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Add a single goal to the pandemic to-do list: Read more

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We all have such lofty goals for our pandemic selves–learn Chinese, perfect sourdough, tone those arms, finish making photo albums, and clean out the closet that spawns candles, wrapping paper, vases, and packing tape.

I, personally, have done only one of those “to do’s.” I will not divulge which one. But adding “read more books” to our list should be an absolute. We have time, we need to escape our four walls, and heaven knows, we’re done talking to our families. Burying one’s nose in a book is a great excuse to sit somewhere cool and cocoon.

That’s where the trusted voice of Ron Charles comes in. An editor and book critic for the Washington Post, Charles was gracious enough to answer my questions and talk with his fans for more than an hour last week through the Howard County Library.


We talked about his background (English teacher that hated grading papers), his process (read the book, scribble in margins and on the back pages notes about specifics for his reviews), and his costumes. Yes, costumes—sexy nurse, Rocky Horror vamp, Tigger, cowboy, astronaut, android—that he puts on to film his hilarious and tongue-in-cheek Totally Hip Video Book Reviews.

Silliness aside, Charles did talk about his belief that books shouldn’t just be items that gather dust on a shelf. Literature can speak to a cultural moment, can provide wisdom and transformation, and can broaden our worlds.

“Books are repositories of real thoughtful consideration of an issue in a way that doesn’t happen much outside of books,” Charles said. “Books are a unique cultural object for us. I think they have a kind of wisdom, and they serve as guides of where we were and where we are now. … Books don’t just sit on the shelf. They’re not like old cups and saucers. They speak to us and they’re rich, and they should inform us and help us think more deeply about what’s going on in the world.”

As a bonus at the end of his talk, Charles gave readers a pre-screened, critic-vetted summer list of books, which I can now share with you. Most of these titles are available through the county library.

  • Hamnet, by Maggie O’Farrell
  • Inland, by Tea Obreht
  • Make Russia Great Again, by Christopher Buckley
  • Friends and Strangers, by L. Courtney Sullivan
  • Such a Fun Age, by Kiley Reid
  • A Children’s Bible, by Lydia Millet
  • Rodham, by Curtis Sittenfeld
  • Writers and Lovers, by Lily King

Now get reading. We’ll work on the closets in September, right?

— Susan Thornton Hobby
Recording secretary, HoCoPoLitSo


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