Books Read Amidst A Pandemic

I’ve kept a list of books I’ve read since I was about 8. I don’t think I’ve listed every single book I’ve ever read, but it’s pretty close. It’s interesting for me to go back over the list and look at trends…which years in adulthood I’ve read the least, which I’ve read the most, and what was going on in my life that dictated those changes.

Some books I barely remember and others I can picture where I was sitting and what time of year it was and even what I was eating when I was reading.

This year, when everything first shut down in March I was reading Into The Wild by Jon Krakauer. I had read Into Thin Air several years ago, and that book was so exciting, so compelling that I couldn’t put it down, so I gave Wild a go. Into The Wild was not nearly as exciting for me, but the survivalist in me enjoyed reading about the true story of a free-spirited young man who desperately wanted to live off the land on his own and paid the price for choices made. What will forever make this book stand out in my mind is that I read it amidst the backdrop of an unfolding global pandemic, stuck at home while the protagonist singlehandedly took on the world and left everything behind.

In the middle of reading Wild I had put Station Eleven by Emily St. John Mandel on hold at the library, just before it closed down completely for several months. I thought I was out of luck to get it any time soon, but my friend who works there saw my hold come in after the shutdown, asked her boss for permission, checked the book out to me, and hand delivered it to my door! What lovely service! This book was recommended to me by friends who know me and know that I love apocalyptic/dystopian/survival and now pandemic stories. Y’all, the similarities between the pandemic in this book and Covid are uncanny and sent shivers down my spine as I sat in my front yard in the sun reading for hours and ignoring my family one Sunday afternoon. I also appreciated how the book wove in timelines of various overlapping characters that spanned from pre- to post-pandemic.

A few books later I read The Nightingale by Kristin Hannah because a friend of mine thought I’d like it so she lent me her copy. If I remember correctly, she said she thought of me because it had “strong female characters,” and boy howdy, am I glad she did! This book was, hands down, the best book I’ve read in at least two years. For some reason I have it in my head that I don’t like historical fiction, but I think I need to recalibrate that notion based on this example. This book was mainly set in WWII era France and focused on how two sisters struggled and fought and lived through various atrocities. I find that time period extremely compelling, as does my husband. Usually he’s focused on the military side of things while I love to learn about the political/psychological/socioeconomic aspects of civilian upheaval, struggle, and survival, and this book did exactly that for me. This book was so moving that it had me outright sobbing at more than one point and it read like a movie. Five stars; go read it now.

After Nightingale, I needed something extra light so I picked up The Maze Runner by James Dashner from the Little Free Library. It was definitely written for teen boys, but I enjoyed the original dystopian mystery concept and it went quickly as a nice palate-cleanser. I watched the movie of it afterwards. I wasn’t intrigued enough to continue on with the series, but your tween cousin might be.

A bit later on, I escaped back into the world of Panem and it was glorious! I read The Ballad of Songbirds and Snakes by Suzanne Collins. As devout fans know, I was skeptical that this book could live up to the original Hunger Games trilogy and in my opinion it did a fine job, although the plot started to lag 3/4 of the way through. I thoroughly enjoyed getting to know young Corelanus Snow and I was singing The Hanging Tree for weeks afterward.

Towards the second half of this year I started to re-read the Twilight series, which I hadn’t done since getting married and having kids. I desperately needed an escape from the world and current events. I was pleasantly surprised to find that there were many details I’d forgotten about, which made the experience feel new again. Of course, after Twilight I read the brand new Midnight Sun by Stephenie Meyer, which is the same plot as the first book told from the point of view of the mind-reading vampire, Edward. Highly entertaining and satisfying both for my inner teeny-bopper and for previous me who read the leaked incomplete manuscript of this book years ago and has been lusting after the conclusion ever since.

Sprinkled in there around Halloween, I read Bird Box and its sequel, Malorie, both by Josh Malerman. Bird Box was much creepier than the movie. Although Malorie was interesting in its attempt to answer the question of now what? at the end of the first, it fell flat for me.

Other special mentions:

  • I re-read Island of the Blue Dolphins by Scott O’Dell for the first time since it was read aloud to me by my 4th grade student teacher. This book is an amazing jem: it features an incredibly strong and determined young female protagonist AND – what escaped me before – it’s based on a true story (of a girl left alone on her native island for years)!
  • I read Little Weirds by Jenny Slate because I like her standup and I find her hilarious and quirky and delightfully anxious, but…I hated the book. It was too weird for me.
  • I got my hands on a copy of The Power by Naomi Alderman and shoo-dang, this was a fun read. Women and girls now have the power to produce electrical current through their skin and they use it to stop taking shit from men?! SIGN ME UP! It didn’t quite go the direction I wanted, but I loved the concept. And interesting that this is a book-within-a-book, where the story is told from the future as a flashback of sorts. Read it, and you’ll get what I mean.

