7 May 2020 — The COVID Diaries: Staying Sane in a Time That’s Not

 

Dear Diary, 

Let’s discuss entertainment whilst self-isolating, specifically of the television and book varieties. When we began this regimen — 53 days ago, which astounds me — my concentration was shot. My brain backfired. I had no ability to focus. I could read only fluff — entertaining, fast-paced, sexually racy fluff. Since then, I’ve regained bits and pieces of my brain, such that I’m able to read books I couldn’t early on. And I thought it would be entertaining to keep a record of what I’ve actually read and actually watched while in quarantine. Not a list of aspirational consumption, you understand. Not the books on the 100 Books to Read Before You Die lists which are literarily stunning and also edifying to heart and soul. No, I’m talking about just the word- and screen-based stories that have made me happy and let me escape a while to rest this weary brain. 

Here it is. In chronological order from the beginning of isolation to now.

The List of What I’m Really Reading and Watching:

BOOKS

The Starless Sea by Erin Morgenstern (author of The Night Circus) — This is the book i was reading when quarantine began. It’s a book club pick, and we were scheduled to discuss it at the end of March. I liked The Night Circus — it’s extraordinary and different than anything else I’ve ever read. Erin Morgenstern is brilliant. I was 10% of the way through The Starless Sea, which looks to be every bit as twisty and turning and surprising as The Night Circus, when we started isolating. I’m now at 12%. And I’d tell you what this book is about, Diary, but I honestly have no idea. My brain just can’t do it right now. It’s not Erin; it’s me. 

Thunderhead by Neal Shusterman — Sequel to Scythe, a fascinating YA SciFi thriller about the small band of humans legally charged with keeping the population under control (read: selectively and randomly killing people) after humans achieve medical immortality. If everyone can live forever, there has to be some way to not overpopulate. I was super into Scythe. I intend to finish Thunderhead eventually. But it went the way of the The Starless Sea for me. I made it to 57% (from 45% pre-quarantine) before laying it down for another time. 

Lover Unleashed by J.R. Ward — This is Book 9 of the Black Dagger Brotherhood series which is basically vampire erotica/fluffy romance with a very light veneer of action/adventure. When The Starless Sea and Thunderhead proved to be no-gos, I turned here, and my brain was ALL ABOUT IT. It required NOTHING from me. No deep thinking. No pondering. Just a fantastic suspension of disbelief. Best of all, there are, like 47 billion more books in the series, so whenever my brain stutters in the future, this is where you can find me.

Smoke Bitten by Patricia Briggs — This is Book 12 in the Mercedes Thompson series. Mercedes (Mercy) is a coyote shapeshifter raised by wolves. She’s also a Volkswagen mechanic and lives next door to the alpha of the local werewolf pack. Not as racy as the series above, it’s more mystery + action/adventure in an urban fantasy environment. I mark my calendar for each new release in the series, and I was THRILLED this one was coming out on March 17th. Unfortunately, my brain wasn’t having it, so I didn’t even try to start this one for a few days. I wanted to wait until I was sure I could enjoy it, which I’ve since done.

The Fiery Cross by Diana GabaldonAs I’ve mentioned previously, I reread each book in the Outlander series before watching the corresponding season on TV. Since Season 5 was released in February, I knew I needed to get on with it if I wanted my visual fix of Jamie and Claire. As soon as I was done with Smoke Bitten, this was in my hand. It’s taken me a few weeks to finish it — like, at least 4 weeks — because Diana Gabaldon is not known for brevity. But I successfully finished this one, too, just a few days ago.

House of Earth and Blood by Sarah J Maas — And now I’m reading the first book of Sarah J Maas’ new Crescent City series. Released March 3rd, I was waiting to read this one until after my March retreat, when I’d really be able to concentrate on it. But then came my nephew’s wedding. And next we went into lockdown. So, even though Maas holds a Top Ten Favorite Authors spot for me, and I’ve been SO excited about her newest series, I finally picked it up two days ago. I’m on Chapter Two. So far, it’s interesting, but I haven’t fallen in love with it yet. I’ll let you know how it goes.

