Reading is my greatest pleasure in life. Well, one of my greatest pleasures.
There’s music, and the Lake Michigan beaches and my family and my daffodils and a few other personal items on that list. But I absolutely love to read.
My idea of a perfect afternoon is a good book and a glass of wine and either a toasty fire or a shady patio. We travel west every February for a few weeks of Arizona sunshine, and I usually log a dozen or more books that month, fiction and non-fiction. This year, I read 15, before a looming pandemic chased us back across the country and home.
So you would think I’d be buried in books during the enforced home stay, tucked up and cozy, in my quiet household. But no.
I am finding it incredibly difficult to read books. And I am not alone.
According to Christian Jarrett, PhD, a clinical psychologist based in the U.K.: “Research shows that chronic stress affects the way the front of the brain works—the area…[that] normally controls our ability to concentrate and switch attention from one thing to another.” Simply put, during something as stressful as living through a global pandemic, “we lose our usual mental flexibility and become highly focused on the source of the threat,” making it difficult to lose yourself in another world.
Which makes sense. Because it is not that I am finding it impossible to read. It’s that I’m reading compulsively all day—news and articles and analysis and, damn it, Tweets, memes and blogs of varying quality. Short, disconnected bits of information and opinion. And 90% of it frightening to some degree.
When I sit down to read a book now, I am usually reading on my iPad. The library closed a month ago. We live so far out in the boonies that we are not within our library’s formal district boundaries, so we are not entitled to download books. Don’t helpfully suggest Overdrive or Hoopla—they’re for folks who reside in a library district.
I have read every hardcopy library book I took out before closure (upside: no late fines) and am stuck with buying books for my e-reader. Reading on an iPad means that checking out what I have missed in the last, oh, twenty minutes of focus is just two clicks away. Bye-bye historic fiction or mystery novel. Hello, rising death toll and political malfeasance.
And yes, I know perfectly well that these are the first-world problems of someone incredibly lucky and sequestered.
I have been looking for the perfect escape read. As it happens, I pre-ordered Sarah Kendzior’s new book Hiding in Plain Sight: The Invention of Donald Trump and the Erosion of America, a few weeks ago and it was delivered to my Kindle last week, just as I was casting about for something that would be so magnetic I couldn’t tear myself away.
Holy tamales. I have been a Kendzior fan since November 2016, when I read her piece We’re Heading Into Dark Times. It was one of those things that you read, and bookmark—in the hopes that someday it will be laughable and obsolete, that things will turn out better and all the angst will fade into obscurity. Sigh.
Kendzior has great credentials, and this book is an easier, more coherent read than her previous book, The View from Flyover Country. Kendzior completed the book last fall, before the impeachment hearings and before the pandemic.
I have now read about 10 full-on books about Donald Trump and his administration—some with excellent insights into the man and his character and others simply more detailed reporting on what has happened since he announced his candidacy. But Hiding in Plain Sight is different. It rolls back the camera and history to the 1980s when Trump was a flashy New York wheeler-dealer, serial philanderer and con man, in and out of financial trouble. You see how he has, over time, made the US part of a transnational crime syndicate masquerading as a government.
Pieces of evidence I had never considered before fell into place, stunning the reader. But the beauty of the book is that it was not written by a left-wing political analyst whose parents paid for his Ivy League education. It was written by a woman who is currently taking her school-age children to state and national parks to see them, to know what our country was once like, before the friendliness and preserved grandeur fade.
It is a far better analysis of who we really are than your standard old-men-at-the-Waffle-House. And it gives the reader a lot to chew on.
Five stars for the book, the first to hold my undivided attention in the past month.
But now—I desperately need something light and amusing. Help me out here. Patio weather will be here in no time.