Friday, July 31, 2020

A Month In The Life: July 2020

Another month of mostly staying home down! I would hope that anyone reading this doesn't need to have it said again, but please, y'all, wear masks when you're out and about in public. I'm sure we all would like to get back to something resembling normal-ish life again soon and the way we do that is wearing masks to keep this disease from continuing to explode out of control.

In Books...
  • The Borgias and Their Enemies: This was very paint-by-numbers feeling...a lot of "this happened, and then that happened.". Italian politics of the era were extremely complicated and Hibbert did not do a particularly good job of illuminating them. His portraits of the the three most prominent members of the family (Rodrigo, Cesare, and Lucrezia) did not do much to make them come alive, though I do have to say I am now very curious to learn more about Lucrezia!
  • The Residue Years: This was the book club pick for the month, and it did not grab me at first. But the further I went with it, the more I was drawn into this autobiographical novel about a Black mother and son living in Portland in the 1990s. Mitchell S. Jackson tells the story of Grace and Champ, both caught in the drug trade, with powerful, beautifully crafted prose and just incredible character-building. This is a great book, but be warned that it is a downer.
  • Tampa: Wow was this not for me. It's like a cross between Lolita and American Psycho, but with none of the sophisticated, elegant prose of the former or devastatingly sharp satire of the latter. A beautiful woman in her mid-20s becomes a middle school teacher in order to get access to the 14 year-old boys she is exclusively attracted to so she can make one her victim. It makes grasps at saying something about our cultural obsession with youth and beauty but was mostly just full of sex in a way that just felt gross because of the whole statutory rape thing. 
  • Hidden Valley Road: I was a Psychology major in college, so I'm predisposed to like books in the general subject area, so this was on my radar even before Oprah picked it for her book club! It's the true story of a family from Colorado Springs, the Galvins, who have 12 children (10 boys, two girls), six of whom develop schizophrenia, and traces their history as well as the greater history of treatment for schizophrenia in the US. It's very solid, both well-researched and well-told, but never rose to greatness and kind of loses steam at the end. 
  • Cat's Eye: I will read anything Margaret Atwood writes. This book tells the story of an artist, Elaine, who returns to Toronto, where she spent much of her childhood before moving to Canada's west coat. She finds herself immersed in memories of her youthful friendship with three other girls, most especially Cordelia, who was the ringleader of an intense campaign of cruelty against her. I've always found tales of frenemies compelling, and Atwood is just a phenomenally talented writer and I never wanted it to end.
  • Pope Joan: The Catholic Church does not allow for female priests, but for hundreds of years it was reported that there had, ever so briefly, been a female pope during the Dark Ages. Most (but not all) historians now seem to believe that Pope Joan never existed, but this book hypothesizes how such a person might have existed. It's a decent book, but never more than that...everyone feels a little one-dimensional and I never got very invested in either the plot or Cross's prose.

In Life...
  • Special session: When your state loses $1.15 billion of its budget, the only way to deal with that is to bring in the legislators to figure out where to make the least damaging possible cuts. This was my fourth special session, but the first one where the Legislative Building was effectively closed: only electeds, staff, and press were allowed inside. So at least I didn't have to commute and was at home in my jammies as discussions went on past midnight.

One Thing:

I have often seriously contemplated canceling my subscription to The New York Times, but whatever my disagreements may be with some of their editorial decisions, their reporting is usually top-notch and they also run columns like the By The Book series, interviews with prominent figures (usually but not always writers) about the way they approach books and reading.

Gratuitous Pug Picture: 

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