A Story

Living through a seemingly never-ending public health crisis is distressing. As I write this, the Delta variant of Covid-19 runs rampant through the US alongside its main enabler, vaccine misinformation. What a time to be alive!

As I recently posted to my Instagram Story: Do you have a stack of emotional support books about pandemics or are you normal? While I’m not alone in emotional support book stacks, I’m fairly abnormal in piling on the titles about pandemics and disease. As we meander through this interminable pandemic, I turn back to this “genre” as I did in the spring and summer of 2020. When the present is a nightmare, looking to the past helps me make sense of the world and put it in its proper context. Most of these books in my emotional support stack were written before 2020, about specific plagues like the 1918 flu or about how to prevent pandemics in the future (LOL). Yet, books about our current situation also proliferate!

I prefer the older histories, because reading about our current times bring up such fresh rage. Still, I read and just finished one such title, “The Premonition: A Pandemic Story” by Michael Lewis. For the title of this post, I crib from that subtitle; I want to emphasize the “A” of it all. A Story. That’s important, because if you’re looking for a sweeping history, this isn’t it. It’s A Story. It’s not THE story of the pandemic, but rather one slice of it. It’s a little bit about the United States pandemic preparedness plan (and lack thereof), and a lot about a few people who tried their best to respond quickly to Covid-19. It’s about the failure of the leaders across the United States to keep its people safe, leaving us to fend for ourselves against a new and destructive disease.

Lewis weaves together the stories of people who, through the years, have worked to make the US pandemic and public health response better. You’ve got a high school science project, a bold public health leader, an innovative scientist, and a hospital administrator with a lot of e-mails tying these people together. These are people who saw small details and placed them in a bigger context to fix problems. They saw the writing on the wall as news emerged from China about a new disease; they tried to respond to put a stop to this Covid-19 pandemic in the United States; they were thwarted at every turn by the inept way this country approaches crisis.

Be prepared to be angry and upset at what could have been. At learning that there was a lab ready to sequence this virus and get ahead of variants (LOL) in late April 2020, but bureaucracy got in the way. That even in March and April 2020, brave people without enough power had plans to try to contain this disease and those with power seem to have ignored them.

To put it mildly: the CDC does not come off well. As I remain irritated with their inability to put together coherent public health messaging here in 2021, I’m not exactly thrilled with the picture painted here about their pandemic response and lack thereof. From both this book and from what I have observed throughout this pandemic, is seemingly a lack of bravery and boldness, an unwillingness to do what is right even when it’s hard. And that sentiment applies to more than the CDC. This book makes a case for what precipitated this state of affairs for the CDC, going back to the 1976 Swine Flu Pandemic (that ended up not quite as bad as expected, which, is part of the problem). But really, what has happened to us over and over in this pandemic is symptomatic of the American problem of being too big for our britches and believing we are invincible.

I have a few quibbles with this book. There are no citations or index. Due to this lack, I think some specious asides are included that deserve further scrutiny. First are allusions to racial quotas for job positions that are not fully explored or cited in the text; rather they are mentioned as almost casual notes when the only source (as far as the reader can tell) is the aggrieved party. Second is a story about a TB positive patient in Santa Barbara who comes from a migrant community originating from the Mixtecs of Oaxaca. I happen to know more than your typical American reader about Oaxacan Mixtecs (I wrote about my admittedly limited experience back in 2013) and some of the statements made about this group in the text are suspect. When I see unsubstantiated comments about topics with which I’m familiar, I start to wonder what else in the book needs more attention and citation.

Despite those quibbles, I enjoyed this book and I encourage you to read it to learn about this slice of what could have been. The Premonition is a page turner, not a dense read, and comes in at about 300 pages. This is just “A” part of the story of this Covid-19 pandemic, and more will be written and argued about as we move forward. But it’s an important part of the story because it pushes us to ask a lot of questions and seek answers about how we respond to crisis in this country.

To quote the book, a question of the public health protagonist of the story, on page 279: “Why doesn’t the United States have the institutions it needs to save itself?”

What to Read Next

I don’t know what I want to read anymore. This has taken me quite some time to admit. Books have always been how I identified myself.  Alas, limits on my time, school work, life in general, and much more has changed how I decide what to read next.

First, my attention span is much shorter. If I start a book and am not immediately hooked, I drop it. I don’t have time to waste on books I don’t absolutely love.  This unfortunately means I don’t give most books a chance.

Second, my tastes have changed. I know what I don’t like. I just don’t know what I do like anymore.

Third, my life is changing all the time.  I want to just re-read books I know I used to love so I can feel more settled.  This doesn’t always work, though.  I feel guilty for reading something already read.  Also, some of my formerly beloved books–I just don’t care for anymore but I don’t realize it until I’ve started and then my fond memory of the book is ruined.

This is such a silly thing to fret over. It’s just books.

But really, it isn’t just books. I just don’t know what it is.

I still don’t know what to read next.

Oh, and it’s mid-June and I haven’t even contemplated May or anticipated June. It’ll be over before I know it.  This is too fast.

