Apr 6th, 2020, 05:12 PM

Corona Diaries: What I'm (Trying to) Read

By Maddi Carpenter-Crawford
A stack of the books in the article
Photo of my "to read" stack
Life Doesn't Stop in Quarantine, but Neither Does Homework

Dear Corona Diaries,

One of the things I've been experiencing while in lockdown is this pressure to spend it productively. It seems like every YouTube, radio, and Instagram creator is suggesting a new creative self-improvement scheme.

Generally, I consider myself a pretty efficient person, and the motivational speeches have been getting to me. Here's the thing though, I still don't have all this elusive "free time" we're supposed to have since we're stuck inside all day. Classwork has not let up just because we're in quarantine, in fact, I feel more beholden to my screens than ever before.

Even if I'm not in class, it feels like if I don't check my email every few hours I'll miss something. My family all want to check in with me being home, and I love to see them, but that's usually an end of semester activity, not balanced with classes still going on and not done through the screens I'm coming to despise.

Despite feeling a bit overwhelmed now, I am still excited for this newfound freedom. Hopefully I'll actually find it soon. In the meantime, here are the books I (plan to) read during quarantine, in case you have a little more time or are procrastinating as much as I am.

On the Earth

Photo credit Maddi Carpenter-Crawford

The first book I have actually started is So Shall We Reap by Colin Tudge. A journalist turned sustainable agriculture investigator, Tudge paints a gloomy picture of our current plan to feed the next generation. Don't worry though, he's also consulted with experts to propose a plan involving traditional agriculture and cuisine so that we can all eat very well indeed, as long as we don't plan to eat too much.

Photo credit Maddi Carpenter-Crawford

My "on-deck" book in the climate category is The Food Revolution by John Robbins. Similarly to So Shall We Reap, it talks about how we can continue to feed humanity and combat climate change. Differently though, Robbins chooses to talk about how your individual choices have ripple effects for the climate and your own health. There's even a chapter called "Farmageddon" which feels relevant right now.

Both books in this category were written on similar topics in the early 2000s, and even have about the same page count. Yet, their approaches seem totally different. I'm excited to compare them and see if less than 20 years is enough for a climate book to be outdated in our current progress. With the wildlife coming back into our locked down cities across the globe, it finally feels like there's still hope. Hopefully these books can help to channel that energy into action.

On Travel

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Being a student who moved halfway around the world for college in a foreign country, and now stuck at home, I can't help but think about traveling again. And I don't know about you, but being stuck inside with screens, I tend towards cabin fever. What I'd like more than anything else right about now is to be out in nature.

But while smaller parks are open, most camping facilities are closed and non-essential activities banned, making it hard to escape for any serious amount of time. Instead, I'm planning a nice little road trip through my National Geographic Guide to National Parks of the United States. Not only will this help me to feel a little less cooped up, but I hope too get cracking on planning my first trip out pending the end of this dreadful virus.

Financing that trip?

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We've all heard the advice - if you start investing now, you'll be set by 60. While I don't know if retirement will ever be in my future, exploring the globe and making it better for the people and creatures on it is top priority for me.

What if I could put myself in a better financial place to travel the world and donate to good organizations by investing in companies that are already doing good for the world in their own right. Double the impact, and I'll be better off! All of this is why I have The Complete Idiot's Guide to Socially Responsible Investing on my reading list.

On Politics

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To give myself a good basis, and maybe reacquaint with the United States, I have on my list the classic A People's History of the United States. 

During COVID-19, my own home of metro Detroit has become a hotspot mainly because so many people lack access to food and clean water. I want to remind myself how things like this have come about, so that I can do something about them as soon as I'm let out of this house. Plus, I hear Howard Zinn, the author, is one for the books.

Photo credit Maddi Carpenter-Crawford

Speaking of social change, I have on my list Co-ops, Communes, and Collectives: Experiments in Social Change in the 1960s and 1970s by John Case and Rosemary C.R. Taylor. With Bernie Sanders being the young peoples' choice for president and the amping up of social change movements the world over, there's reckoning back to the 60s in the air. And while I may not want to actually live in the 1960s, I'm kind of into it. It seems like we could use even more of the "people power" the hippies prized so much. Plus, co-ops are just cool, right? I want to see how they work. Maybe you will too.

The Distractions


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Of course, no quarantine book list would be complete without a little escapism. My brand, in particular, has tended to focus on well-written science fiction. I find that it helps to remind myself that things could be worse.

That's why I have the work of Ursula K. Le Guin on my list. Right now, it's The Word for the World is Forest, since it's short and easier to get through. It's about a characteristically peaceful people invaded by violent aliens who put them in servitude, and the ethical struggle they face deciding whether to rebel.

Light subject, I know, but perhaps it helps. One of my favorite books by Le Guin is The Left Hand of Darkness, about a world in the far future where humans contend with the politics and new social order of a totally androgynous race of people. It's great in general, but especially if you're into the politics of sexuality and gender.

Photo credit Maddi Carpenter-Crawford

Realistic fiction, especially from a simpler time in our own lives can be helpful too, so another one of my books is The Sisterhood of the Traveling Pants by Ann Brashares. While it isn't all sunshine and rainbows either, the core is about a group of friends sticking together while they have to be apart, perfect for this time. Plus, it harkens back to the early 2000s movie adaptation, reminding many of us of our childhoods.

I hope that something from this list piques your interest as it did mine and we can come out of this lockdown well-read, even if we have less free time than expected.


P.S. If you're looking for a place to buy books online, I recommend Bookshop.org instead of Amazon. They give between 10 and 25% of their profit to local bookstores while we can't support ours. I don't in any way mean to advertise to you. For me though, it's a far more ethical choice than Amazon and I felt it would be wrong not to share.