Monday, May 4, 2020

Reading in Quarantine

                   woman covering her face with white book

For some, a good quarantine read is a book that contains absolutely zero hints of sickness, loneliness, or the end of the world. For others a good quarantine read is a book with so much sickness, horror, and death, that it makes the current crisis look like a walk in the park. With a gas mask.
And then there's me.
Lately, I've found myself reaching for books that deal with themes of isolation and survival, Dystopian books, and books that either deal lightly with a plague subplot or deal heavily with a plague that looks nothing like COVID-19.

Some people read to escape, some read for perspective, and others read to process. I've got book recommendations for everyone.

For those of you looking for literary escapes, I have some vivid fantasies for you. But first, here's a cozy song by Morgan Wallen about staying inside with your Love, "til someone needs medical help or the magnolias bloom."

        The Raven Boys (The Raven Cycle, #1)  Beyond the Deepwoods  (The Edge Chronicles: The Twig Saga #1)  The Night Circus by Erin Morgenstern (2012-05-24)

1. The Raven Boys by Maggie Stiefvater
The Raven Boys, book one of a four-book series, is a beautifully-written YA paranormal fantasy about the only normal girl in a family of psychics and a boy who desperately wants to find an ancient Welsh king. It's intricate and vivid with colorful characters and enchanting magic. If you're looking for something transportive and nostagically beautiful with a restful, meandering plot and lovely characters, this is a good choice. The audiobooks, narrated by Will Patton are, in my opinion, the best way to experience the story. I'm just about to embark on my third run-through, and I'd love the company.

2. The Edge Chronicles by Paul Stewart and Chris Riddell
The Edge Chronicles is an action-packed Middle Grade series set in the land of The Edge. The Edge being a fantastical world filled with all sorts of creatures and cultures, alternative sets of scientific laws, and corresponding technologies and politics. Beyond the Deepwoods is the first of the Chronicles and the first of three installments that follow Twig, an aspiring Sky Pirate. The larger series continues with further trilogies and standalones which follow members of Twig's line (father, son, etc.). The Chronicles feature impressive world-building complemented by quirky illustrations throughout. If you're looking for something to read aloud with your kids, this is the way to go. 

3. The Night Circus by Erin Morgenstern
Two old magicians each select, mark, and train a child for a years-long magical duel between two schools of magic in this delectable historical fantasy novel. A Romance in more ways than one, this story, and the quiet duel that inexorably drives it forward, finds its stage in a traveling circus that's only open after dark. It's one of the most exquisite, vivid reading experiences I've ever had. Escape into this world, written with such real-life magic you can touch, smell, and taste it. I dare you.

If escape is what you need right now, these stories might be the way to go. But alternatively, I recommend picking up and rereading your desert island books: the books you know and love that you'd take with you to a hypothetical deserted island; the books you've read enough times to make them comfortable places to fall back on--these can be the very best soul-balms in times of crisis.

Processing Aids
If you're like me, and you try to reach for books with just the right themes and feels to help you process what you're going through, here are a few I've found helpful during this season. But first, here's a song Luke Combs just released called "Six Feet Apart."

                        The Martian The Host (The Host, #1)
                        Z for Zachariah Skyward (Skyward, #1)

1. The Martian by Andy Weir
Speaking of desert island books, here's one of mine. Most of you have probably seen the movie starring Matt Damon, which is fantastic, but the book is just on a whole other level of nerdy, science-y deliciousness. I have never read a work of speculative fiction more unapologetically technical, but it really works. Mark Watney, alone on Mars with nothing but science and his sense of humor to keep him alive is exactly what I needed during self-isolation, and you might too. 

2. The Host by Stephanie Meyer
Yes, Stephanie Meyer wrote Twilight. No, The Host is nothing like Twilight, It's adult, rather than YA, and it's easily her best work--full of lonely, desert ambiance. The Host follows Wanderer (the alien parasite) and Melanie Stryder (the host) as they navigate the complications of sharing a human body with all the emotions, memories, and family members that come with it. It's spin on both the Dystopian and Alien-Takeover subgenres that lands in a simultaneous acknowledgement of human wickedness and defense of free will even when wickedness is the most likely outcome. For me, rereading this during lockdown was the absolute right decision. 

