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 read some books last year

This post is a bit overdue, but better late than never.

I keep a list of just about every book I have ever read since the age of 8 (first book on the list is Little House on the Prairie).  I find it fascinating to look back on the years of books that I chose to read, and my choices really reflect where I was at emotionally, personally, professionally in my life.  These books trigger memories and tell a story all their own.

I wrote a post last year around this time summarizing the books I read during 2011 and the story they told, and in this post I am doing the same for the books I read in 2012, in the order I read them.

First of all, I only read 15 16 (apparently I forgot one – which is now #10 on the list) books in 2012 (compared to 21 in 2011), which is the least number since 2005, and that makes me sad.  Looking over the list, I think the reason for the small number was because I was trying to get through books that didn’t fully capture my fascination, and that means the process took much longer.  For 2013, I plan to spend time choosing books that are more pleasurable to me – I’ve already started World War Z, so I think I’m on the right track.

(all pictures are from Wikipedia)

1.  Snow Crash – Neal Stephenson

This book was recommended to me by Brian, and it was fairly interesting, but took me a long time to finish for whatever reason.  If I remember correctly, this book is set in the future, and I describe it as being like The Matrix, even though it was published in 1992.  The main character is named Hiro Protagonist, and he’s a high-speed pizza delivery man and professional hacker.  We’re introduced to this whole virtual world that has its own set of rules and ethics.  Hiro’s good friend is basically turned into a vegetable by this virus/drug called Snow Crash that affects a person’s nervous system in the real world when that person’s avatar is infected in the virtual world.  Hiro is then launched into this adventure with a sassy, scrappy young woman named Y.T. that involves murder, samurai sword fighting, cults, drugs, and the giant mass of garbage floating in the Pacific Ocean.

2.  *The Hunger Games – Suzanne Collins

The asterisk means that I had read this book before, and I was reading this book a second time in preparation for seeing the movie.  I lurve this book.  I love dystopian fiction, and I love a good fight-for-survival story, especially one where the main character is a strong female.  I admired Katniss for her strength, for her competence, and for her courage.  I also admired Effie’s outfits.

3.  Let’s Pretend This Never Happened – Jenny Lawson

I had been waiting to read this book for a while, and I was definitely not disappointed.  Jenny Lawson is The Bloggess, aka one of the reasons I started blogging.  This book is a mostly true autobiography that was laugh-out-loud and pee-your-pants hilarious, blunt, vulnerable, and endearing.  I feel like I know her now, better than I ever did before, so maybe I can take a break from some of my weekend stalking escapades.

4.  Dune – Frank Herbert

I read this book because Brian and I struck a deal.  I really wanted Brian to read Half The Sky because it changed my life, and in exchange I told him I would read a book of his choosing, and he chose Dune.  This book was exciting during the action scenes, but it really dragged for me during the downtimes.  From what I remember, this book took place on two distant planets, where a ruling family moved from their home planet to rule over a foreign planet where water was a very scarce resource and sand dunes covered the land.  The family is plunged into turmoil when the husband and father is murdered, and son and heir Paul is forced to flee with his mother into the dunes.  There, they work to earn the trust and learn the way of life of the sand people who have entirely blue eyes (what would normally be the whites of the eyes are blue as well) due to consumption of Spice, which is the main valuable resource on the planet.  The story basically reminded me of Star Wars – picture Paul as a young Luke on his home planet.  One of my favorite parts was Paul’s struggle to learn the coming-of-age task of riding the humongous and highly dangerous sand worms.  Yee-haw!

5.  Politically Correct Bedtime Stories – James Finn Garner

This short, fast read was absolutely hilarious.  Ever wanted to shake the traditional damsels in distress and tell them to take control of their own lives?  Ever thought they should open up a bank account and run for congress instead of fretting about a lost shoe and caring selflessly for 7 little people?  Read this book.

6.  Night – Elie Wiesel

This book is Elie’s true account of surviving the holocaust, including the harrowing death marches right before the liberation.  I cannot even begin to describe how horrifying, powerful, and moving this memoir was for me.  This is the type of book that I am constantly drawn to (I have a problem picking “fun media,” which you’ll see gets worse as the year goes on), and I think it’s because of my thirst to read about human resilience in the face of pure evil.  This book definitely satisfied that need for me.

7.  The Tenth Circle – Jodi Picoult

After Night, I needed a much easier read, and Jodi Picoult was just the answer.  I’ve read a few of her books in the past, and they are all the same, so I knew exactly what to expect for this one…or so I thought.  This book hit a little closer to home than I thought it might since it dealt with rape and the after-effects of it.  Throw in some infidelity, murder mystery, and running away from home for good measure.