I could go on and on and I didn’t mean for this post to be so long but I LOVE BOOKS and the year of the pandemic calls for many.

Next up on my list: A Promised Land by Barack Obama.

What have you read in 2020 that you’ve loved? Hated? Used as toilet paper?


Day 29 – The second to last day

I’ll Eat When The Cheer Is Complete

At the beginning of this long holiday weekend, I was all I’m gonna turn a corner in my life. We’re gonna bring in some Christmas cheer and I’m gonna stop watching scary movies that prevent me from sleeping and I’m gonna get gift shopping done early sos I can kick back and enjoy watching this yule log of a year burn, baby, burn. Or something like that.

To kick off the holiday season right, but also so I could move on with my life, my husband and I watched our last 3 hours of The Haunting of Hill House right after the kids went to bed on Thanksgiving. Tis the season!! This show scared us so badly that we were dragging out the time between watching each episode and I just needed to rip this bandaid off right quick. Overall, I did enjoy the season even though I felt like it stole a few days from my life and they are now residing in the Red Room with everyone else.

The next day I asked my husband if he wanted to watch this one random movie I got from the library and he said foolishly said sure. I picked it up and showed it to him, and I have a disease, you guys. True to form, I had chosen a zombie flick because it had the word pandemic on it. It was called Alone, and it came out this year – how did I manage to miss this?! The movie was just okay, and it involved an interesting take on the classic zombie genre. Because my nerves were still fried from Hill House, I jumped way more than I should have, but I persevered, my friends. I don’t expect my family and friends to associate with a quitter.

So today – today – was for sure the day. We were gonna create some motherfucking cheer, goddamnit. We got up and had pancakes, which never fail to make my kids happy. We attended a surprise birthday car parade which was lovely and joyful. To continue the cheerful momentum, I hesitantly asked my husband not to freak out, but that I wanted to decorate for Christmas aaaaaand – gasp – play Christmas music. This, this is simply not done in our house. My husband has this thing where he won’t celebrate a holiday until the first of the month of said holiday. Lately, I’ve been asking him ever so sweetly to stop CRUSHING MY JOY when we see Christmas lights go up in the neighborhood or hear sleighbells on the television. Today, he graciously allowed me to usher in some gaiety after I shouted at him that THIS WAS ALL THE HOPE WE HAD LEFT.

I started getting the bins out and my kids actually helped put up some decorations. I left the fake, lit garlands I usually wrap around the banisters until last. I was getting a little peckish but I was determined to finish the job and so I pranced over and decided to plug them in – just to make sure they worked, you know, as a formality – before I strung them up. First one lit up the room. Excellent. The second – crap. Suddenly, my empty stomach felt cavernous. The dull, annoying headache I’d had pounded up my brainstem and beat me behind the eyes. Oh yeah, was it that time of the month too? WHY THE FUCK NOT?!

Not to be deterred in the slightest, I proceeded to expertly wiggle and jiggle each and every bulb, all while muttering devil-words under my breath. My husband could sense a change in the atmosphere in the house, and gingerly suggested I take a break and get something to eat. I’LL EAT WHEN THE CHEER IS COMPLETE was my rabid response.

Knowing my limits as a rational human being, I screamed at allowed my husband to take over to troubleshoot the light issue. Then, for reasons still unknown to me, I decided that only fools eat food or take breaks, and I proceeded to organize the liquor cabinet. This only enraged me more when I: 1) couldn’t reach the back of the cabinet and had to ask for help, and 2) couldn’t open a jar of 10 year old homemade booze that we’d never drink and had to ask for help, and 3) banged my head so hard on the open cabinet door that I had to stand there for a good 30 seconds to let the pain pass. Sigh.

After I Marie Kondo-ed the booze (it all sparked joy, save for the 10 year old Baileys that had chunks floating in it, may you rest in peace), I had enough good sense to make and eat some noodles. By that time, my husband had exhausted all options with the lights and he promptly ordered some new ones on the internet because he loves me and he effectively saved Christmas!!


