Dragonfruit Flower

Bookends: September 2020

As I see posts about pumpkin spice and cozy sweaters, the highs for the next few days are at or near 100. Autumn is my favorite season everywhere but San Diego. Here it’s wildfire season, and that’s not as fun as leaves changing color and a nip in the air and apple picking and hay rides. But there are a lot of upsides to living in Southern California, too, like seeing dragonfruit flowers on neighborhood walks (see image above).

And no matter what the season, I look forward to books.

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Bookends: August 2020

Parsley hoping some swallowtail butterflies will visit.

As September begins, our county has just been downgraded from the “widespread” to the “substantial” tier of COVID-19 presence, which means some indoor things are opening back up again, some schools are starting in-person instruction, and I’m having flashbacks to June and the weeks preceding a huge jump in cases that put us on the state’s watch list this summer. September, it seems, is the new June, which means October will likely be the new July, and all of that means my family is trying to get our few errands done and then hunker down again before things get worse. But that’s actually okay by me because I’ve realized this month that I don’t miss people. There’s a handful of people I’d not mind seeing and even fewer with whom I actually go out of my way to interact via phone or video chat, but I have no desire to go back to any of the casual, in-the-course-of-business interactions that I spent so much time and energy on pre-pandemic. It turns out I really like spending all of my time with my favorite people, which is quite lucky.

As you might have guessed, during the time I spend not going places and not practicing small-talk, I’ve been reading. As a change of pace, and inspired by Nick Hornby’s Ten Years in the Tub (which I have not yet finished), I’m going to try saying a little more about the books I’ve finished this month rather than just listing the titles. We’ll see how that goes.

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Bookends: July 2020

Although July wasn’t really any better than June, and in some ways it was even worse, I find myself in a better frame of mind at the end of July than I was at the end of June.

For one thing, my cat died. This in itself is a very sad and super-sucky thing that kind of set the tone for the month and made everything much more difficult to handle for a while, but it also helped me put things in perspective a little. There’s this huge, chaotic, awfulness on a macro scale, but at the same time there are micro-moments with my little family that are both closer to my heart and closer to my sphere of influence. This month I’ve started to focus more on those little moments, which helps me avoid a lot of overwhelm.

It also helps that I remembered meditation existed this month and managed to silence the little voice that said meditation apps are stupid and I don’t need them because I already know how to meditate and just need to sit down and do it. I tried out Headspace and found that I quite like it. Their courses addressing specific concerns, issues, or techniques are well done and progress logically, and the ability to select the length of each meditation and listen from the desktop site as well as the app helps me work it into my schedule even when I’m busy. I’ve been meditating daily for most of the month, and it’s really helped me with that “appreciating micro-moments” thing I mentioned.

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Bookends: June 2020

With rising rates of COVID-19 combined with the annual question mark of the flu season (and did you know you can get both at the same time? Fun!), the second half of 2020 and beyond looks a little hairy.

At this point it appears inadvisable to rely on the implementation of common-sense measures, particularly widespread testing, comprehensive contact tracing, financial support for employees to take off work while ill and after proven exposure, guaranteed medical coverage for those who are out of work or who don’t have access to health insurance through their employers, and back-to-school plans that include routine testing and basic safeguards that offices are putting in place, so our family is preparing to batten down the hatches for fall and winter. This includes attempting to get my daughter’s braces removed, making a plan to maintain an inventory of non-perishable foods to avoid exposure in stores and to prepare for shortages, arranging for meaningful remote social interaction (virtual scout troops ftw!), making a book-procurement plan, keeping an eye out for outdoor flu vaccine clinics, and trying to find a working relationship with my near-debilitating existentialism.

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Bookends: May 2020

Late May involved a convergence of paradigm-challenging elements.

There’s COVID-19 and the ongoing stay-at-home order coupled with the gradual easing of restrictions, which brings both a sense of hope that we’re safe to move about more freely and anxiety that we’re no more ready than we were three months ago and the worst is yet to come.

There are the demonstrations in our city and throughout the country in support of addressing and moving towards ending endemic racism and the violence it perpetuates, which brings both hope that there’s the energy and will to bring lasting change and anxiety that the path there will reveal things about ourselves as individuals and as a society that are difficult to reconcile with the stories we’re used to telling ourselves.

And in the midst of all of this, our family has begun a new homeschool history and literature curriculum that brings a more balanced view of the founding and evolution of the United States than I received in school. So for us these real-world events are happening against the backdrop of increased awareness of our country’s history of settler colonialism, enslavement, and genocide alongside our stated ideals of democratic rule, civil liberties, and equal application of justice. On the one hand, it’s comforting to see our current situation in the context of an ongoing development of democratic ideals. On the other, I am more acutely aware of the precariousness of our institutions and the vulnerabilities of our species and I’m adjusting to a new foundation of understanding, which is welcome in the long-term but unsettling in the short-term. Hope and anxiety once again.

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Bookends: April 2020

Over the course of this first full month of California’s stay-at-home order, I’ve grown accustomed to rolling with whatever emotions come up for me each day. Not that I’m adept at it, but at least I expect it. Some days it’s just the constant low-level anxiety about food supply chains and asymptomatic transmission and armed protesters, but most days there’s some Big Emotion that pops up, like “persistent-panic-attack” or “crying-because-the-coffee’s-so-good” or “dear-god-have-you-always-chewed-so-loudly?” Knowing this is coming helps, even if I’m not sure what it’s going to be.

Having a routine also helps, which is nearly a cliche, but it’s totally true at our house. Every weekday at 7am, my kids and I take turns cajoling each other into our makeshift exercise room to do a Fitness Blender video together. It’s rare that we’re all excited about working out, but so far there’s always been at least one of us enthusiastic enough to pull the other two in.

Then there’s the morning block: feed the sourdough starter, wipe the front of the fridge, coffee on the patio, breakfast, fight about homeschool. Lunch is at noon, then more homeschool and/or music lessons, maybe a jog around the neighborhood, and dinner prep. Dinner’s around 5:30 or 6, followed by Mad Libs, kitten videos, or an episode of “The Office.” Bedtime routine starts around 7:30 with read-aloud during toothbrushing, then we gather for “grateful, sorry, and intend.” Lights out at 8:30 for the kids and around 9:30 or 10:00 for the grownups, although I’m contrary and fudge my bedtime a bit to get more alone time.

Weekends are for housecleaning and watching movies and social visits via videoconference and scrapping the routine for two days so we’re grateful for it come Monday morning.

My spouse and I asked the children at dinner last night how they felt about not doing all of the things outside the house that we used to. Both said they don’t really miss their outside activities. They still have their music lessons (virtual now) and online classes and virtual get-togethers with friends and family, only now they have more time to play or write or put together scavenger hunts or make LEGO stop-motion videos. They miss going to play basketball at the park and seeing their friends at P.E. class, but overall they seem happy. They’re creatures of habit, though, and I’m a little concerned about how we’ll all adjust in June when online classes and orchestra wrap up and we still (probably) can’t or don’t feel comfortable traveling.

But like we do with the emotions that shift day to day, we’ll take that as it comes.

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Bookends: December 2019 – February 2020

Mid-December through mid-January were weeks spent coming down with, fighting, or recovering from various colds and flus (or maybe just one month-long ebbing-and-flowing virus). I did a lot more reading in bed than I usually do, and because I’ve built up some impressive whining skills in my 43 years, my family gave me more space than they usually do. Not all bad, but I’d prefer to be well.

These past few months saw a lot of books, both fiction and nonfiction, about violence (war, murder, sexual assault), suicide, mental illness, and adoption. I tend to gravitate towards darker books, so part of this is my doing, but several came to me from the list of National Book Award finalists, which was a pretty bleak collection, subject-wise, this year. Made for some interesting reviews for my Christmas reading challenges.

But now spring is almost upon us and there’s nothing but puppies and picnics in the park and sunshine and rainbows on the horizon (provided I don’t look at the news).

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Bookends: November 2019

Our November was filled with mad science, unexpected reunions with family, and more rain than we usually see around these parts. With all of that going on, December snuck up on me, but there’s still time for a November Bookends post!

Visual interest: Stop chasing the birds!

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Finished in November (11):

The Girl in Red by Christina Henry

Ninth House by Leigh Bardugo

The Devil in Silver by Victor LaValle (audiobook)

The Night Circus by Erin Morgenstern

A Nearly Normal Family by M.T. Edvardsson (audiobook)

A Head Full of Ghosts by Paul Tremblay (audiobook)

The Other Americans by Laila Lalami (DNF)

The Cabin at the End of the World by Paul Tremblay (audiobook)

The Gap of Time by Jeanette Winterson (DNF)

Recursion by Blake Crouch

The Feather Thief by Kirk Wallace Johnson (audiobook)

Currently Reading:

In the Garden of Beasts by Erik Larson

On Earth We’re Briefly Gorgeous by Ocean Vuong

Black Ships Before Troy by Rosemary Sutcliffe (I was reading this aloud with my son but he finished it on his own one afternoon. Now I need to finish it and give him some language arts assignments about it.)

