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