Read as I say, don’t read as I read

I saw something somewhere, pretty recently I think, about how COVID-19 has changed and will continue to change our lives a lot, and that all the things people have lost are making them grieve. (My thesis supervisor, if she ever reads this, will die 17 times in succession and then come back from the dead to tell me how ashamed she is of me, for the devolution of both my citation skills and my ability to be precise. Now that I think of it, the professor who taught me how to mark undergraduate essays will have a similar response; I just got about as close as I’ve gotten since sometime around 1994 to starting an essay with, “Since the beginning of time, love / war / family / summink has been difficult / easy / important / summink else.”)

I could find the original source of this overly generalized (by me) claim; but real talk: I don’t want to; the article’s got a lot of, “We know, now, that the stages of grief might not always occur in the order we’ve said they will but they WILL occur,” but I am just not convinced, in part because so many people don’t believe this is serious yet and perhaps won’t until they or someone they like dies; then those mofos will grieve but also wonder why no one made it clear this is a BFD (Bidenese = big fucking deal). While we’ll all almost certainly obsessively hoard toilet paper for the rest of our lives, what each of has lost (even if it’s temporary) is different and we’re different people losing those different things at different stages in our lives.

All this vague mush is to say, last week, listening to Taiko videos boosted my mood and helped me work; this week, it’s making me sad and droopy about not being able to go to my Taiko class; like pretty much the rest of the world, my Taiko class is cancelled until further notice. Yes, I can and do practice at home, both for immediate fitness and life enjoyment reasons; but it’s not really a solitary activity, which is one of the great things about it; I’ve been taking classes for two years now and was just getting to the point where I could sometimes look at my classmates without completely losing my focus. Sigh++++++.

NYRB book cover for Iris Origo's War in Val d"Orcia: An Italian War Diary, 1943-1944 showing the back of a woman all in black sowing a fieldBut listen, I’m not helping myself here. I provided an extremely wise and practical program for reading during the collective collapse of our immune systems followed shortly by the economy and civilization as we know it, but then ran off in the other direction screaming that I didn’t need a break from the realities of human fear and suffering, oh no.

I am reading Iris Origo’s smart, humane and beautifully written War in Val d’Orcia: An Italian War Diary, 1943-1944 because I guess I didn’t feel frightened or claustrophobic enough already. And reading this book was actually fine and good until the King ran away like Sir Robin the not-quite-so-brave-as-Sir-Lancelot and then the Nazis busted Mussolini out of jail; before these things happened, I was feeling rather brave and bolstered by Origo’s pragmatism, courage and amazingly fair commentary on the war being played out two farms over.

Now, I’m searching my stacks of books (which don’t seem nearly extensive enough all of a sudden; I may be on the verge of dropping a whole world of cash I don’t really have ordering books online) looking for something funny and / or magical and / or whimsical to counterbalance this overabundance of historical invasion / combat reality combined with current epidemiological reality.

Included in my list of possible counterpoints to Origo’s war journal is Forster’s  A Room With a View, which I recently bought last-minute as part of my squirreling away of resources for the coming months in our collective storm cellar. But I need something even easier than this just to get into, something that will make me feel like I’m wrapped in a warm fuzzy blanket and eating hot, sustaining soups.

Book cover for Edith Pargeter's Sunrise in the West
You done did me wrong, EP.

Ellis Peters’ Brother Cadfael books did this for me once upon a time and Simenon’s Maigret mysteries still often do. But Peters and I agreed to take a break from our relationship when I read the turgid, dark purple yet somehow thoroughly dull melodrama Sunrise in the West (book the first of The Brothers of Gwynedd quartet); and I’ve too recently read a Simenon to pick up another one, in part because while Maigret the character is lovely, I think Simenon the person may have been a bit of a dink.

I have literally read only two very short poems in the last three days because I’ve been so busy. They were okay but I’ve already completely forgotten them. I have a confession: except for some of Auden’s work, poetry written after about 1680 doesn’t make much sense to me. Bad at citation and a damn philistine to boot! Well, fuck it: experience is good enough for me. And my experience of poetry is this: its soporific qualities are profoundly underrated.

But about real books: I’ve been trying to find a good yarn to get into but alongside my busy-ness, focus is a problem. I’m up and down and all over the place, as I understand everyone is, and I just don’t feel cool enough to sit down and begin a new book. Beginning a new book is a delicate thing at the best of times; sometimes, I’ll fail to begin 10-15 books in a sitting, then just pace my tinyhouse in unrestrained irritation while my husband feeds me consoling bonbons; sometimes books just don’t take, just aren’t ripe yet.

Photo of a cat smelling some stinky-good kimchi on a plate with some avocado toast with books in the background. The author wishes to advise that said cat (Fat Jeoffy) stepped in the avocado toast but she still ate it.
Jeoffy considers the pros (shitting fire-beams at enemies) and cons (mild indigestion) of eating kimchi.

I have a short list of books on my coffee table right now; however, apart from trying to take photos of them and my lunch yesterday, I haven’t yet tried any of them; I’m afraid of letting them and / or myself down. Now is precisely the wrongest of wrong times to do anything to make my small home feel even smaller or worse yet, smallerer.

I am totally able to continue reading War in Val D’Orcia because I’m already 100+ pages in; but I don’t know that it’s a good idea right now to read it faster than at a tired snail’s pace. This is an insoluble pancake indeed.

In your prayers tonight to St. Hamish the Fickle, patron saint of pandemics, pancakes, books and made-up stories, please ask that I find the literary consolation I currently lack. And may St. Hamish grant your wishes (as long as they’re legal and not immoral) as well.

2 Comments Add yours

  1. Rohan Maitzen says:

    Actually the Cadfael mysteries might be just what I need right now: I’ve read only the first two and have been hoarding the rest (I inherited a complete set from a former colleague who was ‘downsizing’). But like you I keep scanning my books and feeling that the right thing is just not there. Rereading has been about as much as I can manage.

    1. Colleen says:

      I hoarded my Cadfaels over several years, just to make sure I’d always have one in an emergency. I would definitely give one a try.

      And, I’ve since corrected many (hopefully all) the typos that were in this post when you read it… It’s a true fact that the one sure way for me to find all my errors is to hit publish!

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