Reading in the Time of Pandemic

OutlanderWith life changing so much during the current pandemic, reading can obviously change, too. The content of what we read, of course, but also our reading routines. I’m going to describe what has been different for me, and then ask what has been different for you. If your reading life has not changed during the coronavirus crisis, well, that’s okay! ๐Ÿ™‚

Most novels I read pre-pandemic came from my local library. Armed with a list that mostly consists of your book recommendations from this blog’s weekly comments area, I’d drive two-plus miles each month to the library’s main branch and take out 4-6 novels. I loved those visits for many reasons — the look of the library’s interior, seeing people I knew, the relative quiet, the occasional serendipity of finding a novel I hadn’t had on my list…

But, like many other places, the library closed in mid-March for an unknown amount of time. I finished the novels I had borrowed during my February visit, and then tried to figure out what to do. I could have purchased a Kindle to download library books, but was not enthusiastic about going that route because I already spend so much time on screens. I constantly use my laptop or phone to do this blog, write other things, text, read news, keep up on social media (mostly Facebook), etc. Also, I just like reading novels in the old-fashioned print format.

Buying print novels wasn’t a great option, either, because my apartment is already jammed with my books, my wife’s books, and my younger daughter’s books. One possible solution was to reread some favorites already on my shelves, but I need new material to feed this blog and there are so many novels I want to read for the first time.

Anyway, purchased novels was the option I chose. By an accident of timing, my birthday was coming up in late March, my wife conveniently asked me what I wanted, and I said…books! She asked me which ones, and I made a list. While I waited for those novels to arrive, I had three other not-yet-read books on hand, and more time to read two of them (so far). Heck, as I “sheltered at home,” I wasn’t spending non-writing hours seeing friends and attending my younger daughter’s many sports practices and games — all indefinitely suspended.

Which is among the reasons that one book-gift request I made of my wife was the set of Diana Gabaldon’s eight Outlander novels despite most of them being 1,000 pages or longer. I’m loving the ambitious/compulsively readable series about a woman who goes back in time. After having read the first book (Outlander) several months ago, I finished the second book (Dragonfly in Amber) last week and am now immersed in the third book (Voyager).

If not for the pandemic, reading many long books in a short amount of time wouldn’t have been my choice or even possible. Plus, it’s comforting during such a sobering period to read a lot of somewhat-escapist fare — as time-travel novels tend to be for me. It helps to counterbalance all the depressing news I read each day about the coronavirus — and about the latest appalling statements from the incompetent, devoid-of-empathy, only-cares-about-himself President Trump.

Another change in routine of course involves now doing virtually all my reading at home.

Eventually, things will open up again and I’ll resume my monthly library visits. When I do, I’ll start catching up on some of the novels you’ve recommended in the comments area since mid-March. ๐Ÿ™‚

How has your reading changed during the pandemic — content-wise and/or routine-wise?

My literary-trivia book is described and can be purchased here: Fascinating Facts About Famous Fiction Authors and the Greatest Novels of All Time.

In addition to this weekly blog, I write the award-winning โ€œMontclairvoyantโ€ topical-humor column for The latest piece — about my town’s upcoming election — is here.

68 thoughts on “Reading in the Time of Pandemic

  1. FYI to all: the The New York Times story that bebe attached with Hillary Clinton endorsing our next President, Joe Biden, is co-written by Maggie Astor,political reporter at The New York Times who happens to also be Dave’s daughter. ๐Ÿ˜‰

    Liked by 1 person

  2. Hi Dave, I have nor reading much these days since losing my POMCHI, simply can not focus on any books or articles.

    Just saw this in NYT I though you would love to read..

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      • Thank you so much Susan, my heart is broken, fifteen years of LOVE and bed buddy, you heart gets shattered into pieces.

