Modern Mythology

Don’t know why I still read the New York Times Book Review every Sunday. I rarely am interested enough in a reviewed book to buy it. I get upset because they don’t review near as many books by women as they do men. And yet, there I was yesterday, reading NYTBR again. And being happily surprised.

One thing I like is that they recently added a monthly romance review column. They’ve had one for mysteries for years, so, about time! Anyway, I was also gratified to note that many of the romance novels they deigned to review were self-published. The Times, they are a changin’. I bought Spoiler Alert by Olivia Dade.

What hooked me in the review was the tie-in to the love story between Aeneas, a Greek god, and Dido, ruler of Carthage. Dido is said to be ugly, yet Aeneas, aided by Cupid, loves her anyway. This ancient storyline, like all the stories of Greek and Roman gods and the humans who amuse and infuriate them, can be found in the 1940 classic Mythology by Edith Hamilton.

Mythology was my first literary love. My first class, in 1973, in high school, whetted my appetite for those ancient origin stories. I went on to read many more of the original plays in college and grad school. Hamilton’s book, pictured above, is my third or fourth copy. I’ve referred to Mythology so often through the years (as I have this morning) that they fall apart on me after twenty years or so. My current copy has yellowed pages but the spine remains intact.

In Spoiler Alert a contemporary novelist retells the story of Aeneas and Dido. His mastery captivates fanfic writers online and nabs a Hollywood remake, which is as horrible as the massive series of tomes are wonderful. The guy who plays Aeneas is a hot and handsome star, who’s smart too. He has a secret. He’s one of the writers on a popular fanfic site. As is his online BFF, a woman.

That’s all I can say about the plot of Spoiler Alert without spoilers. Oh, except when the female online BFF of the actor playing Aeneas decides to out herself as fat (her word, not mine) all hell breaks loose with the Twitter trolls. I’m enjoying this wild brew, a mix of old and new. It’s a nice respite from the historical romances I’ve buried myself in since the pandemic outbreak in March.

Ha! So that’s why I continue to read The New York Times Book Review. It’s rare, but every once in awhile, I still find an intriguing book reviewed there.

Where I'm Writing From

This is a new writing spot in the same tiny winter condo I share with my newly retired husband, Al. Well, he retired January 1, 2020. Since then, it’s been a journey. We came almost immediately south to our winter home in St. Petersburg, Florida. Since we bought this place, this is the longest Al has been here. Since we’ve been married, this is the longest time the two of us have been together all day every day.

At first, Al had lots of activities and so I was able to comfortably keep most of my beloved habits and routines. I could write in my notebook every morning, spend a good part of Monday writing a blog post, go to dance class, yoga class and writer’s group. Al golfed, went to the gym, and took up shuffleboard. He was thinking of joining a poker group that meets at the clubhouse. Those were good times.

You know what happened next. COVID-19. Al and I have been mostly at home without much interaction with others for one week. My mother back in Michigan has been isolated for two weeks. It took us a little longer to get the memo that staying home is what we should do. Al stopped golfing. The gym closed. All my activities here on the Bayou closed, as did Al’s shuffleboard. We’ve heard people are still using the pool, but I’ve never been one for pools. I prefer beaches.

All our 35 miles of lovely white sand beaches have closed. Our Michigan family has canceled a trip down. That was wise, the right thing to do. You want to be in your home state where your doctors are when a pandemic hits. Our doctors are in Michigan and we are just moving in the Medicare so we really hope we don’t have to visit any doctor here. Most people who get this evil disease won’t have to see a doctor. We are older, but we’re healthy, so we’re optimistic. Speaking of healthy, I taught Al yoga. I miss my yoga teacher, though. She was really, really good. I just do the basics, like the series of poses called Sun Salutation to “Here Comes the Sun.”

We had a dance party, just the two of us, one night, with the help of Alexa, our non-human helper. Mostly she plays songs for us and tells us the weather in Michigan. We used to feel smug about that…now we just ask so we won’t pack up the car and head north too soon. For one thing, my dad is here. I hope to talk him into coming home with us (not working so far). The other part is our house there is much bigger, although really I finally have Al where I’ve always secretly wanted him, close by my side all day every day. Except when I want to read or write.

We watched the new ZZ Top rock doc on Netflix (I’m not a fan of their music but I love a good story about creative people making their dreams come true and this one was excellent). Also on Netflix, we’re watching The Stranger. It’s good, too. I see that the new Emma is coming to video straight from the mostly-closed movie theaters. I’m torn. $14.95 seems way too much to pay. Maybe for my birthday. Until then, we’ll just go on as we have and hope the sky doesn’t fall.

Things are quiet. We see walkers and people playing tennis, but we prefer to keep our social distance. At first I didn’t even want to take walks, but since Al did yoga, I have to now. Other than walking along the bayou nature trail, we have been to the grocery store, and my dad visited last Tuesday. That’s the extent of our activities outside staying in this little condo together. Which is why I moved my desk into the bedroom. The bedroom has become my refuge for reading and writing as Al pretty much watches CNBC (or as I call it “the money channel”) from opening bell until close of market. It keeps him (mostly) calm and busy, so I’m not complaining.

