Coronavirus Diary: January 1, 2023

January 1, 2023

My favorite reads of 2022! Just in case you missed it – https://stacyalesi.com/2022/12/30/best-books-of-2022/

Book News

There are always tons of best books of the year lists, so I thought I’d share a few. These are some of the books that appear on list after list:

Trust by Hernan Diaz

Demon Copperhead by Barbara Kingsolver

The Candy House by Jennifer Egan

Lessons in Chemistry by Bonnie Garmus (debut novel)


The New York Times Best Romance Novels of 2022: The genre has had an exceptional year — one of its best of all time.

The 10 Best Books of 2022 (New York Times)

Readers share their favorite audiobooks of the year (Washington Post)

The 10 best books of 2022 (Washington Post)

The best books of 2022 (The Guardian)

Best Books of 2022 (Library Journal) LJ offers their lists by genres – here are a few:

Best 20 Books of 2022 (Publisher’s Weekly)

Best Fiction Books of the Year (Kirkus)

The Best Books of 2022 (The New Yorker)

PEOPLE Picks the Top 10 Books of 2022

The best books of 2022 (Entertainment Weekly)

Vox’s 16 best books of 2022

The Best Books of 2022 (Vulture)

Amazon’s book editors announce 2022’s best books of the year

Best Books of the Year (Barnes & Noble)

Best Books for Adults 2022 (The New York Public Library)

Best Books of 2022 (Goodreads)

Other Book News

The Murky Path To Becoming a New York Times Best Seller (Esquire)

Rolling Stone

How Will BookTok Change Publishing in 2023?

Creators on TikTok are fighting for a more diverse book world — and running into some deep-seated problems in the industry

(Eliana Rodgers for The Washington Post)

We’re drowning in old books. But getting rid of them is heartbreaking.

‘They’re more like friends than objects,’ one passionate bookseller says. What are we to do with our flooded shelves?


Food News

Most years we make pizza for New Year’s Eve, so I was tickled when my son asked for a recipe for pizza sauce; I was happy to see him continuing our tradition! If you’d like to try making your own pizza, my favorite is Robert’s Pizza Dough recipe, courtesy of the NY Times, for Neapolitan-style pizza. King Arthur Baking has you covered for a Crispy Cheesy Pan Pizza; Detroit-Style Pizza; Chicago-Style Deep Dish Pizza; Grandma Pizza; or one of my favorites, The Fastest Homemade Pizza Ever – great for busy weeknights! KA also has a free newsletter you can sign up for called Pizza School, that I highly recommend.

This is my standard pizza sauce recipe, good with any kind of pizza, even English Muffin pizza, and it’s my beautiful grandson Jonah-approved!

28 oz can whole Roma tomatoes, preferably packed in puree*

2 cloves garlic, peeled and smashed

1-2 tablespoons olive oil

pinch oregano

few basil leaves, rolled up and sliced thinly or torn

salt & pepper

Heat olive oil on medium in a saucepan. Toss in garlic for about 30 seconds – you should smell it but it shouldn’t brown. Add the entire can of tomatoes with the puree or juice into the garlic, then add the oregano and basil. Season with salt & pepper to taste. Sometimes I throw in a pinch of dried red chili pepper if you want a bit of heat. Cook for about 10-15 minutes, just to meld flavors. Use an immersion blender to puree the sauce, but if you don’t have one, you can dump the sauce into a food processor or blender. Pizza sauce is usually fairly smooth rather than chunky, but you do you – enjoy!

*My favorite canned tomatoes are Nina, which Costco sells in a three pack. Other brands I like are Cento, Tutorosso, and Redpack. And if you want to spring for it, San Marzano tomatoes are beautiful but pricy, so make sure it says D.O.P. on the can or you are paying extra for no reason.

Wishing you all a very happy, healthy new year filled with love, joy, success, and good books!

As always, thanks for reading and stay safe.

*Thanks to The New York Times and The Washington Post for allowing me to “gift” my readers with free access to these articles, a lovely perk for subscribers.


Happy Holidays 2022!

December 24, 2022
Don’t know if you can tell but that Santa hat is courtesy of Maker’s Mark!

I am hard at work putting the finishing touches on my favorite books of the year list. I hope to have it posted in the next couple of days, hopefully before New Year’s!

My son, daughter-in-law, and grandson are due in this afternoon from New York. They had to cancel last year due to an upsurge in Covid cases, but this year they all had Covid a month or two ago, so that is no longer an issue (for now!)

Jonah is on his way to see Nana, Papa, & Auntie Auntie!

I’ll be posting next week my personal best books of the year list. Once again I thank you for your patience; I am visually impaired which has slowed down my reading and reviewing considerably.

I wish all who celebrate a very Merry Christmas! Happy Hanukkah! Happy Kwanza!

As always, thanks for reading and stay safe.


Coronavirus Diary: December 1, 2022

December 1, 2022

This is the time of year when I thank you all, my readers, for your support and your comments and emails. I don’t take a single one of you for granted! I appreciate your telling your family and friends about the site, and I hope you all have found great reads! I’m working on my favorite reads of the year and should have that posted shortly.

Whatever you celebrate, I hope you get to share it with family and friends. And I wish you every happiness for the coming year!

As always, thanks for reading and stay safe.


Coronavirus Diary: November 1, 2022

November 1, 2022

I am fully boosted, got my flu shot, and yet I was sick as a dog last week with terrible sinusitis. Every time I get sick, it hits my sinuses, and usually a few days of allergy meds, decongestants, sinus rinse (AKA what feels like waterboarding!) and Excedrin every six hours gets me through it. But this time instead of clearing up, a new symptom appeared – terrible dizziness, and at times, bed spins (which I haven’t had since my college drinking days and DID NOT MISS AT ALL!) If I turned my head too fast, well, let’s just say it wasn’t pretty. At one point, I heard what sounded like sloshing in my ear but then that went away. I was waking up during the night when I rolled over, which caused me to feel like the bed was spinning, which would cause me to wake up, curse, and grab onto the bed and/or my husband so I would stay grounded. No one got good sleep. I had some Amoxicillin in the house so I took that for a few days, and it didn’t seem to help much. Then I started getting worse again six days into this thing. I finally went to the doctor, and she prescribed a Z-pack (antibiotics) and a Medrol pack (steroids,) and 48 hours later I felt human again. The miracle of drugs! I also did a couple of Covid tests, just in case, but luckily they were negative.

All that said, there is always more to worry about:


Book News

New Right to Read Bill Expands School Library Access, Students’ Rights to Read [Book Riot]

The Trash Library of Ankara: Another unlikely library — this one made from books salvaged from the garbage of Ankara.

Food News

Two of my favorites have new cookbooks!