        But please know POMCHI hardly suffered, she was on medication to have a pain free life, in the end her tumor in the Liver exploded, but was less than 12 hours.
        And she was in my arms as I sat with Her around 2 AM and then she left me. ๐Ÿ˜ฅ

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  3. Another fun theme, Dave! I used this time for my initiation into Pynchon, Mason & Dixon from my conveniently timed library stack. Also dipped into my son’s shelved collection of classics to add to the stack. We’re ironically forced to novels long ignored ๐Ÿ™‚ Currently up is Gogol’s The Overcoat and Other Short Stories.

    The Gabaldon series is indeed compelling and a bit long-winded but perfect for the many hours required. They kept me well immersed in the many facets of her unusual genre. I love novel series such as Winston Graham’s 12-book Poldark which is so much better than the television series, being an actual saga told in detailed historical fiction.

    Liz mentioned ARC’s and reminded me of all of the ones I discovered in our building’s library-book exchange. Several of these have been paid forward to friends and family. I concur with Michelle’s recommendation of The Nightingale! In sync with this theme of resistance and heroes, I recommend Anthony Doerr’s All The Light We Cannot See. And like Rebecca says, holding books is the best! But when these run out, I’ll gladly resort to audibles and give my eyes a much needed rest from screen time ๐Ÿ™‚

    Liked by 1 person

    • Thank you, Mary Jo! Sounds like you’ve done and will be doing some very interesting reading, from your own and your son’s shelves!

      The only Pynchon I’ve tried is “Inherent Vice,” which was clever but I didn’t like it overall. Admittedly, not typical Pynchon, from what I gather. I loved Gogol’s “The Overcoat” — a powerful, emotionally wrenching story — and also very much enjoyed his novel “Dead Souls.”

      Yes, the “Outlander” books are indeed rather long-winded, but always so interesting that I don’t mind. ๐Ÿ™‚ And, yes, novel series are usually better than their TV series adaptations.

      I think you had mentioned “The Nightingale” here before. As the great recommendations pile up, I’m really looking forward to my local library reopening.

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  4. Oh, the library. I really, really, really miss it Dave ๐Ÿ˜ฆ So I feel your pain! You know, a friend of mine kept raving about Outlander so I finally decided to give it a try, and I have to say I didn’t make it through the first book. Again, putting myself in the minority I’m sure haha. It just wasn’t my cup of tea I guess! I’d say my quarantine reading habits have changed in that I am finally feeling “free” to tackle longer reads like yourself. I just finished Ron Chernow’s “Washington,” which was definitely a commitment but worth every page. I might start his Alexander Hamilton bio soon, but I’m working on a few other historical works first (No Ordinary Time by Doris Goodwin, and Andrew Jackson and his Indian Wars by Robert Remini). Another quarantine habit is that I’ve embraced the electronic rentals from the library a bit more – both my local libraries have Overdrive, which allows you to check out books for your Kindle. Like you, I normally prefer hardback, but desperate times call for desperate measures. I’m currently finishing up Ben Lerner’s “the Topeka School” on the Kindle, which is very, very interesting!

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    • Thank you, M.B.! Yes, while the pandemic’s seriousness is of course way beyond just the closing of libraries, I also very much miss going to my town’s version of those special places.

      Sorry “Outlander” wasn’t your cup of tea, but that’s one thing that makes literature interesting — we all respond to different novels in different ways. ๐Ÿ™‚ I’m definitely aware of the series’ flaws — maybe a few too many cliffhangers and romance-novel elements amid the adventure and history and more. But I think Diana Gabaldon is a very skillful writer, and I can’t stop reading. Also, I’m totally enamored with the time-travel genre. ๐Ÿ™‚

      You mentioned some great historical works and historical authors! Sounds like you are and will be putting your extra reading time to great use. And it’s smart to check out library books via Kindle, though I’m still resisting. ๐Ÿ™‚

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  5. Supremely ambitious to read one of Gadbladon’s books and you will most certainly get through her 8 substantial novels. Yes, do we ever need an escape in these surreal times. A book,for me a real book in which I can turn real pages,provides the comforting anticipation of another world,far away from now.

