“It looks like we’re gonna have to do a little time,” as Mr. White says to Mr. Orange in “Reservoir Dogs.”
Which is to say it’s a good time to catch up on reading, so here are nine books to get you through the Great Distancing.
If you like: Baseball, sports in general and keeping your sanity in the absence of sports.
Check out: “K: A History of Baseball in Ten Pitches” by Tyler Kepner (Doubleday)
This was published early April of last year, but it is out in paperback now and none too soon considering there may very well be no baseball this year at all. (Opening Day has been delayed until at least May, but even that seems a little soft right now).
In breaking down the whole corpus of baseball history via various pitches, Kepner, a longtime baseball scribe for the New York Times, does something many thought impossible: puts a new spin (sorry) on a sport that has been written about well since it started. Here, we get the need-for-speed history of the fastball, the weirdos who mastered the knuckleball (a pitch so annoying some pitchers who can’t throw it deny it is pitch at all) and how a admitting you threw a spitball (an illegal pitch) will keep you out of the Hall of Fame, years after you’ve retired. A terrific addition to any seamhead’s library.
Related: Coronavirus in Austin: BookPeople, Zach Theatre cancel events
If you like: Wondering how those sci-fi TV shows you are streaming got those cool ideas.
Check out: “The Peripheral” and “Agency” by William Gibson (Berkeley)
This is a boom time for sci-fi on TV: “Westworld” is back, “Star Trek: Picard” is fun, “Devs” is the new one from FX, “The Expanse” is the space opera we richly deserve.
But if you are wondering if “using quantum computing to look backward in time” (as seen in “Devs”) sounds vaguely familiar, as does “burnt out ex-soldier takes black market jobs” and “streets seem empty except for the very rich” (as seen in “Westworld”), you might recall these ideas from “The Peripheral” (published in 2014) and “Agency” (2020).
It's not hard to project real-world fears on Gibson's ideas — he posits a slow-moving die-off over 40 years of 80% of the world’s population he calls “the Jackpot.” To wit: “Nothing you could really call a nuclear war. Just everything else, tangled in the changing climate: droughts, water shortages, crop failures, honeybees gone like they almost were now, collapse of other keystone species, every last alpha predator gone, antibiotics doing even less than they already did, diseases that were never quite the one big pandemic but big enough to be historic events in themselves.” Ouch.
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If you like: Punk rock and reading about same.
Check out: “Mutations” by Sam McPheeters (Rare Bird)
McPheeters, former frontman of the magnificent hardcore band Born Against and others, as well as the mogul behind the totally excellent tiny label Vermiform Records, has proven himself a compelling writer.
With two weird novels under his belt (“The Loom of Ruin” and “Exploded View”), McPheeters collects a bunch of essays into something that is more than a collection and less than a memoir. Subtitled “The Many Strange Faces of Hardcore Punk,” “Mutations” collects reflections on bands that changed the game (Discharge, Die Kreuzen, Green Day) with essays on inspirational folks (legendary zinester Aaron Cometbus) and things that were very much not (looking at you, Germs movie). “Mutations” is a sharp look at ideas about culture that are difficult to define.
If you like: Weird young adult novels written by Austin music legends.
Check out: “Me & Mr. Cigar” by Gibby Haynes (Soho)
The former (and current? Who knows?) lead singer of the Butthole Surfers takes a swing at a coming-of-age story about Oscar and his (psychic? friendly? hostile?) dog. When 12-year old Oscar’s estranged older sister calls with some very bad news indeed, Oscar and Mr. Cigar see a chance to right an old wrong and go on a great adventure. Could this be Haynes’ true medium?
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If you like: wondering about how we got here.
Check out: “A Very Stable Genius: Donald Trump’s Testing of America” by Philip Rucker and Carol Leonnig (Penguin).
Moving from his acceptance of the Republican nomination through his inauguration and beyond, “A Very Stable Genius,” written by two expert Washington Post reporters, might prove to be the definitive account of the first three or so years of the Trump Era. Now that the president is faced with a crisis unlike any he has before faced, this is a pretty good primer.
Related: Coronavirus in Austin: Waterloo Records temporarily closing, will have curbside service
If you like: Books about a thing that seemed plausible six months ago and are really not right now.
Check out: “The Jetsetters” by Amanda Eyre Ward (Ballantine)
This book is about a successful but complicated family that goes on a cruise. For fun. Sort of. Recently selected by Reese Witherspoon for her book club.
If you like: almost Pynchon-esque confluences of events.
Check out: “The Glass Hotel” by Emily St. John Mandel (Knopf)
A Ponzi scheme. A death at sea. An artist. A prince. A message. These are the elements out of which Ms. Mandel crafts a sweeping, weird story of contemporary life on the edges of surreality (out March 24.)
If you want an Emily St. John Mandel book that speaks rather directly to the crisis at hand, be sure to check out her dazzlingly excellent 2014 novel “Station Eleven,” about the aftermath of *checks notes* a horrible flu pandemic and life afterward.