One Long River of Song by Brian Doyle — An outlier from the rest of my reading material which most often focuses on escapist fiction, Brian Doyle’s essays captivate me. They’re short enough to be readable, even when my brain isn’t fully online, and they’re stunning in depth, even though (or because) his subjects are almost always the mundane bits of life. I said before that this book is one of the things keeping me sane right now, and it’s still true. I haven’t finished it yet. I intend to savor it still for a while.

TELEVISION

You on Netflix — Narrated by the sociopathic main character, this series is dark, but delightfully so. I just finished Season Two, and it lived up to and then surpassed Season One. 

The Crown on Netflix — I admit to stops and starts in this series. I watched a few episodes when it first came out, liked it fine but quit because I didn’t really have time. Then I picked it up, watched through the end of Season Two, but had trouble making the actress transition to Olivia Coleman, even though I LOVE her. Quarantine gave me the opportunity to finish Season Three, though, and I’m back on board the Crown train.

The Rookie on Hulu — Nathan Fillion’s newest role, and Greg and I both love it. It hits all the right notes — funny, earnest, poignant, fast pace, solid dialogue. Fillion plays the oldest rookie cop the Los Angeles PD has ever accepted into its ranks, and I love the way it plays both with what it means to start over in life and how age and experience can pay dividends of wisdom… or not. 

Zoey’s Extraordinary Playlist on Hulu — sweet and quirky, this is like a more grown-up Glee, folding music and dance into everyday life. Less teenage angst. More, well, going to work and dealing with dying parents. Which makes it sound awful and exactly why I refuse to watch This Is Us — too much sadness in a world already full of it. Somehow, though, Zoey’s Extraordinary Playlist manages to be fun and funny and not, you know, destroy me. 

The Good Place on Netflix — I made a MAJOR STRATEGIC ERROR and failed to watch the latest season as it was released on ABC.com, and now only the final four episodes are available there. So even though I finished the second to last season in quarantine, I’m currently STUCK on starting the last season until it’s released on Netflix this fall. Gah! 😭 

Sex Education on Netflix — VERY graphic, very funny, very sweet, very heartbreaking, this show somehow manages to be obviously fictional and SO realistic at the same time. I adore the characters, the writing, the actors they cast, the themes, and the handling of a subject that doesn’t have to be nearly as awkward as our culture makes it. This is far and away one of my favorites of the last couple years. Did I mention that it’s very graphic, though? Because it’s VERY GRAPHIC. 

Jane the Virgin on Netflix— I’ve had SO MANY friends recommend this to me, but — confession — I tried to watch it a couple years ago and felt meh about it. I WAS WRONG, though, Diary. I’ve just started it again, from the first episode, and IDK why I thought it was anything but delightful. 

And I’m sure there are more, Diary, but those are top of mind for now and I need to quit writing so I can go watch more Jane the Virgin.

I’m sure you understand.

TTYL, 

 

 

 

P.S. Please share your book and show recommendations. IDK what I’m watching or reading next, so suggestions are welcome. 

 

ABOUT BETH WOOLSEY I'm a writer. And a mess. And mouthy, brave, and strong. I believe we all belong to each other. I believe in the long way 'round. And I believe, always, in grace in the grime and wonder in the wild of a life lived off course from what was, once, a perfectly good plan.
15 comments
  1. Thank you for your recommendations. I too am having troubles focusing enough to read but I have discovered I love audio books! Who doesn’t like being read to. I have listened to both ‘The Starless Sea’ and ‘the night circus’ among many others and really enjoyed both. I get all my audio books from the library so it is fun to try new authors.

  2. Ahhhh but This is Us is SO GOOD and it is a feel-good show even though it has sad parts.

    And a friend of mine who is both a birth mother to a son who was adopted and an adoptive mother feels it is the best portrayal of adoption and the perspective of birth parents she’s ever seen in the media.

