That Was the Week That Was

Latour reading womanI’m having a hard time keeping track of what day it is, mostly because under the new work-from-home protocol–and the more general stay-at-home order–there’s not much difference between one day and the next. I’ve also stopped doing grocery shopping on Saturday mornings (which had been my routine for more than two decades): now I go mid-week, usually Wednesday, as early as I’m allowed in the store, which means I’m home by 9 a.m. and so, aside from the gradually receding adrenaline from the stress of the outing, it too then becomes a day like every other day.

As these days become weeks and months, I am trying to find a rhythm that brings a bit of order to the passing hours without adding unnecessary pressure, something in between just drifting and trying to enforce a fixed schedule when really there’s no need as long as, bit by bit, the things that need doing get done. Most mornings I spend puttering way on online teaching: reading, experimenting with tools in Brightspace, trying to imagine how else to do what I’ve always done, working through the modules for the online course I signed up for on online course design. Being a student in this course is probably as valuable as anything they are directly teaching me about online learning: I feel first-hand, for example, the importance of engagement, or the discouragement of its lack–so many people enrolled, so few people contributing to any of the discussion boards! I’m trying hard to sustain my positive attitude, or at least to stay practical about what lies ahead even if sometimes my heart just sinks when I think about it or I get swamped with doubt about my ability to do a good job, to make the experience anything like what I think it should be and hope, on my better days, that it can be.

shroudAfternoons are (more or less) for reading. I haven’t posted about any books since The Glass Hotel but that isn’t because I haven’t read any. In fact, I have read four (almost five) books since then, all by P. D. James, because I am rereading her complete works (or all of her mysteries, at any rate) in preparation for writing a piece for the TLS in honor of her centenary. I was really glad that the editors liked this idea: it’s a perfect project for this haphazard summer. I have a lot of ideas about James from having read (and taught) her for years, but I have not had a reason to put those ideas in good order before, and it has also been a long time since I read most of her back catalog. It’s very interesting reading through the books all at once and in order: you quickly notice recurring themes and habits, strengths and weaknesses, and also the way her scope and themes expand. I think (I hope!) that this is a kind of essay I’m reasonably good at, collating and synthesizing across a range of examples; this is also an approach that I think works well for crime series, which are interesting both in their individual parts and as enduring creations that are more than the sum of those parts, often (as in this case) through the story they tell about the central detective  that unifies them. My previous essays on Dick Francis and the Martin Beck books were in a similar vein. I won’t want to anticipate too much of the final product here, but I will probably report back occasionally, partly to keep holding myself accountable! Maybe when I’ve finished my reread I should do another ranked list. My post on the top 10 Dick Francis novels has been my most-read post of all time! 🙂

the-crossingI do have some other books on the go or in the queue. I am about 100 pages into Andrew Miller’s The Crossing, which is the last of the random pile of library books I brought home shortly before the lockdown. It’s good so far in the way his other books were good: meticulous, quietly and a bit ominously atmospheric. I ordered Isabella Hammad’s The Parisian from Bookmark, and it looks very tempting; I pulled Patrick Leigh Fermor’s A Time of Gifts from the shelf because I’ve never read it and if there was ever a time to travel vicariously in excellent literary company, this is surely it. My book club “met” on Thursday to discuss Detective Inspector Huss (mixed feelings all round) and there too the idea of being mentally somewhere else appeals: Turkey somehow came up as a preferred destination, so we may do something by Elif Shafak next. I am still struggling a bit with concentration, so although I have John Le Carre’s A Perfect Spy still to read from my Christmas stash, I think now may not be the time for something intricately plotted. On the other hand, maybe now is exactly the time for a book that will insist I really pay attention!

ozark3We have certainly been watching a lot of TV: the new season of Better Call SaulThe End of the F***ing WorldLittle Fires EverywhereThe Stranger, Ozark … If we’d known what lay ahead, we might have rationed some of the other shows we watched over the winter–season 5 of Line of Duty, the latest season of Shetland–that we knew to be engrossing. It is a good time to be watching Parks and Recreation for the first time: its gentle, goodhearted humor is a tonic. Sadly, the channel that carried the Great British Sewing Bee and various other painting and craft shows has dropped suddenly from our cable package, just when such low-key distractions would be more welcome than ever, and a lot of the videos on the Youtube channel where I had found the Great Pottery Throwdown are now blocked, which I guess is legitimate but it’s still sad. It was March 8 that I wrote about how “gripped and soothed” I was by shows highlighting creativity and making things: little did I know that would be the last blog post of the Before Times.

So that’s how my week is going–how my weeks are going, as they blur together, weirdly ephemeral and indistinct but also somehow relentless, a foggy procession through time. I continue to be really grateful for Twitter and blogs: reading and talking about reading and knowing that the rest of you are out there too, all of us getting by as best we can and hanging on to the things we care about, including books and ideas and each other.

7 thoughts on “That Was the Week That Was

  1. Rebecca H. May 31, 2020 / 4:44 pm

    Your PD James project sounds like fun! Pretty much the only thing that keeps us feeling like we have a schedule is Cormac’s distance learning and in a couple weeks, that will be done, and we will lose all sense of time.

  2. Jeanne May 31, 2020 / 9:35 pm

    I guess you like Ozark? I’m a little reluctant to try it because the region called the Ozarks is where I grew up, and one always finds inaccuracies at best and overgeneralizations at worst in shows set in places one knows well.

    • Rohan Maitzen June 1, 2020 / 8:19 am

      I can’t speak to the authenticity of the setting, but if you like crime thrillers (and have a reasonably strong stomach) it’s very good and very gripping: well acted, lots of surprises.

  3. Café Society June 1, 2020 / 4:33 am

    Reading series novels in the chronological order in which they were written (not always the same thing as the internal chronology) is one of my favourite things to do for precisely the reasons you make clear here. It’s a long time since I read any PD James. if I run out of review copies I might just be tempted to join you! Keep safe Rohan, keep sane!

  4. Liz Mc2 June 8, 2020 / 3:04 pm

    I’ve really enjoyed your previous detective series essays (especially the Dick Francis one and your top 10 post here, which introduced me to a new favorite author). This seems like a good project for right now. I’ve been reading and listening to a lot of detective fiction. Right now it’s James’ Death in Holy Orders. I’m finding it–funny? Because one character who is clearly kind of a villain is voicing views on things like the ordination of women that I agree with! But I’m supposed to dislike him and maybe his views. There’s also a very retrograde view of adoption (not a “real child/parent” which I also encountered in an Agatha Christie novel, but definitely didn’t expect in a book published in . . . wait, 2001? Really? That’s even worse than I thought.

    (I’ve been enjoying your posts but going back to comment is apparently one of the things I’m struggling with these days).

      • Liz Mc2 June 8, 2020 / 3:29 pm

        I didn’t even mention the non-spoilery incest! I’m sure I’ve read it before, but don’t remember much. There is a LOT going on, though.

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