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!

2014 In Review

Here’s my year in review.  I haven’t listed all the books I read last year, just my favorites.  Most are already featured in a separate blog, which you can search on my homepage.  Some will be featured in a blog shortly.  I hope you’ve enjoyed some of the same books and I’d love to hear from you.  Happy 2015 and Happy Reading!

My favorite novels published in 2014:

All the Light We Cannot See, Anthony Doerrf_doerr_allthelight_f

The Strange and Beautiful Sorrows of Ava Lavender, Leslye Waltonava

The Hundred Year House, Rebecca Makkai

The Vacationers, Emma Straub jpbook-master180

Whiskey Tango Foxtrot, David Shaferth_ffb7925b6ca65c589e11ac4dbf13773b_1383769922_magicfields_book_thumbnail_1_1

The Bone Clocks, David Mitchellboneclocks

The Paying Guests, Sara Waters

Station Eleven, Emily St.-John Mandelstation eleven

The Invention of Wings, Sue Monk Kidd78755964

We Are All Completely Beside Ourselves, Karen Joy Fowler 0609-bks-KINGSOLVER-cover-popup

 

My favorite reads of 2014:

All the Light We Cannot See, Anthony Doerr

The Art of Racing in the Rain, Garth Stein  dog_driving_car

The Strange and Beautiful Sorrows of Ava Lavender, Leslye Walton

The Love Affairs of Nathaniel P., Adelle Waldman

The Round House, Louise Erdrich round house cover

 

Flu Season: Station Eleven by Emily St. John Mandel

King Lear, 1950. Artist: Goncharov, Andrei Dmitrievich (1903-1979)

King Lear by Andrei Dmitrievich Goncharov (1950). Photograph: Alamy

     Any novel that begins with an actor in a blue spotlight raging as King Lear will catch my attention.  Ending the first chapter with the line, “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,” will hold my attention.  And 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.

     Station Eleven begins at Lear in Toronto.  That night and over the next few days, most of humanity is wiped out by the Georgia Flu, a killer that begins in the Republic and is shipped worldwide via a series of flights containing numerous patient zeros.  With minimal contact, the flu is transferred and victims die within two or three days.  St. John Mandel picks up the threads of civilization twenty years later, when Kirsten — who had performed as a child in the original Lear — is on the very perilous road with a Shakespearean/musical company called the Travelling Symphony.

    art_deco_cello_musician_vintage_poster_posters-r7b63e68adce044bd845d4d63722fa21c_xxgf_8byvr_512

     Station Eleven is a National Book Award finalist and frankly, couldn’t be more timely given the press attention and world fear of Ebola.  It’s a haunting vision:  no electricity, no running water, no telephones, no gas, no cars, no grocery stores, no food.  The only thing left in Mandel’s world after twenty years are the shells of fast food joints, Wal-Marts and Motel 6s.  So much for great architecture.  Tractor trailer trucks are pulled by horses, people hunt and fish for their food or they don’t eat and suspicion is the first emotion experienced when greeting a stranger.

    The most hopeful thing about Station Eleven is the existence of a Travelling Orchestra with a Shakespearean troupe of actors.  In all things and despite all things, art still exists and the humans who remain crave it.  Performing on a stage set with candlelight and in costumes dredged from the poached houses of dead people, the actors carry their own weapons and defend themselves as conscientiously as they perform the words of the Bard.  Yet, the lead caravan’s motto comes not from the Shakespearean canon but from a most-unlikely source:  Star Trek.  “Survival is insufficient.”

Station Eleven Logo

MENU

     One could be quite literal and design a book club menu of canned items, spam and beans and olives.  Or put together a Georgian menu in honor of the flu.  My preference would be something grand and Shakespearean.  Roasted turkey legs, great grogs of mead, loaves of bread, hunked at the table and slathered with fresh butter.  If it’s the end of the world as we know it, might as well enjoy it while we can.

MUSIC

End of the World as We Know It, R.E.M.  http://youtu.be/Z0GFRcFm-aY

1999, Prince

Ground Control to Major Tom, David Bowie

Watchtower, Jimi Hendrix

Calamity Song, The Decemberists

End of the Innocence, Don Henley

Gimme Shelter, The Rolling Stones

station eleven