What I Read in Quarantine

This title is a little bit of a misnomer, because it assumes that quarantine is coming to an end, and I remain unconvinced. I could be up here working out of my guest room turned pseudo-office until the middle of September for all I know. I gave up thinking that the end of a stay-at-home order meant the actual end. I'm learning that it's merely the start date of a new one. And I know I don't speak for everyone, but I don't mind staying home, so I'm fine with it.

Anyway, I guess I should say "what I have read in quarantine so far, but honestly there will probably be more because who knows when I'll leave this house." Seems kind of long though.

It took me a minute to stop mentally wandering at first, but once I got into a groove with this staying home business, I started really cranking out some reading. Here's how it went down:


The Great Husband Hunt - Laurie Graham

If you don't mind hating your protagonist, this is a really delightful read. Poppy Minkel is honestly detestable, but man, she lives an interesting life and the writing is so so good. The book begins with her repressed childhood, immediately after her father is lost on the Titanic and follows her hijinks through marriage, motherhood, transatlantic living, and numerous poor decisions funded by -- get this -- a mustard inheritance. 

Her mom and aunt are total bishes, which probably contributes to Poppy growing up to be a ding-dong, but this book is highly enjoyable. 


American Wife - Curtis Sittenfeld

In my opinion, this book should be considered a classic. It is loosely based on the life of Barbara Bush and it's frankly riveting. I've read it three times now, and it's a page-turner every time. 

Like BB, the novel's protagonist - Alice - is involved in a car accident that kills her maybe / sort-of boyfriend in the fall of their senior year in high school. This guilt and wonder for what could have been follows her for the rest of her life. She later marries a charismatic and charming wannabe politician (Ol' George W, it seems) who manages to stumble accidentally into the office of the President. 

Five out of five. It's a good read. 


Animal, Vegetable, Miracle - Barbara Kingsolver

Okay, if you go to the amazon page for this, there is a lot of criticism over the tone, which for some folks read as condescending. I frankly disagree, and this is by far, the best book I've read all year. 

Barbara Kingsolver tends to write quite a bit about plants and animals in her fiction, but this book was a sort of memoir, chronicling a year in which her family committed to eating only food that they grew themselves or could source locally. There are unpleasant facts about the impacts of food travel and factory farming impacts our world, which I think is the bit some folks took personally. Anyway, I literally laid in my bed far into the dark reading about canning tomatoes and plucking fresh carrots from the ground and 👏 I 👏am 👏 inspired. 

The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks - Rebecca Skloot

I've been meaning to read this one for at least a decade - it's been a bestseller for as long, anyway - and I'm glad it finally landed in my hands. I borrowed it from Ryan's mom, who is borrowing it from his sister, and I'm glad I could squeak in between the borrowing for a couple days to finally read it. 

Long story short, Henrietta Lacks was a 31-year old woman in 1951. She developed an aggressive form of cervical cancer that took her life very quickly, leaving her 5 young children without a mother. Doctors took cell samples without her consent, and those cells are very special because they are the first immortal cells in history, meaning they continue to grow and split and grow and split infinitely even though Henrietta is long dead. They have been marketed and sold for decades, and are responsible for the polio vaccine, among other. Here's the kicker though -- her family never knew, has never been compensated, and while pharmaceutical companies have entire businesses built on the distribution of these cells, her own children cannot afford basic health insurance.

Honestly, I found the actual writing to be mediocre, but the story is insane. I consumed the entire thing in two days. 


Revolutionary Road - Richard Yates

You now that I think American Wife should be a classic, but Revolutionary Road is an actual classic. Perhaps the most honest and resonating book I've ever read. And because that is true, it's also rather dismal. It's not a happy story and is not served with a happy ending. 

Frank and April are a young couple with two kids living in the suburbs in the 1950s. Their know their dreams are dying as they sink into mid-life, and it seems to give them panic. Frank has a secure but boring job. April is clearly unhappy with the monotony of her housewife life. I feel these things -- you know the fire you feel in your twenties when you can do anything and it's all in front of you? Well, I think that fire was burning out for Frank and April and they became feverish and slightly hysterical to stoke it a bit longer. 

Richard Yates does a much clearer job of describing those feelings -- and that's why he's published and I'm just writing about it on my blog. Ha!


Also read this month: 

The Poisonwood Bible - Barbara Kingsolver
A wonderful book that I've read a handful of times. If you haven't, I recommend it very much. It follows a radical preacher who takes his family to the Congo in the 1960s when shit is hitting the fan personally and politically. 
Water for Elephants - Sara Gruen
Some cliche writing, but an enjoyable story nonetheless about a young veterinarian that worked for a traveling circus in the 1930s. 
The Secret Life of Bees - Sue Monk Kidd
I've read this before and loved it, but this time I was just kind of bored. Probably because I knew how it ends. I'll revert to my original first read review: it's quite good. A 14-year old girl flees her shitbox dad and winds up living with some sisters named May, June and August during a summer of civil unrest. She's white, the sisters are black, and that seems to be a problem in the 60's era South. 

I see now that I've spent much of this quarantine in the past. 1930 - 1960, it seems. I guess it's true what they say about reading being escapism. I'll be leaving 2020 in reality. 

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