We arrived at Anna Maria Island in Florida on March 1, right as the COVID-19 pandemic was gaining steam, even though Trump and his Fox News cheerleaders were still calling it a Democratic “hoax” designed to bring down the President.

For an introvert like me, the concept of “social distancing” presents no problem. Just go off and read a good book. And reading on the beach suits me fine. We were near a secluded section of the beach, so we avoided all crowds at all times. We got back to Maine on March 27th.

Here’s a brief recap of the books I read:

“Finding Chika: A Little Girl, an Earthquake and the Making of a Family.” This book, by Mitch Albom who wrote the bestseller, “Tuesday’s with Morrie,” recounts the two years that Albom and his wife spent caring for Chika, a young orphan girl from Haiti. The childless couple had brought Chica to their home in America with the hope of finding a cure for the girl’s serious illness. This raw loving book remains ever hopeful, never maudlin, right to the end. Only the most heartless reader will be left unmoved.

“One Long River of Song: Notes on Wonder” by Brian Doyle celebrates, in a series of evocative essays, the exquisite beauty to be found in daily life. Read it not for the plot; there is none. Read it for the quality of the writing and the reminder to feel joy in small things.

“Empty Mansions: The Mysterious Life of Huguette Clark and the Spending of a Great American Fortune” by Bill Dedman and Paul Clark Newell, Jr. provides an up-close look at the lives and lessons, for better or worse, of the uber-wealthy. I had never heard of W.A. Clark, one of America’s richest men way back in the late 1800s and early 1900s. He amassed his wealth as a copper baron, railroad builder, art collector and U.S. Senator. In addition to explaining Clark’s improbable route to riches, the well-researched book tells the remarkable tale of his youngest daughter Huguette, a sweet, generous, eccentric recluse who spent the last two

decades of her life living in a hospital, rather than on one of her sumptuous properties. Highly recommend.

“The Splendid and the Vile: A Saga of Churchill, Family and Defiance During the Blitz” by Erik Larson, a prolific writer of nonfiction bestsellers. This compelling book describes the lives of Winston Churchill and his family members and entourage from May 1940 to May 1941. Churchill was an extraordinary leader, strong enough to make tough decisions, yet human enough to cry real tears when London was being bombed. The book is especially informative when describing Churchill’s tireless efforts to get FDR to provide support for England to stave off Hitler. Very gripping, very readable.

I gamely started to read “Outlander A Novel (Book One)” by Diana Gabaldon, the first book in an 8-book series. I can understand why this time travel/love story series has amassed a huge readership. Gabaldon skillfully sets the reader in another time and place, while weaving in ample conflicts and, as a bonus, love scenes. That said, I found myself rapidly turning the Kindle pages, not necessarily because I wanted to see what happened next, but because I just wanted the writer to get on with it. Does it really take thirty or forty pages to create a soft-porn seduction scene? Maybe I’ll come back to it.

Two books by the talented writer Lisa Wingate proved more to my liking. “Before We Were Yours,” is a novel based on a ghastly true phenomenon: an orphanage in Tennessee in the ’30s and ’40s essentially “stole” babies and children to be sold off to wealthy families. The book switches back and forth between the present time and the days when several kids were kidnapped and put up for sale. “The Story Keeper” tells the tale of a young woman who grew up in Appalachia returning to her home grounds from her high-powered NYC publishing post to solve the mystery of an unsolicited manuscript. The book strains credulity, at times, but always keeps the reader moving forward.

Colum McCann, who won the National Book Award for “Let the Great World Spin,” has done it again with “Apeirogon.” (An “apeirogon” is a degenerate polygon with an infinite number of sides). McCann takes scores of writerly liberties and travels many side roads in telling the story. You learn about birds and bullets, wars and famines, spiritual traditions and religious atrocities. That said, the novel is razor-sharp in its ultimate focus,

which is based on a true story of two men (one a Palestinian, the other an Israeli) who each experienced the loss of a beloved daughter as a result of the never-ending conflict. Each man decided that it is better to find peaceful resolutions by getting to know “the other” than by seeking revenge. Apeirogon is a fine read if you’re willing to relax and put yourself in McCann’s capable hands.

I hope that readers find these reviews helpful for filling these days of social distancing. And feel free to send along some book ideas of your own. Thanks!

David Treadwell, a Brunswick writer, welcomes commentary and suggestions for future “Just a Little Old” columns. [email protected]

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