I live in Toronto, a COVID-19 hot spot, and in the past year, I don’t think we’ve ever had a day were the cities health officials and leadership hasn’t asked us to restrict our movements to the essentials and stay home. I love dense city-life precisely because of the constant bustle and hum of shared spaces and amenities, so being told to stay away from people and places has been a big adjustment.
But there’s been plenty of time to read, which is a BIG plus. This month’s 5ives is a reading list for these ‘stay at home’ times.
HumanKind: A Hopeful History by Rutger Bergman (2019)
I struggled to keep the hope fires burning throughout 2020. So I really needed to read this when I did. It’s not a perfect book in any way. But it offers a refreshingly uncynical view of humanity and deconstructs some of the more common arguments we make about why we’re so awful to each other. I’m not about to embrace words like ‘Utopian’ or ‘idealist’, but Bergman’s ideas belong in any conversation we have about where humans go from here.
Indians On Vacation by Thomas King (2019)
Bird and Mimi retrace the steps of Mimi’s Uncle Leroy and her family’s medicine bundle, which Leroy took with him to Europe. So you’re in Prague, but the narrator’s mind likes to wander so you’re also in San Francisco, where he met his wife, his Mother-in-law’s kitchen table in Alberta, or a small village in Greece. You travel with Bird through Europe and his memories and his sentiments on the privileges and pitfalls of tourism.
A Short History of Nearly Everything by Bill Bryson (2005)
Science is awesome, but the disciplines comfort with change and refusal to offer absolutes provides cold comfort in uncertain times. Enter Bill Bryson and this expansive laypersons science read. It’s the entertaining and engaging science education we all needed in High School but never got. Bryson has an easy, and engaging writing style that takes you from the Big Bang to the development of Homo sapiens to the super-volcano in Yellowstone National Park that’s long overdue to erupt. I hope a new, updated edition of this book gets released soon though as a few things are out of date. In 2005 Pluto was a planet, and the Higgs Boson was not yet confirmed.
The Beach by Alex Garland (1996)
There’s a long list of great novels you can read to remind yourself that being elsewhere won’t solve your problems. Paris, Havana or Bangkok are all lovely places, but your ego and personal issues will always follow you. Packed with Gen-X cynicism, and disillusionment there’s absolutely no way to misread The Beach’s sentiments for romanticism, which makes it the perfect anti-travelogue for pandemic times.
Accordion Crimes by Annie Proulx (1996)
A Sicilian accordion maker brings his son and a small green accordion to “La Merica” for a chance at a better life. He’s killed in New Orleans by an anti-Italian mob. From there we follow the little green accordion through the 20th Century as it’s played by a diverse group of people and we learn about their lives, music, struggles and prejudices in this dark and unsentimental tour of North America’s immigrant experience.