Smitten Kitchen Keepers: New Classics for Your Forever Files by Deb Perelman

BON APPETIT BEST BOOK OF THE YEAR! (preorder; available Nov. 15)

“For her third cookbook, Perelman has taken the wisdom she has accumulated in the 16 years since she created Smitten Kitchen and funneled it into “keepers,” i.e., recipes deserving of a place in her “forever files” and yours. That means, for example, a towering broccoli cheddar quiche baked in a springform pan, deli pickle potato salad that makes smart use of both pickles and brine, and chocolate peanut butter cup cookies that I can personally attest merit the “keeper” designation. Perelman, as is her wont, employs her trademark warmth and humor as she shepherds you from breakfast to dessert and beyond, making this both a fun and practical read.” –Rebecca Flint Marx, Eater

“Recipes become regulars when they’re fast, reliable, and deliciously worth the effort. In her third book, Smitten Kitchen founder Deb Perelman offers 100 recipes for oft-requested favorites like a fuss-free lemon poppy seed cake and “an epic quiche” sure to become some of the last you’ll ever need to learn.” –Jacqueline Raposo, Epicurious

 “Every cookbook creator makes a dish again and again so that we don’t have to, and Perelman ( Smitten Kitchen Every Day, 2017) just seems to have more fun doing so. With us strangers in mind…she shares recipes that withstand the most important test: folks will actually want to make and eat them over and over. For breakfast, a bodega-style fried-egg sandwich can be yours in three minutes, and a salad-topped frittata cooks entirely in the oven. Vegetables get their own chapters, organized by size…Meat dishes are balanced and homey, like a skillet-chicken parmesan that promises crispiness and sauciness and fail-safe, 10-ingredient pulled pork. Repeat-worthy cookies and unfussy cakes fill out the sweets chapter before Perelman invites readers to host more parties with a tight edit of crowd-pleasing drinks (alcoholic and non) and snacks. There’s a reason readers are still smitten, and this ode to “Weeknight Greatness” confirms it.” –Annie Bostrom, Booklist (starred review)

“In her third cookbook, Perelman returns with a gathering of the best versions of her key dishes—recipes that she has tested, trialed, and tweaked until they became what she wants her kids and readers to learn by heart and cook with delight…The book is a joy to read, with Perelman’s confiding, cheering voice showcased in short prefaces and recipe notes. She writes as if she were dashing off a recipe on a napkin for her best friend, while at the same time telling them what to do to really make it work. It is pure pleasure. The book covers breakfasts (which Perelman says are good at any time of day), salads, soups, vegetables, meats, sweets, and even a few drinks. Vegetarians and gluten-free eaters will find plenty of options and can adapt many of the other recipes…Essential for all collections. The cookbook, like the recipes it shares, is a keeper.” –Neal Wyatt, Library Journal (starred review)

Go-To Dinners: A Barefoot Contessa Cookbook by Ina Garten

America’s favorite home cook presents delicious, crowd-pleasing, go-to recipes that you’ll want to make over and over again! (available now)

Coming out of the pandemic with a renewed appreciation for dishes that can be frozen and prepped in advance as well as simply assembled, cookbook doyenne Garten (Modern Comfort Food) serves up a delicious, no-nonsense collection of weeknight recipes that are “simple to follow and work every time.” Those features—plus a “rethink” about leftovers (she never liked them) and what constitutes a worthy meal—are amply celebrated throughout. Boards composed of store-bought and homemade items—such as balsamic-roasted baby peppers with Italian cheeses, cured meats, and breadsticks, and a dessert board with small tarts, fresh and dried fruit, chocolate bark, and slices of pound cake—are her new go-to, she writes, because “cooking fatigue is a real thing, even for me.” For a fresh and flavorful twist, the author applies cacio e pepe treatment to scrambled eggs and roasted asparagus, while hot dogs are wrapped in mustard-swiped puff pastry. Garten also draws on the wisdom of other accomplished cooks with such dishes as a potato salad à la Julia Child; a one-pot chicken with orzo from Nigella Lawson; and molasses baked beans and dark chocolate tart from Erin French of the Lost Kitchen in Maine. Practical and practically faultless, this is a real treat. (Oct.)Publishers Weekly

Kitchen maven Garten (Modern Comfort Food) returns with a cookbook born of the pandemic. These recipes are low stress, comforting, and, of course, delicious. Garten believes an invitation to dinner is an expression of love, but unlike her past lavish dinners, the pandemic helped her discover that simple can be just right. Garten offers creative ways to re-create leftovers into new and exciting dishes and encourages challenging oneself to make a meal with whatever is on hand. Hotdogs in pastry were the result of her own success at making do; the recipe became a keeper even after grocery shopping became routine again. Simple can yield sophisticated flavors too, with recipes like caramelized butternut squash with burrata. Garten’s helpful notations, such as “make ahead” and “two-fer” (make into two different meals), guide readers. She also includes other useful tips (store roasted vegetables in a plastic bag with a damp paper towel to keep them crisp). Each recipe receives one photo on the adjacent page, and several full-page spreads add to the enticement. VERDICT Another pleaser from Garten; sure to be in demand.P.J. Gardiner, Library Journal


Wishing you all a very Happy Thanksgiving!

As always, thanks for reading and stay safe.

*Thanks to The New York Times for allowing me to “gift” my readers with free access to these articles, a lovely perk for subscribers.


Coronavirus Diary: October 1, 2022

October 1, 2022

President Biden declared the pandemic over. Wishful thinking?

Is Biden correct that the pandemic is over? Not exactly. His words made it unclear what the remaining public health problems are, including long Covid, and what exactly needs to be done about them.

My grandson’s nanny returned from vacation and she and her husband ended up with Covid. As soon as her husband tested positive, she went home but despite her masking, my grandson caught it anyway. Luckily, he already had his first two vaccines or I would have been panicky. He had a bit of a runny nose for a day or so and that was it. Then my daughter-in-law tested positive – again. She had it once before. She didn’t really have any symptoms though. On the other hand, my son had a terrible sore throat and fever and he didn’t test positive until a few days later. So in my family at least, the pandemic ain’t over!

Reading Nana Loves You More by Jimmy Fallon

I got my flu shot as there is apparently a bad flu going around the dorms at the college where I work. I’ve heard conflicting information on when to get the new Covid booster, anywhere from 3 to 6 months after the last booster or after you had Covid. Since I’ve had pretty bad reactions to most (ok, only to the first three Moderna vaccines) I didn’t want to do the flu-Covid combo vaccine special. I was going to New York for Rosh Hashanah and didn’t want to take a chance on having a reaction that would prevent me from going. October will be six months from my last booster so I’ll be making an appointment for next week, after Yom Kippur.


Hurricane Ian

I have lived in southeast Florida for about forty years, and have lived through my share of hurricanes. I was in NY and heading home the day before the storm was supposed to hit. I was very nervous about flying into a possible storm but thank you, JetBlue; they got me home safely with minimal turbulence. Then the storm took a turn west, and we were out of the “cone”. We were still under a Tropical Storm Warning though, and the lightning was unending and spectacular.