A List

A list of books

One of my favorite nerdy things to do in my life is finding books to read.  When I get stressed by school or other things of life, I go to my library website and request books like a crazy person.  Which is how I have ended up with 47 items checked out of the library right now. My limit is 50, so I could get 3 more….

My library is an enabler.  Its website makes it far too easy to search for and request books.  Unfortunately, I don’t have time to read everything I check out and sometimes I know I miss out on good books because I just don’t have time to finish them before they must be returned or I am not in the mood to read that particular book.  So, I think a list of books I currently possess via a library card is in order.

I am an eclectic and eccentric reader. Hence, the books on this lists are from various genres and recommended or discovered from various places (thank you Barnes and Noble, Borders, NPR, NY Times, Half-Price Books, etc).  If I feel really adventurous, I may write some reviews of these books that I read.  That all depends on the quantity of my spare time in the coming months.  The fact that I’m about to go on what will essentially be 6 weeks of travel makes that idea of writing my own book reviews unlikely.  But who knows, it could happen.

Since these books I am about to list are only on my to-read list, I cannot vouch for their excellence, readability, quality of dialogue, appropriateness, level of heathen activity, or anything else.  I selected these books for reading possibilities based on random factors, which include judging a book by its attractive cover, liking the blurb on the back of the book, and being intrigued by the title.  I make no promises.

A List
You can’t get there from here: a year on the fringes of a shrinking world / Gayle Forman
When March went mad: the game that transformed basketball / Seth Davis
The oak leaves / Maureen Lang
On Sparrow Hill / Maureen Lang
Waiting for normal / Leslie Connor
Musicophilia : tales of music and the brain / Oliver Sacks
The secret of lost things: a novel / Sheridan Hay
Love and other impossible pursuits / Ayelet Waldman
The moon in the mango tree: a novel / Pamela Binnings Ewen
The boy who dared / Susan Campbell Bartoletti
The piano teacher / Janice Y.K. Lee
The shape of mercy / Susan Meissner
Water Street / Patricia Reilly Giff
The girl who threw butterflies / Mick Cochrane
The Penderwicks / Jeanne Birdsall
The Penderwicks on Gardam Street / Jeanne Birdsall
Kiki Strike: inside the shadow city / Kirsten Miller
Thirteen reasons why / Jay Asher
The other side of the island / Allegra Goodman
Siberia / Ann Halam
Tamar / Mal Peet
Marie, dancing / Carolyn Meyer
The remarkable & very true story of Lucy & Snowcap / H.M. Bouwman
Airman / Eoin Colfer
The last treasure / Janet S. Anderson
The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society / Mary Ann Shaffer & Annie Barrows
A child’s journey out of autism: one family’s story of living in hope and finding a cure / Leeann Whiffen
A universal history of the destruction of books: from ancient Sumer to modern Iraq / Fernando Báez
Gideon the cutpurse: being the first part of the Gideon trilogy / Linda Buckley-Archer
Anything but typical / Nora Raleigh Baskin
Olive Kitteridge / Elizabeth Strout
Speak / Laurie Halse Anderson
In the company of crazies / Nora Raleigh Baskin
Three cups of tea: one man’s mission to promote peace– one school at a time / Greg Mortenson & David Oliver Relin
If I stay / Gayle Forman
The returning / Ann Tatlock
Words unspoken / Elizabeth Musser

So what should I read first?

American Born Chinese

I opened ABC to read without realizing what kind of book it is.  It’s a graphic novel.  I didn’t even start to read because I thought, “Ick, graphic novels are not my thing and I really don’t enjoy them.”  When I mentioned that I had tried to read it in my Young Adult Literature (YAL) class and said that I really didn’t want to read it, I was challenged that that’s precisely why I should read the book.  It’s different and not something I would ordinarily read.  So I tried again.

It was….interesting.  Some parts I liked and some parts slightly disturbed me.  I was never quite sure what audience the author was targeting…sometimes 12-13 year olds, sometimes 16 or 17.  Some of the content was just not appropriate for the younger age.  The book tapped into spiritual themes, but just that: spiritual.  Scripture was essentially spoken by God, but in the context of Buddhism and “kung fu” spirituality.  Some Buddhist deities were depicted, including Yama, the deity of the underworld.  These were all points from the book I disliked that I pondered after I read.  These aren’t highly processed thoughts at all, just some commentary.

I liked the way the author wove together three separate stories of Chinese legend, a Chinese boy, and an Causasian boy.  A main point of the book is how many Chinese (and Asian in general) children  are often teased and ridiculed by others (sometimes intentionally, sometimes not).  Teachers and students alike make rude and unpleasant stereotypes about the Chinese boy, Jin, pronouncing his name wrong and making ridiculous assumptions about his life.  The book also touches on how irritated Jin becomes with his Chinese heritage and how ashamed Danny (the Caucasian boy) is of his Chinese relatives.  The author shows how difficult it can be to struggle with these issues.

Overall, I think I liked it.  And I think I didn’t.  Essentially, I feel in-between about American Born Chinese. I still dislike graphic novels, but I also like the stories about Chinese culture.  I shall have to think on it more.