  3. I am so happy to know someone else who has read Night Circus!!! I re-read that book every few years when I have forgotten enough details to make it fun to re-read. I’m excited to see another book and will pick it up! I am currently reading the Harry Potter series and watching the movie corresponding to each book. I have never seen the movies so, that has been fun.

    Book Suggestions:
    American God – Neil Gaiman
    The Color Purple – Alice Walker
    Jitterbug Perfume – Tom Robbins
    Illusions – Richard Bach
    Their Eyes Were Watching God – Zora Neale Hurston
    The 57 Bus – Dashka Slater
    Americanah – Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie
    The Valley of Amazement – Amy Tan
    Sister of my Heart, The Palace of Illusions, The Mistress of Spices – Chitra Banerjee Divakaruni

    I love tv when my brain is too tired to process words or when I have been on the computer too long and my eyes needs rest. However, books are my true escape. All the books listed above are such beautiful escapes. I try to read authors from different cultural, ethnic and racial backgrounds. It is so wonderful to see their aesthetic, point of view, and individual personality come out in their writing.

  4. My comfort is mysteries and I’ve been doing a deep dive during Covid. My favorites so far has been a trilogy by Caimh McDonnell. The first book is “A Man With One of Those Faces.” It’s set in Dublin and follows a few characters that are linked through a central mystery. I find it really funny. I’ve listened to two of the three on audiobook and the narration is so good, I’m laughing out loud. I wouldn’t recommend it as a “cozy” mystery series because of all the swearing and violence, but it is a great time.
    On the romance front, I’m finding I’m in the mood for totally unrealistic stories about plucky ladies leaving their lives behind and starting up improbably successful businesses. These are tough times and some of us need to rest our minds, people. Jenny Colgan is really satisfying this need right now. “The Bookshop Around the Corner” and “The Cafe By the Sea” are the two I’ve read. Once again, the audiobooks are great. Books by Abbi Waxman also scratched this itch for me.
    For tv, it’s much the same. I got Britbox and watched a ton of Mysteries and Gardening shows. The whole family enjoyed “This Farming Life” which is a reality documentary style show following livestock farmers in Wales and Northern Ireland. Third season was the best, a real generosity in the portrayal of these families.
    I’ve since moved on to Acorn and am currently working through a mystery series called “Queens of Mystery.” It reminds me a lot of “Pushing Daisies” in it’s tone and styling.

  5. Normal People. Entrancing, graphic

    Rectify. Thoughtful. Worth it!

    Just watched this (off the friends’ recommendation list”
    Michelle Obama on Netflix Becoming.

    Of course Frankie & Grace,
    OITNB
    The Ranch

    & these are a new list solicited by a friend who just came out of me surgery and said I need to stop that is pleasant no death. I can’t vouch for them, but I, myself, am now developing a recommendation-list:

    Cute movie too called Good Boys.

    You on Netflix.

    The Good Place, netflix

    the Rookie, Hulu

    SERIOUS eye candy…for you – watch Poldark on Amazon Prime!

    “James May: Our Man in Japan” which is a fun, goofy travelogue show hosted by the best presenter from Top Gear (i.e. not Jeremy Clarkson). On Amazon.

    Netflix, watch Rainman Twins! Utterly charming twin autistic savant sisters!!

    – Try After life. Ricky Gervais in a serious part. 2 series on Netflix.

    Crazy Ex Girlfriend. All sweet, silly

    Comedians in cars getting coffee.

    Our go-to feel good? —
    Priscilla Queen of the Desert.

    Michael Shannon.

    Hollywood

    Never have I ever.

    Kim’s Convenience on Netflix

    Good Boys.

    Letterkenney is my go to silly fun show right now.

    Heartland.

    Biggest little farm.

    Secret love

    Early edition.