We live in Pinellas County, where there are currently 38 known cases of coronavirus, the virus that causes the disease of COVID-19. That’s low and we’re lucky. Most people in Florida (70%) are retired and don’t work anymore. We’ve saved all our lives for a little slice of year-round sunshine. Our lives have been upended, sure, but we don’t have many of the problems the rest of the country struggle with. Not yet.

It’s those people here and elsewhere on the globe, who have been on my mind. I’m worried for small businesses, for the service industry, for the paycheck-to-paycheck folks. There’s a great tradition in St Pete for small businesses. Downtown is mostly run by entrepreneurs. We love that. I see I am speaking for Al now. It was bound to happen. I’m surprised at how good we get along in this small space. I’m surprised how little I watch the second television that everyone said was essential when a spouse retires. But then, I am a reader and a writer.

I am also about to turn 65, the magic number for people who want to get into grocery stores early, when everything is freshly sanitized and shelves are fully stocked. You can see how that really won’t matter to us here where almost everyone is 65 and older. It will be a mob scene, but at least a clean one.

I had big plans for my birthday. A new business in St Pete, Book + Bottle was supposed to open last week. They sell books and wine. I love the whole concept. So I was going there, dragging Dad and Al because it’s my birthday and I get to say where we go and what we do. I also planned on visiting Frida’s bakery and cafe, another wonderful local business, for my dinner out, because I never cook on my birthday. Also, they have flourless chocolate cake and great food. I went there with writer friends before the enemy virus hit, and thought Al and Dad would like it there, too.

Just like almost everywhere in America, those two places have mostly closed for business. I hope our local small businesses can keep it together until the crisis is over and we get back to normal. It feels sometimes like things will never be normal again. Or there will be a new normal. Both Book + Bottle and Frida’s have curbside service, so we may just hop in the car and go out to support those businesses from afar. I’ve never ordered a book or a bottle of wine as a carry-out before. Since it’s my birthday, I can insist!

It’s a whole new world out there. I hope you are doing well. Until next week…

Top Ten Books of 2019

The Testaments was my favorite book in 2019

Goodreads says I read 158 books on my Kindle in 2019. I also read some print books, two I can think of right now: Sense & Sensibility by Jane Austen and The Testaments by Margaret Atwood, my #1 pick. So I read at least 160 books in 2019. I know, it’s an addiction. Here’s the list, starting with a tie for #10.

~ 10 ~ Daisy Jones & the Six was great fun fiction, but TRAVELING WILBURYS, the biography, was equally endearing, with the added benefit of being true. If you love music, musicians, and Behind the Music type hijinks, these books are asking you to pick them up.

~ 9 ~ Sunset Beach MARY KAY ANDREWS. A fun novel by one of my favorite authors of escapist fiction. Set in a place I know and love well, this humorous caper has a good mix of mystery and romance.

~ 8 ~ This Messy Magnificent Life GENEEN ROTH. Roth’s latest memoir veers away from her “catastrophe and how she handles it” pattern. I really liked those, too. Among other things she has survived the San Francisco earthquake and being taken for every last dime by Bernie Madoff. But those were earlier books. This one sees Roth determined to write a book not of misfortune, but joy. She does it so well.

~ 7 ~ Americanah CHIMANANDA NGOZI ADICHIE. This novel was a book club pick or I never would have tackled it. Which is why I love my book club. I loved the autofiction feel of this novel about an adventurous Nigerian woman who comes to the US for college and discovers she is black. She knew her skin color, of course, but it wasn’t an issue until she encountered the racism around every corner in America. It’s not as simplistic as it sounds. I’m white, and I found myself learning about Nigeria and an America white folks may not detect. Unconscious (as well as deliberate) white prejudices and ignorance about the daily lives of black people were lessons I needed to read. Oh, and the main character is sassy. Also smart and struggling with love.

~ 6 ~ I Remember Nothing NORA EPHRON. This is a book of personal essays that will make you laugh at your old self, boomer. I was worrying about death, googled “books to make me feel better about death” and this popped up first in my search! Fresh air and typical Ephron wit.

~ 5 ~ Witch Elm TANA FRENCH. My favorite crime writer. Every one of her books is superior in every way: language, plot, character. I’ll be rereading all her novels in 2020!

~ 4 ~ Three Women LISA TADDEO. Non-fiction about three very different women and how they handle sexual trauma. Like a husband who is unapologetically without a sex drive! Get used to it, he kind of tells his wife. And she’s got a kid. She feels trapped in this loveless marriage. Whaddaya think happens when high school boyfriend suddenly comes around? Sad and so good. Women break my heart. Especially young women like the girl who has an affair with her teacher. Oh I was so angry with him and I just wanted to hug her after what the trial and her town did to her!!

