considerable talents to provide entertainment and education for the masses who are out of school and in need of stimulation.”

Here she offers links (current as of Monday, March 16) to several such resources.

How to Support Authors Whose Book Tours Have Been Canceled

Bookshop, “an online bookstore with a mission to financially support independent bookstores and give back to the book community,” offers a list of authors whose book tours have been canceled because of the epidemic. Since book tours can be crucial for sales, buying these writers’ books can help them weather the storm.

What It’s Like to Promote a Book in the Middle of a Pandemic

Amy Klein, author of The Trying Game: Get Through Fertility Treatment and Get Pregnant Without Losing Your Mind (Penguin/Random House), explains, “Canceling events and shutting down tours is crucial for public health—but it could tank my career.” 

“People like me—writers with books that are scheduled to come out or have just come out—are almost as worried about our book babies as we are about our personal health.” 

Lawrence Wright’s New Pandemic Novel Wasn’t Supposed to Be Prophetic

“Pandemics — like wars and economic depressions, with which they often coincide — leave scars on the body of history,” writes Lawrence Wright, author of the novel The End of October, scheduled for publication next month (April 2020). 

In fact, this is the second time he has written a novel that was published around the same time as an eerily similar historical event. “What may seem like prophecy is actually the fruit of research,” he explains. Read about how he researched and created these fictional narratives.


© 2020 by Mary Daniels Brown

Categories
Personal

Some of the Less Obvious Effects of the Coronavirus Pandemic

We’re all a bit frazzled about the current health pandemic and the mammoth amount of information out there for us to process. Like you, I’m concerned about the health of my friends and neighbors here in the retirement community where I live, as we’re all over 60.

But once we get past all the health information and necessary decisions, there are some less obvious effects of everything that’s happening that I hadn’t originally considered. 

Chief among those effects is ALL THIS TIME of hunkering down at home in self-isolation. As an introvert who likes nothing better than curling up with a good book, I feel I’ve been preparing for this situation my whole life. But some others are already exhibiting signs of cabin fever after only one week of a three-week-or-longer period of “social distancing.”

Right now my biggest annoyance is bandwidth strain caused by all the students and employees working remotely. But if you need something to distract you, here, to ease that discomfiture, are 10 interesting articles I’ve collected over the past week. 

An Eviction Notice’: Chaos After Colleges Tell Students to Stay Away

Colleges and universities were some of the first educational institutions to cancel classes to minimize individuals’ potential exposure to the virus. But, at least initially, those plans caused problems for students unsure of whether they’d return to campus later to finish the semester. Especially hard hit were students with financial aid who didn’t have extra funds to cover out-of-dorm living or storage expenses or travel expenses for an extra trip home. Also hard hit were foreign students, especially those whose visas require in-person rather than online classes. This article from The New York Times reports how some of these problems worked out.

A Week at the Epicenter of America’s Coronavirus Crisis

Seattle-based writer James Ross Gardner provided this look at the first week of response to the influx of the virus in my local area, around Seattle, WA. 

As coronavirus spreads in 2020, here’s how Seattle handled the 1918 flu that killed 1,513 people

This story from The Seattle Times provides informative context for the current situation. It’s likely that other papers, at least those in large metropolitan areas, produced similar local-interest pieces, but I’m linking to this one because it’s in my local area.

The 25 Best HBO Series of All Time, Ranked

If you subscribe to HBO and are stuck at home wondering what to do, Esquire magazine offers this ranking of the best HBO series you might want to catch up on.

Some streaming television services (such as Hulu and, I think, Netflix) offer free one-week trial subscriptions. Now might be a good time to sign up, but don’t forget to cancel after the trial time is up if you don’t want to continue.

Your coronavirus reading list: reader suggestions to bring joy in difficult times

The U.K.’s Guardian has some reading suggestions to help fill the time. Even though many libraries are now closed, check your local library’s website to see what ebooks or audiobooks are available for download.

kid with books

On Pandemic and Literature

Ed Simon in The Millions provides this historical look at literary representations of the 14th century’s Black Death and other pandemics, both real and imaginary.

The Infectious Pestilence Did Reign

In a similar vein, Ben Cohen explains in Slate “How the plague ravaged William Shakespeare’s world and inspired his work, from Romeo and Juliet to Macbeth.”

The Best Books to Elevate Your Reading List in 2020

Though not created specifically for the purpose, these recommendations for the year’s best books so far from Esquire offer some suggestions to supplement the Guardian list.

Coronavirus cleaning tips for your iPhone, Android

Originally from the Chicago Tribune, this article provides instruction on how to clean something we all probably touch more often than our faces, our phones.