Day 28

Nibbling at Your Joy

You know that feeling when you’ve discovered you put down a burden you’ve been carrying for a long time?

The relief.

The discovery at feeling that relief.

When did it arrive? What did it replace?

Like one of those tortoises that lives to be over 100 years old, it lumbers up your back. So slowly, so determined. It gets comfortable up there perched on your shoulders. Not comfortable for you, of course, but you get used to it. After a bit, the scaly creature becomes a part of you, stretching its neck and nibbling at your joy before you can have a taste, not aware of what you’re missing.

One day, as slowly and as surely as it arrived, it decides enough is enough. The tortoise turns around and crawls back down. You’re so consumed with doing all the things that you don’t notice. You reach up and absentmindedly scratch where the creature clawed at your skin. You keep going, staring straight ahead. Gotta get to the other side.

Until, for no reason you can tell, the wind shifts. Your face gets slammed with this new warm, sweet breeze. You stop in the middle of the road, close your eyes and inhale.

Your exhale escapes with frantic peals of laughter. Sudden. Uncontrollable.

Through the laughter you find that your feet have carried you the rest of the way across the road. You stop, turn around, and look back, a stupid grin still slunk across your face.

What is that, there just climbing up the curb on the side from where you came?

You squint to see through the dusty warm air.

What an odd thing. You think. What is that doing way out here?

As you shrug your shoulders, you dimly realize that they are now light enough to be shrugged.

With one last glance over your shoulder, you continue on, now with a spring in your step.


Day 27

Far Away Thanksgiving

Happy Thanksgiving, y’all!

Today I’m using an idea I got from reading Steven’s blog about spending Thanksgiving as an American overseas.

In the Fall of 2005, I studied abroad in The Netherlands through a program run by the University of California system. My destination was University College Utrecht in The Netherlands, which is an international university that, at the time, housed and educated roughly two-thirds Dutch students and the other third students from all over the world (of around a total of 750 students). My personal circle of friends included Americans, Dutchies, Australians, Germans, a Swede, and a few assorted others. It was one of the best, richest, most exciting experiences of my entire life.

For Thanksgiving, the UC program people put on a traditional holiday dinner for all the American students, who each got to bring a plus one. My boyfriend (now husband) was visiting me that week, and so he got to come and join in the merriment. For most others, that meant a non-American student got invited to their very first Thanksgiving dinner.

I honestly don’t remember much about the food at all, but the experience was so much more than what we were eating. At that point in the semester, we’d been away from home for four months. The days were growing short and cold, and many of us were starting to feel twinges of homesickness. Having the familiarity of tradition, familiar foods, and my boyfriend there by my side made me feel comforted and joyful.

I found a blurry picture I took of the food!

What I enjoyed most was the exchange of culture that took place. The non-Americans had so many questions about why we ate certain things and why this custom and compared it to their own. It was an invitation for me to stop and think about customs and traditions I had always taken for granted. To see myself, my country, my culture through the eyes of foreigners is an incredible experience. I highly recommend it.

When the dinner was over, we went outside for the short walk back to our units (dorms), and upon setting foot outside we found that it had started snowing. The Californians, me included, promptly lost their shit and started playing in it, not ready for the night to be over. It was a special dusting on top of a very special evening.

Frolicking in the snow!

Now that I think about it, that Thanksgiving feels similar to this year in that I’m separated from family. At least in 2005 it was by choice.

I’ve often stuck my nose up at the American tradition to celebrate gratitude by wallowing in excess. Doesn’t it make more sense that you’ll better appreciate what you have by going without? With that in mind, this year I’m making a special point to be grateful for my family and friends, especially those I haven’t seen in far too long. I’m not on the other side of the world this year, even though it often feels that way. Hopefully, we’ll be together again sooner rather than later.

Counting my blessings, and I’m hoping you have many to count as well.


Day 26

My Tangible Reminder

I have this little wooden sign on my mantle at home.

A few years ago, I found it inside one of our local Little Free Libraries and it spoke to me, so I grabbed it and brought it home.

I suffer from perfectionism, always have. Becoming a mom fanned those perfectionist flames and they took off like an uncontrollable brush fire. It used to be that I only had to worry about making myself perfect, inside and out, but once I was fully responsible for one and then two little goblins, all hell broke loose inside my perfectionist-flavored brain.

Dear lord there’s a lot of pressure to be the perfect mom, whatever that is. What worries me the most is how much I may have internalized all those perfect mom messages.

