More Virtual Days

I hope everybody is hanging in there. The number of daily virus cases here has dropped quite a bit, which it seems is due to the two months of lockdown and distancing and hand-washing procedures. But now things are about to open up gradually in stages, so we will see if we can keep the cases from spiking too much.

Tennis friends are asking to hit again as the City has given the green light to outdoor singles play albeit with new guidelines. So I will try tennis today, which will feel strange after life in lockdown. Meanwhile at left is a sign I saw while on my morning dog walk recently. I agree with the sentiments: Thanks to our frontline workers of nurses, doctors and staff, who have saved lives fighting this terrible disease … many of whom have lost their own lives in the process. So tragic. Our hearts go out to them.

As for book news, I see that the annual BookExpo, which was scheduled to be held at New York City’s Javits Center, will instead be made virtual this year and free to the public from May 26-29, so stay tuned to the Expo’s Facebook page for more upcoming information.

I have only gone to one BookExpo, which was in Chicago in 2016, but it was a lot of fun and quite informative. For those who don’t know: BookExpo is the publishing industry’s biggest trade event where those who are connected to the biz come together to find out about upcoming titles, authors, new technology, and trends. It’s one big book industry / marketing /sales and blogger fest. 

It reminds me there’s so many events going on virtually these days. You can find live concerts, lectures, classes, gym training, book talks and other online streaming things on top of all the podcasts you were already trying to hear each week. It’s a smorgasbord out there. Your favorite bookstore is likely streaming a live event even as we speak. I’ve checked out a few virtual book talks via D.C.’s Politics & Prose bookstore and Denver’s Tattered Cover bookstore. It’s neat when you can watch them streaming live, though you can also catch them after they’ve passed too. Have you checked out any? And now I’ll leave you with a couple of reviews of books that I finished lately. 

Writers & Lovers by Lily King / 320 pages / Grove Press / 2020

Why I Picked It Up: I liked the author’s last book in 2014 — “Euphoria” — which  was historical fiction and based on the life of anthropologist Margaret Mead. 

Synopsis:  The novel’s protagonist is named Casey, age 31, who waits tables at a restaurant in Harvard Square where she bikes to from across the river … and who works hard despite various stresses in her life to finish her debut novel, which has taken six years of her life. She struggles financially (under college and grad school debt) and is still grieving the loss unexpectedly of her mother. She also has health concerns, is writing daily early in the mornings, working double shifts late into the night, and needs to decide between two guys she’s seeing on the sly. 

My Thoughts: Ohh to be young … without much cash and on the go …. in the setting of Boston and the Charles River. I always seem to fall for coming-of-age tales and this one is endearing enough to root for Casey, who’s having a few crises all at once. Are these the best kinds of stories or what? It reminded me slightly of Laura Zigman’s new novel “Separation Anxiety” — since I read it recently — which is also about a writer on the brink of chaos and breakdown. I was glad for the ending of both novels … they aren’t all downward spiral … which I was so thankful for. I can’t be worrying about Casey forever, but I liked and was glad to spend time with her.

There’s quite a bit in the story about Casey waiting tables, which reminded me a bit of Stephanie Danler’s novel “Sweetbitter” since I finished that one recently. These are two restaurant, coming-of-age writer stories I read in the same month. I better bus my own tables after this. Also it was my second read by Lily King … whose novel “Euphoria” is quite different than this. “Writers & Lovers” is lighter and has some amusement to it. It isn’t as serious in tone as “Euphoria,” though it still has conflict and anxiety to wade through. 

Last Night in Montreal by Emily St. John Mandel / Unbridled Books / 256 pages / 2009

Why I picked it up:  Because it’s the debut novel of Emily St. John Mandel, the author extraordinaire of the 2014 novel “Station Eleven.” She’s also originally a Canadian and I need to read more from Canadian authors since I live here now. This novel reminded me slightly of author Heather O’Neill since her novels are often set in her hometown of Montreal.

Synopsis: The story centers around a child abduction case … Lilia, age 7, is taken by her father away from her mother and out of the country. She is raised as a fugitive on the go from town to town, trying to elude a private detective named Christopher that her mother has hired.

She has made a life for herself on the road with her father … and later even in her 20s, Lilia, who is talented at languages, is still traveling about, leaving relationships in her wake — her last being Eli in Brooklyn — a graduate student unable to finish his dissertation (about dead languages) and working at a boring security job at an art gallery. Eli’s bereft that Lilia has left and so when he’s contacted months later by the detective’s daughter Michaela informing him that Lilia’s in Montreal, Eli leaves to try and find her with the help of Michaela. Along the way, they piece together information concerning Lilia’s abduction. 

My Thoughts: This slim debut novel had some of the same trademarks as Mandel’s National Book Award finalist “Station Eleven” from flashbacks in time, to themes of art and languages, and traveling, circuses, and Shakespeare quotes. Mandel seems to like to make her novels like jigsaw puzzles that circle around and back in time and reveal mysteries about a tragic event … after various stops and starts. 

