Reading In Bed

The Next Chapter: Books in the Time of Covid-19

I hope all my friends are holding up. Being in isolation has had its ups and downs. I’m lucky that I have a friend who has driven me to the grocery store every two weeks so I can stock up on what I need. I have laundry in my building, so I don’t have to go to a laundromat. On the minus side, I was alone for Easter. I usually go to a brunch at a gay bar, but that got canceled. On top of that, it was my brother’s birthday. I know I probably will be more of a mess when Mother’s Day arrives. I was supposed to go down to NJ for that weekend but I canceled the trip. Port Authority is the last place you want to go because there are germs everywhere.

It’s been over two months since I worked at my office. I’m supposed to go back May 15th but I have no clue exactly what will happen. I’ve been out on paid leave. I know I’m lucky. I know a lot of people have lost a job or on unemployment. I really can’t complain.

In my last blog, I mentioned that I was reading two books: The 42nd Parallel, the first book of the USA Trilogy by John Dos Passos and Gaudy Night, a Lord Whimsey poisoned pen mystery novel by Dorothy Sayers. I liked both books, with reservations. The 42nd Parallel tells the story of America from the turn of the century to the beginning of World War 1 through the stories of several different characters. When Dos Passos wrote the book, he was very much a Socialist and he cared most about the characters who were poor and also Socialists. The part that annoys me that there are a lot of ethnic slurs through the book. Seeing them is very jarring. Also, there is just one Jewish person. Dos Passos’s USA had no room for African Americans or Latinos. As for Gaudy Night, the mystery itself was one I couldn’t figure out. The main problems were in the early chapter you meet a lot of characters at once and there is a whole chapter where Harriet Vane, who is asked by the university to investigate a series of “poisoned letters”, keeps waffling about her relationship with Lord Whimsey. Does she want to marry him, or do they stay friends?
Just get on with the plot.

I am currently reading the last book of the trilogy, The Big Money as well as reading Alexander’s Bridge by Willa Cather for a buddy read with a friend on Instagram. In between, I read three books, 1919, the second book in the trilogy, and two mystery novels, Lord Edgware Dies by Agatha Christie and Miracle Mile by Margery Allingham. I thought it was a good idea to break up the trilogy by reading mysteries. I first read the Agatha Christie, which was an early Hercule Poirot novel. This book was narrated by Captain Hastings. The mystery itself was good but I think Christie realized later on that Poirot didn’t need a Dr. Watson as a sounding board. Poirot worked best alone. Miracle Mile was more of a thriller with elements of a mystery novel. Albert Campion is in charge of keeping an American judge safe from a deadly mob. The only other book by her I read was Tether’s End and Allingham knows how to ratchet up the suspense. She’s a master of keeping you engaged in the story. Well worth reading.

1919 covers America’s involvement in WW1 but we never get to the front lines. It mostly takes place in Paris. Secondary characters in the first novel like Janey’s brother Joe who quits the Navy to travel on cargo ships and Eveline Hutchins, who is friends with Eleanor Stoddard. Eveline and Eleanor share an apartment in Paris and both work with the Red Cross. Most of the book they go around with a different bunch of American servicemen and reporters to a number of Parisian restaurants and cafes. Towards the end of the novel, the war is over and the start of the peace process begins, with J. Ward Moorehouse, a higher-up with the Red Cross who happens to be staying in the hotel where negotiations are taking place. You keep on waiting for something substantial happening to the characters and brunt of the novel happens in the last third of the book. It leaves off at a devastating end for some characters as the next book takes us to the decadent 1920s.

I admit there are some days when I don’t wind up reading much. Sometimes I wind up watching lots of YouTube. The National Theater’s YouTube channel has been streaming old productions. I watched a large part of the Sondheim 90th birthday celebration on’s YouTube channel. I have enjoyed watching Patrick Stewart reading a different Shakespeare sonnet every day. Sometimes too, you need to take a break from reading.

I have been inspired lately to make book recommendations on Bookstigram (but I put it in my settings that it also posts on Facebook too). I was inspired by actor Graham Mc Tavish who has been making videos of book recommendations on his Instagram page. His recommendations have ranged from fiction to biography and history. I’ve been trying to stay away from very well known books like Catcher in the Rye or The Great Gatsby. Among some of the books I’ve recommended are The Way of All Flesh from Samuel Butler, The Ponder Heart by Eudora Welty, How Green Was My Valley by John Llewellyn, and The Namesake by Lahiri Jhumpi. I try to make the recommendations has varied and random as possible. It keeps me busy and it gives me something to obsess with each day.

How are you guys making out through this era of isolation? Have you been reading? I want to send a virtual hug to all of you. Being quarantined is not easy. I miss eating out, visiting with friends, and going down to visit my family. Stay strong. Keep reading.