What can you do, man? Man up, take your talking to, dust off and walk off a better guy.
My buddy Tim recently attended a work conference, and he learned the term Covid Carryover. A covid carryover is a lesson/habit we picked up during the pandemic that we intend to carry over into the future. In his context, it was a work-related question, but I think my most obvious covid carryovers are life- and culture-related. Here are my covid carryovers:
Support our community businesses.
I try to do this, anyway, in a half-hearted way. Now I want to keep dollars local, support the businesses of friends and family (and make friends with local business folks). Why? I think it’s more humane, I think it’s cooler to keep money local, and it’s more fun and fulfilling, as well. I also think it helps us realize the actual cost of things. Cheapest isn’t always best (and isn’t cheapest in the long run, when we consider the ethical, social, environmental, and spiritual costs of never-ending economic expansion and consumerism.)
Spend time with friends.
I miss hanging out with friends. While introspection and solitude are important to me, so are these few and precious relationships that are fulfilling, fun, and force me to be a better person.
Pay attention to what’s happening around me.
Nationally I think we turned a corner on specific social issues (race, policing, the role of government), and I don’t think we can or should go back to the way things were before. I think we gotta pick a side. But, simultaneously…
Narrow the scope of what I pay attention to.
I think living through the time of the pandemic has radicalized me in terms of faith, economics, and interest in government. Growing up in a public-service-minded household, I have taken it as axiomatic that we owe our cultural involvement in government, and that part of that was a sort of “dirty-hands” necessity. Government morality is complex by necessity. However, both because of the intractable relationship of big money and power controlling government, I now think our faith obligations and our democracy transcend any political system. To some extent, it’s irrelevant what I do with government so long as I’m fulfilling obligations to the people around me. I have to do that regardless of what form of government or oligarchy controls things. That makes things easier and more demanding. I can’t control government; I can control what I do given what’s in front of me.
I know myself better after the pandemic than I did before. Probably because of the items above – they forced me to think more critically about the lifestyle I want and the context in which I live. I simultaneously expect more and less from the people and institutions around me. And of myself. The confidence piece may result from more self-knowledge and knowing what I’m capable of coming through and how to navigate challenging times in my way. I have boundaries and strengths unique to me, and that’s a-ok.
What are your covid carryovers?
“Everyone loves a beautiful dead girl.”
Windhall is a novel about Hollywood, the way men treat women, fame, obsession, and Los Angeles. Hailey is an antisocial journalist at a counterculture zine turned blog (I think) in LA. He is obsessed with the decades old murder of a Hollywood star at the home of an infamous director. His obsession weaves in with his own family’s story, as well as the DNA of modern day Los Angeles. It’s hard for him to separate the glamour and allure of the city with the facts, and isn’t that the point of Hollywood?
While Hailey is obsessed with the historical murder, the mansion where it occurred is not much more than a tour-bus destination these days. However, all of that changes when someone murders two women at the foot of the mansion. The murders grab the city’s attention, and some of the players aren’t as keen as others to be back in front of the public’s eye. Hailey finds himself simultaneously drawn closer to the truth and repelled from the few friends he has.
If you like the following in at least some combination, I think you will probably like this book: Sunset Boulevard AND The Lady from the Black Lagoon AND neo-noir AND true crime podcasts. If those things are your jam – this would be a fun read for you.
By the way, I was curious about the author’s association with Los Angeles and the movie industry, and it looks like Ms Barry used to read scripts and work for Francis Ford Coppola’s magazine Zoetrope. I hope she continues writing about these themes because this was a fun read.
The wildest thing about this John Grisham book is that it’s not about lawyers. Our man John instead focuses on writers, books, heists, and French furntiure. It’s a welcome and pleasant departure for the reader as much as I’m sure it is for Grisham. It’s a fun little novel that would probably make a nice little Netflix limited run series. Or Paramount+, mayhaps. If you like fun but relaxing beach reads with a little bit of danger and sexiness – here you go.
Mercer is a middling author stuck teaching English as an adjunct. When her adjunct contract isn’t renewed, she hits a new low point. What’s next? Finally get back to writing – find another teaching job – something else? Before Mercer can make a decision one is made for her. The myterious disappearance of several Fitzgerald manuscripts from Princeton’s library means that the feds and insurers for the ultra-rich need an inside (wo)man to infiltrate the world of shady black market book deals. Mercer is thrown fistfuls of money to take on that role, and then she’s thrown onto the shores of a lazy southeastern beachtown called Camino Island. As Mercer ingratiates herself into the local writer community, she becomes torn between making real friends and making real money.
The mystery itself is fine, but the book is most interesting when Camino Island’s little writing community is talking about the woes of writing, their love for books, and how annoying it is that romance sells so well. I’m not a Grisham expert, but I’m not sure if he’s written so much before about the quirks and frustrations and anxieties of writing. January Lavoy reads the audiobook and her excellent southern accent for Mercer reminded me a lot of young Andie McDowell. So if you like beaches, writerly nerouses, or Andie McDowell – this is one you can reserve at the library!