~ 3 ~ Florida LAUREN GROFF. Well, she’s an amazing writer. I suffer from sincere sentence envy when I read her. These are short stories about the weird and wonderful land I call my second home.

~ 2 ~ Maybe You Should Talk to Someone LORI GOTTLIEB. Author is a psychologist but this is not self-help in the traditional sense. Lori’s long-time boyfriend abruptly leaves her and her son. She’d been thinking wedding and he was thinking…I don’t know. FUCK him. She falls apart but keeps seeing patients and folds their stories into her own. Everybody hurts. But somehow by the end of the book, better moods rise. I’m making it sound trite but it’s not. I cried more than once. And the Hollywood super agent who was so rude and withholding during therapy…well…honestly, you should read this.

~ 1 ~ The Testaments MARGARET ATWOOD. I never saw the Hulu show of the Handmaid’s Tale. I did read the book when published in 1985 and watched the film with Natasha Richardson and heart-stopping handsome Aidan Quinn in 1989. I never thought Atwood would do a sequel but I’m so happy she did. I read all her novels and story collections and poetry. I buy them in hardcover the day they are published. And this did not disappoint. Really, really great. I am going to reread Stone Mattress next. I think that’s the name of the book. It’s the name of one of my favorite stories in that collection anyway. The other one I have read over and over is “Torch the Dusties.” I could rave on but needless to say I love this author. She can do no wrong.

When I’m 64

All of my adult life, I have been collecting my favorite books and authors, promising myself I’d read them all again when I retired. Some day in the distant future. When I was old.

BTW, I don’t give the word “old” a negative connotation. It’s a place the lucky ones will all arrive at one day. At 64, I have arrived. Old is a place that you can’t really pack for…how was I to know in 1975 that there would be a little electronic book called the Kindle that stole my heart and helped my eyes? I have as many books saved on the Kindle as I do on my shelves. And I won’t need a van to move my Kindle to Florida. It fits in my purse.

I’m a planner. That plans often go awry is a lesson learned. I’ve gained mental flexibility as I’ve aged. When Al retires and we begin living on a “fixed” income, I’ll slow down my book buying (something Kindle makes far too easy!) and read again all those books I’ve loved before. I’m looking forward to it, but now I wonder if the book and the time of life have more to do with reading pleasure than I’d previously considered. Soon, I’ll find out.

My ideas about what to do in retirement are not for everyone. Some other surprising things I’ve done are completely change my diet and let my hair grey naturally. The diet makes me feel so much better and coloring my hair made my scalp burn as I got older. So I adapted my way of doing things. Now after completely reloading my pantry with nuts and seeds and coconut, two or three times a week I’m batch-cooking healthy foods that contain no sugar or wheat. If you would have told me this just eight weeks ago, I would have said no way.

Now when my body yells at me, I take the approach of “well, I’ll try this new thing.” It’s working out just fine. I don’t even miss bread. Or pasta. I kind of miss pizza, but everybody has gluten-free pizza these days. I made fudge this weekend. I used Swerve instead of sugar. Swerve does not raise blood sugar like other artificial sweeteners. It was a test and for my delicate tummy, Swerve did not pass. I made peanut butter cookies with Swerve, too. Al liked both sweet treats and didn’t have any digestive issues. But he doesn’t have problems with sugar, either. Next time I’ll try brown rice syrup, which my body tolerates better.

As for the hair, it is finally growing out to a longer length. Not sure if I’ll like it this way, but it will be easy to put in a ponytail in Florida and, as I get older, I am all about easy.

Reading & Listening

I just listened to a woman read the opening from A Paris Notebook, my first novel from The Wild Rose Press. She’s fabulous. She’s hired! When my publisher hooked up with Amazon to offer TWRP authors a shot at Audible, I was right on it. 30% of people now listen to their books as much as read them.

Not many people read novels. It’s a tiny percentage of the reading public, most prefer non-fiction. It used to be the only people who read poetry were poets (and me). Let’s hope that’s never true for novelists. I know there are a zillion of us out there. And then some of them, like prolific Nora Roberts, write hundreds of (really good) books spanning their careers. I just finished Year One by The Nora and loved it. She’s written 200 books which just plugging in a few numbers I figure must be something like 5 books a year. So a book in 2.5 months. How does she do it?

This is a bit of a shaggy post. Lots of people are talking about the book by Michael Wolff that claims our current president acts like a child, doesn’t read and doesn’t listen. I feel bad for Trump. It’s so clear that he needs approval so he puff himself up with praise (mostly inaccurate) at every opportunity. I wince when I read things like “I’m a genius, and, like, mentally healthy, too.” That was a paraphrase, not a quote. But he did use the word genius to describe himself on Twitter.

I bet Nora Roberts wouldn’t do that. Neither would Oprah, who I hear may be mulling a White House race in 2020. If Trump runs again, we could call it the Celebrity Election. I really hope it doesn’t come to that. I like Oprah but I also like my Presidents to know how government works. I want them to know foreign policy. I bet she would do some homework before taking office. Because at least Oprah reads. She’s a really good listener, too.