Work hard pandemic hard, 4/6/21

For some reason, I am on the board of a nonprofit organization. Every year this nonprofit organization gives out prizes to books that were released the previous year. This is why last month, thanks to some exceptionally poor planning on my part, I set about attempting to read 27 books in the span of 19 days.

Week 1: Okay, I'll admit it: I procrastinated. I really didn't want to do all the reading. But I am also too guilt-ridden and duty-bound to ignore external obligations. So it is in a state of high dudgeon that I: read an autobiography of what it's like to be disabled and also an artist and then a collection of essays about what it's like to grow up, date, work, and live as a dark-skinned woman and then a reported memoir of growing up in 1980s San Francisco with a mom who runs a pot brownie empire. Scrounging for food in the kitchen, I resolve to finally use up all those canned goods we bought at the beginning of the pandemic that we've ignored ever since. I dump a can of baked beans on top of some pasta and eat that while reading the book about weed. One evening, I read the entirety of an essay collection about being an Asian-American poet. I read an astonishingly good memoir about escaping the Liberian civil war at age 5. I also read, in one three-hour span Sunday evening, five books of poetry: an 180-minute jumble of imagery and lyric and sly reference and a lot of disjointed words that beg to be parsed that I do not parse. I suspect that this is not the correct way to read poetry. 

Week 2: I cannot stop calculating the number of books I still need to read (17) and the number of days I have left (12) and the book-per-day rate I will have to manage to make it through all of them (1.41666666666…), though the answers are always the same. Minus the poetry, I'm averaging about 0.7 books a day, but I am convinced I can read 1.41666666666… books a day if I just try hard enough. I read a book about the emotional impact of the Mexican drug war and then a book about analyzing faces as works of art and then a book about art produced by incarcerated people in America: the art is enchanting, the conditions under which it's created sickening. On Thursday, I realize that it's been exactly one year since I left New York for California. I add some canned olives and a dash of alfredo sauce from a jar we mysteriously have to my baked bean pasta; it looks gross but is surprisingly delicious. I start but do not make it past the first 70 pages of a short story collection. I read a novel about a Black gay man whose Japanese-American boyfriend's mom comes to live with him while the Japanese-American boyfriend goes to Japan to tend to his estranged dad who owns a bar in Osaka and is dying of cancer. I cry multiple times. I create a weird but also tasty concoction by combining old boxes of vegan tomato soup with pasta and canned cannellini beans and a little bit of alfredo sauce. My mom gets vaccinated, and my dad tends to her post-second dose but also gripes because he's still too young for a shot, by about eight months. I read, in the news, about spring breakers bustin' out all over Miami Beach. My pandemic fatigue just looks like book fatigue.

Week 3: I note, with growing alarm, that I am falling behind: 12 books in 5 days means 2.4 books a day (lol). While waiting for my pasta to boil, I drag myself through a 523-page autobiographical novel (this page count does not include the “novel’s” voluminous index) by an elderly British literary light about all the dead old white men who have influenced him. I don't hate the book (though I seem to have developed a burning resentment towards overly long books); I simply pity the author. I read an utterly engrossing novel about Shakespeare's son who dies of the plague. I lie in bed in the middle of the day and read a book about moments in American history in which Shakespeare plays were relevant and only fall asleep twice. I read a book that makes me realize that the punitive way we treat people in America is in large part because one fraction of the populace really doesn't want a different part of the populace (which they see, nonsensically, as categorically separate) to get anything at all, which is pretty tricky when the rules apply to everyone. There is a shooting in Atlanta. On Wednesday, I am again enraged, this time by a book about St. Louis's racist history, but it is also more than 500 pages long and very difficult to read quickly, so it is not in my good graces. Also on Wednesday, I confront the fact that I now have to read seven books in two days—you can do the math—and finally, finally admit to myself that I'm just not going to be able to finish all the reading. I give up for the day and play Tetris instead. I finish the last of the bean soup, though there are still five cans of tuna I need to figure out what to do with. On my final day of reading, I power through a fascinating account of the 1831-2 slave revolt in Jamaica that eventually led to Britain abolishing slavery. 

Deliberations: By 8:50am on Saturday morning, I am sitting in a 20-person Zoom meeting. We deliberate for six hours. Afterwards, I feel vaguely empty, and a little stoned, though that's mostly just lack of sleep and my inability to handle any amount of caffeine. Completion is a fantasy we torture ourselves with, progress is in so many ways a mirage, and I am thrilled to finally be able to return to what I love most: doing absolutely jack shit. 

—Chelsea

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I wrote about all the routine, non-coronavirus vaccines you get for the New York Times for Kids!

📚 So normally I would put my free books spreadsheet here, but I still have yet to mail those packages I mentioned in my last email like, a month and a half ago, and I feel too guilty about that to take more requests for now. Once I get my act together, though, the spreadsheet will return! 📚

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