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How To Stay Sane During a Pandemic


Feeling a little jittery? Have the couch cushions settled irrevocably into the shape of your personal rear end-type area? Has the excitement of binge-watching season 7 of “Home Boyz from Outer Space” faded?

I have two suggestions.

The first is a streaming channel called “The Great Courses.” The offerings are a real grab bag. I concentrated on history, starting with Amanda Podanyi, who in addition to knowing everything there is to know about ancient Mesopotamia, was the bass player in the band that became The Bangles.

Then I moved on to ancient Mesoamerica, a subject I knew very little about other than a vague idea that they played something like basketball, and of course knowledge gleaned from the classic 1964 film “The Wrestling Women vs. the Aztec Mummy.”

A foray into Gnosticism made me understand why the early Christian church wanted to stamp this stuff out, and did you know the Etruscans invented pizza?

The beauty of these programs, which are essentially lectures with two camera angles and maybe some slides, is you can fall asleep during them and rewind if you’re feeling ambitious.

But I was tired of staring at screens. So, well ahead of schedule I started my usual summer program of rereading old favorites.

I highly recommend an old Eric Ambler omnibus, “Intrigue.” It contains four novels: “A Coffin for Dimitrios,” “Journey Into Fear,” “Cause for Alarm” and “Background to Danger” — plus, in the edition I own, a forward by Alfred Hitchcock. 

You will not be disappointed. As Hitchcock points out, the heroes are very ordinary people who get tangled up in extraordinary circumstances. Not a lot of gadgetry and fight scenes, just slowly mounting tension, economically described.

I always reread the Bertie Wooster novels by P.G. Wodehouse in the summer. I always find something new, even though I have read them dozens of times.

In “The Code of the Woosters,” Bertie is discussing the personality of his friend Gussie Fink-Nottle with the latter’s fiancée, the soupy Madeline Bassett.

Bertie refers to Gussie as “a sensitive plant.”

Madeline replies: “Exactly. You know your Shelley, Bertie.”

“Oh, am I?”

I don’t know how I missed that in the first 47 readings of “Code.”

The other writer I revisit every year is Robert B. Parker, best known as the author of the Spenser detective novels.

What’s fun here, besides devastating descriptions of university faculty, extremists and poetry readings, is how over the course of 47 Spenser novels Parker moved from fairly lengthy exposition to a style almost completely dependent on dialogue, as with this scene from “Small Vices”:

“You ever wanted kids?” I said to Hawk.

“I like them a little older,” Hawk said.

“No, you animal, I meant have you ever wanted to be a father?”

“Not lately,” Hawk said

So put down the remote (unless you are watching a ferociously academic lecture series) and dig out an old favorite book.

The couch isn’t going anywhere, and neither are you.

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