Books in a Time of Quarantine

nurseAs I write this on March 27, 2020, the world is in the midst of a pandemic. The novel virus Covid-19 has to date, affected 584,110 people worldwide and caused 26,862 deaths. In my state of Kentucky, we are being asked to stay #HealthyatHome and restrict our socializing to on-line.

Seems like a GREAT time for some QUARANTINE reads. One can either go all in and read about other quarantines, or possibly escape the world altogether. I have a few suggestions for both types of reads.

51YCzUi5OJL._SY344_BO1,204,203,200_A Gentleman In Moscow. This treasure is number one on my list of quarantine reads. Count Rostov, the protagonist of Amor Towles’ fantastic novel, is himself quarantined, committed to the interior of the Hotel Metropol by the Bolsheviks during the revolution. There are worlds within the Count’s world, and he finds them with the help of a precocious young lady named Nina who has somehow procured a pass key to all the rooms of the Metropol and uses it to great effect. But the Count finds not only the Metropol’s wine vault, silver room, and lost and found, he also finds love, friendship, and a life far fuller than one would imagine could be found within the confines of one hotel, however luxurious, for more than thirty years.

Love in the Time of Cholera. While the choleric anger of petty rage inflames ego-driven love cholerawars to ravage the countryside and population of an unknown Central American nation, a doctor, his wife and the man who has loved her for decades spend their days involved in their own lives.  Sheltered from the country’s wars by wealth.  Suffused with longing.  Having an astounding amount of sex.  Love in the TIme of Cholera, published in 1985 by Pulitzer-Prize winning author Gabriel Garcia Marquez, is at times a study of frustration, devotion, persistence, ambition, betrayal, forgiveness, obsession.  It is a novel of life and yet the author warned readers of Love, “not to fall into my trap.”  He also told the New Yorker that the book is based on the love story of his own parents.

Station-Eleven1

Station Eleven. One of the most haunting books I’ve ever read. This is the final line of the first chapter: “Of all of them there at the bar that night, the bartender was the one who survived the longest. He died three weeks later on the road out of the city.” Emily St. John Mandel’s apocalyptic vision of a post-worldwide flu epidemic did not let it go for the two days it took me to finish reading the novel, despite the near hopelessness of the narrative in Station Eleven. All I’ll say more is: that plane.

Room. In Emma Donoghue’s horrific novel, Room, five-year old Jake lives in a room withroom his mother, Ma.  He has games and toys; a television that he believes is a direct connection depicting reality on another planet; a wardrobe where he sleeps when “Old Nick” comes to make fearsome noises with Jake’s mother. When Jake and Ma are rescued due to Ma’s ingenuity in faking Jake’s death, Jake leaves the only world he has ever known and Ma return to the world she left more than seven years ago.  The departure is violent, disturbing, upheaval in lives previously confined to four walls and eleven by eleven foot space.

YearOfWonders-webYear of Wonders. It is 1666 and a bolt of cloth infested with the black plague is shipped from London to a small Derbyshire village. Geraldine Brooks’ best-selling novel from 2002 follows a housemaid named Anna Frith who becomes a healer and a hero. Inspired by the true story of Eyam, a village in the rugged hill country of England, Year of Wonders is a best-selling novel by the highly-acclaimed, 2006 Pulitzer-prize winning novelist and a richly detailed evocation of a singular moment in history.

 

The Little Prince. I suppose The Little Prince contemplates isolation as well as Littleprincecompanionship as the aviator at its center lands in the middle of a desert and must survive alone for a time. But I think of the novella as a contemplation of friendship between a fox, a prince, and other lonely souls who gather. It may be considered a children’s book but it is a profound work written by Antoine de Saint-Exupéry after his experiences as a pilot in World War II.

 

JeanRhys_WideSargassoSea Wide Sargasso Sea. The lives of one of literature’s most famous shut-in is reimagined in Wide Sargasso Sea. Jean Rhys’ magnificent, sensual, masterpiece Wide Sargasso Sea, Mr. Rochester of Jane Eyre is no romantic hero.  Rhys contemplates how Mr. Rochester may have obtained the wife who so infamously dashes the chaste Jane’s dreams of marriage by her nightmarish presence in the Rochester attic, placing him in Spanish Town, Jamaica to receive a bride and 30,000 pounds in dowry with no provision made for his bride:  Antoinette, the beautiful, mulatto daughter of a deceased mad woman.

 

Eleanor Oliphant is Completely Fine. My penultimate suggestion is a laugh-out loud novel of a Oliphantcommitted introvert. Since she moved into her solo apartment nearly a decade ago, Eleanor has had few guests. A total of two in fact. The meter reader and a social worker who checks on her about once a month. That is fine with Eleanor as well . . . until the night she encounters rock star-wannabe Johnnie Lomond who immediately impresses her as the type of man her mother would find acceptable because he buttons the lower button of his vest while performing in a local music venue. Eleanor Oliphant Is Completely Fine is a debut novel by a post-40 year old author. Gail Honeyman worked in the British Civil Service and as a university administrator writing her debut novel during lunch and after work. She entered Eleanor in a fiction competition, didn’t win, but an agent signed her and the novel became the subject of a bidding war,  was named 2017 Book of the Year at the British Book Awards, and the film rights have been optioned by Reese Witherspoon.  Talk about a Cinderella story.

