Monday, March 30, 2020

Book Chase: The April 2020 Reading Plan

It is definitely not a good sign that working on a blog post is more interesting to me right now than actually sitting down and reading a book. Not good at all.

Even before the official "Stay Home" order hit my county about ten days ago, we were already staying home and away from people as much as we possibly could. It was just good common sense to do so. My wife would be in very serious trouble if she contracted Covid-19, so I've been the one to go scavenging for the things we need. At first, that meant going to the stores every two or three days, but now I try to get all the necessary shopping done on Friday mornings. The only kicker will probably be those prescription refills that just can't wait until a Friday morning pickup. But that's the plan.

So far no virus problems in the family, but I have succumbed to a reading-virus that seems to be plaguing the whole book blogging world. I simply cannot concentrate on my reading right now. I get two or three pages into a book, only to realize suddenly that I have no idea what I just read from the last half page or so. My concentration is not what it was before the bug invasion, and I find little thoughts popping into my head regularly when they should be minding their own business and waiting for later. What am I missing on the news? Are the big cities in Texas starting to crack at the seams? What will happen to the elderly if hospitals can't keep up with the demand for beds and ventilators? Will I ever see toilet tissue and paper towels on the grocery shelf again?

Consequently, my March reading has been relatively light. But as I look back on my reading plan for the month - ten books plus an audiobook or two - I see that I didn't miss the mark as badly as I feared I might considering all the distractions. I managed to finish seven of the ten books on the list and get through one audiobook. And I'm about one-third of the way through another book on the list, and about 75% of the way through a second audiobook. So I guess it could have been worse.

This is what I have planned for April:

1. Daughter of the Reich by Louise Fein is the one that I'm a third of the way through coming into April. (It's a 530-page ARC.) It's the story of the daughter of a high-ranking Nazi who falls in love with an old Jewish friend of hers and begins an affair with him, endangering both their lives. So far it is not different enough from all the similar books I've read in the last couple of years to make me fall in love with it. I'm hoping there are some surprises ahead that will make that happen because right now it's only about a 3-out-of-5-stars book.

2. The Dead Don't Sleep by Steven Max Russo is an e-ARC that I've been looking forward to for a few weeks, and I'll finally be starting it in the next day or two. This one appealed to me because it features an "aging Vietnam veteran" whose war experiences seem to be coming back to haunt him after he meets a strange man who claims to remember him from the war. Once the vet figures out who the stranger is, he knows that it is time for a final reckoning with the man who  should have never been allowed to come home from Viet Nam in the first place. 

3. LBJ's 1968: Power, Politics, and the Presidency in America's Year of Upheaval - Kyle Longley - This is a 2018 ARC that I've had around the house for almost two years and I think I'm finally ready to read it. 1968 was a crazy year for the country - and for me, personally. It's the year I went into the Army, the year I was attacked because of my race by fellow soldiers inside Fort Campbell, KY, after Martin Luther King's assassination, and the year I learned of Bobby Kennedy's assassination via a tiny transistor radio while sitting in a tree in the middle of the night trying to keep an eye on the four or five wild pigs that had me so securely treed. 

4. Olive, Again by Elizabeth Strout is one of the last tree-books I bought before all this staying-at-home stuff started. I was a fan of the Olive Kitteridge film on HBO back in the day, and I'm looking forward to this collection of stories focusing on the recent doings in Olive's world as she "touches the lives of everyone around her." As those already familiar with Olive will know, having her touch your life is not necessarily a pleasant experience, so this one should be interesting. (I'm already a big fan of Elizabeth Strout's writing, so why I never got around to reading the first Olive book is a mystery to me.)

5. Simon the Fiddler by Paulette Jiles is an ARC I was hoping to carry with me to the San Antonio Book Festival next weekend for an author signature. Well, we all know what happened to the book festival. Jiles is the author of one of my all-time favorite novels, News of the World, so I'm really looking forward to this one. It's the story of a young musician who is conscripted into the Confederate Army just a few months before the end of the Civil War in 1865. Jiles is a brilliant writer, so I have high hopes for this one..

6. As Good as It Can Be by William A. Glass is an ARC I received courtesy of the author back in late January. The book is all about a military brat struggling to stay out of trouble - and out of jail - who gets drafted into the army almost as soon as he gets out of high school. Now his problem is going to be figuring out how to keep from getting the dishonorable discharge that will ruin the rest of his life. 

7. Westwind by Ian Rankin is back in print for the first time in almost thirty years, and I'm wondering how something like that could happen to an author as popular as Rankin is. He  admits that the book, when published in 1990, was a big flop. According to Rankin, it got only one small review in the Guardian before it disappeared. Rankin was happy enough to forget about it - and then the Twitter world starting asking him about it often enough to spark his interest in republishing the book. He says he polished it up a bit, and I have to say that at first glance it looks pretty good. Should be interesting.

8. Pale Horse, Pale Rider by Katherine Anne Porter is said to be "an exceptional depiction of the suffering caused by the influenza" pandemic of 1918. It seems to be on everyone's list of the best books coming out of the epidemic that killed millions of people in 1918 and 1919. More specifically, it's about a newspaper woman and a soldier who both catch the flu. When Miranda comes out of her delirium, she learns that the soldier is dead and that he most likely caught the flu while trying to nurse her back to health. 

