A: Greetings from a safe social distance and welcome to Two Librarians: Quarantine Edition! Katie and I are here to channel all our restlessness into getting you to read a dang book already. So K, how’ve you been holding up?
K: I’ve cleaned my bathroom 5 times in the last month, if that gives you any indication. You could eat a meal off the floor in there (but you probably shouldn’t.) What have you been doing?
A: I have been home with our three children under the age of five for the last several weeks. You know what’s difficult to do?
A: Explain social distancing to a 15 month old. Can you see my eye twitch? Cause I can feel it. I did make my mom hand over all the family photos from the last 35+ years and it turns out most of them are not actually organized. One guess what I’ve been tasked with doing…
K: An eye twitch is always a hot look. On the bright side, I’ve been reading more than ever. I mean I am straight plowing through books at this point, so I am FULLY prepared to unload some recommendations for our fellow friends quarantined at home looking for an excuse to ignore their children for a few hours.
A: I’m in.
K: Just curious, about how many of your waking quarantined hours do you spend on your phone?
A: I plead the fifth.
K: My phone recently told me my daily screen time shot up to 6 HOURS A DAY. Why does it have to rub it in like that?
A: Technology can be so passive aggressive. Rude.
K: I’m pretty disgusted that I’m wasting that much time, so I recently grabbed a copy of Digital Minimalism by Cal Newport to try and address the problem. I’m tired of being wrapped up in the digital world when the real world is right in front of my face (when my phone isn’t blocking the view.)
A: You’ve mentioned this after the ungodly twelve hours it has taken you to reply to my texts.
K: Sorry, not sorry. The book outlines what digital minimalism means, and then provides guidelines for incorporating it into your life with a ton of common sense tips and tricks. The best part is you don’t have to give up your phone or stop using apps or anything like that, the point is to change your relationship with your phone so you feel more in control.
A: As a mother of three toddlers, may I just say that being in control of something seems like an appealing concept.
K: Want to know another way I’m coping with all of this alone time?
A: Ice cream?
K: Well duh. But also meditating! Not at the same time, though. But when will I ever have this much free time to sit quietly and do nothing again? I may as well make the most of it.
A: I get it. I have fully committed to the toddler nap schedule during this troubling time.
K: I want to plug two books that have really helped me advance my practice during this quarantine, and I strongly suggest both to any reader who would like to develop some positive mental habits. Both are guides on meditation and mindfulness.
A: Let’s hear ‘em.
K: The first is Zen Mind, Beginner’s Mind by Shunryu Suzuki which is a guide to Zen meditation for beginners. It covers all the basics: sitting, counting your breath, dealing with distracting thoughts, etc.
A: And the second?
K:Wherever You Go, There You Are by Jon Kabat-Zinn. This book has been around for a minute (published in ‘94) but is a timeless gem. The author discusses the many aspects of mindfulness, which really is just a fancy word for living in the moment.
A: I read that too! That was book number six this year!
K: The author is a therapist who writes about her strategies helping clients, their struggles, and time spent with her own therapist (yes, therapists need therapists too!).
A: Never before had I considered using a therapist until I read that book.
K: I hope other readers are having that same revelation. I really loved that book and felt very invested in her life and the lives of all her clients. Also, it’s being made into a TV show starring Eva Longoria!
A: So, I’ve been trying to take control of my obsessive mobile news reading by redirecting my phone time to reading graphic novels on hoopla.
K: That sounds very digital minimalist of you! Sort of. But graphic novels really are the best. You don’t even need a lot of time to finish one in one sitting!
A: During the 2017 fires in California, Fies’s house was completely destroyed. At the time he wrote/illustrated a quick comic of his/his family’s experience and it went viral. This book is a complete work that a short comic started.
K: How tragic.
A: What struck me most about it was the way he focused on people. The circumstance was unimaginable to those who didn’t experience it, and he does a great job of relaying the situation in a way that the reader can begin to feel, but the real grace of this work is the way he points out the universal losses that are so specific to each individual and yet experienced by all. The devastation of losing family photos or old stuffed animals. The horror and not knowing what happened to a beloved family pet. It’s what we are all going through right now; collective fear/uncertainty/frustration that is specific to our lives but universal to all.
K: Yes! Great comparison. The uncertainty and fear is awful, but we are all in this together and there’s hope in that.
