January was another lockdown month—worse than ever, because now we have a curfew at 8 PM and huge fines for breaking it, which means it’s not just illegal but pretty much impossible to see anyone. Isolation is really getting to me. The numbers are going down, though, which is good, and people are starting to be vaccinated, though I am low on the list. In any case, I spent a lot of time in January on pure escapist reading, and I read twenty-eight books in a variety of genres, with a very high rate of excellence.
Fiction and Excerpts 
2020 is over, huzzah! December was yet another quiet month in lockdown. I read fifteen books.
November was another totally locked down month here, with Montreal in the red zone and no socialization allowed. I saw a total of three other human beings, four if you count the time I saw the UPS guy. I read twenty books, and some of them were great. Six re-reads, the rest new, one epic, one non-fiction, three short story collections, and the rest novels.
A friend was asking the other day for books in which no bad things happen, because sometimes you want your reading to be all upbeat. But yet, there aren’t many books where nothing bad happens. Myself, when I want comfort reading, I’ll settle for “everything all right at the end” which leaves me a much wider field. Nothing bad at all is really hard. I mean, you have to have plot, which means conflict, or at least things happening, and once you have obstacles to defeat there’s almost certain to be something bad.
Keep reading, because I do actually think of some.
As October began we went back into condition red lockdown, not allowed to see anyone outside the household and not allowed to go anywhere except the grocery store. I’ve hardly been out of the apartment this month. But I have been able to read, thank goodness, and I have read twenty-one books.
September started off well with a week’s trip to Gaspesie on the Atlantic coast of Quebec with friends, and ended very badly with another local pretty complete lockdown. On holiday and back at home I read fifteen books, a mixed lot, and here they are.
There’s a meme going around, I’ve seen it on Twitter and now it’s on a Discord I’m on, where you post the picture of the cover of a book you love every day for a week. It’s much better than asking what one book you love, but for anyone who reads a lot and has been reading a lot for some considerable time now, it’s too difficult to pare it down to seven books, from all the books there are.
Paring it down is a case of canon forming even when it’s “books I love,” because you want to be representative and that always means leaving things out that I love just as much. I am discriminating but wide ranging in my book love; I love a lot of books. Why, ha ha, I thought, walking over to the bookshelves, even if I limit myself to one per author I could almost find seven books I love just on the alphabetical-by-author fiction shelves under A! And indeed I could, with no trouble at all, and they were a fun mixed set. So I thought I might share them with you, and perhaps you could share your favourite books whose authors begin with A, and if this was fun we could go on through the alphabet, and if it wasn’t fun we could stop.
I continue not to be resigned to the fact of pandemic, but this was nevertheless yet another month I spent at home and mostly not going out. I did see friends on the balcony a few times, thank goodness, and I went to my son’s apartment once, so my socializing was not entirely mediated via the internet, but this is really hard and I’m not coping as well as I might wish. Lots of comfort reading this month, but no difficulty in reading. I read 15 books.
Yet another at home mostly isolated month, but at least I could read. I read 22 books, a reasonable number for the first time in months. And some of them were great.
June was another lockdown month in which I was home and barely left the house. I read only sixteen books. For the first half of the month I was also reading stories for the Decameron Project, which we completed, with a hundred stories, on June 23rd. If I’d read an anthology of 23 stories I’d probably count it as another book.
May was another lockdown month, in which I barely left the house, and in which I continued to work on the New Decameron Project, which means reading 31 stories, and continued to have difficulty focusing and reading, and so finished a mere ten books, all of them fiction and a large proportion of them comfort reading.
I’m delighted that Tooth and Claw is being given away this week—I hope people will enjoy reading it in these difficult times. The title comes from Tennyson talking about how much humans suck in In Memoriam: “Tho’ nature, red in tooth and claw, with ravine shrieked against his creed… no more? A monster, then, a dream, a discord. Dragons of the prime that tear each other in their slime were mellow music matched with him.” And that’s the book, really; the easiest way to sum it up.
April was a very weird month in which I was self-isolating and home and I went nowhere and did nothing and saw nobody, but where I nevertheless read only twelve books because—as you may have gathered from my post about “grabby” books—I was having difficulty settling to read. This is the first time I have ever had this problem, all my life before I have been able to read even at the worst times. I was also working on the New Decameron Project, which posted a story every day in April, so that perhaps ought to count as another volume read—thirty stories would make a fairly solid anthology. I also read a couple of my own books aloud on Discord, but I’m not counting that as reading.
I’ve written here before about the quality of “I-want-to-read-it-osity” that some books have, a hard to define but easy to see quality which I am going to refer to as “grabbyness.” There are books you can pick up and put down and happily pick up again, and then there are books that seem to glue themselves to your brain, that utterly absorb you. There are books that are great when you’re halfway through them but that take work to get into. Right now, the kind you can put down and the kind that are hard to get into don’t cut it, because they’re hard to focus on while fretting. For me, grabbyness is a quality entirely orthogonal to actual quality. There are grabby books that are only OK and great books that are not grabby. It also has nothing to do with how ostensibly exciting they are, nor how comforting they are. There are just books that are grabby and books that are not. What I’m talking about is the power to bring you right into the story so that all you want to do is read more, and you forget entirely about the real world around you.
So here are some suggestions for books that grab you, for you to read in these difficult times. I’m trying to suggest a wide range of things, so that there might be some you haven’t read before—sometimes we want to re-read and comfort read, but sometimes we want new things that are sure to hold our attention.
Well, March sure was a peculiar month. I was home, and then I was home in self-isolation, which I still am. But I started the New Decameron Project with Maya Chhabra and Lauren Schiller, so I have been snowed under reading stories and writing frame bits, and also setting up online socialising things which are sanity saving (I’m still not an introvert) but take time. Also, some of the things I read this month were extremely long. So I have read only fourteen books in March, and here they are…
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