    I took out an engaging read,pre covid, by Kristin Hannah called, “The Nightengale. ” Set during the second World War, the story is about strength and resilience in the darkest of times. Occupied France is center of story. What people had to sacrifice was indescribable.
    Although ,yes ,we are in difficult times now,the stories from this novel are extraordinary in the fight to survive with limited resources. Hitler. Need one say anything more.

    I got a phone call from my library earlier, a nice woman named Lois checked in,gave additional resources. How kind of the library to reach out to its community! I look forward to the re-opening of my library hopefully this summer.

    In interim,after I finish “The Nightengale ” I plan to read or re-read other books on my shelf ,perhaps Gothic tales by Joyce Carole Oates. I had read only a few of the chapters, a book I bought at my library’s book sale,no less. ๐Ÿ˜Š

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    • Thank you, Michele!

      Diana Gabaldon’s Outlander series is a total page-turner, making all her door-stopper-size books easier to manage. ๐Ÿ™‚ And, yes, a real escape during a time that you aptly described as surreal. Almost science-fiction-y, too.

      “The Nightingale” sounds like a very compelling book.

      Really nice that your local library is contacting residents! And definitely ironic to have a library-sale-purchased book to read at a time when the library is closed. ๐Ÿ™‚

      Liked by 1 person

  6. Dave – you have the best questions and the conversions are always stimulating. I confess that this is the third time around for me, because I love to participate in the discussions that arise from your post. Isnโ€™t it interesting how circumstances change our behaviors throughout our lifetimes. Sometimes the transitions are subtle and others are more dramatic. Over the years, my library visits have gone on-line for I am able to access the articles, suggestions of librarians and writers, hold books etc. Like Liz, I work on-line from home so spend many hours looking at monitors. To avoid eye strain, I have turned to audiobooks. While I miss the sound of a page turning and the feel of the marvelous weight of a book in my hands, I have embraced the idea of hearing a story being given to me through another personโ€™s voice. By the way, I agree with you on Benjamin Franklin – a remarkable man for a remarkable time in history.

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    • Thank you for the kind words, Clanmother, and for the multiple excellent comments. ๐Ÿ™‚ Much appreciated!

      Yes, circumstances can really change things — and the circumstance the world is now in is MAJOR.

      That’s a great reason to read audiobooks — saving some eyestrain when many hours are spent looking at screens.

      “…a remarkable man for a remarkable time in history” — so true about Benjamin Franklin, and eloquently put. (When I was last in Boston, it was amazing to see the gravesite of his parents in the Granary Burying Ground.)

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          • Chilling: The prescient economist Nouriel Roubini, who was one of the first who predicted the real estate bubble and resulting recession of 2008, has recently written we are entering a period he terms The Greater Depression.

            Keeping a stiff upper lip nowadaze requires more than my weak chin to hold it up.

            Liked by 1 person

            • VERY chilling, jhNY. ๐Ÿ˜ฆ A Great Depression-like time seems almost unavoidable, especially given the continuing-only-worried-about-the-rich-despite-the-pandemic policies of Trump and his ilk.


  7. I’m doing more Kindle reading, including “The Autobiography of Benjamin Franklin” plus a new print book by a friend, “Almost Everything Worth Knowing About Harry S Truman,” which is done in a fun multiple-choice quiz style. Plus the terrific “Extra-Extra” news section of the online version of The Kansas City Star, the print edition of which I still get.

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    • Thank you, William! You’ve been doing some excellent reading!

      I read Benjamin Franklin’s autobiography years ago, and remember it being very compelling. A real Renaissance man. And the Truman book does indeed sound like it has a fun format.

      With layoffs decimating newspapers doing the past decade-plus, I hope The Kansas City Star is still a decent read.

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  8. Yes, quite an adjustment to not have library access! I did buy one book used, online, for this month’s book club which will be meeting tomorrow evening on Zoom (fingers crossed it will work for me:) I’ve turned to reading several books on my shelf that were previously purchased in the library book sales and then set aside “for another day.” That other day is here, and I’m currently reading “The Hundred-Foot Journey” by Richard Morais. It’s a wonderful tale of an extended family from India that ends up in a rather remote area of France and opens a rather loud restaurant right across the street from a stately French establishment. For people who have seen the movie (with Helen Mirren), the added background and character development in the book is especially pleasing.