In a Pandemic, Musicians Play in Empty Halls for Audiences Online

Anthony Tommasini, chief classical music critic for The New York Times, describes an eerie experience:

I was watching on my computer at home on Thursday afternoon as the Berlin Philharmonic finished a streamed performance of Luciano Berio’s “Sinfonia.” The cameras panned over rows of seats. No one was there. The musicians, dressed in their black-tie best, seemed not to know quite what to do. Finally, they began greeting each other cheerily, then stood and faced the empty hall.

It was one of the most disorienting yet profound views of a performance I’ve ever had.

Tommasini writes that his local (New York City) public radio station provided a listing of available streaming classical music resources, so you could check to see if your local station is doing the same. He also includes a few direct links in the article.


© 2020 by Mary Daniels Brown

Categories
Big Books Book Recommendations Personal Reading

Big Books to Read Right Now

If there’s some extra reading time in your life right now, this article has you covered:

Long live Big Books!

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Seriously, please take care of yourselves and each other during this trying time. 

I live in Washington State, one of the hottest spots in the U.S. for this pandemic, and everything here is shut down. As much as this introvert loves the excuse to stay home and read, I wish the circumstances were not so dire. 

© 2020 by Mary Daniels Brown

Categories
Discussion Personal Reading

My Reading Plan for 2020

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.


For the past few years I’ve set up a reading plan at the beginning of each new year. In most of those plans I set up goals involving books I thought I should read rather than books I wanted to read. And most of those years I failed to meet the goals of books I thought I should read.

Therefore, this year I’m going to set up my reading plan a bit differently. Two blog posts from the past year helped shape my thoughts about this:

  1. Authors/Series I Stopped Reading–For Whatever Reason
  2. 10 Reading Regrets of 2019

The first made me realize that there are some authors and series that I do want to catch up with. The second comprises recently published books that I just didn’t get around to before 2019 came to an end. In addition, I’ve also recently started participating in The Literary League monthly book group here at my retirement community, so I need to include time for reading those books.

So for 2020 I’m setting up a reading plan with two parts:

Part I: Specific Challenges and Goals

1. Goodreads Challenge

Since I easily exceeded my 2019 goal of 50 books, I’m cautiously raising my 2020 goal to 55.


2. The Classics Club

Even though I just met my goal of 4 books read from this list last year, for 2020 I’m increasing my goal to 6. If I don’t increase my efforts, I might not get through my Classics Club list in my lifetime.


3. 2020 Book Blog Discussion Challenge

Although I’m staying away from most challenges that require me to read books in specific categories, I’ve signed up for this challenge to motivate myself to write more substantive blog posts in 2020. I’m aiming to write 2 discussion posts per month.


Part II: The Calendar

I’m setting myself specific monthly challenges. I hope that these projections will allow me sufficient time each month to read other works, such as my monthly book club selection and my monthly choice from Book of the Month, in addition to new releases.

January-February

The Jackson Brody novels by Kate Atkinson:

  • Case Histories
  • One Good Turn
  • When Will There Be Good News?
  • Started Early, Took My Dog
  • Big Sky

March-July

The Tony Hill/Carol Jordan series by Val McDermid:

  • The Mermaids Singing (1995)
  • The Wire in the Blood (1997)
  • The Last Temptation (2002)
  • The Torment of Others (2004)
  • Beneath the Bleeding (2007)
  • Fever of the Bone (2009)
  • The Retribution (2011)
  • Cross and Burn (2013)
  • Splinter The Silence (2015)
  • Insidious Intent (2017)
  • How The Dead Speak (2019)

August-September

Since we will be traveling for much of these two months, I’m leaving this spot open for catching up on previous goals, starting new projects, or simply indulging myself by reading what I feel like reading.


October-December

Since time seems to get shorter as we approach the end-of-year holidays, I’m also leaving this time slot open. I plan to spend this time on projects such as, but not limited to, the following:

  • comparison: Mrs. Dalloway by Virginia Woolf & The Hours by Michael Cunningham
  • the works of Shirley Jackson
  • a study of second-person narrative
  • the works of Patricia Highsmith
  • a look at evil children in literature
  • a rereading of Olive Kitteridge by Elizabeth Strout followed by a reading of the sequel, Olive, Again
  • a study of some novels featuring Older Adults in Literature
  • a rereading of Margaret Atwood’s The Handmaid’s Tale followed by a reading of the sequel, The Testaments
  • notes on slow reading
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How about you?

Do you usually set up a reading plan at the beginning of the year? If so, feel free to leave a link in the comments.

If you don’t already have a reading plan for 2020 but are interested in developing one, here are some resources that might help:

The Ultimate Guide To Creating Your Own Reading Challenge

How to Plan for Your 2020 Reading Challenge

BOOK RIOT’S 2020 READ HARDER CHALLENGE

20 WAYS TO READ MORE BOOKS IN 2020

INTRODUCING THE 2020 READING LOG!