3. Z for Zachariah by Robert C. O'Brien
This book is quietly disturbing in the very best of ways. Set in a world irradiated in the wake of nuclear war, this story features a girl, hidden away in a valley, who believes she might be the last human alive, until a man appears wearing the only existing radiation-proof suit in the world. It's isolation and survival, risk and kindness, evil and goodness when there's absolutely no one around to judge your actions. I'll be thinking about this one for a while. 

4. Skyward by Brandon Sanderson
I finished this one while writing this post and couldn't Not squeeze it in here. The first of a YA sci-fi series of which only Skyward and Starsight have yet been published, Skyward is the story of the daughter of a coward, a pariah in an underground culture fighting a losing battle on a hostile planet against a mysterious alien race. Spensa knows social isolation better than most currently-quarantined humans on this planet, and she will do anything in or out of her power to fly with the DDF. The pathos of this novel surprised me right along with the tense, intricate dogfights Sanderson writes with such dexterity. Highly recommend.


Okay, crazies, watch this quarantine music video for "Level of Concern" by Twenty-One Pilots and proceed with caution.

        Station Eleven Cinder (The Lunar Chronicles, #1) Illuminae (The Illuminae Files, #1) 

1. Station Eleven by Emily St. John Mandel
First of all, I didn't particularly like this book, but it is quite popular currently, and its narrative spins around a civilization-destroying flu. I also don't have any particular reasons for disliking it goes. Station Eleven is a unique narrative that feels like an oral history, spread across decades before and after a killer flu. It features a traveling Shakespearean troupe and explores the idea that art of all sorts will endure as long as humans do, even when nearly everything else falls, because "Survival is Insufficient." Lovers of Shakespeare, in particular, will appreciate the references and motifs present throughout this work. 

2. Cinder by Marissa Meyer
Cyborg Cinderella vs. a plague and an evil stepmother and Lunar Politics. You don't need to know any more. This YA novel is the first of a series that retools not only Cinderella but also Red Riding Hood, Rapunzel, and Snow White, in that order (Cinder, Scarlet, Cress, Winter). Cinderella is a cyborg, the wolf is genetically engineered, Rapunzel is a hacker, and so on. If you're willing to face the mostly-lighthearted plague subplot, this is a family-friendly, fun ride with lots of quirky twists on the original tales. 

3. Illuminae by Amie Kaufman and Jay Kristoff
Did someone say Space Opera with a psychotic AI and a killer plague? No one? Must be hearing things. "DON'T LOOK AT ME." Sorry. I just reread this, and it was better than I remembered, and now I want to make everyone read it too. Illuminae and its sequels Gemina and Obsidio are unique in the literary world. Told in a collection of files, IMs, video transcripts, AI core readings, and more, this YA novel (warning: mature content), is the first part of the case the Illuminae group brings against evil space corporation, Beitech, responsible for atrocities committed against a remote mining planet and the horrific and unlikely events that follow. Equal parts bloody(ish) action and persistent humor, I love this story and its characters for their survivor spirit and all-around badassery. Highly, highly recommend. 

         The Stand Wanderers The Plague

For those of you looking for even-harder-core plague content, I'll cautiously recommend
The Stand by Stephen King (weaponized flu), Wanderers by Chuck Wendig (sleepwalking and a plague with concerning scientific similarities to the coronavirus), and The Plague by Albert Camus (bubonic plague). Even though I haven't mustered the nerve to pick these up yet, I've heard good things from sources I trust. If plague and death is what you're looking for, I don't think you can go wrong with these titles.

Alright, I think that's enough for now. Happy reading and stay healthy, friends. 

Wednesday, March 18, 2020

I Have Some Thoughts

Hope for the best, plan for the worst.
I honestly think that's the best way to approach this pandemic.
I think we all need to keep both the hoping and the planning in healthy balance.

