Lockdown reading, year 2

I’ve had a hard time reading and writing lately. Not sure why. Lockdown going into a second year? Probably. I’m bored with myself because there’s not enough going on. No dinner parties, no restaurant lunches, no movie dates. No travel. I’m grateful for my husband’s presence, especially in the late afternoon and evening. We watch the news, we talk, we drink wine and make dinner. He makes me laugh and think. (This is a photo of us before we married, in 1985.)

I have been reading, of course, and watching television. Here are some I recommend.

Trio, by William Boyd. I love just about anything set in the 1960’s. So much drama! The Vietnam War, student riots, the sexual revolution, mini skirts. Boyd sets his tale in 1968, on a Brighton movie set. The trio is the film’s producer, its American starlet, and the director’s novelist wife. Each has a rich private life — I felt like I knew them intimately — that wound up unexpectedly. Talbot, the producer, is a World War Two veteran clumsily making his way of the closet. Anny, the movie star, is addled by uppers and downers and in love with her sexy co-star. Trouble for her arrives with her on-the-lam ex-husband, who’s wanted by the FBI and CIA. The novelist Elfrida is a drunk; her recovery surprises. GQ blurbed it best: “a diverting read that’s…raucus, charming, and eccentric.

What You Have Heard is True, A Memoir of Witness and Resistance, by Carolyn Forché. Sometimes I pick up a book from my piles because it’s in paperback. This is one of those. I’m glad I did. Forché, a poet, tells an astonishing story of her involvement with a revolutionary who lures her to El Salvador. This is not a romance. Leonel chooses her to tell the story of a country on the verge of civil war. This is a heart-stopping, sobering, unforgettable read. 

Someday This Pain Will Be Useful to You, by Peter Cameron. I was impressed with Cameron’s “What Happens at Night” so I decided to read some of his earlier novels. This is a coming-of-age story set in post 9/11 Manhattan. High school senior James Sveck works in his mother’s Chelsea art gallery, lovingly spars with his co-ed sister, puts up with his distant father, and adores his grandmother. (Each character is well drawn.) James is very bight but doesn’t like his peers. He got into Brown but doesn’t want to go, because he’d be with people his age. The pain of figuring out oneself, at eighteen, is beautifully and hilariously explored.

Simone Weil, by Francine du Plessix Gray. Wowza. What a life story. Simone Weil (1909- 1934) was a French philosopher who literally died for her country. A precocious child, Weil grew up in privilege that she would later politely disdain. (She would pay her parents for the small amount of food she consumed.) Weil wrote and published and lived an alternative life, including factory work that nearly killed her. This excellent biography charts Weil’s asceticism, anorexia, dysmorphic clothing, patriotism, thinking and writing, as well as her struggle to allow herself to be baptized in the Catholic Church. (Also, her humor and generosity as a teacher.) She was influenced by Pascal’s Pens´ees. In turn, her writings influenced the philosopher and author Albert Camus. 

Nomadland, written and directed by Chlo´e Zhan, starring Frances McDormand. Is this a story about the road? Women? I think it’s a story about grief. McDormand’s Fern is newly widowed. She outfits a van and takes to the road. She’s not homeless, she tells a former student, she’s houseless. Fern takes seasonal jobs at Amazon, in the fields, cleaning bathrooms, cooking fries. Another traveler has his eye on her but we don’t know why. (The only fault in an otherwise perfect film.) Fern is prickly. She doesn’t want to be wanted. This is a beautiful, slow moving film. It has stayed with me. 

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