My nephew and his family live in Cape Coral, and my sister-in-law & brother-in-law live just outside Tampa, and one of my co-workers recently moved to Ft. Meyers, so we were worried about them as they didn’t evacuate. Cape Coral and Ft. Meyers took a direct hit, but while they have considerable damage to their homes, no power or water, they are all safe. So far 21 people have died and that number is sure to go up. The storm took a turn back east towards Orlando, then back over the Atlantic, and landed in South Caroline as a Cat 1 storm. More devastation. So far, it looks like the barrier islands off the west coast of Florida took it the worst, with the bridge to Sanibel Island destroyed in three places. They had to get people off the island via helicopter or boat. https://www.wfla.com/news/florida/watch-helicopter-captures-rescue-from-floodwaters-in-orlando-after-hurricane-ian/

I was surprised that the Florida governor was asking for Federal aid. He voted against sending aid to NY after Hurricane Sandy. Guess when it’s in his backyard it’s a different story, so after threatening to send more Texas immigrants to Joe Biden’s house in Delaware, DeSantis did ask him for money. Florida is going to need all the federal dollars we can get; turns out most people on the west coast didn’t have flood insurance. DeSantis, Once a ‘No’ on Storm Aid, Petitions a President He’s Bashed

I was not surprised to learn that Chef World Central Kitchen was serving thousands of people the day after the storm. That’s where I sent my donation. https://wck.org/

Chef Jose Andres, World Central Kitchen activate hurricane food supplies for storm victims

Book News

I was delighted to see this article celebrating the 75th anniversary of this beloved children’s book. My son insisted we read Goodnight Moon every night for at least two years, and my daughter loved it as well although she liked variety in her nightly bedtime stories. Several years ago, I was invited to speak to the Rhode Island Library Association. I extended my stay for a few days as I’d never been there before. My husband joined me and we visited the Rhode Island School of Design – they had an exhibit on Clement Hurd, the illustrator of Goodnight Moon, and several other children’s books. They recreated a life-size “great green room” and we got to sit in the grandma’s rocking chair. They also had many of the earlier drawings from this book and others, the rough drafts up to the finished pages. It was a nostalgic, enchanting exhibit and I loved it, especially as my children were pretty much adults by then.

Voters Oppose Book Bans in Libraries

Polling Shows Voters Oppose Efforts to Remove Books from Libraries and Have Confidence in Libraries to Make Good Decisions About Their Collections

https://www.ala.org/advocacy/voters-oppose-book-bans-libraries

Reintroducing Book World

The Washington Post had discontinued their book section several years ago, but I’m so happy they are bringing it back! There are a few articles about their history and what’s changed. Fun reading! (for me at least, and maybe for you?)

The Washington Post’s books section starts its new chapter, in print every Sunday and with a refurbished and revitalized presence online https://wapo.st/3SamqgL

Book World began on Watergate’s heels: A look back at the early days: Michael Dirda recalls a time of typewriters and landlines, of putting together a section that captures the joy of literature and the love of reading https://wapo.st/3DOAEj7


Food News

French Toast, part of my “soft food” rotation (my husband had his second gum surgery yesterday,) became part of my daughter’s final in her Photojournalism class. It is a recipe I mostly made up in my head, so I had to guesstimate the amounts of ingredients. She photographed the process from beginning to end, and her photos made me look like a food star! French toast anyone?

Challah French Toast

Ingredients

  • 1 lb. loaf Challah bread, unsliced
  • ½ cup milk
  • ½ cup cream (or 1 cup half & half!)
  • Zest from one small orange
  • Zest from one small lemon
  • ½ teaspoon ground cinnamon
  • ¼ teaspoon sea salt
  • 4 large eggs
  • 2 large egg yolks
  • 1 tsp. vanilla
  • Unsalted butter
  • warm maple syrup & fruit, for serving 

Directions

  1. Slice challah about 1″ thick and lay out on a sheet pan without overlapping. Leave out for several hours (overnight is best) or if you don’t have time, bake on a foil-lined sheet pan in a 250 degree oven for about ten minutes. You just want the bread to dry out a bit.
  2. Leave oven on and arrange bread slices in a 13- x 9-inch baking dish. Put the foil-lined sheet pan back in the oven.
  3. Whisk together milk, cream, orange zest, lemon zest, cinnamon, salt, eggs, and egg yolks in a bowl until completely combined. Pour egg mixture over the bread. Let stand for a couple of minutes; turn bread slices, and let stand until egg mixture is absorbed, about 4 minutes altogether.
  4. Heat a large nonstick griddle over medium heat. Melt about a tablespoon of butter in the griddle, then brush butter over entire surface. Arrange as many bread slices as will fit comfortably on the griddle, then cook until golden brown, 3 to 5 minutes on each side. As slices are finished, put them on the sheet pan in the oven to keep warm. Repeat with remaining bread.
  5. Top French Toast with warm maple syrup and sliced fruit (I like berries & bananas, but Trader Joe’s frozen berry mixture or berries & cherry mixture are great; I keep bags of those on hand.) And don’t forget the side of bacon! Or breakfast sausage, if you prefer. We really like Morning Star Farms vegan breakfast sausage, too.

As always, thanks for reading and stay safe.

*Thanks to The New York Times and The Washington Post for allowing me to “gift” my readers with free access to these articles, a lovely perk for subscribers.


Coronavirus Diary: September 1, 2022

September 1, 2022

School is in session and the Coronavirus is making itself known. I am in the process of hiring student workers for the library, and one of my new hires had to miss the first week of school as she contracted Covid. I’m sure she won’t be the last.

The new vaccine that is supposed to target the BA.4 and BA.5 Omicron subvariants which are plaguing the nation right now should be ready after Labor Day. But there is definite vaccine burnout and apparently, funding issues. I get it; I’ve had the two vaccines and two boosters, but I also get a flu shot every year so I’m just adding this to my to-do list.


I have two friends, one in Florida and one in Pennsylvania, who have sworn they never had Covid. They had family members who did have it and they tested daily but never had a positive test. That said, there is a blood test that some doctors are now giving that can show whether you’ve been vaccinated and whether or not you’ve had the actual disease. And both of these friends were shocked to find they tested positive for having had Covid. Completely asymptomatic and no positive tests. I’m not even sure what to think about this.

Coronavirus in the U.S.: Latest Map and Case Count

Book News

When they came for the librarians: My profession is under attack — what happens now? People in my profession are used to mockery and low salaries. We didn’t expect constant insults and real danger

Book publishers just spent 3 weeks in court arguing they have no idea what they’re doing [Vox]

Ali Hazelwood’s sort-of-secret life as a best-selling author

Colleen Hoover is queen of the best sellers list. Who is she, and why are her books so popular?

Judge thwarts Va. Republicans’ effort to limit book sales at Barnes & Noble

NYC library: Youths read banned books online free: The Brooklyn Public Library offers a free library card to anyone in the U.S. aged 13 to 21 who wants to check out and read books digitally in response to the nationwide wave of book censorship and restrictions. Free Books Unbanned Brooklyn Library Card


Food News

We all fall into food ruts. I love to cook, but at the end of the day, I’m not often inspired to try something new. I’m more inclined to go with what is easy and what I know works for my family. But my husband is going through some dental issues that are going to take about a year to resolve, and for some of that time, he needs to eat soft. His dietary restrictions for dental work so far include no biting anything – he has to cut everything up to eat. Not that big an issue, but chewing is also iffy at the moment. I made a Caprese salad thinking tomatoes and fresh mozzarella are soft, but he had trouble with the basil. He usually eats a big salad every night but that was out until he healed a bit; now I make him chopped salad and that is working out for him.

