On Rereading

Greetings all, from sunny Brays Bayou, where it’s nearly April and so the temperature has jumped to 80 in the shade. At least there’s a breeze! My evening runs have become morning runs because it’s cooler in the mornings, even though waking up early enough to enjoy the coolness is a major chore for this night owl.

I’ve been in Houston since the 12th, so nearly three weeks. We as a family have figured out a routine, more or less, for sharing a not-huge space when the four of us have pretty different needs. My mom moved her desk from the TV room into her bedroom and takes her morning staff google hangouts in there. My sister is hard at work scanning and labeling eighty years + worth of photos that my grandmother kept in industrial-sized scrapbooks. The project has expanded to take up most of the dining room table as she carefully scans each page, then disassembles them to label the photos and put them into archival boxes and envelopes.

I find myself most days in the TV room on the couch. There’s a door I can close, though I don’t close it often, and a TV that will play Midsomer Murders as my background noise. In the mornings we all have coffee in the kitchen and evenings we read and watch TV all together. It’s a lot of togetherness, but being able to count on togetherness when we literally have no idea what is going to happen is kind of nice, actually.

The house is full of books, as you might imagine, and a lot of them I haven’t read before. Of course instead of broadening my horizons I’m turning to things I have read before. Cozy mysteries, mostly, in particular the Aunt Dimity books by Nancy Atherton. In them, a woman named Lori uses a magical journal that connects her to her late mother’s (also late) friend, who then helps her solve mysteries. They’re small, quick books, somehow packed with way more emotion than I remember from the first time around.

The first one, Aunt Dimity’s Death, introduces Lori at her lowest. Divorced, broke, living out of cardboard boxes, she’s reeling in the wake of her mother’s unexpected death, so when she unexpectedly receives a strange legacy from a woman she didn’t know was real, she can’t really believe it. Aunt Dimity was just the elderly protagonist of her beloved mother’s bedtime stories, not a real person. She’s asked to carry out a task for Dimity - write an introduction to a collection of the stories, which she will do in Dimity’s beautiful English cottage, with the help of forty year’s collected correspondence between Dimity and her mother.

It’s a beautiful book, with unexpected currents of grief and memory. What do we owe to the dead? To the living? Lori has cut herself off from feeling so extremely that when she recites the Aunt Dimity stories for the lawyer administering the estate, she only remembers the bad parts, the rain and the discomfort and the inconveniences.

Don’t worry, I’m not going to pivot to “We’ll remember the togetherness when this is all over!” or anything like that. We will, maybe, but it’s also important to remember that for a lot of people, this isn’t a weird pause in their life they’ll be able to recover from. On the other side of this we may be looking at 32% unemployment.

What I have been thinking about in re-reading these books I assumed were simple and soothing and predictable is that no experience is entirely simple or soothing or predictable. Nothing about this situation is normal, or expected, and it’s a mistake to reach for the same reactions to it that we’ve used for other emergencies. This goes for the economy as well as for the books we reach for. Rereading is all very well and good, but let’s not miss the new lessons we find in old reads.

-Jen

Client News

Maurice Broaddus’ new piece of short fiction “Bound By Sorrow” is up at Beneath Ceaseless Skies.

K.M. Szpara’s DOCILE appeared on LibraryJournal’s Winter/Spring 2020 Best Debut Novels list and this roundup of New Genre Books For Your Self-Isolation from ComicYears

This Week In Hockey

Sports: Still cancelled!

Gritty’s tips on self-quarantining, favorite meals, hygiene, and how to stay connected by Greg Wyshynski (ESPN)

ESPN: Where are you currently residing during Philadelphia's "shelter-in-place"?

Gritty: Where I have always been. In your hearts and minds. But now, 6 feet away.

History of the Houston Aeros by Kyle Gipe (Hockeywriters.com
Inability to find a suitable venue in Dayton caused Deneau to seek a home elsewhere, finally choosing Houston. The name was changed to Aeros after he spotted an AeroMexico plane while traveling and recognized the city’s connection to the aerospace industry. Upon relocation, the team played its home games in the Sam Houston Coliseum until 1975 when The Summit was completed.

Links!

Walking in the City Before the Bookstores Closed by Bill Hayes (LitHub)
Behind me, a small line had formed. I stepped aside. One woman called out for “the new Hilary Mantel, please!” (They had a towering stack of those.) A couple was seeking “a new cookbook—anything you suggest?” (Between them, Miriam and Troy had a bunch of creative ideas.) A family was looking for books for their little kids to read. I felt like I was in a metaphorical bread line—a bread line for feeding the brain, and the soul.

Every Grocery Store Should Be Handling The Pandemic Like This Texas Chain by Hannah Smothers (Vice)
Every person who grew up or even just briefly lived in Texas knows two things, by heart: the pledge of allegiance to the state flag, and that “no store does more than my HEB.” The beloved grocery store is universally known (among Texans, and anyone who knows a Texan) for fresh tortillas, smiley employees, and generally being the best place to buy food in the state. But for the past three months, doing more has also included perhaps the smoothest and swiftest response to the COVID-19 pandemic in the entire country. 

The Art of Sardine Collecting by Anna Hezel (Taste)
For chef and author Lior Lev Sercarz, part of the appeal of collecting sardines is the wide variety of packaging itself. Sercarz’s collection of sardines is just a portion of a larger collection of about 1,500 vintage food tins and boxes. But part of the intrigue is also the ritual of aging the sardines—a practice that many compare to aging wine.

NB: If you’ve made it this far, you’re probably VERY bored! Now that I’m back in the groove of doing these newsletters I’m adding back in exclusive paid content, which will start on Thursday.

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