A: I’ve also been dealing with the stress of the moment with some good, old-fashioned literary escapism via the incomparable Rainbow Rowell.
K: Imagination is a wonderful thing at a time like this.
A: I actually read all her books in the last several weeks, but by far my favorite has been the Simon Snow series.
K: Tell me more.
A: Ok, so take Harry Potter and everything you know and love about it and flip it. So, Simon Snow is the chosen one, but he’s terrible at magic. His best friend is Hermione-equivalent in that she is the smartest student in the school but she breaks every rule she can find. Oh, and Baz (this story’s Malfoy) is in love with Simon.
K: Stop. You’re fan-girling!
A: IT’S SO GOOD. I’ve already cast the movie in my head (calling Tom Holland and Timothee Chamalet…).
K: Timothee Chamalet? You’ve got my attention.
A: Right? Why’s he gotta be so pretty? So, our readers should know that two of the books in the series are already out Carry On and Wayward Son and a third is currently being written (Any Way the Wind Blows). In this world, spells get their power from spoken words. So, the more a phrase is said out loud by non-magical folk, the more power there is behind it. Hence the song lyric titles.
K: Words have power. What a concept!
A: It’s all very cleverly done, which anyone who has read Rowell will expect.
K: I know that’s not the only fiction recommendation you’re sitting on.
A: You’re right! My next rec is perhaps the best book one could possibly read while quarantined because this thing TAKES OVER YOUR LIFE.
K: I have no life right now, so I’m into that.
A: Ok, so you know my eternal love for The Night Circus, right?
K: Everyone does.
A: Well the author, Erin Morgenstern, has a new book out (F I N A L L Y !) after almost a decade. It’s called The Starless Sea and to call it a “book” is not doing it justice.
K: Here we go…
A: It’s like three stories within a greater story that have to be unravelled and then pieced together like a puzzle. It’s a multiplayer story/game hybrid in which you finish it and immediately start it over because you KNOW there are things you missed and you want to catch. It’s a book that gives and gives and gives again and it’s amazing.
K: I NEVER RE-READ BOOKS! YOU KNOW THIS!
A: NO TIME LIKE THE PRESENT TO CHANGE. I honestly don’t know how someone can construct such a story in their brain and then translate it to paper so others can experience it. And make no mistake, you don’t read this book, you EXPERIENCE it.
K: That sounds like an actual adventure. That author is maybe a genius.
A: No “maybe” involved.
K: So, probably a bad time to be doing this, but I’ve been reading a lot of books about death recently and I’ve got to mention a favorite.
A: I would expect nothing less from the woman who read Radium Girls on a beach vacation (I’ve joked about this so much I no longer remember if it’s apocryphal or real).
K: It’s real.
A: Of course.
K:From Here to Eternity is written by a funeral home director who traveled around the world to explore various death customs in other cultures. You learn about sky burials (I’ll spare you the details, but be sure to Google it), body farms, corpse composting, open air cremation, and my personal favorite – a death hotel in Japan called the ‘Lastel’ because it’s the last hotel that person will ever stay in.
A: I want to do that thing where you become a tree.
K: Me too! But all jokes aside, I loved this book because this author makes you realize that we do NOT handle death well in America. Death here is expensive and impersonal, and the author really shows us that it doesn’t have to be this way.
A: You always know how to end on a high note, don’t you?
K: It’s what I do best!
A: I’m going to go ahead and pivot…want to know a secret?
A: Until this year, I’ve been a terrible librarian and I’ve never really tracked what I read.
K: Not even Goodreads?
A: Nope. Can’t get into it.
K: That’s appalling. What kind of librarian doesn’t use Goodreads!? I recently got my boyfriend so obsessed with the app that he updates what page he’s on as he reads his books. So cute.
A: I know. I’m the worst. BUT, this year I decided I was going to challenge myself to finish a certain number of books and I started a list.
K: What’s your goal? I set mine at 50 for this year, but that was before I knew 2020 was going to pull a fast one on us and force us into solitude for a few months.
A: Well I had no idea where to set mine because I’ve never paid attention to my reading rate, so I took a wild stab in the dark and set my goal at 30 full length books and 20 graphics.
K: So you’re at 50, too…
A: Yeah but I’m so gosh darn competitive that I’m about to blow both those numbers out of the water, which sucks, because now I am never going to read more than what I did this year.
K: Consider it a competition then AND I AM YOUR RIVAL. Better get reading. BYE!