So. How’s your pandemic reading going?

However you’re reacting to the pandemic is the right way to react to the pandemic. Chances are, unless you were alive and sentient in 1918 during the Spanish flu, this is your very first virus rodeo.

Mask up and join the club.

I’m sure you’ve made ill-advised choices in quarantine: coloring your hair purple, ordering a shit ton of ridiculous things from Amazon (everything from Vitamin D to ward off COVID, to a paint by number kit, to a ridiculously tight and plunging top, to a jigsaw puzzle over here – justified by the stimulus check, and thanks to the U.S. government for funding my manic spending), binge watching the entirety of Netflix, not showering for days, then just as abruptly dressing up with full makeup, as if you were going somewhere but your own living room.

All of it. Normal.

Telling you it’s okay is telling myself the same. You are not the same person you were going into lock down; it would be more worrisome if you hadn’t evolved. There is no benchmark, no frame of reference for dealing with an unprecedented event.

If you don’t see a slightly different reflection in the mirror, it means you’ve learned nothing.

Cycling through hypomania and depression, in shelter in place I find one day I’m skipping merrily through the neighborhood taking pictures and noticing things, the next glowering down at the world from my eyrie in grim disapproval.

Perhaps dealing with my particular condition better equips me to deal with wildly improbable, shocking things: I am chemically stabilized! Take that, pandemic.

Desperation lead me to pull book after book off my shelves in quarantine. Maddening. Then one of them hit me just right, grabbing me by my poorly-groomed hair and pulling me right in.

Part fable, part contemporary tale of the complexities of raising a precocious child in small-town England, Lanny‘s complex and dark and exactly what I’d clearly been looking for. This book’s got a sinister, moldering and ancient sprite, for lack of the proper term, awoken from centuries of slumber by the arrival of a kindred spirit, a young and very odd boy named, wait for it: Lanny.

Lanny’s an “away with the fairies” sort of child, supernaturally gifted and unusual, set apart by his curious skills that can’t quite be explained away by conventional standards. The novel has an Alice in Wonderland quality I absolutely adored. Alice doesn’t even pretend to be a nice children’s book. It’s subversive, warped and surreal – three words that express how I like my reading and the people I surround myself with.

Of course the village in Porter’s book’s influenced by Wonderland. Lewis Carroll crafted the archetype of the surreal in modern literature about or for children. We steal from him shamelessly, all the time. And we should, by rights. Alice is perfection.

Why reinvent when you have the template?

YAS, RED QUEEN!

(The above will not age well.}

Most children are little terrors, and childhood shockingly awful. We like to attribute sweetness and nostalgia, but were you ever actually a child? It’s a lot more like Wonderland than Disney.

I get a grim satisfaction reading books like Lanny. Don’t dress childhood up in a Cinderella gown, sewn by mice and delicately draped over the body by birds. Admit there’s a point in every child’s life that things are an absolute shit-fest.

The most interesting people are warped and mischievous, just the teensiest bit evil, which is why we’re so fascinated when they do bad things. If it bleeds, it leads. That’s called human nature.

Lanny skims the surface of the truly terrible. It’s dark in the vein of the Brothers Grimm, diluted by comparison. Disturbing and unsettling enough, nothing over the edge.

The book brought me back to reading after such a long drought. The last books I read all the way through were for review – forced marches dictated by a paycheck. I didn’t enjoy them – freeing being able to admit that, now that the checks are long cleared.

Not all reviewing’s like that, by the way. Most editors approach me for my experience and way with words; it should never be about stroking a writer’s fragile ego. I’ve said it ad nauseum: Just because you’ve published a book doesn’t mean you’re any good at writing.

I’d rather a writer took a peek at my finished review with creeping dread than complacency, to be honest. At least when I say I loved your book, I loved your book. Want someone to pinch your cheek with a who’s a good boy?

You must have an aunt somewhere.

I use some of the standard verbiage to get myself blurbed on your dust jackets. OKAY. YOU CAUGHT ME. I am vain and like to see myself quoted. But, in spirit, if I say I liked the book I liked the book. It may not truly have been a Dickensian epic with a Kafkaesque twist, lyrical and soaring like Emily Dickinson cradled by angel’s wings, but I didn’t begrudge the time I spent reading then expressing how I felt about it.

(I threw up a bit writing that, FWIW.)

Formulaic reviewing is a torture. Give me this many syllables about this, that many syllables about the other, and, if I don’t like it, I will completely twist the meaning of your words and make you type out my edits before I send the check.

Fuck. That.

Formulaic reviewing killed the piece of my soul I believed I could live without. It set me back months, but taught me an invaluable lesson. Ironic I regained equilibrium in the middle of a pandemic, but if that’s the biggest positive I take out of this nightmare, you know what?

I’m good with that.