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  9. I’ve had my best reading month in YEARS since lockdown began here in the UK and I’ve not been out at work. Like you, I had library books at home when my local library closed, but now I’ve finished those I’ve started on the unread books from my shelf. Before all this I was a little ashamed of how many books “behind” I was, but now it feels like a blessing. I’ve been mixing nonfiction, poetry and novels. Highlights include “Near Future” (2019) Suzannah Evans’ first poetry collection, about end-of-the-world scenarios, and and “On Art and Life” by John Ruskin, from the Penguin Great Ideas series. I’ve just started “The Man in the High Castle” (Philip K Dick) which was loaned to me a little while back.
    I do miss browsing bookshops and libraries.

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    • Thank you, Isobel! Very sorry you’re not able to be out at work at this time, but I’m glad you’ve had a great month of reading! Catching up on books we’ve wanted to read is a really nice feeling, and it sounds like you’ve gotten to an impressive variety of titles in different genres. I’ve only read one Philip K. Dick novel — the post-apocalyptic “Dr. Bloodmoney” — and thought it was excellent.

      “I do miss browsing bookshops and libraries” — I totally hear you about that. ๐Ÿ˜ฆ

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    • I read a few volumes of John Ruskin in college, and reread one a few years ago, which, if you haven’t already, you might enjoy: his political economic tract “Unto This Last”– a refreshing and novel inquiry into the nature of wealth and work. It’s even available online in pdf form, so finding it is easy.

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  10. These days Im writing mostly, but not reading. But I have read few pages of Mucusless Diet Healing System by Arnold Ehret. And I will read the same pages once again, and than I hope to continue reading:) Im deep in each word of this book, it is just so interesting, another perspective of body well-being. Anyway, I totally agree that reading the books is much better than watching youtube (NO TV at my place, no Netflix too:)) Also, the light discussion about Mika Waltari book The Egyptian took place these days – one of the deepest and greatest books about LIFE I ever read. In addition, Im addicted to read mostly all the comments:) and it takes a lot of time obviously, however, now I know about

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    • Thank you, alantenna! Writing is certainly an excellent way to spend one’s time. ๐Ÿ™‚

      Both the books you mentioned sound very interesting.

      I also watch no TV these days, but do click on various YouTube videos here and there for music, comedy, news analysis, etc.

      Yes, it’s good to know about! Glad Susi mentioned it.

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  11. I stopped reading for awhile and after binge watching the old tv series The Patty Duke Show, simpler times *sigh* as well as Marx brothers movies, I’ve gone back to books. I get most of my reading material from I don’t know if you’re familiar with it, but it’s all free– books, magazines articles, periodicals and, unlike Hoopla, there is no borrowing limit; however,it is online so there’s that if you’re trying to avoid using your laptop, kindle, etc. I miss my library too, but it’s such a small library that it doesn’t have much to offer. Consequently, these online sites work out well for me. Currently, I’m reading Bob Dylan’s one and only book, “Tarantula”. It’s a conglomeration of his musings, rather cryptic I must say. Dylan, go figure, ha.. In fact, I really don’t know how to it describe it, but I’m sure there’s nothing in there about pandemics unless it’s so obscure I’d never know it. Was listening to his description of “Moby Dick” on a youtube video from his Nobel lectures on literature and discovered that some believe he copied it from Spark Notes. I have as yet compared the two (Dylan vs Spark Notes) but thought I might borrow Moby Dick from Quite frankly, I’ve avoided reading it because I’d heard Melville is a difficult read So currently, I find myself reading-wise stuck somewhere between the abstruse and the tedious. Yikes!. Stay safe sweetie. Susi

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    • Thank you, Susi! Glad you had an entertaining, need-for-distraction break from reading! I LOVE Marx Brothers movies — and of course the writing is superb in the first seven of them. sounds great! But, yes, potential screen overkill for some of us. ๐Ÿ™‚

      Sorry you don’t have a bigger local library; I’m lucky that mine is fairly large for a suburb. (My town’s population is about 39,000.)