A NEW READING GOAL: MEASURING TIME, NOT BOOKS

What I propose is a new reading goal based on the amount of time you spend reading this year, rather than the number of books you read from cover to cover. I’m excited to give this a try next year. Here are some of the reasons why.


© 2020 by Mary Daniels Brown

Categories
Personal

Happy New Year!

I wish you peace, health, and happiness throughout 2020.

fireworks: Happy New Year
Categories
Personal Reading

My Year in Books 2019

According to Goodreads:

my year in reading 2019
Categories
Book Recommendations List Personal

The Best Books I Read in 2019

Because I read more books this year than I had in any recent year, paring down my list of the year’s favorites was much harder than usual. I always try to reduce the list of 10 best and 5 honorable mentions, but this year I couldn’t decide which should be the final title to get moved from best to honorable mention. I therefore present 11 best and 4 honorable mentions, although the differences between the two groups are indeed very slight.

As always, these are the best books I read this year, regardless of when they were published. They’re listed alphabetically by author’s last name.

Best

Crouch, Blake. Recursion: A Novel

Franklin, Ruth. Shirley Jackson: A Rather Haunted Life

Harper, Jane. The Lost Man

Kim, Angie. Miracle Creek

Lippman, Laura. Lady in the Lake

Michaelides, Alex. The Silent Patient

Obama, Michelle. Becoming

Quinn, Kate. The Alice Network

Reid, Taylor Jenkins. Daisy Jones & The Six

Turton, Stuart. The 7 1/2 Deaths of Evelyn Hardcastle

Whitehead, Colson. The Underground Railroad

Honorable Mention

Berney, Lou. November Road

Dugoni, Robert. My Sister’s Grave

Kushner, Rachel. The Mars Room

McTiernan, Dervla. The Ruin


You can find links to lists of the best books I read each year from 1996 to 2019 on the Year’s Best Books page.

© 2019 by Mary Daniels Brown

Categories
Personal Reading

Did I Fulfill My Reading Plan for 2019?

Earlier this month I posted about 10 Reading Regrets of 2019, a list of 10 particular books that I’m sorry I didn’t get to this year.

But how did I do in terms of my overall reading plan for 2019, which I composed back in January?

Let’s take a look. Here are the sections of my plan, with my summary comments highlighted in purple.

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First, because I read so many books last year, I’m boldly going to increase my annual Goodreads challenge to 50 books for 2019.

I’ve already exceeded that goal. Since I still may finish another book or two, I’ll wait and include the exact number in my 2019 year-in-reading wrap-up.


Second, I’m going to avoid any other particular reading challenges and instead just encourage myself to read in the following categories:

1. translations

I didn’t do as well as I had hoped in this category.

  • The Three-Body Problem by Liu Cixin, translated by Ken Liu  
  • A Nearly Normal Family by M.T. Edvardsson, translated by Rachel Willson-Broyles

2. science fiction

I’m satisfied with this number, though it’s really nothing to brag about.

  • The Three-Body Problem by Liu Cixin, translated by Ken Liu   
  • The 7½ Deaths of Evelyn Hardcastle by Stuart Turton   
  • Recursion by Blake Crouch

3. speculative fiction

Again, I’m satisfied here.

  • Watership Down by Richard Adams 
  • The 7½ Deaths of Evelyn Hardcastle by Stuart Turton   

4. memoir

I had hoped to read a lot more in this category, some of which have been on my TBR shelf for years.

  • Becoming by Michelle Obama 
  • Darkness Visible by William Styron

5. biography

Really? Only one?

  • Shirley Jackson: A Rather Haunted Life by Ruth Franklin

6. general nonfiction

This result qualifies as an epic failure.

  • The Great Pretender by Susannah Cahalan

7. plays

I think I should just give up on this category. I honestly don’t enjoy reading plays anymore.

  • The Iceman Cometh by Eugene O’Neill    

8. poetry

Ditto.

9. books by local authors

I can live with this result.

  • The Extraordinary Life of Sam Hell by Robert Dugoni
  • No Exit by Taylor Adams 
  • My Sister’s Grave by Robert Dugoni 
  • Where’d You Go, Bernadette by Maria Semple  
  • The Eighth Sister by Robert Dugoni  
  • The Revised Fundamentals of Caregiving by Jonathan Evison 

10. books by people of color or about other cultures

This is another epic failure.

  • The Three-Body Problem by Liu Cixin, translated by Ken Liu   
  • A Nearly Normal Family by M.T. Edvardsson, translated by Rachel Willson-Broyles

Third, I’m going to make the effort to cross off at least four titles from my Classics Club list.

I just made my minimum.

  • Watership Down by Richard Adams 
  • The Iceman Cometh by Eugene O’Neill  
  • Mrs. Stevens Hears the Mermaids Singing by May Sarton
  • Darkness Visible by William Styron

© 2019 by Mary Daniels Brown