ATR COVERFinally: this novel has nothing to do at all with isolation! My debut novel, After the Race is now available. Alexandra was raised to be the next Jackie Kennedy. Just as her mother intended, Alexandra’s summer internship on Capitol Hill results in the perfect fiancé, a future job, and D.C. political savvy. But when Alex returns to college for her final year and falls in love with a handsome, blue-jeaned bike champion, she must choose between the two men and the lives they represent, and decide whether she can defy her mother’s designs to fulfill her own dreams. Ultimately, Alexandra must find within herself the power to confront the one unplanned event that could derail everything. After the Race is available from rabbithousepress.com, amazon.com and at Joseph-Beth booksellers.

Happy Reading and Stay Safe!

Eleanor Oliphant is Completely Fine, by Gail Honeyman

TescoFriday night is Eleanor Oliphant’s favorite night of the week. She  takes the bus home from her low-paying office job in a Glasgow ad agency, buys a Tesco pizza and two bottles of Vodka and then settles in at her apartment for a long weekend of public television, nature documentaries, and mental fuzziness.

And Eleanor is fine with that. Really fine. Really, she is.

“Some people, weak people, fear solitude. What they fail to understand is that there’s something very liberating about it; once you realize that you don’t need anyone, you can take care of yourself. That’s the thing: it’s best just to take care of yourself.”

Since she moved into her solo apartment nearly a decade ago, Eleanor has had few guests. A total of two in fact. The meter reader and a social worker who checks on her about once a month. That is fine with Eleanor as well . . . until the night she encounters rock star-wannabe Johnnie Lomond who immediately impresses her as the type of man her mother would find acceptable because he buttons the lower button of his vest while performing in a local music venue.2016-05-24-1464091272-8813709-bookbinderrockstar

I have always taken great pride in managing my life alone. I’m a sole survivor – I’m Eleanor Oliphant. I don’t need anyone else – there’s no big hole in my life, no missing part of my own particular puzzle. I am a self-contained entity. That’s what l’ve always told myself, at any rate. But last night I’d found the love of my life. When I saw him walk on stage, I just knew…here, at long last, was a man who could be described with some degree of certainty as “husband material”.

I listened to the audible.com version of this book and enjoyed it immensely. Cathleen McCarron’s narration spooned the words and voice of author Gail Honeyman’s character. Hearing Honeyman’s words in McCarron’s voice I felt I knew Eleanor, even as she said once again exactly what she thought, leaving her colleagues speechless or collapsing in laughter,

Once Eleanor spies Johnnie Lomond she embarks on a no-holds barred makeover attempt. New haircut, new wardrobe, adding some make-up, and making a new friend: Raymond, from the ad company’s IT department. She found — to her surprise — these small changes reaped some rewards that she actually enjoyed.

“It turned out that if you saw the same person with some degree of regularity, then the conversation was immediately pleasant and comfortable—you could pick up where you left off, as it were, rather than having to start afresh each time. . . . Was this how it worked, then, successful social integration? Was it really that simple? Wear some lipstick, go to the hairdressers and alternate the clothes you wear?”

When Raymond and Eleanor encounter an older gentlemen in medical distress after one of their lunches, Raymond begins introducing Eleanor to lunches outside the office. Parties. Tea with his own mother. The internet becomes Eleanor’s tool to spy on Johnnie Lomond, read his tweets (hilariously narcissistic), see his Instagram posts all while plotting the first meeting that will lead inevitably to the couple’s long-term wedded bliss. It doesn’t, of course, work out that way which leads to Eleanor’s finding out she’s in fact not fine, not fine at all. Which is exactly when things become really interesting.

Gail HoneymanEleanor Oliphant Is Completely Fine is a debut novel by a post-40 year old author. Gail Honeyman worked in the British Civil Service and as a university administrator writing her debut novel during lunch and after work. She entered Eleanor in a fiction competition, didn’t win, but an agent signed her and the novel became the subject of a bidding war,  was named 2017 Book of the Year at the British Book Awards, and the film rights have been optioned by Reese Witherspoon.  Talk about a Cinderella story.Oliphant

 

So deserving.

Your book club will adore it.

MENU

Eleanor’s preferred weekend meals are Tesco frozen pizzas and vodka. She prepares pesto pasta for dinner each night because it tastes good, it’s easy and it fulfills her nutritional requirements. At the pub she frequents with Raymond she becomes enamored of frothy coffee and cheese scones. She orders “Magner’s” frequently when she becomes more a part of social events, at the suggestion of a bartender. I’d never heard of Magner’s but it is an Irish hard cider. It looks to be available in the US so I would serve Magner’s with cheese scones.

Here’s a recipe for classic British cheese scones: https://www.thespruceeats.com/easy-classic-british-cheese-scone-recipe-434867

I would also serve pizza. One of my favorite things to do with pizza is to buy pre-made pizza crusts, then place an array of toppings out for people to make their own favorite. Pepperoni, turkey pepperoni, mozzarella, fresh basil, shrimp, parmesan, artichokes, spinach, baked chicken, a jar of roasted red peppers. Your guests get to have exactly what they like and have fun making them together.

MUSIC

Definitely some Scottish bands. The Proclaimers, Simple Minds, Big Country.

The standard which our Johnnie Lomond will never meet. Alas.

MOVIE CASTING

Dear Reese: I really hope you don’t transfer this story to Rupert Grintthe U.S. The Glaswegian character of the novel should be preserved.

That being said, please cast British actors! My suggestions:

Eleanor: Sophie McShera, a Scottish

Sophie_McShera_May_2014_(cropped)actress, and fan favorite Daisy from Downton Abbey

Raymond: Rupert Grint, our man Ron Weasley of Harry Potter fame

Happy Reading!