    The way of the peaceful warrior.

    Rake.

    One Day. Netflix

  6. Oh hey now you’re my book doppelgänger … I too have only been able to read soft porn haha (including all the Maas books again). I can’t even watch tv shows right now (exception: The Great British Bake Off) but I can do horror movies … The Cabin in the Woods; As Above, So Below; The Thing; the Tucker and Dale one; The Descent … all worth a watch (one of my dnd friends is going to drop off all of the Halloween movies for me because I asked about renting one … I shall be occupied for awhile I think).

  7. I’m making my way through Liu Cixin’s Death’s End, although I’ve found it a bit of a slog. Took a break to read Gideon the Ninth by Tamsyn Muir, and I’m gobsmacked! Lesbians with swords and goth necromancers in a science fantasy murder mystery!

    Signed up for Amazon Prime so we could watch the Marvelous Mrs. Maisel and we love it. Next up: Carnival Row with Orlando Bloom. A little disappointed in the latest season of Outlander on Starz. Too few steamy sex scenes anymore maybe? Loved the Valhalla Murders on Netflix (Norwegian crime drama). LOVED I Am So Not Okay With This on Netflix, maybe a blend of Stranger Things and Sex Education? (when is season 2?!!). Also, I am Mother on Netflix.

  8. emmymadeinjapan on YouTube (gotta love a woman who can make penis jokes about her food, get excited about tofu, seriously review a candy toilet, and make MREs sound tasty).

    Asian dramas. Most recent fluffy one was a Chinese one called “Lean Your Head on My Shoulder,” about two college students being tricked into rooming together because their Moms want them to get married. It was funny and oddly relatable. Also enjoyed re-watching “Love O2O” because the main couple is so unflappable about all the people trying to get between them, and “Hwayugi” because forcing a Monkey God to love you and protect you instead of eat you is always a good plan, right?

    Oh, and I’m sharing “Arsenic and Old Lace” with my six year old, who loves some good graveyard humor. (Seriously… When Stoic the Vast died she shouted “I want to see Hiccup cry!!!!!!”)

  9. Loved Sex Education. Binged it when other half was out at rehearsals pre lockdown and think I need to make him watch it now too. Watched Atypical on Netflix with our boys last few weeks which we’ve enjoyed together, and brings up some juicy topics to talk about. Also, if it’s on there in US, Friday Night Dinner is one of my favourite UK comedies. First 4 series are on Netflix here. Watched that with the boys too. Tears rolling fun.

  10. Melissa Westemeier just released book 3 in her Bassville series, which I love, and she has 2 earlier books (Kicks Like A Girl, Whipped Not Beaten) that are the perfect level of reading for brains during a pandemic. Her characters are quirky and lovable and realistic.
    https://www.melwestemeier.com/

  11. I enjoy Brooklyn 99; it is very well acted and I love how character driven it is.

    I am utterly convinced the best show of all time is Call the Midwife. I cry every single episode, but they are healing tears, tears of hope and joy and seeing the beauty even in the muck. Very much a both/and show. If you haven’t seen it I can’t recommend it enough.

    1. Omg Call the Midwife. I cry every time a baby is born and my husband looks at me like I’ve lost it (which isn’t far from the mark). I never have time to get all the way through the series (I always restart from the beginning) but it is amazingggg.

    2. Brooklyn 99 is a family favorite. Such a diversity of cast and characters and the writing is great. It’s just such a fun show!

  12. Sex Ed & JtV are two of my all-time favorites. 🙂

  13. Oooh, Erin has a new book! I LOVE The Night Circus! I’m reading book two in the Blackthorne series by Kevin Sands…not for everyone, at this point in time as the setting is during the plague. I’m enjoying the parallels, but like I said, not for everyone, at this point in time.
    Love watching Zoey, already miss the Good Place…and am binging Veronica Mars…and spending far too much time watching YouTube… specifically Bon Appetit test kitchen shows.

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