What I’m Reading: coronavirus edition

You would think that being forced to stay home all the time would mean more time for reading, writing, and blog posting but I haven’t found it to be the case. I mean, maybe if you added up all the time I’ve spent reading headlines and statistics over the past two weeks it would end up being equivalent to Ivanhoe, but finding the time and focus to read any of the four Thai novels I started last month has proved difficult.

Part of it is having no preschool, so I’ve got an infant and a three-year-old yelling in my ears for sixteen hours a day; part of it is being so anxious that it’s difficult to sleep, and thinking about anything aside from the burgeoning pandemic seems somehow irresponsible. When I’m not constantly hitting refresh on my phone I’ve been feeding my sourdough starter and planting vegetables, as if we are going to be thrown back to the 19th century and have to start feeding ourselves off the land. It is a symptom of helplessness, I think. It feels good to be doing something marginally useful, even if it’s just planting potatoes. At least it’s better than just waiting to see how bad it’s going to get.

I have to keep finding uses for extra sourdough starter now that I’m feeding mine every day. These cherry walnut sourdough scones were pretty good.

However, reading the news is not keeping me informed (I don’t need to check it every fifteen minutes to know how the pandemic is progressing, and even that level of information did not keep my husband from being kicked out of Safeway this morning because neither of us had heard about the new hours for designated senior citizen shopping, so really I don’t know what good checking the news is doing me) and it’s making me much more anxious, and I am realizing I really need to calm down and get more sleep so I can be patient with my preschooler, who starts to go stir-crazy by about 10:30 am if she hasn’t been outside yet. Plus I’ve got tendinitis in my thumbs from scrolling, so I’m going to make an effort to wrench myself away from my phone and do a little more reading over the next few weeks or months of quarantine.

I’ve gotten very serious about protecting my carrot seedlings now that they might be the only thing between us and starvation once the breakdown of civilization is complete. Of course they’ll probably be stolen by the roving bands of outlaws that will rule the mean streets of Berkeley post-collapse, but there’s no point in letting the birds get them before then. Maybe the outlaws will be so impressed with our carrot yield that they’ll let us join their gang.

All this being said, I have picked up my books a few times over the past couple of weeks. I seem to have been stuck on the same page of Insurrecto for the past couple of months (or, I mean, maybe it just feels like months). I kind of remember this happening with Gun Dealer’s Daughter (also by Gina Apostel) too: I was really loving it at the beginning but it just didn’t hold my attention. I managed to finish Katya and the Prince of Siam, even though I didn’t like it very much. It was so boring that it was actually a kind of pleasant respite from the day-to-day anxiety of the past couple of weeks. However, I am now doubtful of its suitability for this project; although Narisa Chakrabongse is credited as a co-author, the book’s narration is in the voice of her aunt, Eileen Hunter, who is English.

We’re spending a lot of time in the backyard and making friends with its denizens, like this slender salamander

I also have made a little headway in the massive Four Reigns—the end is definitely in sight—which covers exactly the same time period as Katya and the Prince of Siam, with slightly (very slightly) more entertainment value. The stories of the two books are so closely aligned that I have trouble remembering which came from which book, although interestingly, Prince Chakrabongse and his Russian wife Katerin (the subjects of Katya and the Prince of Siam) do not even merit a reference in Four Reigns, despite its constant focus on the doings of the royal family.

We’re also going for a lot of walks around the neighborhood and taking time to smell every flower as we go, which is a good exercise in forced mindfulness

Lastly, I am almost finished with Married to the Demon King, which is fine, but I definitely think I am lacking the cultural context to enjoy it to its fullest. All in all, it’s not a very satisfying crop of current reads, which may help to explain why I’m struggling so hard to find time for reading despite being on week two of social distancing/house arrest. I did take a two-day break just before the shit hit the fan to devour Jurassic Park, which was one of my favorite books as a kid. In retrospect I’m glad I didn’t go for that other Crichton classic, The Andromeda Strain.

Stay safe everyone. And stay home.

Now I’m wishing we had a fig tree like these neighbors. Maybe they’ll trade us for some carrots.

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