McGill Reads: COVID-19 edition – McGill – McGill Reporter

Posted: April 16, 2020 at 8:50 pm

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Self Portrait, Reading on a Blanket on the Grass Roderic OConor

In these anxious times of self-isolation and social distancing, many of us are turning to an old friend for comfort: the book. Few activities seem more perfectly suited to helping us weather the COVID-19 pandemic than reading. You read by yourself, or, at most, you read to your children. You read to explore and enjoy other worlds while sitting tight in your favourite chair.

The McGill Reads series celebrates this solitary endeavour but with a more communal focus. We pass on our favourite titles, encouraging others to share in our experiences. Just another slender thread that helps tie us together.

Enjoy and stay safe!


Im hoping Im not too late for this! Im not staying at my home, which means that I dont have access to my physical books, writes Torsten Bernhardt, Course Administrator and Pedagogical Developer in the Department of Biology.

My e-reader was light enough to make the trip, though, and right now Im reading The Difference Engine, by William Gibson and Bruce Sterling because steampunk escapism seems like a good choice, says Bernhardt, who is also reading the Grace Jones autobiography, because Im hoping it will be suitably surreal for these surreal times.

Being in a home with both an 11-year old and a 15-year old means that Im likely going to have to give in and read some Rick Riordan or some such, but if I manage to escape the world of young adult fiction the snippets of George Orwells political writing that Ive come across have been good enough that Ill try to read bigger chunks of it; he has a lot to say about todays world.


Dasha Sandra, a graduate student in Neuroscience, recommends Wisdom of Insecurity, by Alan Watts, a book that I read and found comforting during these times, she says


Kendra Gray plans on readingThe World Without Us,by Alan Weisman. The book explores how humans and our built infrastructure have impacted the earth and what would happen if we disappeared, writes the Internships Officer in the Faculty of Agricultural and Environmental Sciences Office of Student Academic Services. The current public health situation has, in some cases, resulted in cleaner air and water as industry has temporarily shut down.Im interested in further exploring a hypothetical situation where we simply disappear.

Gray is also rereading Leo Tolstoys classic War and Peace.I dont usually reread books, but there is so much in it, says Gray.The question of whether history (or events) is created by leaders or instead a series of small circumstances seems relevant given the current pandemic.


Strangely enough, I am finding it harder to find the time to read these days because my commute is only from my kitchen to my living room every morning, rather than a long walk and train ride, writes Jim Nicell, Dean of the Faculty of Engineering, and a of the legends of the McGill reads series. That being said, I always have a list of books to tackle in the weeks ahead.

A few days ago, I began reading The Gulf: The Making of an American Sea, by Jack E. David, says Nicell. Once, Im done this wonderful book, Ill probably reach for SPQR: A History of Ancient Rome, by Mary Beard. And, after this, I will tackle The Road Not Taken: Edward Lansdale and the American Tragedy in Vietnam, by Max Boot.


Mark Sorin, in his first year of the MD-PhD program is reading Demons, by Fyodor Dostoevsky. Next on tap, Sorin says he will tackle The Citadel, by A.J. Cronin, and The Gulag Archipelago, by Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn.


I am reading Nicholas Rinaldis novelThe Jukebox Queen of Maltawhich gives a good picture of the country during WW II which received 15,000 tonnes of bombs by 1942 making it the most bombed place on earth, writes Karen Sciortino, Senior Admissions Officer, Enrolment Services.

Im also slowly going through Jordan Ellenbergs interesting book, How Not to be Wrong: The Power of Mathematical Thinking, which is a tour of mathematical thought and a guide to becoming a better thinker, she says. Next up will likely be Gil Courtemanches A Sunday at the Pool in Kigali.


William Bielaskie is no stranger to the printed word. The Documentation Technician in McGill Librarys Inter-Library Loans has just finished Hitchhikers Guide to the Galaxy, by Douglas Adams, and is now reading A Fine Balance, by Rohinton Mistry.


Caitlin MacDougall is revered by the McGill Reads team for having read or listened to 76 books in 2019. Has she slowed down? Not a chance.

I am working on my 2020 reading challenge on Goodreads with the goal of reading 85 books this year. I am currently ahead of schedule, having read 25 since January 1 (audiobooks, ebooks and physical books), writes the Liaison Officer in the Farm Management and Technology Program at Mac Campus.