8.  Room – Emma Donoghue

This book marked my profound descent into the world of trauma and choosing traumatic books for pleasure that I manage to do every year.  This book was also unlike any book I have ever read in a way that’s hard to describe – I think because we get to see the world through the eyes of 5 year old Jack who has never been outside a 12×12 room.  The narration reminded me of the blunt starkness of Push, but the remarkable similarities to Jaycee Dugard’s real-life account of her 19 year imprisonment freaked me out.  Let me back up: Jack is narrating this story where we find that he and his mother are being held captive by a sick kidnapper who fathered Jack by rape.  Jack describes the normal-as-possible routines that his mom has created for him that involve mealtimes, reading, TV, bathtime, exercise, games – including one “game” that involves screaming at the top of their lungs towards the one skylight they have in Room.  I won’t ruin any more of the book for y’all, but it was exciting and an interesting look into PTSD from the confused and scared eyes of a very isolated, yet hopeful 5 year old.

9.  Fear – Michael Grant

This book is the 5th in a series of 6 books called the Gone novels.  My friend originally recommended Gone to me by saying that it was a young adult series where everyone over the age of 15 suddenly disappears.  My interest was more than peaked.  Basically, these books turned into Lord of the Flies on steroids pretty quick, with a hint of sci-fi in there because some kids realize they have powers.  Sam, the main character, can create balls of burning light with the palms of his hands.  A struggle for power and order ensues, good kids and bad kids emerge, leaders and followers are identified…and they are all trying to figure out where the hell all the adults went and how they’re supposed to survive without them.

I almost didn’t keep reading this series because it started to feel all crazy like Lost did in the second season.  When Gone introduced talking coyotes I figured I was done.  But, something lured me back to this series…it’s fun, they are fast reads, and I like the characters.  The plot is unpredictable and exciting.  I’ll be waiting for all the answers to be revealed in April when the final book comes out.

10. We Thought You Would Be Prettier – Laurie Notaro

So, in the first published draft of this post, I totally forgot this book.  I read it during my vacation to Puerto Rico because it was easy, fun, and it was paperback.  It was recommended to me by a friend because this author was like The Bloggess – and it was, in that it was absolutely hysterical.  I suppose I forgot it because of all those rum punches…

11.  Black and Blue – Anna Quindlan

Sigh, here I went again.  I dove back into trauma land and I kind of regretted it.  I had this book for a long time and just never read it.  It’s fiction, and it’s about a woman and her son fleeing a very abusive husband and dad who also happens to be a cop.  This woman basically goes into hiding, gets a new name for herself and her son, and tries to start over.  While you’re reading this, you’re fucking scared the whole time.  You’re just like the main character – at every moment you’re waiting for her husband to turn up.  This book had a sucky ending and it made me sad.  I usually like to keep books I read but I am planning to give this one away.

12.  Tomorrow When the War Began – John Marsden

Since I liked the Gone books so much, I decided to try this other young adult series that came highly recommended by Brian.  This one is written by an Australian teacher and is about a group of teen Aussie friends.  They go camping in the Australian bush and come back to find that their country has been invaded by a foreign country and all their families have been taken hostage.  What I love about these books is that the kids do what they can to fight back as guerrilla warriors rather than just waiting it out.  Also, all the cool Aussie slang is really great.  Did you know that “chooks” means “chickens”?!  Amazing, mate!

13.  The Dead of the Night – John Marsden

14.  A Killing Frost – John Marsden

There are 7 books in this series and I began to lose interest after the 3rd book.  The books had bursts of action, but really dragged when they were dealing with angst and squabbles amongst themselves.  The young adult books that I like are written as if they were written for adults, and these books are written in a way that talks down slightly to teens and seems to trivialize their inner struggles.  My waning interest directly influenced my next book pick.

15.  *Eclipse – Stephenie Meyer

I’ve read the Twilight books before, and I have a love/hate relationship with them.  Eclipse was my favorite book in the series, and I find myself going back to these mindless reads when I feel like I need to escape life for a while and live in the land of vampires, talking wolves, and annoying powerless females.

16.  Darkness Be My Friend – John Marsden

I tried one last time to get through this series, and I decided that this would be my last Tomorrow book.  Sorry, Mr. Marsden.  I gave it a good try…onto bigger and better books for 2013.

My fellow psychos – what was your favorite book you read in 2012?

I’m bringing joy to the picnic

I get the symbolism, the tradition of making new years resolutions, but what I don’t get is why people keep making them since they don’t work.

I’ve observed that the nature of the most common new years resolutions is often to do something that we “should” be doing already anyway: lose weight, stop smoking, exercise more, eat better.  The “should” is in quotes because my immediate response to “shoulds” and “have tos” is “who says?!”  The “should” is a value statement that came from somewhere- friends, family, the media, society, etc. -and a person has to believe in a “should” in order for it to have any meaning.  Very arbitrary indeed.