      Bob Dylan is cryptic indeed! I’ve always had mixed feelings about him. A genius, but rather weird…

      “Moby-Dick” has its difficult parts, but overall I found it quite readable and an amazing work. There are also some hilarious moments — including the classic Ishmael-Queequeg bedroom scene before the Pequod’s ill-fated voyage.

      Stay safe, too!

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      • Marx Bros really helped to take my mind off of what’s going on. And I’m thinking a lot of things at present are very much like the lines from Dylan’s “All Along The Watchtower”.. re: “is there anyway outta here said the joker to the thief…” I think Dylan as he aged got caught up in that “celebrity” mindset because his earlier writing (which I believe was the impetus for his receiving the Nobel Prize (or as the orange man would say “Noble” Prize, ha) was the best. Forgot to tell you what a great blog post as always! I’m actually looking forward to reading Moby Dick now but hate the idea of how a whole species was almost wiped out. Some time ago I read Nathaniel Philbrick’s “In The Heart Of The Sea” and it was an excellent read! Yet the description of the process of extracting oil was truly horrible. Well I find myself yapping on so I’ll wrap this up with a Groucho quote which could apply to social distancing ergo “Don’t look now but there’s too many in this room and I think it’s you.” Ha!

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        • The Marx Brothers are indeed a wonderful distraction, Susi! SO funny, as was the Groucho line you ended your comment with.

          And that’s a very relevant-to-today-line from “All Along the Watchtower” (love the Jimi Hendrix version of that song). Dylan was indeed a lyrical master, especially during the earlier part of his career, as you note.

          Yes, the whale trade was a cruel one — Captain Ahab had it coming when Moby-Dick chewed off his leg in the backstory of Melville’s novel!


    • While Patty loves to rock and roll/
      A hot dog makes her lose control

      Margaret Dumont: Why, that reminds me of my youth!
      Groucho: He must be a big boy by now.

      Also: Melville’s “Moby Dick” is difficult, easy, direct, allusive, illusive, elusive, plainly worded and filled with some of the loftiest language in American letters. The author managed through the motive power of his prose to write an experimental and incomparable novel you will be the better for reading– guaranteed. It’s one of the things in life worth doing despite attendant difficulties.

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  12. As you know, Dave, I’ve been a compulsive reader of mystery novels since I read my first Bobbsey Twins’ book, then going on to read about Nancy Drew, the Hardy Boys, the Dana Girls, Judy Bolton, Trixie Belden, et al. To this day, this is my favorite genre of book, though I try to mix those up with many other kinds of books. I’ve also mentioned many times recently that the only ones I can read during this pandemic are in the broad category of mystery and suspense — a book must capture me from the very beginning and be a page-turner, or I’ll set it aside (at least for now).

    I’ve stockpiled quite a few through Thriftbooks, B&N, and downloaded some on my Nook. I think I can download books from the library onto my Nook as well.
    I’ve read quite a few so far since I’ve been self-isolating. Right now I’m reading a thriller by Karin Slaughter (yes, that’s her real last name), entitled “The Good Daughter.” So far, it’s been quite gruesome and bloody, but I’ve long ago gotten past my squeamishness over such things. I don’t know if that’s good or bad!

    I’m impressed that you asked for the entire series of “Outlander” as a birthday gift. I was reading a bit about it earlier and it does sound quite interesting. But I don’t think I could make it through a thousand page book, let alone eight! ๐Ÿ™‚

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    • Thank you, Kat Lit! Great that you’ve stocked up on mystery, suspense, and thriller novels. Immersing yourself in the kind of literature you like best sounds like an excellent idea during a pandemic. And, yes, quite an appropriate author last name there!

