Handbasket Full of Books

Work has been busy, but mostly I’ve found it hard to write here because things are going to hell in a handbasket. I have been freaking out about the rise of fascism for a while now, and I continue to freak out. The fact that Black Lives Matter has been top-of-mind, but I am in no way an authority to write about it. So while there is injustice and chaos and more than a hundred thousand Americans dead in a pandemic, our family’s life is . . . mostly relatively normal. So I’m choosing to write about the “relatively normal” stuff. Sure, I’m doing some things which I hope contribute to a better world, and all the stuff I may choose to write about is taking place concurrent with a constant, barely-suppressed panic and despair. But frankly, reading about that would be tiresome for you, and I don’t need anyone to reward or console me. Let’s all just do our best, okay? And today, that will mean talking about some books.

I started off our social distancing adventure by going to the library and taking out a bunch of books, and I’ve been a little extra indulgent with Book of the Month Club, adding an extra book to my box at the beginning of each month (yep, that’s what it’s been: months). I’m also a big fan of listening to audiobooks via the Libby app. If I’m having trouble sleeping, sometimes I’ll find a light book and listen to it in bed with the super-convenient night-time shut off feature.

Another big source of books has been my PaperBack Swap membership. I know I’ve explained about PaperBack before, but I’m just reveling in my bounty lately. I had a whole bunch of books on my Wish List, and with everyone home, it seems like a bunch of people are de-cluttering their bookshelves and posting their books, which means that my wishes for books are coming true.

But I’ve also noticed that my reading tastes are a little discombobulated these days. I just don’t have patience for some of the books I normally would. Since staying home, here are a few of the books that have “worked” for self-isolation, and some that haven’t.

I normally avoid best-selling thrillers, because they just don’t appeal to me. But the family brought home Sharp Objects, by Gillian Flynn, from a pre-Mother’s Day shopping excursion, and to be polite I read it. Not what I’d normally reach for, but it was entirely engrossing, even if the ending was a little, as the kids say, “extra.” Losing myself in a crazy story was an excellent escape and felt like a treat.

I usually have some non-fiction books stacked up and waiting to be read, and I really enjoyed The Seven Necessary Sins for Women and Girls by Mona Eltahawy. I learned about all sorts of movements and incidents from all over the world that were new to me and just really appreciated her perspective as a Muslim woman who’s lived and worked all over the world. It’s a little dense, but the chapters are self-contained enough that you can take a “break” in between them, and she managed to make the be book inspiring as well as enraging. Meanwhile, I also read Hunger, by Roxane Gay, and . . . now just wasn’t the time. I really enjoyed Bad Feminist and I follow her on Twitter, and I knew, going in, that it would be heavy, but I underestimated how bad it would feel to read at length about someone’s self-loathing when I know them to be smart and kind and funny. It felt like listening to a friend tear herself down. When you’re already feeling a bit depressed about the state of the world, it’s not going to perk you up.

Back to fiction, I really liked Aristotle and Dante Discover the Secrets of the Universe by Benjamin Alire Sáenz. When I need not-too-taxing reading, one of my favorite things to do is to choose great YA fiction, and this novel won tons of awards. It tackles violence and gay bashing and sounds like it could be a huge bummer, but the characters are so well wrought and lovable, and there’s a slow, slow burn romance, which is my very favorite kind. So this was a favorite.

I also really liked The Book Woman of Troublesome Creek by Kim Michele Richardson. This is one of two novels I read about Depression-era pack horse librarians in Appalachia (the other was The Giver of Stars by JoJo Moyes) and I am, in general, a sucker for historical fiction, especially when it’s also about badass women. But this one knocked me out because the plot revolved around a piece of US History that I’d never heard about, that there were actually blue people in Kentucky. Who knew about that? I didn’t know about that. I am frequently bummed by how my early school experiences managed to make US History seem dreadfully boring when there are so many incredible stories, and yes, these books were fiction, but just think about how amazing these women were!

And just when I thought I could reliably enjoy an historical fiction novel about a badass woman by a not-too-heavy author, I started The Dream Lover: A Novel of George Sand by Elizabeth Berg. It wasn’t terrible. It just felt like it dragged, and I didn’t like the way she set up the narrative, and I was doggedly trying to finish the damn book. I’m realizing now, more than ever, that when I’m reading a book I enjoy, I am doing okay, and when I’m not enjoying my current book, it starts to feel like it’s hazardous to my mental health. So I decided, you know what? My life is too short. And then it occurred to me that I’d checked this book out of the library and I don’t think I’ve ever actually read anything by George Sand herself. So I went straight to PaperBack Swap, and guess what arrived in the mail today?


  1. Carol Jones

    I loved the Book Woman of Troublesome Creek. Also good is The Huntress or The Alice Network or Beyond a Scarlet Sky. All are historical novels well worth your time. Enjoy!

  2. Claire

    Thanks for the book ideas. Definitely a good diversion from the evil that occurred on Memorial Day. Books better than any other medium can show humanity’s power for good.

  3. Maggie

    I learned about the blue people of Kentucky in HS biology! I also love historical fiction—you might like The Golden Hour.

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