All of the characters in this are impacted by the unique fugitive Lilia … and Michaela’s life sort of parallels Lilia’s … with her detective father away on the road and her mother absent. So it held my interest on how it unfolds … with Eli chasing leads via Michaela around Montreal on Lilia’s whereabouts.

It’s not as compelling or creative as “Station Eleven” is …. but yet it’s a debut novel that shows some of the spark and talent about where such a novel came from. It’s a building block with similarities in which you get a feel for the characters, the abduction, and its aftermath. I’m still wondering about the ending, which surprised me a bit and left me on a ledge. 

That’s all for now.  What about you — have you read either of these and if so, what did you think?  And how is your area’s opening going? Stay well my friends.

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26 Responses to More Virtual Days

  1. Ti says:

    The state of Ca extended the stay at home order through July. Our city is rebelling and refusing to comply. It’s nasty out there. With that news, I heard all of this yesterday: Summer Camp for my youth group was cancelled, NY theatre intensive for my daughter was moved to online but don’t know if it’s worth the cost now, my Hamilton tix were cancelled for August, my university and all of the CSU announced that fall will be online. There was something else but now I’ve forgotten.

    I finished a book yesterday. A riveting one which kept my mind off of all of the outside world. The Swap, by Robyn Harding. It comes out in June. Review posts tomorrow. It was a really far-fetched plot but I didn’t care. It was the distraction I needed.

    Today, I am starting Dead to Her by Sarah Pinborough.

    • Susan says:

      Whoa Ti, it sounds like it’s getting pretty nasty — between those making laws to stay at home & those who intend to open anyways. Everything is turning upside down. It seems pretty chaotic from State to State. I will wish the best for Calif.
      I’ll be interested to hear about Robyn Harding’s new book … I did listen to an audio of one of hers and enjoyed it. I’ll stop by soon — thanks! & Stay safe.

  2. We’re hanging in there is about all I can say. Things are opening here so I expect cases to rise soon. I haven’t gotten into any of the virtual events but I may try some of the BEA events. Writers and Lovers sounds good to me.

    • Susan says:

      Hi Kathy : yeah not sure exactly how BEA will be handled yet but perhaps a lot of online streaming links happening. Stay tuned for that. Writers & Lovers is a pretty easy read to follow right now. I hope your area won’t get too inundated with the virus as you open. fingers crossed. Stay safe!

  3. Brian Joseph says:

    Though our local virus statistics have improved greatly, here in downstate New York, we still have a lot of folks getting sick and dying. We probably will begin opening in stages in about three weeks.

    I loved Station Eleven so Last Night in Montreal sound interesting. First novels often are fascinating as they often contain partially developed ideas that are introduced later.

    • Susan says:

      Hi Brian: I’m glad to hear how NY areas are doing better after such a tragic April. I hope NY can keep turning things around. I listen to your governor quite a bit about it. And I agree … Last Night in Montreal was quite interesting in how it shared aspects with Station Eleven. Cool to see! Stay well.

  4. I really must start reading Emily St. John Mandel. I’ve heard so many good things about her writing.

    Things continue to be quiet here as we continue to isolate ourselves, but we are busy with all of our activities. I can honestly say I haven’t been bored at all.

    Be smart about this virus and be well everyone.

    • Susan says:

      Hi Dorothy, good to hear you’re staying safe and haven’t been bored. There’s so much to do in reality … with the yard & house especially … and our books! If you read Mandel … perhaps it’d be best to go straight to Station Eleven, my fav of hers, ha. But I wouldn’t mind checking out her new one The Glass Hotel. take care.

  5. Judee says:

    My husband has started playing Tennis again. The courts in our condo opened this week. Love your sign for the doctors and nurses. My friend who has a son who is a doctor in a NYC hospital said he loves seeing things like that and it really makes him feel appreciated.

    • Susan says:

      Hi Judee … glad to hear others are playing tennis. I think it’s possible to stay well while playing if you don’t touch the balls with your hands or touch only your own ball etc. The signs I see for docs & nurses are great …. they seem to help everyone. Have a great week Judee.

  6. Judy Krueger says:

    Frankly I am concerned about the reopening going on, so I am sticking with my decision to stay home until the end of the month. Thanks for your reviews. I will be posting a review of The Glass Hotel today and I’m glad you enjoyed Mandel’s debut. I have loved all of her novels.

    • Susan says:

      Great Judy: I look forward to your review of The Glass Hotel. I think it’s neat how Mandel often makes her novels work like jigsaw puzzles 🙂 and I like how they share similarities. I agree staying home makes sense still … they say the virus could take a big dip for awhile and then unfortunately come back with a vengeance. The 2nd & 3rd waves of it …. could still be bad … whenever they hit. Stay safe!

  7. Vicki says:

    Thanks for the BookExpo info and link!

    Some restaurants and other businesses are opening up here but I think it’s too soon. People are out and about without masks and not 6 ft. apart. The worst thing I’ve seen is people without masks, including little kids.