Since weve moved to remote working I have been trying to get through a selection of TBR (to-be-read) books as a challenge with some friends; you know, the books you buy or borrow with good intentions but never seem to get to reading, she says. Of my five TBR challenge books, I have finished The Scarlet Letter, by Nathaniel Hawthorne; started Out of Africa, by Isak Dinesen; and still have to read Villette, by Charlotte Bront; Survival of the Sickest, by Dr. Sharon Moalem with Jonathan Prince; and The Jane Austen Book Club, by Karen Joy Fowler.

But Ive also been listening to lots of audiobooks from the McGill Library while going on walks to enjoy the spring air, she says. Bill Bryson (as always) has an interesting read in The Body: A Guide for Occupants theres even a bit about pandemics and epidemics in there, so very relevant. But he gives you some facts about where different diseases or functions of the body were discovered, a bit about different scientists, while also explaining in laymans terms how everything works.

MacDougall has also finished Sing, Unburied, Sing, by Jesmyn Ward; Normal People, by Sally Rooney; and a really touching book by Cheryl Strayed called Tiny Beautiful Things, a curated collection of letters and responses to the Dear Sugar column which she wrote, she says. The message of that book is to express extreme compassion for all people, because you dont know where theyre coming from or what theyre going through, which feels very appropriate these days. Definitely one of my favourites so far this year.


I wish I have more time for reading, but I am still in fast-lane mode trying to address all the challenges arising from our current situation, writes Anja Geitmann, Dean of the Faculty of Agricultural and Environmental Sciences and regular contributor to McGill Reads. That said, there are always the 10 minutes before I fall asleep that are reserved for reading, and here is my current page turner. Ironically it fits our current and daily obsession with numbers. Finding Zero: A Mathematicians Odyssey to Uncover the Origins of Numbers, by Amir D. Aczel.


Crystal Noronha, Graduate Studies Officer in the Faculty of Dentistry, opens her email with Hope you are safe! echoing a sentiment of the majority of our contributors. Noronhas list includes John Scalzis Lock In andMakeup Tips from Auschwitz, by Tommy Schnurmacher.


Victor Chisholm, a long-time supporter and contributor to the McGill Reads series, is currently A Passage to India, by E.M. Forster. I downloaded it from Project Gutenberg, and was easily able to transfer it to my Kobo, says the Student Affairs Administrator in the Faculty of Science.

What I can suggest that is apropos to the current time: Death in Venice and The Magic Mountain, by Thomas Mann, both of which relate to illness and isolation.


I just finished reading The Lucky One, by Nicholas Sparks, an easy fiction to read, nothing taxing, writes regular contributor Abida Subhan, from the Department of Animal Science and the Department of Natural Resource Sciences. I randomly found books I have not yet read around my home. The next book I am going to read is A Princess Remembers written by the Princesss herself, Maharani of Jaipur, Gayatri Devi. I picked up this book on one of my trips to India.


As per tradition, we close out our list with the selections of the McGills enigmatic man of mystery Bud Martin, who is hunkered down in the Bud Bunker.

Im using these strange days to pick up dropped threads. Vancouver writer Kevin Chongs The Plague has sat, unfairly unread, on my shelf for two years. Its a contemporary reworking of Albert Camuss La Peste (1947), and a great read, writes Bud. A novel about fear, inequality, and quarantine is hardly escapist fare, but theres reassurance in lines like No one would characterize this period as fun, but there was a heightened feeling in every Vancouverites actions. A trip to the store to buy milk felt eventful.

Still on the epidemiology front, Im blowing the cobwebs off Steven Johnsons The Ghost Map, a page-turner about tracing the source of an 1854 cholera outbreak. Every time Ive borrowed it from the Osler Library, its been immediately recalled. Viva ebooks, says Bud.

On a cheerier note, Im reading The Penderwicks At Last to the kids at bedtime, he says. Jeanne Birdsalls gentle, warm and funny series has been a big part of a years-long nightly ritual that, sadly, we stopped for no good reason. Our daily routines are topsy-turvy, so its comforting to revive this tradition, and reconnect with some fictional friends.

Last one: a forgotten copy of Haruki Murakamis What I Talk About When I Talk About Running. Im trying to jog every day, alone or with some combination of family members. Murakamis thoughts on perseverance ring especially true nowadays: I have only a few reasons to keep on running, and a truckload of them to quit. All I can do is keep those few reasons nicely polished.

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McGill Reads: COVID-19 edition - McGill - McGill Reporter

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