Big Lasagna

In addition to his dental issues, he is also diabetic which imposes other dietary restrictions. He is managing with as little frustration as possible, but I’ve had to change up what I make for dinner. He rarely eats refined carbs; as most people know by now, carbs, especially refined carbs, turn into sugar – not good for diabetics. Yes, he could eat a lot of beans as they are soft, but not really his favorite. I want him to enjoy his dinners, not suffer through them. I’ve been making soups – thank goodness for the Instant Pot! I made split pea and barley soup, which took about 20 minutes total. Same with lentil soup. I made Samin Nosrat’s Big Lasagna – it took most of the day on Sunday (and I purchased fresh lasagna sheets!) but we’ll get at least two dinners out of it and my family loves it. Eggplant parm and meatballs with small pasta (spaghetti is too difficult for him right now) are in the rotation, as is what we call breakfast for dinner – pancakes, waffles, eggs, omelets, frittatas. I should really try shakshuka now, too. And I’m finally going to try Smitten Kitchen’s Pizza Beans! I bought him some sugar-free Klondike bars – it’s a treat and the man is in need of treats. And sugar-free puddings and Jello and yogurt. Chobani Zero Sugar is pretty good, especially if you mix in some fresh fruit.

And this too shall pass…

From the Archives

From BookBitch.com. March 31, 2001 via the Wayback Machine; then again on the BookBitchBlog in 2006. Twenty-plus years later, it still holds up!

America’s Hidden Problem:  Literature Abuse by Michael McGrorty

Once a relatively rare disorder, Literature Abuse, or LA, has risen to new levels due to the accessibility of higher education and increased college enrollment since the end of the Second World War. The number of literature abusers is currently at record levels.

Social Costs of Literary Abuse

Abusers become withdrawn, uninterested in society or normal relationships. They fantasize, creating alternative worlds to occupy, to the neglect of friends and family. In severe cases they develop bad posture from reading in awkward positions or carrying heavy book bags. In the worst instances, they become cranky reference librarians in small towns.

Excessive reading during pregnancy is perhaps the number one cause of moral deformity among the children of English professors, teachers of English and creative writing. Known as Fetal Fiction Syndrome, this disease also leaves its victims prone to a lifetime of nearsightedness, daydreaming and emotional instability.

Heredity

It has been established that heredity plays a considerable role in determining whether a person will become an abuser of literature. Most abusers have at least one parent who abused literature, often beginning at an early age and progressing into adulthood. Many spouses of an abuser become abusers themselves.

Other Predisposing Factors

Fathers or mothers who are English teachers, professors, or heavy fiction readers; parents who do not encourage children to play games, participate in healthy sports, or watch television in the evening.

Prevention

Pre-marital screening and counseling, referral to adoption agencies in order to break the chain of abuse. English teachers in particular should seek partners active in other fields. Children should be encouraged to seek physical activity, and to avoid isolation and morbid introspection.

Self-Test for Literature Abusers

How many of these apply to you?

1.  I have read fiction when I was depressed, or to cheer myself up.
2.  I have gone on reading binges of an entire book or more in a day.
3.  I read rapidly, often ‘gulping’ chapters.
4.  I have sometimes read early in the morning, or before work.
5.  I have hidden books in different places to sneak a chapter without being seen.
6.  Sometimes I avoid friends or family obligations in order to read novels.
7.  Sometimes I re-write film or television dialog as the characters speak.
8.  I am unable to enjoy myself with others unless there is a book nearby.
9.  At a party, I will often slip off unnoticed to read.
10. Reading has made me seek haunts and companions which I would otherwise avoid.
11. I have neglected personal hygiene or household chores until I had finished a novel.
12. I have spent money meant for necessities on books instead.
13. I have attempted to check out more library books than permitted.
14. Most of my friends are heavy fiction readers.
15. I have sometimes passed out from a night of heavy reading.
16. I have suffered ‘blackouts’ or memory loss from a bout of reading.
17. I have wept, become angry or irrational because of something I read.
18. I have sometimes wished I did not read so much.
19. Sometimes I think my fiction reading is out of control.

If you answered ‘yes’ to three or more of these questions, you may be a literature abuser. Affirmative responses to five or more indicates a serious problem.

Decline and Fall:  The English Major

Within the sordid world of literature abuse, the lowest circle belongs to those sufferers who have thrown their lives and hopes away to study literature in our colleges. Parents should look for signs that their children are taking the wrong path-don’t expect your teenager to approach you and say, ‘I can’t stop reading Spencer.’ By the time you visit her dorm room and find the secret stash of the Paris Review, it may already be too late.

What to do if you suspect your child is becoming an English major:

1. Talk to your child in a loving way. Show your concern. Let her know you won’t abandon her — but that you aren’t spending a hundred grand to put her through Stanford so she can clerk at Borders, either. But remember that she may not be able to make a decision without help; perhaps she has just finished Madame Bovary and is dying of arsenic poisoning.

2. Face the issue: Tell her what you know, and how: ‘I found this book in your purse. How long has this been going on?’ Ask the hard question–Who is this Count Vronsky?’

3. Show her another way. Move the television set into her room. Praise her brother, the engineer. Introduce her to frat boys. 

4. Do what you have to do. Tear up her library card. Make her stop signing her letters as ‘Emma.’ Force her to take a math class, or minor in Spanish. Transfer her to a college in Alabama. 

You may be dealing with a life-threatening problem if one or more of the following applies:
* She can tell you how and when Thomas Chatterton died.
* She names one or more of her cats after a Romantic poet.
* Next to her bed is a picture of: Lord Byron, Virginia Woolf, Faulkner, or any scene from the Lake District.

Most important, remember, you are not alone. To seek help for yourself or someone you love, contact the nearest chapter of the American Literature Abuse Society, or look under ALAS in your telephone directory.


As always, thanks for reading and stay safe.

*Thanks to The New York Times and The Washington Post for allowing me to “gift” my readers with free access to these articles, a lovely perk for subscribers.


Coronavirus Diary: August 1, 2022

August 1, 2022

The new coronavirus subvariant is the most contagious yet, making me feel more vulnerable than ever. School starts up in a few weeks, bringing students to campus from all over these not-so-United States and about 100 countries. Lynn University, where I am a librarian, is proud of their international students making up 17-20% of the student population, and the remarkable diversity of the campus, as am I. But with masks optional pretty much everywhere, it’s not looking good for a Covid-free semester. I’m hoping the new B.A.5 booster is ready this fall.


Book News

One of my favorite books is Where the Crawdads Sing by Delia Owens, and I am not alone. It was on my Best Books of 2018 list and has been on the bestseller list for three+ years. If you haven’t read it yet, please do: https://amzn.to/3uRD6QK Reese Witherspoon produced the film that opened in July, but it is being overshadowed by the back story.