    • Susan says:

      Hi Vicki, I’ll be checking into BookExpo too. I agree with your assessment of the openings …. some folks are acting totally clueless, and in public indoor places I’m sticking with wearing a mask & gloves. Everyone should keep lowering the risks by doing so …. as well as distancing etc. Sigh, it’s hard to see when others are not doing this.

  8. Kay (kaysreadinglife) says:

    Our area has opened some things to 25%. If people would just be sensible and do what they should like wearing a mask or staying home if sick or in the high-risk groups and not having big parties with people not in their household – but no. We haven’t changed much about what we are doing as yet. Still picking up to-go orders at restaurants and wearing a mask at the grocery store. I don’t really go anywhere else to have to get out of the car. Interesting that BookExpo will be online. I might check that out. Enjoy your tennis! My husband would be totally crazy without being able to play a few holes of golf several days a week. And golf is the perfect social-distancing sport.

    • Susan says:

      Hi Kay … yeah golf seems pretty safe. And in tennis I’m not even touching the balls … I just start the rally by hitting it with the racket etc. We plan to keep sticking with the rules … and are still getting groceries delivered & such. Even as the virus cases decline, people should keep up our new lifestyles etc. Glad to hear you’re being safe there. Thanks for stopping by.

  9. Florida is opening up, maybe a little too quickly, but that remains to be seen. Our city beach parking lots will remain closed until June 1, so basically beaches are closed to nonresidents who cannot bike or walk to get there. Restaurants seem to be picking up, but not all are requiring servers to wear masks. I’m ready to do more take-out, but not ready to dine out just yet.

    You have me rethinking Writers & Lovers. I wasn’t a big fan of Euphoria, but am now curious about her new one. Last Night in Montreal has been on my wish list for some time.

    Book Expo always sounds so appealing, but I’ve never been. Will definitely check and see what’s available online. Thanks for mentioning it!

    • Susan says:

      Hey JoAnn, it’s nice your beach will remain quiet for awhile longer. I wore a mask today (like others) at Home Depot’s outside garden center and felt better about it. Only a few got to go into the area at a time. Seemed sensible. You’ll be glad to know that Writers & Lovers is much different than Euphoria and you wouldn’t even know they are written by the same author. As for BookExpo Online, I hope there will some interesting events & talks. Take care.

  10. I’d not heard BookExpo would be online and free. I’ve been to BookExpo two times, once in Chicago and once in NYC. I heard more authors speak at BookExpo than I’ve ever seen in one place at one time. I almost planned a trip to BookExpo this year. Now it looks like I will be able to attend, at least virtually.

    • Susan says:

      Hi Deb, yeah I’m glad to check out the virtual BookExpo too. It’ll be good for people who’ve never experienced it before as well as the Expo veterans. I was stunned when I went in 2016 about how many books I brought home …. I needed a whole other suitcase!

  11. I’ve never been to BookExpo, but maybe now I can go! I love the Tattered Cover bookstore. I sometimes go to their events in person, so I’m glad they’re streaming.

    • Susan says:

      Hey AJ … yeah these streaming book events are pretty excellent. I’m a fan of the Tattered Cover too … and lived in Colorado once long ago. I think it’s great to still get to experience it … from afar. It’s a great bookstore that I hope will keep going despite all these hardships.

  12. Catherine says:

    Oh my gosh, you were at BEA in Chicago?! So was I! That makes me sad. It would have been so nice to meet you, but maybe that day will still come. As for life in MI, you already know how I’m doing! Befuddled and infuriated by idiots who think their “civil liberties” are more important than anyone else’s health.

    I read both of those books and largely felt the way you did. Mandel is a twisty writer and the fact that she followed up Montreal with Station Eleven is testament to her growth. I wish I liked Glass Hotel as much, but I just didn’t. The threads never tied back together for me.

    I’m almost finished with Curtis Sittenfeld’s Rodham and it is so good. Except that the way she’s moving towards the ending is giving me a tension headache. The foreshadowing is so strong. Which is all I can say without spoilers.

    • Susan says:

      Hi Catherine — so glad you are liking the Rodham novel, woohoo! Excellent. I like vetting some of these new ones thru you. Too bad about The Glass Hotel but I will probably get to it sometime later just to check out. We’ll see about the new online BEA … if it’s ever in Chicago again … I would likely go. Remember Kenny Loggins singing Footloose there at BEA? Funny. Meanwhile stay well and keep away from those militia types in Mich. What a world?!?

  13. I’m interested in Emily St. John Mandel’s new book: The Glass Hotel but right now I am sticking to lighter fare, in fact I am in the middle of the sequel to Hitchhikers Guide to the Galaxy. Can’t get much light than that.

    • Susan says:

      Hi Anne: yeah lighter fare is good now. Summer is almost here anyways … and back deck reading is on the horizon. No need for heavy stuff … enjoy your books.

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