First, I shuffle around the spare bedroom – moving small items from one place to another – to places that make sense to me, for now. Movie cases, books, other kinds of books, accoutrement of aging – eye drops, hearing aids, ointment for a cantankerous knee. An unwound pocket watch, spiritual texts, a planner.
Then, I put on my cans – the heavy-duty ear protection used by gun enthusiasts to muffle the loud cracks of handguns and rifles. (This is a trick I picked up in law school, during an end-of-semester exam, from a guy named Bryan.)
I light the incense cone. I look out the window into our backyard and yell at the kids to get off of the picnic table. They scatter, laughing. Then they run to my window, smushing their noses and lips on the glass. They run off together.
I sip my coffee. It’s warm. I’m cold. I put a blanket over my lap.
My blood is squeezing through my brain – I hear it squirting through my skull in pulses. My temples ache, my throat is scratchy, my eyes itch.
My arms go up, my back arches – an opposite sensation of my information-worker-forward-shouldered-slump my musculoskeletal system is used to. It is pleasing to stretch the body in a way contrary to the everyday experience. My body wants more of this kind of thing.
I frown at the computer and the keyboard and the mouse; and I frown at the notebook and fountain pen. Both choices are wrong to me.
My smartwatch frustrates me. I remove it from my wrist and place it out of sight. I put on my analog watch – it’s too tight on my wrist these days. I take it off and settle on my simple digital Casio F-91W. A classic. But also the only one that fits.
I choose the notebook and fountain pen. I sit in the chair and goosebumps pop up all over my arms. I shiver the comfortable shock that is the same to my body as the piss shiver.
It is unlikely that anyone will read anything my pen puts to the page today. It is my twenty-seventh year of regular writing.
When I started this book I wasn’t sure how long I would continue reading. A teenage guy with a lot of swagger talking about “the hustle” and “the hunger” for making it – not really what I’m into. However, Ben Philippe’s charming novel and character are not what they seem on the surface – that’s the whole point of this enjoyable read.
Charming as a Verb is about first-generation Haitian-American Henry Haltiwanger. He lives on the Upper West side of NYC where his dad is the building super and his mom is a firefighter. His family isn’t wealthy by any means, but he attends a prestigious private school called the FATE Academy and he has his sights set on Columbia University.
Henry’s family isn’t rich by any means, and as the cover indicates Henry helps add to the family purse by walking dogs on behalf on one of those dog-walking company apps. One of the dogs he walks belongs to the family of the very “intense” Corinne Troy. The Troys live in the same building as the Haltiwangers, and Corinne goes to the FATE Academy with Henry. However, they run in different circles, to say the least. Henry is handsome, popular, and “charming as a verb.” Corinne is something of a tightly-wound loner. She doesn’t really have a place.
However, through a twist of fate Corinne discovers a (not very dark) secret that Henry doesn’t want coming out. She blackmails him and pulls a kind of reverse-10-Things-I-Hate About You – she won’t tell the secret if Henry helps her to develop a social life.
It sounds like a typical YA rom-com book on the surface, but the book is much more about what it’s like to be a Black teenager and professional trying to make it in a world where one’s presence isn’t exactly welcomed. The book uses the term O Generation, meaning exception like Oprah or Obama. I wasn’t familiar with the term until reading the book, but author Ben Philippe does a great job of helping the reader that Black teens must feel to be exceptional just to fit in, as well as the unique pressure and worldviews of first-gen Americans.
I’d recommend this book to anyone. (Just a quick heads up that there’s some swearing if you listen to the audiobook with your kids.)
Many thanks to Libro.fm and the publisher for providing me with a free audiobook listening copy of this novel because I’m an educator.
Reviewing books in the middle of a series is always tricky because, by definition, spoilers are inherent. The fact that the the cover of this book says it’s a sequel to Old Man’s War and The Ghost Brigades already gives away certain information about the plot, let alone the back cover summary. All that aside, I will try to just give the bare bones of this plot along with this statement of the trilogy – it’s a fun, entertaining, and satisfying series. Now, to The Last Colony.
This novel comes in at over 300 pages but was a quick and entertaining read. The Colonial Union, in classic action movie fashion, brings some hardcore military legends out of retirement for One Last Mission. This time, though, the glory isn’t on the battlefield but in the soul-crushing and mundane monotony of civil service. The legends are charged with helping to install a new human colony on a hospitable planet out amongst the stars. Why the military leaders for the role? Because other alien races aren’t too keen on human expansion. While the planet is hospitable for human live, the political climate may not be. The legends agree to One Last Mission, but quickly find that civil service life includes its own minefields. They have to navigate treacherous political waters amongst the various factions looking to join the colony, not to mention Colonial Union politics and, of course, actually creating a colony.
The book works for a lot of reasons – it’s smart and expansive without being as serious or Very Important as Dune or Foundation. Since it’s the third part of a trilogy, at least some of the characters are old friends by now. The reader is invested in their lives and fates. Plus, Scalzi is great at writing funny lines without dissolving the story into a quip-fest (I think he is less good at walking that line in other series.)
If you read Old Man’s War and enjoyed it, finish out the trilogy! I haven’t read the other books in the series, though, so I can’t vouch for those. I believe there are six total.