Reading Roundup: April 2020

I had to set aside The Mirror and the Light for a bit, in part because I have it as an ebook on my phone, and under the unusual circumstances of voluntary isolation, I had less motivation and interest in looking at my phone.

But then late one night I couldn’t sleep because I hadn’t gotten enough exercise during the day and because my neighbors were unusually noisy unusually late. So I picked up my Kindle and started reading Redshirts by John Scalzi, which was Tor’s free ebook. I finished it by the following evening, even after work and a scheduled video hangout with friends. It’s a short, breezy read and an easy-to-follow satire of space serials in the vein of Star Trek. Given the title (which alludes to the nameless crew members who don’t live through the starship’s interplanetary encounters) there is a lot of video-game-style violence. If I didn’t think about it too hard–and truly, that is the point–it was the perfect book to get me back into reading.

For a moment it seemed like a flurry of people were tweeting about The First Bad Man by Miranda July, which I’ve had on my shelf for a couple of years, so I finally picked it up. It is…. a ride. I remember going to see the author’s film You and Me and Everyone We Know in theaters years ago, which is whimsical and weird without being precious, and has moments of intense beauty and tenderness and moments of shocking ugliness. The First Bad Man is much the same: the narrator is a deeply weird woman deeply set in her weird ways, and seeing the world through her eyes is fun and funny until it isn’t. It’s gorgeously written, but there is always a threat of erupting violence or upheaval and I felt nervous about enjoying the read.

My friends have all had to hear about this book, though, because early on the narrator visits a “color therapist” who prescribes her a vial of colorless drops that are supposed to contain the essence of the color red. Taking a few drops of red each day is supposed to help her to release the emotional blockage that manifests as a hard knot in her throat. I could use a little red in my day, I thought, and then the tulips I planted before social isolation started opening up –pink, purple, red with yellow fringe–and I felt better. So I started polling my friends on what dose of color they needed in their lives. It became a way to talk about how we were feeling without talking directly about how we were feeling, because what other answer was there to “how are you?” than “basically fine but not fine at all, same as yesterday!”

Currently reading

Aside from The Mirror and the Light, I started rereading War and Peace by Leo Tolstoy. Because rereading something sounded good, and because it’s a big brick of a book, and because I finally finished watching the stunning TV adaptation, and because I finally listened to the soundtrack of Natasha, Pierre, and the Great Comet of 1812 with the lyrics in front of me (the closest I could get to having subtitles on). Despite the book’s heft, its chapters are very short–perfect for my attention span–and I genuinely enjoy reading a few before bed, reacquainting myself with these characters now that I’ve seen them and heard them in other media.

I had picked up The Hollow Kingdom by Kira Jane Buxton at a book swap a few months ago, and I’m not very far into it but I may or may not finish it. It do the police in different voices–and those voices mostly belong to animals. It is also a book about the zombie apocalypse, which is maybe not the right book for me right now.

I’m about halfway through Thinking Inside the Box: Adventures with Crosswords and the Puzzling People Who Can’t Live Without Them by Adrienne Raphel, which is a delightful combination of history and reflection. It is so funny to read about the mixed responses crossword puzzles got early on–we think of puzzle-solving as an intellectual exercise now, but in its early days the crossword puzzle was both wildly popular and denigrated for being dumb entertainment. Sort of like video gaming in the present day.


This data science version of a personality quiz is pretty entertaining.

I don’t know, friends, I find it hard to read anything online if it’s longer than a short poem. What else are we doing for fun?

  • I’ve been watching the HBO adaptation of My Brilliant Friend, which I think is a thoughtful and emotionally intelligent adaptation as well as being gorgeously filmed. (You may recall that I adore the books.)
  • Listening to MBF characters call Ciao to one another made me start practicing Italian on Duolingo, so that’s something.
  • I also watched the adaptation of Little Fires Everywhere, and I have to say that it took a long time to warm up to its themes but it really does pay off at the end. The book burns at a low, threatening simmer; in comparison, the series seems unsubtle and hamhanded at first, but I think it has to start that way to give Reese and Kerry room to absolutely throw down in the last few episodes.
  • I cook a lot; I roasted a chicken and it gave me Russian Doll feels all over again. 
  • I need something to keep my hands busy during video chats, and I thought these geode paper garlands were cute. You don’t need a special cutter to make them. I used a ruler to make a template of an equilateral triangle (2″ each side); four triangles and three tabs make one half of a geode. It’s slow going but eventually I’ll have enough for a garland or curtain to hang in my window.
  • While you all have been collecting turnips and fighting of tarantulas and what-have-you, I have been enjoying your Animal Crossing updates immensely, but since I don’t have that platform I’ve been stimulating my videogame busywork endorphins with Elder Scrolls Online, which had a couple of seasonal events this month for earning different kinds of in-game rewards. Proud to report that I threw a pie at every alliance leader and earned the title of Royal Jester, among other things.
  • I guess I’m on Twitch now? Friend me! I find I don’t have the endurance for a long streaming session–either as a player or a watcher–but I’ve been enjoying the low-key video game hang vibe if the timing is right.
  • Started a virtual D&D game with friends and am in love with all of our characters. Mine is a human noble rogue who learned the arts of diplomacy in the drawing room and honed her sneaky skills by slipping out of the family manor. She won’t give her family name but you’ve definitely heard of them, darling.

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