Make sure to breastfeed…

Put them in all the classes…swim, dance, Mandarin…and how to swim in Mandarin.

Make sure to shower! And put on pants!

Wear your baby all the time, don’t ever put them down.

Don’t let them have screen time until they’re two, otherwise their brains will turn to mush and Harvard won’t want them.

I continued my daily practice of positive self-talk to keep all those mothering shoulds at bay and to externalize them as much as possible.

When my kids were tiny, I had to start reminding myself almost daily about the good enough parenting model. All I had to do was reach the good enough threshold and my kids were gonna be fine. Heck, more than fine. Which meant I had to start cutting myself some serious slack. The thing was, I was never the type who would kill myself trying to physically get everything done all day every day, but I would instead mentally beat myself up for not getting it all done. For falling short. Of what, I ask? Says who, I wonder? I was learning how to forgive myself again and again and again…as many times as I needed. And I still need it. I already know, this will be my life’s work.

I picked up that little piece of wood because it serves as my daily reminder. It’s something that’s real, I can see it with my eyes and hold it in my hands, and it says: life is messy and that’s okay. you’re enough, you’ve done enough, now go love your kids.


Day 25

Sit with the ache in your heart

This Thanksgiving marks the one year mark since I have seen my parents in person.

This is the longest I have ever – EVER – been away from them and it sucks.

Last year was the first year my husband and I decided to host Thanksgiving. In years past, we traveled to California from Oregon to spend Thanksgiving with both our families (my husband and I are from the same hometown, so going home means we get to see everyone in one trip) and we made it a point to stay as long as we could. Travel is expensive, and since having one and then two kids, it’s a huuuuge pain in the ass. If we were gonna go anywhere, we were gonna stay and make the trip super worthwhile.

We opted to host last year because my son had started kindergarten and we couldn’t take the 2 week trip without him missing school. We invited a bunch of family, knowing we were deviating from the norm and that most would probably have other plans already. My parents were the ones who chose to fly up and join us. We had a fun visit and a pretty chill Thanksgiving meal. My mom helped out by making her amazingly cheesy shredded potato casserole. I struggled to take a selfie of everyone sitting around the table, but somehow I managed. We had no idea it would be the last holiday we’d spend together for a very long time.

My parents had another visit planned around…I wanna say…April? We all mutually decided to cancel; it wasn’t worth the risk of anyone getting sick. My mom has a preexisting condition and so her health is at a higher risk than most. Also, both of them are over 65.

Ever since, we’ve been FaceTiming but y’all know that’s not the same. My son is able to write real letters now, and we do that from time to time too. My daughter would contribute her spirited artwork. There’s just no way to write enough or color enough to fit yourself into an envelope and mail all of you to where you need to be.

For me, this Thanksgiving will be one to grieve a benchmark of time spent apart. We’ll be grieving the loss of safety, normalcy, etc. I’ll also be giving thanks that, although apart, my family is all in good health. Our sacrifice, and the sacrifice of everyone around us, is for good reason. It’s so that we can all be together again in the future to celebrate and share our lives and swap germs and not take that closeness for granted ever again.

I know this lockdown is hard, probably one of the hardest things we’ll do as a global community in our generation, but resist the temptation to let down your guard and get too close to those not in your household this holiday season. Think about the long-term consequences. Think about how you’d feel if a social gathering landed a person you love in the hospital. The risk is not worth it. I encourage you to sit with the loss. Sit with the ache in your heart. I feel it too. The good news is that it won’t last forever.

This Thanksgiving, I’ll be thinking about my parents and making plans for the future. Because if everyone does their part, then we’ll all have a future to celebrate together.


Day 24

I Want Them to Remember

I want my kids to remember the little things.

I want my kids to remember that I carried a junky old towel to the park after it rained and I’d wipe down all three slides so they could play and not get their cute little butts soaking wet.

I want them to remember how, when they were each 2-3 years old, I’d lay out their clothes exactly how they’d go on their cute little bodies: pants front-side-up and shirts front-side-down.

I want them to remember how I’d set out a morning snack the night before weekend mornings, so they could munch on cereal and raisins while their daddy and I got to sleep in as long as we could.

I want my kids to remember how when I got home from the library I’d casually display new books on the coffee table and walk away, knowing they’d dive into them in their own time.

I want my daughter to remember me going through her preschool flashcards with her, and celebrating her learning victories with high fives and giggles.

I want my son to remember how I taught him to use a paintbrush, with soft brushstrokes that feel like feathers on the skin.

