How are you? How are you coping with being confined to a life lived within such a small radius?
The subject comes up all the time…over and over…
And it’s no wonder.
Those of you who have been very active on social media have witnessed the explosion of content created in reaction to all of the empty time we now have on our hands, and to the gravity of this period in history. I don’t use Twitter, or Instagram, or Snapchat because I’ve found that Facebook (and Messenger, through which I seem to communicate most often with even my closest loved ones), and phone text messages, and the speed at which my email Inbox fills up (because I subscribe to specific sights that send me focused content daily), are already more than enough and allow me contact with others and access to information that has value.
Still, the past few months have been a lot more joy-filled thanks to the initiative of so many out there online who have found all kinds of ways to have fun and to be creative, nostalgic, upbeat, playful, encouraging, thoughtful, distracting, spiritual and even philosophical. The pandemic has made us turn inward, digging into our stores of memories, the upshot of which has been, among other things, the appearance on Facebook of a whole bunch of “list challenges”, which go like this example:
I’ve been asked to list 10 albums that greatly influenced my taste in music. One title per day, 10 consecutive days. Post the album cover.”
Then you’re asked to nominate/invite other people—usually 10— to accept the challenge.
I jumped on board because it wasn’t complicated. I only had to choose albums then find the old album covers online. But once I started…what pleasure I had! Remembering the bands and musicians I loved when I was 13 ,14, 18, 25…And of course, over time, conversations got going on Facebook because people were posting comments about the albums participants had chosen.
There was a 10 MOVIE CHALLENGE, that required that you simply post an image from that movie, no title, no comments or explanations: movies that had some sort of impact on you. I did that one too, but I rebelled slightly and added comments (such as why I chose that film). I didn’t see the point otherwise.
There was a challenge asking people to post 10 FAVOURITE SONGS over ten days.There were many, many such lists. In a sense, thousands of acts of curation were happening online every day, being shared and eliciting responses. It was a lovely antidote to isolation.
But the first one I accepted, and dove into—you won’t be surprised—was the 10 FAVOURITE BOOKS IN TEN DAYS What pleasure I had waking up every day and figuring out which, from the trove of beloved books I’ve read, would get posted and shared.
It occurred to me yesterday to share that list with you, in the hopes that you might respond by sharing your own. And then I remembered that back in August 2014, when this, the Online Book Club hadn’t reached its first anniversary, I had posted THE TEN BOOK CHALLENGE, in which I presented 10 of my favourite books, inviting readers to do the same. I just peaked at it minutes ago and am both happy and embarrassed that many of the titles I shared on my recent Facebook list were also among my favourites 6 years ago.
So here are my TEN FAVOURITE BOOKS IN 10 DAYS—the 2020 Pandemic version (including the covers of the editions I read). There is no hierarchy among them. I’ve included the comments I put on Facebook. I do hope you’ll respond by sharing some of yours: books that knocked you off your pins; books you cherish.
- La Vie devant soi, by Romain Gary (Émile Ajar)
In English, The Life Before Us.
My comment online : « Momo a tout simplement emporté mon cœur. »
Translation : « Momo simply stole my heart.”
- Tigerman, Nick Harkaway
I posted a blog about this terrific, immensely entertaining and moving story.
Note: The Library did have this classic first hardcover edition, but I wasn’t able to find it when I did a catalogue search.
- Black Swan Green, By David Mitchell
“This novel and the previous two recount the life of a young or adolescent boy. Each, in its completely original way, tells a tale of coming of age, and so much more.
David Mitchell’s writing career exploded when Cloud Atlas was published, and I have read most of his work, but Black Swan Green, which is his most personal, and contains many autobiographical elements, is perfect. It is my favourite book of all.”
- Incendiary, Chris Cleave.
I was so moved by this extraordinary novel that I wrote to Chris Cleave. To my astonishment, he answered me.
You will find the story of our correspondence, as well as the review here at the Online Book Club. This is a novel everyone should read. I have just recently finished Little Bee, and am prepared to move on through his work, but none will ever match Incendiary.
5. The Poisonwood Bible, by Barbara Kingsolver.
So uplifting! Tender, warm and at times, prickly. Joy between two covers. And by far the author’s best work.
7. When Breath Becomes Air, by Paul Kalanithi
“Perhaps the most beautiful book I’ve ever read. Loved and held to my heart […] What is possible when a literary person is also a neurosurgeon. Mostly though, what is possible because of love.”
“Exquisite writing, compelling human story, a wonderful surprise!”
- Middlesex, Jeffrey Eugenides
“A Pulitzer Prize Winner.
An astonishing book that weaves together a family’s saga of migration and a child’s quest for the most basic answers about his-her identity.
A stunning achievement. Eugenides will never do better. It just isn’t possible.
A magnum opus.”
10. Spaceman of Bohemia, by Jaroslav Kalfar
“His first and only book so far!
I’m heading into a handful of books that stood out the moment they were published, and this is certainly at the top of my list.
Spaceman of Bohemia is so different, so original, so breathtakingly imaginative and tragicomic and substantive that I felt sad when I reached the last page.
It felt like Kalfar, who was just finishing his Master’s degree, was writing like this was his one chance to get published and he threw his heart, soul, and everything he ever imagined in a novel, into this one.
And I loved every page.”
- The World According to Garp, by John Irving
“I was a newlywed and graduate student at McGill when I found this paradigm-shifting novel; Irving’s second.
It was astonishing in its originality. I hadn’t read nearly enough yet, but this book was so different and strange and funny and quirky, but full of tragedy and pain and love…
Has anyone, ever, read that and not understood immediately how perfect that metaphor is?
And now, how many of us, parents especially, look at the world and fear the pull of the Undertoad?
A year later, I was pregnant with twins. That was almost 38 years ago. I have since made my peace with The Undertoad.
Find a copy of this book.”
- The Amazing Adventures of Kavalier and Clay, by Michael Chabon
“This book allowed me to discover Michael Chabon. It, too, won the Pulitzer Prize. Almost 20 years ago!
This is the edition that I bought, with the magnificent, evocative hard cover. I ADORED this book and everything it has to say about Europe and New York between the World Wars; about the generation of journeymen artists and comic book writers who worked for pittances, but out of whose work rose a vision of a new world and a literary genre—the American superhero comic book.
It’s fantastic and spellbinding and when my original copy came back to me (after circulating among family and friends the way it should), barely hanging together, I tracked down the same edition and bought a new, unscarred copy because I can’t imagine not having it nearby. The old and the “new” sit on different bookshelves: one retired, the other eager to circulate.”
- This Brilliant Darkness, by Jeff Sharlet
“I’ve chosen this as my last book. It was published quite recently.
Jeff Sharlet is the American journalist behind the Netflix series The Family, which I knew nothing about.
But this book, This Brilliant Darkness, A Book of Strangers, is a whole other endeavour.
Begun as a project on Instagram during a watershed period in his life, This Brilliant Darkness bears witness to the lives of people who live on the margins: street people, those who live off the grid in small, dead-end towns; homeless men and women; the undocumented or unseen, addicts, shop owners, night shift workers…
Sharlet always starts with a photo taken with each person’s permission, and then proceeds to spend the time required to learn their story—or as much of it as they’re willing to share.
His book curates these stories. This is the part of America that is ignored, and upon whom suffering rains down. These are people who are used to it and have seen it al before.
I stayed up late at night reading this book. It’s magnificent.