The book was sitting on a bed tray in a hospital room, where I was recuperating from surgery. My husband, Paul, had come to visit, and one of the first things I had asked him to do was to get my current reading out of my backpack.

Now a nurse came through and spotted it.

“Look at you, with a real book,” she said. “And a library book, when no one goes to the library anymore.”

I am proud to say that despite my debilitation, I was able to reply, “Oh, I’m a school librarian, and, actually, the library is busier than ever this year.”

This particular nurse turned out to be not only knowledgeable and efficient, but quite pleasant. Still, it was discouraging to me she was surprised to see a patient with a book. It was the second thing I had packed — after underwear.

My furious pandemic reading has continued unabated, as much as the virus has. Even a weeklong hospital visit did not slow my pace. Books have always been my refuge and solace.

I finally finished “Grant,” by Ron Chernow, the weekend before my surgery. I try to read a biography each summer, when I have more time for what tend to be thick and (sometimes) dense tomes. I believe I began “Grant” in June, and took time away from it for our week at the coast, because it was too heavy to tote along. So, five months. Whew!

I always have a fiction and a nonfiction book going at the same time. Mystery is my favorite genre, and I often finish a novel in a week. Fiction provides an escape, while nonfiction broadens my mind.

I enjoyed “Grant” and found it illuminating. The great general and not-so-great president was a complex man. His courage in his final years, when he endured excruciating pain from throat cancer, was inspiring. Grant was determined to finish his memoirs in order to provide financial security for his family, and he did.

Chernow’s descriptions of Reconstruction reminded me today’s political climate has deep roots. The violence against Black people, the usurpation of their voting rights, the idea that various laws or elected officials were illegitimate. These were all on full display in the years following the Civil War.

One of the joys of my autumn reading was the second in Richard Osman’s series, “The Thursday Murder Club.” These delightful mysteries feature a quartet of friends who live in an upscale British retirement community and who get themselves involved in real-life cases. Each has their special skills: Elizabeth is former MI5 (or is it 6?), Joyce a retired nurse, Ibrahim a psychotherapist and Ron a union activist. Their latest outing finds them going deep into Elizabeth’s espionage background. The aches, pains and heartbreaks of aging are not glossed over, but these septuagenarians have fun.

Following “Grant,” my next nonfiction selection was “Peril,” by Bob Woodward and Robert Costa. I am finding the story of President Donald Trump’s last year in office, and the election of Joe Biden, intensely readable. I did not bring it to the hospital because I did not think politics would aid in my recovery, so I am still reading it.

I actually found a “real” book was a challenge to hold up in a hospital bed, and also required me to have more lighting than I wanted. Luckily, I had my iPad, with its Kindle app. On it, I had two perfect selections for a prolonged hospital stay. (There were complications, and I ended up in critical care for a week.)

My mystery choice was “The Long Call,” by Ann Cleeves. I had read Cleeves’ earliest books, before she became famous as the creator of Detective Chief Inspector Vera Stanhope. But while a fan of her “Vera” and “Shetland” television series, I had not read any of those books. “The Long Call” is the first in a new series featuring police detective Matthew Venn. He is a complex character who grew up in a restrictive religious sect, broke free and later married his beloved Jonathan. The North Devon (southwest England) setting is vividly described and the mystery is timely and absorbing.

For nonfiction, I realized I had never finished “Wintering,” by Katherine May, which came out last year. It was the perfect pandemic book. May writes about the times in our lives when we may have to step back and do nothing — not quite hibernate, but take a hiatus from striving. She visits Iceland and Norway (above the Arctic Circle), and explores the cold weather lives of dormice, honey bees and wolves.

May’s words struck home as I endured my wintry week. I could not eat or drink. My only goal was to recover. My usual life was behind me. I could only hope it was waiting for me on the other side.

I am home now and still reading. I have returned to “Peril,” and read the second Matthew Venn, “The Heron’s Cry,” and the first in Cleeve’s Shetland series, “Raven Black.” Now, I am onto the second, “White Nights.”

I still have a ways to go when it comes to my health. Books will get me there.

Liz Soares welcomes email at [email protected]


Only subscribers are eligible to post comments. Please subscribe or to participate in the conversation. Here’s why.

Use the form below to reset your password. When you've submitted your account email, we will send an email with a reset code.

filed under: