Book and cup of tea on a table in front of a fireplace

Reading in the Time of Corona

So, you think you might be hanging out in your house for the next few weeks or even months!  Here are some books suggestions that may just get you through the tough times.

American Dirt by Jeanine Cummins—Normally when I begin a new book, I purposely do not read any reviews because I want to judge for myself the quality of the writing, the plot, the characters, and the point of view. For Jeanine Cummins’ novel, American Dirt, though, I did not have a choice. Oprah chose it for her book club, which engendered much controversy among Latinx writers. I read this novel so I could intelligently discuss the issues. I found it gripping, well written, and difficult to stop thinking about, practically the definition of a good read.

Lydia and her 8 year son Lucas escape from their middle class home in Acapulco after a cartel known as The Jardineros murders their extended family at a party. It’s only by accident that Lydia and her son are not also killed. That is the very basis of the plot. It is much more involved, including the fact that she knows the head of the cartel without knowing who he really was. Throughout the entire book, she is looking over her shoulder, watching out for him or his many followers. We follow Lydia and Lucas as they make their way very slowly to El Norte, at first on their own, and then befriending two teenage sisters who are also on the run.  We meet many characters and learn their stories.  To me it seemed very realistic and I’m sure some of the tales in this odyssey were based on reality, which is even scarier.

Yes it is true that Jeanine Cummins is not Mexican, although her father is Puerto Rican. This has been a source of contention for many Latinx writers. If you would like to read these posts, here are some examples from National Public Radio. But please, read the book first and judge for yourself.

Mobituaries: Great Lives Worth Reliving by Mo Rocca—If you have never heard of Mo Rocca, here’s some background. Rocca is an American humorist, journalist, and podcaster. You may have seen his work on CBS Sunday Morning as well as numerous children’s shows.  The title tells it all. It is not about their deaths, it is about their lives. He covers famous people, but aspects of their lives that you have never heard about.  Did you know that Marlene Dietrich was not only a famous German film star of the 1940’s and 1950’s, but was also an anti-Nazi activist, even though the Nazi government offered her money and fame to return to Germany?  She not only performed for the American troops, but risked her life as well. 

Rocca’s “mobituaries” cover historical figures like those who have New Jersey turnpike rest stops named after them (amaze your friends with turnpike trivia next time you’re on a trip!). He also covers the death of movements and fads like disco and the codpiece. And he does not leave out those unfortunate celebrities who died on the wrong day, i.e. Audrey Hepburn who died on the same day as Bill Clinton’s inauguration, or Farrah Fawcett, whose death was eclipsed by Michael Jackson’s death. Rocca has much to say about this overlooked actress.

I listened to the audio version and it was a treat to hear him narrate this fascinating book. I am often asked for interesting audio books for a trip while traveling with someone. This would be a perfect choice. And if you are spurred on for more of Mo Rocca, try his podcast, Mobituraries.

Chances Are by Richard Russo—Richard Russo, as anyone who knows me will testify, is from my home town, Gloversville, NY, about which he has written in many of his works. His sense of place, his characters, and his rich writing style make for an engaging reading experience. This novel, however takes place in Martha’s Vineyard over a summer weekend. Three college friends, Lincoln, Teddy, and Mickey meet once again after forty-four years. Even though their lives are very different, they share a common history: the memory of a girl they all knew and loved, and the mystery of what happened to her.  The development of these three characters, as well as their relationship, makes for a very satisfying read.

Seven Days of Us by Francesca Hornak-It is Christmas and the Birch family will finally get together, but this time is different. Daughter, Olivia, a doctor working in Africa amidst a plague, will be coming home but the family must be quarantined for 7 days. Secrets and back stories abound in this character driven page turning family novel. YAY a quarantine book…how timely!