To those of you who erred on the side of hoping for the best:
I am very sorry if you're struggling to find supplies like toilet paper, diapers, and specific grocery items, but it doesn't help you or anyone else to go online and call all the people who stocked up irrational, panicked, and stupid--even if you're right, which, in a great many cases, you are not.
Once upon a time I took for granted that I could run to the store at any time for whatever I needed, and then I ran out of toilet paper in a snowstorm and had to shovel my driveway and then proceed to slip and slide on unsafe roads all the way to the grocery store, all while needing to pee.
I have not made that mistake since.
That to say: stocking up on supplies, whenever you are able to, is a good practice even on sunny days with smooth roads ahead. You never know when a bad storm or a virus or some other large or small disaster will keep you from getting what you need and want. I don't think it's ever a good idea to take your access to goods and services for granted. I know that might not be helpful to hear right now, but it's something to keep in mind. 
People who stocked up for impending crisis and possible quarantine are not stupid. Some went a bit overboard in their anxiety, but even they aren't stupid. Just human. 
And I think a lot of us planner-aheaders are willing to share our excesses if people would stop bashing us online long enough to ask for help. Right now, I think a lot of people who are willing to share are afraid to admit we have some excess because of the unkindness from our friends and family in our social media feeds every day.
Speaking of friends and family, I know you may not be concerned for yourself, but please be kind to those who are. The at-risk population: the elderly, the already-sick -- they're not expendable.
I have seen so much "Only the old people are dying, so I don't care," rhetoric that I want to be sick. 

I hope you wouldn't walk into your grandparents' house with the flu.
I hope you wouldn't come to work with a fever.
I hope you wash your hands multiple times a day every day of your life.

What's being asked of you, in the face of this highly infectious virus that's, to some unknown degree, more severe than the flu, is that you extend to the grandparents of strangers the same courtesy I imagine you'd extend to your own elderly loved ones. Right now, that means social distancing, and I know that's both an emotional and monetary hardship for a lot of people, but it's not forever. We might never know exactly how many lives we saved by taking these measures, but we will know exactly how many we didn't. 
Please leave your attitude at the door. Please recognize that there are very valid human fears involved in all of this. Please ask yourself whether you're healthfully hoping for the best, or just channeling your own valid fear into denial. And please, please ask for help if you need it. 

To those of you who erred on the side of planning for the worst:
I don't have too much to share with you that you don't already know. You know your anxieties are running too high. You know some of your actions could be hurting other people. You know you have more toilet paper than you can use this month. I submit to you that looking for ways to bless others with your preparedness will help you as well as them. I truly think it will bring you joy and loosen the tightness in your chest. 
If you're currently working from home and still getting paid, please consider setting aside the money you would have been spending on gas and coffee and take-out and all those events that were canceled, and sharing it with those who are out of work, not getting paid, and not sure how they're going to make rent this month. Think too of the single parents and the small businesses, tenants living on your properties, and those struggling with depression in isolation.
Please let your mind dwell on opportunities for compassion rather than fear, for your own sake as much as anyone else's.

I guess what I'm trying to say, to everyone, is let's be kind to each other. Let's help each other, get through this together, and learn as much as we can from this season.

Coming soon on my blog: Book Recommendations for Isolation.

Monday, January 27, 2020

That Time You Made Me Read Your Favorites

                     person reading book
If you're wondering what happened to my last blog post, the one you undoubtedly meant to go back and read over and over, I accidentally deleted it, and even after doing much internet research about how to get it back, I could not. Sad.

Moving on.

Back in October, many moons ago, I asked my friends on Facebook to tell me your favorite books, to nominate them in comments, and then to let the likes determine which were the top five favorites of my friend pool.

Make sense?

Probably not. Here's the post from October 4th:

"This is Your Chance to MAKE me read your favorite book!!! But wait, there’s RULES.
The Rules For Me: I must pick five titles from your recommendations and read them all in the month of November. I must take into account the number of times a book is recommended as well as the number of likes on each recommendation. I will then talk about each of these books in a blog post and shout out the recommender.
The Rules For You: Recommendations Must be Fiction, under 600 pages, and Must be something you LOVED and think I will love as well. Must not be part of a Massive Series that I will then take 12 years to complete. "

I then waited a month, selected the winners with only a Very Little Bias (I counted my own likes toward the winners, Sue me), and posted this:

"I'm here to announce the winners of the Make Abby Read Books in November Challenge otherwise known as Reading by Coercion. These titles were the nominations that received the most likes and seconds on my original post. They are as follows:

1) The Indiscretions of Archie by PG Wodehouse, recommended by Philip Bunn

2) A Canticle for Leibowitz by Walter M. Miller, recommended by Christopher Hamilton

3) The Ocean at the End of the Lane by Neil Gaiman, recommended by Danielle Hines

4) A Pilgrim's Regress by C.S. Lewis, recommended by Rodney Dowty

5) The Tenant of Wildfell Hall by Anne Bronte, recommended by R.e. Stinnette

Thank you so much for these recommendations! I have committed to read these titles this month, and putting out a blog post with my thoughts whenever I finish."

False. No. I only broke 25% of my promise. I did, in fact, read every single one of these books during the month of November, and not a day later. I am, in fact, giving you a blog post about it. It's just late, a fact which Christopher Hamilton so graciously reminded me.
Not that I forgot. I would never. But I have to admit, telling anyone what I think of their very favorite books is SCARY STUFF, PEOPLE. I have been for sure procrastinating. For sure.

Not that any of the books were bad. They weren't. And most were blessedly short, so that was nice too.

*Deep Breath* Here we go.

Image result for indiscretions of archie

To The Indiscretions of Archie by PG Wodehouse, I gave five out of five stars.
This was my first taste of Wodehouse, and while his voice and style are not what I would normally reach for, I had Such a grand time with this book. I loved to hate Archie. I loved to watch him fumble, and, err, and act selfishly, and ultimately end up successful, loved, and a blessing to others despite himself. This book is ultimately, I think, about the Common Grace God gives all of us: that stuff that mitigates some of our flubs, and adds beauty and hilarity back into the world despite us.

To A Canticle for Leibowitz by Walter M. Miller, I gave four out of five stars, and for this I am ashamed. The whole way through this post-apocalyptic story about an order of monks, this commentary on post-modernism, etc. I couldn't help but think I'd enjoy it so much more if I got it. Mostly I just wanted Dr. Mitchell or maybe Dr. Grewell there explaining the whole thing to me. My lack of enjoyment translated to my own lack of philosophical versedness. And I truly didn't Dislike it. I had a good time watching about 25% go over my head. If I hadn't seen what was going over my head, I probably would have rated this a three. Solid like.

The Ocean at the End of the Lane

To The Ocean at the End of the Lane by Neil Gaiman, I gave five stars. I was pleasantly surprised since I didn't particularly love The Graveyard Book, which I read earlier in the year. This book is a lightly-fantastical story about a man returning to his childhood home and all the memories that come rushing back like the tide from the ocean that probably might not exist in real life at the end of his lane. Or maybe it does. Maybe it's in that bucket by the porch. Anyways. I didn't love it in that 100% way so many of my friends do, but I did think it was sad and sweet and captured so much about childhood and its magic and the way we forget it. Would recommend. Would reread. Likely to love more in a couple years.

To A Pilgrim's Regress by C. S. Lewis I gave five out of five stars, but only because he takes the opportunity in the afterward (or the forward, one of the wards at any rate) to acknowledge and comment on the weaknesses in his story. I thought that was just So self aware and so Lewis and I loved it for everything that it was: a very young man's personal reaction to A Pilgrim's Progress by John Bunyan and the resulting unapologetic fanfiction. This was the very first book he wrote after his conversion, and as such, I loved it. I also loved it because like Lewis, I Did Not love A Pilgrim's Progress, and I love that we have that in common. I will say, for this book to really make sense, I would recommend reading both A Pilgrim's Progress by John Bunyan, and Surprised by Joy by C. S. Lewis (his autobiographical conversion story) first. I do not think I would have enjoyed this without that context.

The Tenant of Wildfell Hall (Oxford World's Classics)

And finally, to The Tenant of Wildfell Hall by Anne Bronte, I gave five out of five stars.
I really loved this just as I have loved everything by every Bronte except Villette by Charlotte. I did not love Villette. I thought it read like a first, first draft of Jane Eyre. But anyway. Wildfell Hall was the one book of these five that was long, but I did not mind at all. It's about a woman who, in the Victorian Era, had the nerve to leave her wicked husband and hide in the country where rumors and unwelcome romance follow her. I was hooked on every word. All the intrigue. All the assumptions. All the scandal. Eek! So good.

And that is all. Thank you all so much if you nominated a book or voted or sat silently creeping in the corner. This was fun, and I would do it again 10/10.

What about you? Have you let friends force-feed you their favorites? How did that go? Leave a comment below, and tell me all about it.