In reality, they may not remember any of these things. That’s okay, because I will.

Mostly, I just want them to remember feeling loved.


Day 23

The World Is Not Ending

I’ve realized I need to remind myself that the world is not ending.

Somewhere along the way, I figured all the stores are closed and school is closed, so I should be too.

This is it. Accept it. We don’t get nice things anymore.

But then I hear other people are going out.

Having experiences.

Seeing people.

Doing things.

Living their lives.

And then I remember. Huh. Maybe I should too?

Staying home is nice.

Safe.

Warm.

Comfy.

But is this what I want?

I’m so tired.

Weary.

Sad.

Numb.

But is this what I want?

Sometimes I don’t know what I want.

Oftentimes I change my mind.

Or my mind changes me.

Just remember, self: the world is not ending

And neither are you.


Day 22: Pepper Day!

Micro Story: Completely Destroyed

My Dear Psychos, I struggled to think of something to blog about today.

I went to https://cheerpeppers.wordpress.com/ to look for prompts and I wandered into this database for photos anyone can use on their sites. The photos reminded me of little prompts I sometimes get in my feed from HitRecord. Any of you heard of it? I’m a fan of Joseph Gordon Levitt, and this is an organization where he and others make art and crowdsource for contributions. What I like about it is that it’s accessible, it’s easy, and the prompts are so simple, especially the micro ones. Meaning, he often posts an intriguing photo and then asks his followers to post a story that’s exactly 6 words to match. A 6 word story?! I can do that. Anyone can.

Therefore, I searched for a photo that inspired me and wrote my own micro story. Observe:

Photo by Morgan Sessions on Unsplash

Everything she knew was completely destroyed.

And now I task you with doing the same. Comment below with your own 6 word story for this same photo.


Day 21

Sorry About What I Said When I Was Working Out

The weather has been cold and rainy lately and my energy level went way down. I wasn’t moving my body very much, and I’ve felt tired…but not a good tired. A yucky, blah, haven’t-used-my-body-so-I-feel-like-a-lump-tired.

So today I forced myself to put on my workout gear first thing. After breakfast, and after helping my son cut out 8465526289 paper geometric shapes for a school assignment, I put an exercise video up on the TV and got shit done.

And by got shit done, I mean I powered through amidst everyone and their mom trying to interrupt me with noise and feelings.

Instructor: C’mon ladies, let’s power through! Gimme more lift, and lift, and lift…

Me: Uuggghhhh lift…lift…keep lifting…

Daughter, who comes to sit down right next to me, almost touching: IMA DO YOGA TOO MOMMY! MOMMY WATCH! I’M DOING IT LOOOOOK!

Me, grunting: Y-yup. I see you. Good. job. Hey, could you scoot? I’d like some personal space.

Now side…to side…side…to side. C’mon!

Son: MOM! I’M STUCK! HOW DO I DOOOOOO THIIIIIS?!

Me: Figure it out, dude! Take a deep belly breath and try it again!

Son: BUT MOOOOOOOM!

Me: You got this, dude. I know you can do it all by yourself. This is my time right now.

Now crunch UP left, center, right, AND DOWN. Left! Center! Right! And down!

Daughter: Mommy, I’m tired. I want to be a ballerina INSTEAD!

Me: Cool. You do that. Fuck, I’m tired too.

Son: LOOK MOM I DID IT!!!!!

Me, without even looking: Great job, man! See I knew you could.

Now balance and lunge and pulse it and keep your core tight! Don’t stop now!

Me, (I turn to lunge and my daughter ballet-prances right into me, pushing me over as I lose my balance): Hey Little Miss, PLEASE give me some personal space, okay?

Daughter: OKAAAAY! She spin-dances away.

Now I want you to kick up and back but don’t sway those hips! You’ve got this ladies! Woo!

Me, huffing: You want us to do what?

Daughter, who shoots a nerf dart right past my torso: WEEEEEEE!

Me: Could you please stop shooting that in here? GO IN THE OTHER ROOM AND GIVE ME SOME SPACE!

Ten more reps, ladies! I can start to feel it now, I hope you can, too!

Me: Oh I can feel something, you chipper ass bitch.

Son: MOOOOM! I NEED HEEEELP!

Daughter: MOOOOM! WHEN ARE YOU GONNA BE DOOONE?!

The Cat, who walks underneath my body in a downward facing dog, looks up at my face: HOOOWL!!!!

Me: sonofabitch.


Day 20