Where the Crawdads Sing Author Wanted for Questioning in Murder: A televised 1990s killing in Zambia has striking similarities to Delia Owens’s best-selling book turned movie. By Jeffrey Goldberg (Includes links to Goldberg’s earlier New Yorker article as well.)

This is so cool! Some of the world’s most celebrated authors have written manuscripts that won’t be published for a century – why? Richard Fisher visits the Future Library in Oslo to find out. The Norwegian library with unreadable books

14 ways to get out of a reading slump: Rereading a beloved book is one of many strategies our readers shared for reversing a rut

Food News

Do you sous vide? I do, and highly recommend! The French phrase literally means “under vacuum,” which refers to a vacuum sealed bag. The cooking itself is basically under water with an “Immersion Circulator.”

Several years ago, my husband became interested in this cooking method that many restaurants use, but the machines were very expensive. When I started working at Lynn University, one of my co-workers was also a fan and had been using one for a while. Over the years, they’ve become much more affordable, and a few years ago, we finally purchased the Anova on a Black Friday sale or something; we paid about $75 or so. I didn’t purchase a specific container for it, although they are available and sometimes sold as kits. I have a tiny kitchen so I try to avoid any purchases that only have one use. The sous vide machine itself is fairly small, and I use it with my largest stockpot, about 16 quarts. It works amazingly well! I have made steaks, roasts, ham, and fish in there and every single time the food comes out perfect. It’s like having a secret weapon!

If you’ve ever splurged on something like a standing rib roast and then overcooked it (yes, I did that more than once!) you will begin to appreciate the way this works. It is pretty much impossible to overcook anything with sous vide cooking. There are tons of videos on YouTube, and Serious Eats has a beginner’s guide that I found very helpful.

It’s fairly straightforward. You put the machine in a large container of water, seal whatever you’re cooking in a Ziploc or “seal-a-meal” vacuum type bag, set the temperature to the ideal temp for your steak (or whatever), then set the timer (lots of charts with timing available online,) cover the pot or container, and wait. The most work for me is filling the damn pot! When the time is up, your food is at the proper temperature but be forewarned; it will not look very good. You still need to “finish,”, especially meat. You can grill as we did here, sear it in a cast iron pan, or broil it in the oven. Fish you can get away with not doing anything else. We made a Tomahawk-type steak and took some pictures – if you like your meat more well done, you just set the temperature to that. I used 125° for rare, and the internet told me to count on about an hour per inch of meat, so this took about 3 hours, completely unattended.

Personal News

Today is my mother’s birthday, so please indulge me. She would have been 88, but I lost her fourteen years ago, way too young. She had chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD) and a bout of throat cancer from over 40 years of smoking, and rheumatoid arthritis, both of which made her day-to-day life very difficult. It was years of her going downhill, and it was so hard watching her fade away, losing her joy in life. Eventually, she needed oxygen all the time and had one of those little tanks on wheels so she could leave the house. And my (step)dad made sure he always had a wheelchair at the ready for her, as much as she hated it, as it became a necessity. My brother stepped in to help so my dad could retire, and honestly, I don’t know what would have happened if he hadn’t (Alan, you’re the best!) With all that, she rarely left home, although she insisted on coming to my son’s college graduation, and she kvelled that whole weekend. The last picture I have of the two of them together was from that trip.

Towards the end, her only happiness was her husband and her family, especially her grandchildren. In fact, her last few weeks alive I attribute to my son, Daniel. He lived a few hours away, and I swear she waited for him to come home for a visit. He spent much of the weekend with her, he went home, and she died a few days later.

I saw her the day before she passed, two days before Valentine’s Day. I was at work in the library when my dad came in. My mother was too weak to walk into the library so she waited in the car. I went out there to say hello and she gave me a small, heart-shaped box of chocolates for my daughter, Ariel, who was going to save it for Valentine’s Day. Except she lost her Nana the next day, and that box sat on the kitchen counter under a little shelf that held the phone (remember when we had house phones and cell phones?) for a year, then she threw out the chocolates and kept the box.

My husband was away when she passed, on a multi-day hike out in the Everglades. When he got out of the woods and was ready to head home, he called me at work to let me know he was on his way. But I wasn’t at work and he immediately knew something must have happened – I never missed a day. He got hold of me at home but he was driving, still an hour or so away and I didn’t want to tell him while he was driving. I begged him to call me back when he stopped for gas or coffee or whatever, but he insisted. My husband, who I had only seen cry once in over thirty years together, when our son was born, started crying. No mother-in-law jokes here, as big a pain in the butt as my mother could be, they had a very special relationship – better than I had with my mother, to be honest.

Today I think about my mother and the legacy she left of putting those you love first, always. I always thought that when you lose a parent, you will miss them the most when something bad happens. For me, at least, I miss her the most when something good happens.

When my son got married a few years ago, I thought about her and my dad a lot. I knew that this would have been such a happy time for them. I knew they would have loved my daughter-in-law and her family. I knew they would have been beyond proud of Daniel. They were on my mind a lot, and the night before the wedding, we were on our way to the welcome dinner (instead of a rehearsal dinner) for all the guests, we passed this sign. I was so shocked I made my husband pull in so I could take this picture. She was my mom, but she was Daniel & Ariel’s Nana. Talk about signs – this was a literal sign, and it comforted me enormously. I knew she would be there for him and for all of us, as she always was.

In other personal news…

We lost my mother-in-law on Saturday. She was 96 years old, just a few weeks shy of her 97th birthday. She was a remarkable woman, the eldest of six children and she outlived them all. She had a long and healthy life, until just a few months ago. She was blessed with five great-grandchildren, and she got to meet her youngest in late April. Marie was a good mother-in-law; she never interfered, always had my back, and was always there for us when we needed her.

Before Larry and I married, his parents had invited us for dinner. But we had a fight that day, and I didn’t go. When he got there alone, my future MIL called me and asked me what he had done. She made me feel like she was on my side even back then.

When my son was born six weeks early, my husband had to leave on a long business trip, a month in China. It was supposed to be his last trip before the baby was born, but Daniel didn’t get the memo. I was panicky, a new mother home with a two-week-old baby on a heart monitor. I had a few friends, but none who had children, and they all worked. My mom worked, too, but my mother-in-law was retired. She had a lifelong fear of flying and had never flown anywhere, but she got herself on a plane and flew to Dallas. She stayed and helped me with the baby until Larry got home. I am forever grateful to her for that.

Marie was a fantastic cook and generously shared her recipes with me. She was also enormously talented; she knitted, crocheted, quilted, did needlepoint, cross stitch, macrame, ceramics, pretty much any craft you can think of. She also was an incredible seamstress – she made my sister-in-law’s wedding gown and all the bridesmaids’ dresses, too!

One of my favorite stories is when we told her we were naming my daughter, Ariel Marie, after her. She informed us her real name was Maria, but she didn’t like it so she changed it to Marie. We had no idea! But that’s how she was; she kept moving forward and didn’t dwell on life’s challenges or disappointments. When my father-in-law passed away after 60+ years of marriage, my husband took to stopping by to check on her every day after work. A few weeks into his new routine, she informed him that she was too busy for his constant visits and asked him to cut it back to once a week, which he did. He called her every day though.