To-Read for December:

All of my library holds came in at the same time, so here’s what I’ve got to read this month, not counting the ebook and audiobook holds but including a grapefruit:

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And I have some middle-grade novels I’d like to work on. And my spouse is getting me a stack of library books for birthday/Christmas. I appear to have my work cut out for me this month.

What’s on your nightstand this month?

Are you on Litsy? So am I! Come visit! @ImperfectCJ

Bookends: October 2019

Ah, October! Santa Ana winds, a three-day jaunt to the desert (the “real” desert, not the coastal Southern California desert), taking my kids to the thrift store to buy costume components…and reading a few books, including a decent stab at the October Dewey’s Readathon. I posted on Litsy during the Readathon. That’s where you can find most of my updates between Bookends posts these days, if you’d like more of that kind of thing.

A little visual interest before the book lists. This is The World Famous Crochet Museum in a converted drive-thru photo developing place in Joshua Tree, California:

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Finished in October (12):

The Great Believers by Rebecca Makkai

Chime by Franny Billingsley

24/6: The Power of Unplugging One Day a Weekby Tiffany Shlain

The Farm by Joanne Ramos

Ohio by Stephen Markley (audio)

The Changeling by Victor LaValle (audio)

Black Leopard, Red Wolf by Marlon James

The Odyssey by Homer (Emily Wilson translation, read-aloud with my children)

Less by Andrew Sean Greer (audio)

Uprooted by Naomi Novik (audio)

Big Little Lies by Liane Moriarty (audio)

Crooked Kingdom by Leigh Bardugo

 

Currently Reading:

The Girl in Red by Christina Henry

The Existentialist’s Survival Guide by Gordon Marino

Black Ships Before Troy by Rosemary Sutcliffe (read-aloud with my son, who will still snuggle with me on the couch if I read to him)

To-Read for November:

Subject to change, as always, but here are some I particularly want to hit:

The Night Circus by Erin Morgenstern

The Overstory by Richard Powers

Ninth House by Leigh Bardugo

And I have some middle-grade novels I’d like to work on.

What’s on your nightstand this month?

Bookends: September 2019

This month’s book totals are a little inflated due to the picture books and early readers I read for the Birth and Beyond Reading Challenge (#BBRC) on Litsy.

Still, even counting only the “grown-up” books, this month was pretty solid. I credit staying up past midnight, adding caffeine back into my diet, and ignoring the housework.

Kids’ Books (12):

Rude Cakes by Rowboat Watkins

Chase’s Space Case by Nickelodeon Publishing

The Case of the Scaredy Cats by Crosby Bonsall

Jump by David McPhail

Golden Retriever by Charlie George

Saturday Belongs to Sara by Cathy Warren

Fast Food by Saxton Freymann

The Egyptian Cinderella by Shirley Climo

You Silly Goose by Ellen Stoll Walsh

Victor Vito and Freddie Vasco by Laurie Berkner

Up and Down (The Boy, #4) by Oliver Jeffers

Tar Beach by Faith Ringgold

Grown-up Books (10):

Inland by Téa Obreht

The Testaments by Margaret Atwood

Night Falls Fast: Understanding Suicide by Kay Redfield Jamison

The First 20 Minutes: Surprising Science Reveals How We Can: Exercise Better, Train Smarter, Live Longer by Gretchen Reynolds

Moody Bitches: The Truth About the Drugs You’re Taking, The Sleep You’re Missing, The Sex You’re Not Having, and What’s Really Making You Crazy by Julie Holland

Oksana, Behave! by Maria Kuznetsova (audio)

The Perfect Nanny by Leïla Slimani (audio)

The Road to Unfreedom: Russia, Europe, America by Timothy Snyder

The Handmaid’s Tale by Margaret Atwood

The Lager Queen of Minnesota by J. Ryan Stradal

Currently Reading:

Chime by Franny Billingsley

24/6: The Power of Unplugging One Day a Week by Tiffany Schlain

And I’m still working on Emily Wilson’s Translation of Homer’s The Odyssey.

To-Read for October:

October is a bit up in the air. I have a couple of books out from the library that I’ll probably start on:

The Farm by Joanne Ramos

Ohio by Stephen Markley (on audio)

I’m due for another Libro.fm credit, so I plan to get another audiobook after 2pm on October 5.

I hope to be seasonal and pick up some scary reads. I prefer literary, psychological, bizarre/unsettling and/or gothic horror/suspense to blood-and-guts, straight-up genre stuff. Authors like Daphne duMaurier (The Birds), Shirley Jackson (The Haunting of Hill House), Lauren Beukes (Broken Monsters), Kelly Link (Get in Trouble), Gin Phillips (Fierce Kingdom), Sarah Waters (The Little Stranger).

Any suggestions?

What’s on your nightstand this month?