My assumption is that people who make new years resolutions must be resolving to do something that they don’t want to do…otherwise, wouldn’t they have just done it already?  If quitting smoking was something that you really, truly wanted to do, then why would you wait to begin doing it until the first of the year?

I am rejecting this guilt-based form of resolutions!  I support joy-based resolutions!  I am resolving to do things that I like to do, things that bring me JOY!  One thing I started doing already (because why wait?!) and that is to blog.  Check.  The other is to take my picture everyday for at least the year of 2012.  So far so good.  Another is to continue to read. 

In my attempt to pass on the joy I experienced through reading this year, below is my year in book reviews for 2011.  They are listed in the order I read them, and an asterisk (*) means I had read the book before.  Enjoy!


1. *Cat’s Cradle – Kurt Vonnegut

I had read this in high school and remembered liking it.  I think I am a Bokononist at heart. I just love the close-to-home absurdity of it all! 

2. The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo – Stieg Larsson
3. The Girl who Played with Fire – Stieg Larsson
4. The Girl Who Kicked the Hornet’s Nest – Stieg Larsson

I just tore through these books, and I think they really highlight the year for me, especially since I followed these with the three Swedish and first American movie versions.

5. Enlightened Sexism – Susan Douglas

Awesome non-fiction about how sexism as backlash is more covert in the media now more than ever.  I like books that teach me how to be a more critical consumer of media.

6. Gone – Michael Grant

The Michael Grant Gone series (more below) are young adult books, and even though they start to go a crazy, far-out TV show Lost route, they are still fun, easy, and imaginative reads.  I look forward to the few more in the series he has yet to write.  Basic premise is that in one moment everyone in this town over the age of 15 just disappears…

7. Bossypants – Tina Fey

Tina, I love you, I love you, I love you!  This autobiographical hilarity she calls a book is well worth it.

8. *A Wrinkle in Time – Madeleine L’Engle

I read this one as a child and reading it again made me feel like I was 10 again.  Love the power of books.

9. Hunger – Michael Grant
10. Lies – Michael Grant
11. Plague – Michael Grant

These titles really indicate how the plot thickens…

12. *Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows – JK Rowling

I think this was at least my third read.  I had to read it before the last movie came out so that I could properly tear the movie apart for inconsistencies.  The end of all things Harry Potter was and still is traumatic for me…

13. *Tales of Beedle the Bard – JK Rowling

To ease the pain of the Harry saga coming to an end, I read this for the second time.  For this reading, I actually read one story out loud each night to the boyman before we went to sleep.  He hadn’t heard them before, and there was something magical about sharing the stories out loud to someone else.

14. The Golden Compass – Philip Pullman

So this book seemed right up my alley.  I was still mourning the loss of Harry, and I figured this whimsical fantasy with a female protagonist would help ease the pain…but it was soooo slow and parts were boring and I struggled to get through it.  I struggled so badly that I gave up hope trying to finish the series.  Maybe someday I’ll try it again.  And maybe I learned the hard way that nothing can ever take the Harry Potter PTSD away.

15. Into Thin Air – Jon Krakauer

This non-fiction first account of a disastrous trip to the top of Everest was the most captivating and anxiety-provoking book of the year for me.  I could not put this down, and I even had dreams about being in mortal peril in the freezing snow and not having enough oxygen.  I recommend this adventure of a book!

16. Water for Elephants – Sara Gruen

I remember that at this point in the year, I said that I would choose media devoid of abuse and trauma, so I chose what I thought was a charming, old-timey circus fling.  Sigh.  I still enjoyed it, even though there was some domestic violence and animal abuse thrown in there. 

17. A Stolen Life – Jaycee Dugard

At this point I think my curiosity got the better of me and I threw out my rule about choosing books free of abuse.  This book gets me enraged and hopeful at the same time.  Enraged that someone could do horrible things to someone else for SO LONG before getting caught, and hopeful because Jaycee and her girls are so resilient and kind and determined and not broken in any way.

18. The Help – Kathryn Stockett

Phenomenal book, beautifully written.  This book makes me want to visit the south.

19. The Whistleblower – Kathryn Bolkovac and Cari Lynn

Here is another example where I couldn’t help myself.  This is a true story where Kathryn, a cop, was hired to help prevent and police sex trafficking in Bosnia, only her superiors were sabotaging her work and were consumers of the sex trade themselves.  I love a story where women kick ass and not only take names, but take them to court!

20. Dress your Family in Corduroy and Denim – David Sedaris

I had heard good things about Sedaris, and so I borrowed this book from a friend.  Full of autobiographical stories of David’s family and life growing up.  He has this dry humor I find amusing, although I expected the stories to be more laugh out loud funny.

21. Holidays on Ice – David Sedaris

More stories, less autobiographical.  I found that these stories were either hit or miss for me.  One was absolutely hilarious, and the other was so over the top that it missed its mark.

~Here’s to many more happy, fun, exciting reads for 2012!~