In 2017, we had a small family reunion. It was the first time this group was together in many, many years and she was so happy. Marie, you will be missed. Rest in peace.


As always, thanks for reading and stay safe.

*Thanks to The New York Times and The Washington Post for allowing me to “gift” my readers with free access to these articles, a lovely perk for subscribers.


Coronavirus Diary: July 1, 2022

July 1, 2022

So the big Covid news is that vaccines are now available for children under 5, like my grandson. It will lessen the fear of flying for sure. I really don’t know how parents have been able to manage this for the past two+ years, it is just mind boggling to me. Especially for those in the sandwich generation, who are dealing with aging parents AND children. I feel my stress level rising just thinking about it!

With the latest strain, people are being reinfected after already having Covid, and/or after being fully vaxxed and boostered. A couple of my colleagues just had their second go round with Covid, and a couple more were hit by this highly contagious strain even though they were fully vaxxed & boostered. That is about half my department! I feel like it’s coming for me, so I’m masking any time I step out of my office or go into a store.

Before Omicron, reinfections were rare. This latest strain is the most contagious yet. The New York Times explains:

Oh no!

Food News

There are tons of newsletters out there, but I have found a few that are a must read for me. and most of them are free. If you are a NYT Cooking subscriber, they offer some terrific newsletters and I get them all.

Cooking: Feast on recipes, food writing and culinary inspiration from Sam Sifton and NYT Cooking.

Five Weeknight Dishes: Fresh, delicious dinner ideas for busy people, from Emily Weinstein and NYT Cooking.

The Veggie: Tejal Rao shares the most delicious vegetarian recipes for weeknight cooking, packed lunches and dinner parties.

The Washington Post has several newsletters, including a few really good limited series like Voraciously: Plant Powered,12 weeks on “cooking more plant-forward meals,” and Baking Basics, an 8-week guide that “will show you that baking really is a piece of cake.” I like looking at them, and I love how you can scale a recipe up or down, but to be honest, I rarely find myself cooking from them. Not sure if you need to be a subscriber to access.

Eater has several newsletters, and I subscribe to their daily newsletter set in the food world; there’s always something interesting there, like the article I pinned below on romance novels set in the food world. You can also get newsletters for your city, if they have one. Miami is the closest city to me and I rarely go there so I didn’t bother.

Ruth Reichl has a newsletter on Substack that is usually pretty interesting. She pulls a lot from her “archives,” and I like the historical aspect. You can read the latest issue and see if you like it without subscribing.

The Smitten Kitchen offers a weekly digest that is always useful, and more importantly, fun to read. I love Perelman’s voice. You can see a sample before you subscribe.

King Arthur Baking offers a baking newsletter. I think it is weekly, or thereabouts. I also like their blog. Plus if you ever have trouble, you can call, chat, or email for help!

Last but not least, another good baking newsletter is put out by Dorie Greenspan. It’s xoxo Dorie, a twice-weekly newsletter.

Book News

A couple of older articles as well.

Romance Novels Are Increasingly Getting Hot and Heavy in the Kitchen

Move over, bodice rippers. It’s all about apron tuggers now. (Eater) https://www.eater.com/23188870/summer-romance-novels-baking-cooking

This was fun, especially if you are a language nerd like me!

https://scholarlykitchen.sspnet.org/2022/07/01/words-we-need/?informz=1&nbd=8d597aea-08ad-4b80-a615-3bc6331ba654&nbd_source=informz

Finally, a bookstore obviously designed with people like me in mind: Archestratus Books & Foods, in Brooklyn, NY. (For some reason you have to click on “over 18” to access this adult site??? They sell books, and food. So weird!)

As always, thanks for reading and stay safe.

*Thanks to The New York Times for allowing me to “gift” my readers with free access to these articles, a lovely perk for subscribers.


Coronavirus Diary: June 1, 2022

June 1, 2022

Coronavirus has evolved once again into a super contagious variant, the rapidly spreading Omicron subvariant, BA.2.12.1, and numbers are up. Every time I think we are coming out of it, this happens. In New York, they are recommending people mask up once again. In Florida, not so much. One of my co-worker’s kids got it, so he quarantined himself and sure enough, he got it too. He is vaxxed and boosted, and still was pretty sick, but thankfully, just for a few days. Then another co-worker’s school age children both got it so she had to quarantine. She’s already had it once and had her first vaccination, so we’re hopeful she’ll be spared. Then another co-worker got it. Bear in mind, we are a very small staff so three people out with Covid is almost half our staff. I am starting to feel like Covid is coming for me. On the other hand, I refuse to worry about Monkeypox, even though one of two cases in the US is in Broward County, a few miles from my house.

While all this was going on, I was at work when I suddenly felt overwhelmingly nauseous. I jumped in my car and went home. By the time I got home, I was still nauseous but also really tired. I crawled into bed and slept for about four hours, which is not like me at all. I woke up less nauseous, and my husband – masked and gloved – gave me the at home Covid test. It was negative. I tested again the next morning and was negative again. By the end of that day, I felt pretty much back to normal. I have no idea what was wrong with me but it went away fairly quickly, so yay. Or so I thought.

A few days later I was working from home and the same thing happened; overwhelming nausea. I hadn’t eaten anything that morning, just had half a cup of coffee. This time was much worse, the nausea didn’t go away for hours and hours. I couldn’t sleep, and my stomach was empty and hurting so that was not fun at all. It took two full days to recover. Another negative Covid test and no one in my house got sick so that was good; I always find the bright side! I figured it was probably a stomach flu but then Jif peanut butter announced a recall due to salmonella. I had eaten a PB&J sandwich the day before I got sick. Apparently, it can take days or even weeks for the salmonella to make you sick. So now I’m assuming that’s what happened to me. That was a first for me.

Uvalde…my heart is breaking for those families who lost a loved one in the Robb school shooting. Another mass shooting, right on the heels of the Buffalo one. My daughter-in-law is a speech pathologist in an elementary school, so this hit really close to home – as it did for every parent and teacher in America. Then to see Ted Cruz at the NRA conference calling for a “one door policy” and his usual, arming teachers.

I find that incredibly ironic – Texas politicians don’t trust their teachers to teach or to pick out books for their students, but they trust them with guns? They are hell bent on protecting fetuses, but obviously could care less about nine & ten year old children. And most disgusting of all was seeing Trump dancing on the NRA stage after the names of those dead children were read. Every time I think that man can’t possibly sink any lower, he proves me wrong.

A few years ago, Nicholas Kristof wrote an Op-Ed on gun control that the The NY Times reran last week. I found it incredibly well thought out, feasible, and compelling; definitely worth a read.

