Remember when we were up to our asses in Democratic candidate debates, town halls, and Sunday morning drop-ins? Man, those were the days. We took all of it – from the electric feeling that we might once more have intelligent life in the Oval Office to, yes, the bickering and backhandery – for granted. Sure, most of the hopefuls were picked off by political attrition, and the last remaining few made strategic exits just days before the country went on lockdown. But make no mistake: we’ve been cheated out of soundbites, soliloquies, and shittalk, if only from the last coupla soldiers in the field. Fill the gap with a good read from one of the fallen: “Shortest Way Home: One Mayor’s Challenge and a Model for America’s Future” by Pete Buttigieg. Better yet, put the audiobook in your ears and treat yourself to the author reading his own autobiography. That measured, buttery voice that suggests a maturity not quite matching the babyface draws you in, telling it to you straight while warmly braiding your hair. His was not a life without some privilege, and he neither apologizes for nor tries to veil that. But he does recount well-considered, good-intentioned decisions at so many turns in an otherwise middle America life. The reader/listener is likely hard-pressed to think of others in his/her personal orbit who would have chosen the same paths at similar forks. You know how you wonder why we don’t have better Presidential candidates, and then you consider why someone bright, compassionate, and relatively “normal” would want that job? I kind of think Pete has stood up and said, “Okay, FINE, I’ll do it, guys.” We just have to say accept him taking one for the team.
Now that it’s down to one, and considering who that gaffe-prone one is, perhaps a few weeks of forced silence is for the best. We’ll get our fill soon enough, and then it’s time to pray, vote, and patiently track the return of Pete.
I’m not stressed. I’m really not. Stop looking at me that way. I realize my cuticles look like tiny crime scenes. And that I’m asking my undereye concealer to do the impossible. But sterile hands are not silky hands, and the odds of adding Clorox wipes and ground beef to your online Publix cart are decidedly better at 2:00 a.m. than 2:00 p.m. Still, feeling what resembles anxiety but couldn’t possibly be because all that’s being asked of me right now is to park my ass at home when others are splitting ventilators, I pick up my treasured copy of Allie Brosh’s “Hyperbole and a Half.” It was a book I’d bought a loved one when she had confused generalized anxiety disorder with nervous self-pity. She needed to know her anxious feelings were legitimate in the absence of a “reason” and independent of the gravity of others’ worries. I’d heard Brosh’s blog had a cult following, garnering particular mad love from those living with anxiety and depression. And her book – a generously-curated volume of candid posts paired with her hallmark crude illustrations (that triangle atop cartoon Allie’s head is apparently a ponytail) – delivers a narrative that will leave you awash in empathy, gratitude, and explosive giggles. You can’t really put your finger on why; it’s weird and haphazard that way. Just go with it, and go forward feeling your feels. As for me, I’ll keep plucking my hangnails and auto-waking in the wee hours to order the quarantine staples that may or may not actually show up in cootie-covered bags at my door. But, seriously, I’m not stressed.
I’m sensing a theme here… I don’t like books about people I don’t like. This started out fast and a little bonkers and the bonkers just didn’t end. Unfortunately by the time I dragged myself over the finish line I just found every single person unsympathetic and unlikeable. Maybe during quarantine we need more books that give us hope and reason to believe in the inherent good of others rather than this examination of alienation and mental illness and drug abuse. It’s why for the last three years I’ve narrowed my tv watching to The Good Place, Schitt’s Creek, the Great British Baking Show and Derry Girls.
The cover is glorious artwork and this is an incredibly fast and interesting read. That said, I had trouble loving it, because I didn’t love any of the characters. But it does bring up important themes of how we see each other, how we treat each other and the importance of being able to talk honestly about things. The main character, Emira was a bit mysterious and her choices sometimes seemed at odds with what I understood about her personality. Alyx, was pretty uniformly awful and there was little in her back story that redeemed her, her NY friends were kind of hideous, husband blah but his casual racism in the beginning was without consequence or examination which was probably the point but also really depressing. I am conflicted really because I would have valued characters that I felt like I knew better and were more complex.
I may be a little late to this particular book largely because I have been comfort watching the Great British Baking Show and The West Wing in this time of crisis. When the more problematic 1900s-style sexist elements of the West Wing became impossible to ignore, I turned it off an picked up the book that’s been sitting on the nightstand for longer that I will admit. AND OMG this is so, so good. Riveting, brilliantly written and alternately inspiring and debilitating, I cannot currently put it down. It reads like a spy novel on the effort to get the Weinstein story to light. And right now, in these dark times, you know that at the end there is a happy ending — Weinstein was recently sentenced to 23 years in prison in New York and still faces charges in California. Amazon has no more copies, but you can get the kindle version or Audible has the audiobook version which, hey, bonus, no one has touched. There is also a podcast, so once you finish the book, check that out too. You have time.