      It’s a good thing the Outlander series is compelling enough to make 1,000-page novels seemingly go as fast as 500-page ones. ๐Ÿ™‚

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      • My love-hate relationship with technology continues through the pandemic! I wrote a reply yesterday about the problems I was having with trying to download a book from my library system onto Nook, until I decided that it was a waste of time to do so. I’ll worry about that once I run out of my stockpile of real books, as well as some I’ve downloaded from the B&N website, a simple matter. So I went to post that comment and got a message back from WordPress that it couldn’t be posted! Ugh…just when I thought my problems with WP were resolved! ๐Ÿ™‚

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        • Sorry about that, Kat Lit. ๐Ÿ˜ฆ I don’t even see your comment attempt from yesterday in my spam folder this time. Ironic that a comment about a problem downloading an eBook had a problem “downloading” to this blog. ๐Ÿ˜ฆ I hope your library/Nook problem resolves itself if/when you try that again.


    • I am reading “The Daughter of Time” on your recommendation, and I am enjoying it! Thanks!

      Have you read any of Tey’s other mysteries? (Sad to see she died so soon after she published “The Daughter of Time”…)

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  13. The pandemic hasn’t changed my reading habits. I’m working remotely, so I don’t have additional time to read. Of the reading I do engage in, I make a point of avoiding anything dystopian or contagion-related. I’m about to dig into an ARC for a rather lengthy poetry collection that a small press I’d never heard of and couldn’t find online asked me to read.

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  14. Second attempt at inserting a comment. This hasn’t happened for a while.

    My reading habit hasn’t changed radically except that I’ve done more of it, probably due to more guilt-free time and fewer distractions and interruptions.
    I had two books that I had already checked out before the library shut down so they were the first priority:

    Freedom Riders by Raymond Arsenault
    The Book of Daniel by E.L. Doctorow
    After that I read a Graham Greene novel I’ve been meaning to read for several years that has been recommended repeatedly–The End of the Affair. This is the only one I’ve read in Kindle format. Although I have an old Bantam paperback edition of the novel, my eyesight has grown worse over the years so that the small print of most paperbacks printed decades ago is just too much of a strain. With the Kindle edition I can adjust the font size so that it becomes large print. Also, if I signed up for Kindle Unlimited for $9.99 a month I could read ‘End of the Affair’, as well as several others free of any additional charge.

    Next I read Buddenbrooks by Thomas Mann. I bought this later translation in the beginning of the year because I wanted to read a more contemporary, hopefully more readable translation of one of his novels. John E. Woods has apparently done for Mann what Pevear and Volokhonsky have done for Dostoevsky and several other Russian classics. I thought it would be fairly turgid going but I finished it in two weeks!

    Next I read a book my brother had let me borrow when I visited him last Thanksgiving, ‘Iron, Fire and Ice’ by Ed West, about the historical backdrops that inspired George R.R. Martin in writing his ‘Song of Ice and Fire’ books. It’s riddled with typos and reads like a fairly dull history lecture. I just finished it a little while ago. He spent far too much time on the history and not enough time linking it back to ‘Game of Thrones’, which is what will draw many people to read it. After all, the subtitle is ‘The Real History that Inspired Game of Thrones’.

    The one I’m going to read next is, like ‘Iron, Fire and Ice’ a cumbersome hardback that I would prefer to finish before returning to work so I don’t have to put it in my book bag to take along with me–‘Deadwood: Stories of the Black Hills’ by David Milch, the show creator of ‘Deadwood’. It’s a coffee table book with lots of nice photos of cast members, photos from individual episodes, episode summaries, as well as lots of pictures and info on the real people that the ‘Deadwood’ characters are based on. Although some are totally fictional, there were certainly one or more real people that were similar to them.

    So that’s a lot of reading for me. I haven’t gotten a ‘return-to-work’ date yet so I don’t know how much more I’ll get done in the next few weeks.

    Liked by 5 people

    • Thank you, bobess48, for that excellent summary of your pandemic reading life! Yes, definitely more time to read. And you’ve taken full advantage — that’s an eclectic bunch of books you’ve gotten to in recent weeks, whether the results were rewarding or not.

      I hear you about the small type of some print books; the Outlander series I’m reading now is giving my eyes a workout! Guess the publisher wanted to save on paper costs…

      Liked by 2 people

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