Summers are quiet here in the university library where I work. We have much shorter hours, and we tend to use the time to work on projects. One of my projects is redoing all the signage in the book collection. We often have to shift books to make room for new ones, and that means the signs at the ends of each row can be off. Eventually, they can be off quite a bit if ignored. My library director also wants us all to think about how our space looks, and is utilized. We lost two full time positions during the pandemic, and now have empty offices that we’d like to utilize. We are also looking at our library policies, and thinking of expanding them. All the book banning going on in this country is making me more thoughtful about those policies.

In some personally exciting news, my brilliant grandson is starting to walk, and he loves books! I am a very proud Nana!

Food News: Pretzels

Let’s talk about pretzels. Have you ever tried to make pretzels? The big, soft, chewy, salty kind (before Auntie Anne drips her butter on them.) I’ve been making pretzels for years, and they usually come out okay. Certainly not great, or not even better than the frozen kind you bake. Not worth the effort, to be totally honest. But I am tenacious. I kept searching and reading and trying.

I have tried drying out the baking soda in a slow oven for an hour before adding it to water for a poaching liquid. That batch of pretzels had to go straight into the trash – I would not recommend this method. I have tried poaching the pretzels for up to 3 minutes; I also do not recommend that. In my experience, about 30 seconds per side works best.

I am excited to say that I think I’ve finally got it! A recipe that rivals the frozen kind, but dare I say even better? Definitely worth the work, at least in my house. (Honestly, it’s really not much work and so worth it!) It is a fun project for a Sunday afternoon. I riffed off a recipe from Deb Perelman of Smitten Kitchen for Miniature Soft Pretzels. But I have found the secret to really good, soft, fluffy yet chewy pretzels is….bread flour. I prefer King Arthur’s Bread Flour, but you do you. I also much prefer the flavor from the barley malt syrup, but you can substitute sugar and they will still be really good.

I know that active dry yeast packets contain more than two teaspoons of yeast, but if you use the instant yeast, you only need the 2 tsp. I bought a pound package of SAF Red Instant Yeast at the beginning of the pandemic and have kept it in my freezer. I am finally just about out. And it’s still good, by the way. I think if you keep it frozen, it lasts forever (but don’t hold me to that!)

INGREDIENTS

2 cups room temperature or slightly warm water
1 tablespoon + 2 tablespoons barley malt syrup
2 tsp. instant yeast (or 1 pkg active dry yeast)
5 to 6 cups bread flour, plus more for dusting
1 tablespoon sea salt
grapeseed or other neutral oil
1/4 cup baking soda
1 large egg
Coarse salt, kosher salt, or pretzel salt

DIRECTIONS

  • Pour water, 1 tablespoon barley malt syrup. and yeast into bowl of electric mixer. Give it a stir then put on your dough hook. If using instant yeast, move on to the next step. If using active dry yeast, let sit 10 minutes; yeast should be foamy.
  • Add 1 cup flour to yeast, and mix on low until combined. Add salt and 4 cups more flour, and mix until combined, about 30 seconds. Beat on medium-low until dough pulls away from sides of bowl, about 1 1/2 minutes. If dough is still wet and sticky, add 1/2 cup more flour (this will depend on weather conditions – hello, humid Florida here!); mix until combined, about 30 seconds. When everything looks incorporated, mix on medium speed for about 5 minutes, or until the dough looks fairly smooth. Transfer to a lightly floured board, and knead a few times, or until smooth, and form into a ball.
  • Pour a little grapeseed (or other unflavored) oil into a large bowl; brush or use a paper towel to coat sides. Transfer dough ball to bowl, then turn over dough to completely cover all sides with a bit of oil. Cover with a kitchen towel, and leave in a warm spot for 1 hour, or until dough has doubled in size. My oven has a “proof” setting, so I use that.
  • Heat oven to 450°F. Line two baking sheets with parchment paper or silicone mats. Set aside. Punch down dough to remove bubbles. Transfer to counter. Knead once or twice, then divide into 16 pieces (about 70 grams each) and cover loosely with plastic. If it seems like the balls are sticking, dust a little flour on the counter but just where you are keeping the dough balls; leave the rest of the counter clean.
  • Roll one piece of dough at a time into an 18-inch-long rope on unfloured counter. If the dough is sliding around rather than stretching, very lightly moisten your hands with water to create a little tackiness.
  • Shape the rope into a U with the slightly tapered ends facing away from you. Crisscross the rope in the middle of U (a), then crisscross again (b). Fold the ends toward the bottom of the U (c). Firmly press the ends into the bottom curve of the U about 1 inch apart, forming a pretzel shape (d).
  • Transfer the pretzels as you make them to the prepared sheets, knot side up, 8 pretzels per sheet. Cover loosely with a kitchen towel or plastic wrap. Let pretzels rest until they rise slightly, about 15 minutes.
  • Meanwhile, fill a large, shallow pot with 2 inches of water. Bring to a boil. Add baking soda and remaining 2 tablespoons barley malt syrup. Reduce to a simmer; transfer three to four pretzels to water. Poach 30 seconds on each side. Use slotted spoon to transfer pretzels to parchment lined baking sheet. Continue until all pretzels are poached.
  • Beat egg with 1 tablespoon water. Brush pretzels with egg glaze. Sprinkle with pretzel salt. Bake until golden brown, 12 to 15 minutes. Let cool on wire rack, or eat warm. Pretzels are best when eaten the same day, but will keep at room temperature, uncovered, for two days. Do not store in covered container or they will become soggy. If you want Auntie Anne style pretzels, use salt sparingly. When pretzels are done, brush with melted butter. You can also go sweet by sprinkling with cinnamon sugar after the butter.

Note: if you decide to splurge on the pretzel salt, it also is great for rimming Margarita glasses!

Once upon a Le Creuset…

So fun story. About twelve-fifteen years ago, Macy’s had one of their crazy sales – it might have been Black Friday. I bought a 7.25 quart Le Creuset in Caribbean Blue for about $150 (trust me, that is a bargain!) A couple of years later I was making a brisket for Hanukkah. As I seared the meat in the pan, I heard crackling sounds. When I pulled the brisket out, the bottom of the pot was all crazed – and so was I. These pots are supposed to last a lifetime, to be handed down to future generations. Not my luck, apparently. I took it back to Macy’s, no receipt, and they jerked me around for about an hour. At first, they wanted me to pay the difference between the sale price and the current price, but I passed on that idea. Eventually they found a manager who approved an exchange. I knew damn well that they were going to get a credit for it from Le Creuset or their distributor. They wouldn’t give me another blue pot (maybe they were out of stock) so they gave me a red one, and I took it gratefully.

Shoot ahead about ten years to a few weeks ago. I was making Jim Lahey’s No-Knead Bread, and you have to heat a Dutch oven in a 500° oven before you add the dough. Luckily, before I added the dough I noticed that the bottom of the interior was crazed and a few holes where the finish had come off all together. Le Creuset warrantees their pots for a lifetime, so I contacted them via their website, and they had me send pictures. Then they informed me that it wasn’t covered under the warranty, but as a one time courtesy, they would replace the pot; this is how I define good customer service! I packed it up and had to pay for shipping (about $30) and they sent me a brand new pot. Not sure what their warranty actually covers, but I was very happy I got a replacement. Now let’s hope this pot lasts a lifetime! And I bought a 4.2 quart Emile Henry ceramic Dutch oven to bake my bread so I shouldn’t have this issue again. The smaller size means a taller loaf of bread, so that worked nicely, too.