9. Pale Kings and Princes by Robert B. Parker came to mind because of the Porter title, up above, I'll admit. I fell in love with Parker's Spenser books back in the mid-eighties, but I've always been afraid to go back and read one of them again because of the risk that the books are not as good as I remember them to be. And that would be sad. Spenser and Hawk are to this day one of my favorite detective teams (well, Hawk is the muscle and Spenser is the detective) of all-time. I hope they still are after this re-read.

10. The Night Fire by Michael Connelly is the latest Renée Ballard and Harry Bosch novel. I've been purposely holding this one back because I know that as soon as I read it I will have to wait several months for the next one in the Bosh-universe series. It's kind of like having money in the bank; it's comforting to know that it's there waiting for you when you need it most. Well, I think that time has come for me. I can't wait any longer.

So there you have the plan for April. But honestly, the main hope I have for the month is that my reading pace gets back to something resembling my normal pace before the month is over. If that happens, I will be satisfied.


  1. I think a period of adjustment has to be allowed for as we accustom ourselves to the 'new normal' as they say. We haven't been out for ten days, partly because we always keep a full freezer and a full store cupboard so shopping hasn't been essential. And what we do need, bread, milk, etc. our daughter insists on getting for us. We could go and get it but she's worried and because I know how it would affect her if something happened to us I'm happy to let her do that at the moment. But... difficult times.

    My reading isn't up to February's standards either, 11 books that month, 7 this. Partly we were away mid-month, but also I'm doing a large jigsaw and knitting again. I haven't had too much trouble concentrating but the book I'm reading is very good (Iron Lake by William Kent Krueger) and that probably accounts for it.

    Your reading plans look great. The LBJ book interests me, it did sound like 1968 was an interesting year for you. I was 15 and got terribly upset when Bobby Kennedy was assassinated.

    1. The ironic thing about my situation, Cath, is that my father is worried about losing me to the virus because I'm pretty much his sole caretaker at this point. It really bothers him to think what would happen to him if I were to die before him.

      I seemed to concentrate a little better today, so I'm hoping that the period of adjustment you mentioned may be progressing right along and that I've turned the corner on this lack-of-concentration thing. We'll see.

      I spent a few minutes studying my bookshelves this afternoon and I've spotted several books that I'm now anxious to read, so my April plans may be modified by the end of the first week. I've got stuff on the shelves I'd forgotten all about. Nice surprises, in a few instances.

  2. It's been hard for me to settle into a book lately, too. But I've found a few that have held my much so I read them in one day. I guess its feast or famine for me these days. :D Glad to hear you're staying well! I hope that continues.

    1. You're the second one to say that they are sometimes reading a book a day right now, Lark. Susan mentioned that she's been averaging one a day for the last few days, herself. I'm doing better, but 100 pages a day is a very good day for me right now, so I'm averaging two books a week at this point.

  3. Reading, the old panacea for times of anxiety, isn't working as well during this situation. Like you and many others, I find it hard to stay focused on a book right now.

    1. I suppose the trick right now, Jenclair, is to read only those books that really, really push all the right buttons for us. But like most bloggers, we've all got some review promises to keep - and some of those are just not working well for me right now.

      I'm reading an alternate history right now, really a silly book with a serious message, and that one is going fast. It's not overly complicated, and it is a series of seven stories spread over almost 300 years that hold together really well. I'm actually looking forward to writing that review.

  4. My reading is pretty much the same as always. I don't have as much time to read during the day, so my print book goes slower than my Kindle book - the book I read at bedtime and early morning. I have been in a 1920s world, both in fiction and nonfiction. Pure delight. Very informative - both books. I read the local/state news for maybe 20 minutes a day. That gives me anything new I need to know. I'm sorry about the concern for your wife.

  5. Happy to hear you are doing well, Nan.

    The decade of the 1920s is a fine one to be stuck in right now. Kind of hard to believe that was a whole century ago, isn't it?

    We are pretty much hunkered down, although I'm looking at another scavenger hunt maybe tomorrow or Monday if I can hold out that long. The question in my mind now is whether it is smarter to go out shopping now when we don't need quite as much or later when everything may be even worse and more dangerous to navigate through. It's kind of a lose-lose situation.

  6. I know a lot of people are having trouble reading right now. Frankly, I NEVER have trouble reading. It doesn't matter what's going on in the world or even in my family, I always read. It soothes me and takes my mind off whatever else is going on. I'm still reading about a book a day, depending on length. Hopefully, I'll be able to knock some books off the ole TBR that have been sitting on there for too long.

    I'm glad you and your wife are doing well, Sam. We are, too. Our extended family has been virus-free as well, although my husband's cousin's ex-husband is on a ventilator in a Utah hospital and not doing well. Other than him, we've all managed to stay healthy. Knock on wood.

    1. This is the first time in my life that I've found it difficult to concentrate while reading, Susan. Books have never failed me, and I'm betting that this is going to be a short term problem. I did finish one book this morning, and I'll finish another tomorrow, but I'm lucky to be getting in 100 pages a day even with all the downtime that I used to spend on running errands and taking my grandson so/from school.

      Glad to hear that your family is doing well. So far, we are too. I'm most worried still about my father since he's in a 235-person assisted living facility. Those facilities are deadly if the virus gets inside. One of the sister centers of the one he is in has lost three residents and has nine others in the hospital now. His, as of tonight, is still virus free.

      Stay well, Susan.