Book News

Lots of book news lately! Some fun, some disturbing, but all are interesting.

And this from the Washington Post Book Club newsletter by Ron Charles:

Book Club: Margaret Atwood wins Nobel Prize in Prescience

The Hulu series “The Handmaid’s Tale” is filmed on the National Mall in Washington, D.C. in 2019.
(File photo by Calla Kessler for The Washington Post)

This week, the Supreme Court nominated Margaret Atwood for a Nobel Prize in Prescience. 

It’s not as though anyone actually believed Trump’s Supreme Court nominees when they testified under oath about their respect for precedent, but the leaked draft of the Handmaid’s Tale decision still came as a shock. (Sen. Susan Collins is so concerned that she’s ordered a second strand of pearls.) Unless some dramatic revisions are made before the Court officially overturns Roe v. Wade, about two dozen state governments will soon severely limit millions of citizens’ reproductive decisions. Blessed be the fruit!

Not since Harriet Beecher Stowe published “Uncle Tom’s Cabin” has a novelist been so closely aligned with such a dramatic upheaval of American political and cultural life. Atwood, the wry, 82-year-old grandmother of feminist dystopian fiction has been particularly prominent since the election of Donald Trump sent her 1985 classic soaring back up the bestseller list. In 2019, she won her second Booker Prize for a zany sequel to “The Handmaid’s Tale” called “The Testaments.” Narrated by the matriarchal tyrant Aunt Lydia, it describes the fall of Gilead (review). We can only hope that sequel — which climaxes with the publication of leaked documents! — is as prophetic as “The Handmaid’s Tale” feels now.

The surprise appearance of Justice Samuel Alito’s draft opinion has sparked the most concentrated flurry of textual analysis in the 21st century. But for clues about what else theocratic zealots have in mind for the United States, get a copy of Leni Zumas’s “Red Clocks.” It imagines America after abortion has been criminalized and women of childbearing age are closely monitored and barred from traveling to free territory (review). When I first read the novel four years ago, I assumed it was a work of political satire, but, in fact, Zumas constructed her terrifying dystopia by stitching together laws that had been proposed by real-life politicians. Now that Missouri and other states are plotting to punish anyone who helps a pregnant woman cross state lines for an abortion, Zumas’s dystopia seems almost documentary. 

If you’d like a work of historical fiction more illuminating than Justice Alito’s nostalgic musings, try Kate Manning’s “My Notorious Life” (review). It’s inspired by the ordeal of a real-life 19th-century midwife and abortionist condemned by Anthony Comstock, founder of the Society for the Suppression of Vice. Manning is particularly sensitive to the practical complications that women faced when they couldn’t get access to good reproductive healthcare. 

In February, while conservatives on the Court were apparently plotting to set the country back 50 years, Jennifer Haigh published a thoughtful novel called “Mercy Street” about the precarious status of safe, legal abortion in modern-day America (review). And five years ago, Joyce Carol Oates released “A Book of American Martyrs,” a gripping story that begins with the assassination of an abortion doctor and draws us into the mind of a fanatic (rave). 

Any of these novels would provide rich material for a book club interested in discussing the most pressing social issue of our age. We’ve come a long way from Ernest Hemingway’s excruciatingly elliptical short story, “Hills Like White Elephants.” But this week, it feels like we’re headed back to that era.

Flippancy aside, this is a serious issue. I have never understood why people who are against something don’t want anyone to have it, be it a banned book or an abortion. If you feel like abortion is murder, then don’t have one. If you don’t think your child should read a specific book, that is your right as a parent. It is not your right to tell me what my child should read or not, nor to tell me what to do with my body.

As Roe v. Wade faces possible overturning, abortion access is under threat — here’s how to help via Rolling Stone. This will affect people with disabilities, those who are transgender, immigrants, the poor, and people of color the most.

As always, thanks for reading and stay safe.

*Thanks to The New York Times and The Washington Post for allowing me to “gift” my readers with free access to these articles, a lovely perk for subscribers.


Coronavirus Diary: May 1, 2022

May 1, 2022

For the first time since he was born, my 13-month-old grandson came to Florida. My son and daughter-in-law haven’t visited since pre-pandemic, so at least two years now. Then, while they were here, a trump appointed federal judge in Florida lifted the mask mandate for public transportation, including planes. All the major airlines immediately dropped their mask requirements, and at least one airport in South Florida, the Fort Lauderdale–Hollywood International Airport, also immediately dropped their mask requirements. That is the airport they were flying out of to head home, on a JetBlue flight that now was not requiring masks.

If it was just the two of them, two adults, they could wear their masks and feel fairly safe flying home. But they have this beautiful baby who is too young to be vaccinated or wear a mask. Sitting on an airplane full of unmasked people was a very scary thought for his safety. After briefly kicking around the idea of driving home instead, they reluctantly decided to fly and hope for the best. So far, it appears that their luck held. They made it home and everyone remains healthy.

But now the concern is this: do they dare fly anywhere again with their unprotected baby? Do they wait until a vaccine is available for him? Do they just plan trips where they can drive instead of fly? Or just throw caution to the winds and hope for the best? I’m sure they are not alone in their fears, but does that make it easier? Then this showed up on Twitter:

Celebrate that an unprotected baby might get sick from some unmasked passenger? Seriously?? I can’t even.

Jeep Beach

Since 2014, my husband and I have driven three and a half hours up to Daytona Beach for Jeep Beach. It’s a gathering of “Jeepers”, thousands of people who own and love Jeeps. They come from all over the country and Canada. We’ve even seen license plates from Alaska! They have these gathering all over the country, but this is the only one we’ve ever attended.

Daytona Beach is an old Florida city mostly famous for the Daytona Speedway, which is where the event is held. Jeeps take over the city and it’s always a lot of fun. It happens every April, although it was cancelled in 2020 due to the pandemic. There are a tons of vendors selling everything Jeep related, from t-shirts to bumpers to stereos and well, more stuff than I can even name. The people who go are sort of divided into those that use their Jeeps as their primary cars, as my husband does, and those that are into off-roading. There are tracks set up and people attempt to drive their Jeeps over giant mounds of dirt, rock, etc. It’s fun to watch for sure, but every year we see at least one Jeep sustain serious damage.

Daytona is also famous for its beaches, where the sand is hard enough and wide enough to drive on during low tides. Weather permitting, there is a Jeep Parade on the beach Sunday morning. Jeeps as far as the eyes can see – and I swear, you don’t see two Jeeps alike. Jeepers love to customize their Jeeps, from wheels to tops to paint jobs to everything else. And driving so close to the ocean is pretty magical!

Book News

As always, thanks for reading and stay safe.

*Thanks to The New York Times and The Washington Post for allowing me to “gift” my readers with free access to these articles, a lovely perk for subscribers.