Tyrant: Shakespeare on Politics

Tyrant

The name “Donald Trump” does not appear in Tyrant: Shakespeare in Politics.

But it’s impossible to read this examination of tyranny in Shakespeare’s plays without considering our own times and our own tyrant.

As author Stephen Greenblatt observes, Shakespeare, “deftly sketched the kind of person who surges up in troubled times to appeal to the basest of instincts and draw upon the deepest anxieties of his contemporaries.”

Richard III is perhaps the greatest villain in history. Shakespeare makes him a warped, pitiable creature that enacts horrors yet somehow gains our sympathy. Rudely stamped, Richard III rises to power through allies who think they can control him and followers who seek advantage in his power.

Yet, when obtaining the crown, he finds it an empty experience, the source of more troubles rather than less as his enemies gather to overthrow him. He dies, alone on a battlefield, abandoned by all.

Macbeth is a reluctant tyrant, goaded into murder by his wife, and then haunted by memories of the bloody deed. “Oh, full of scorpions is my mind, dear wife!” he says of his anguish. Macbeth recognizes his sin and is driven mad by it, to the detriment of his country.

King Lear is another self-destructive monarch, divvying up his kingdom among ungrateful daughters while spurning those who speak truth to power. The consequence is internal exile and madness, the narcissism of the old king laid bare.

In Coriolanus, ancient Rome is beset with turmoil. The patricians have taken too much, leaving the plebeians to starve. In a speech reminiscent of Howard Schultz, an aristocrat claims that the patricians are the source of every good thing in the lives of the people:

you shall find
No public benefit which you receive
But it proceeds of comes from them to you
And now way from yourselves.

This goes over as well as Schultz at SXSW. After a series of conflicts, the war hero Coriolanus is on the verge of becoming dictator of Rome. All he needs to do is humble himself before the plebeians. Yet, he can’t even do this minor thing, unable to hide his hatred of commoners. His candidacy fails and he is banished.

Shakespeare was an optimist, believing that tyrants ultimately fall, undone by their character.

We have our own mad king now, a little bit of Lear and a lot of Richard III, a villain, a usurper, that has troubled domestic tranquility as he gnaws away at American democracy.

Yet, like the tyrants depicted in Tyrant: Shakespeare in Politics, he too will meet his end, undone by the flaws in his character.

Digital Minimalism – Control Your Social Media Addiction

Digital Minimalism

Digital Minimalism by Cal Newport is a call for the intentional use of social media, controlling it rather than letting it control you.

Social media is the tobacco of our age, an addictive product that consumers are almost powerless to resist. How can you fight against a corporation using the top engineers in the world to turn you into a digital lab rat?

Take a Break

An avid non-user of social media, Newport offers solutions in Digital Minimalism, ranging from the practical to the absolute.

One of the most radical is to take a 30 day break from social media. Log off. Delete the services from your phone. Block them on your computer. Then figure out what to do with your free time, like going to the gym or taking up pottery. After thirty days, consider in a very deliberate manner what services you want back in your life.

He takes another idea from the Amish, who are not as techno-phobic as they appear. They adopt technology when it useful to them, such as gas generators and power tools, but only if it fits in with their commitment to be “in the world, but not of it.” The Amish example is an argument for carefully weighing the impact of new technology before you let it into your life.

Free isn’t free. For me, this was the most compelling point in Digital Minimalism. Everything has a cost, including free online services. The cost is your time. Facebook is an amoral corporation that wants to seize every minute of your day in order to serve you more ads and collect more data.

My Name is Joe Flood. I’m addicted to Twitter

The iPhone is also an anxiety-making device. I was never much of a Facebook user but I fell in love with Twitter when I first saw it at SXSW a decade ago. In the early years, it was glorious – a collection of the techno-savvy offering help, support and advice.

When I wrote my first novel, Murder in Ocean Hall, I tweeted out my progress, posting the word count as I went. The encouragement I received kept me going as I typed away in coffee shops.


Twitter in 2019 is very different. Now, it is the thing you check every morning on your iPhone to see if the world still exists. What part of the Constitution is Trump violating? How many children are being jailed on the border? Who has Mueller indicted? And what racial/sexual/political scandal is stirring up society today?

For most Americans, anxiety climbed in 2016 and then accelerated into the stratosphere, fueled in part by the device that we obsessively consult, and our Troll-in-Chief, Donald Trump.

Involuntary Digital Minimalism

I recently had to get the battery in my iPhone replaced. When they told me it would take three hours, I nearly sobbed. I left the Apple Store in a daze, unsure of what to do with myself without the device I used for news, entertainment, diversion and even to tell the time.

I wandered across Wisconsin Avenue and down the cobblestone streets of Georgetown, my eye draws to a garden of beautiful red roses.  Wanted to Instagram them. But I couldn’t.

I continuing walking, not knowing what I was doing or where I was going. I saw a park I had never seen before. Walking through it, I realized it was behind a public pool that I used to go to when I lived in Glover Park.

I decided I’d walk uphill to the Georgetown Library. They would have a clock there, so I would at least know the time.

In the library, I still felt antsy, checking my pocket where my iPhone should be. Barely thirty minutes had passed.

I got a novel from an author I had never read before: Bernard Cornwell. After walking down the hill, I got a sandwich and then coffee, immersing myself in the adventures of Richard Sharpe for a few hours.

I didn’t know what time it was. Didn’t know what was going on with the world. Was unaware of any likes I might have received. Instead, I had sunk into the pleasure of a tale well told.

It was the most relaxed I had felt in months. Going back to the Apple Store, I sat a table in the busy store and read, a book in front of me instead of a glowing screen, an outlier among patrons concerned only with the restoration of their electronic tablets.


A Genius emerged from the back with my iPhone.

I didn’t want it back. Wanted to stay in this quiet moment with this book forever.

He handed me the phone. I took it.

Let’s Get Intentional

Since then, I’ve tried to be more intentional about my social media use. I carve out time to read and write. I turn off all my iPhone notifications. Try not to check Twitter during meetings. Place my phone out of reach when watching Netflix.

I’m addicted, like most Americans. I can’t imagine going 30 days without social media.

If there’s one thing I’ve learned from writer’s block, is that your brain resists commands from the ego. It doesn’t like prohibitions.

Bad habits can’t be banned; they have to be replaced with good ones.

Digital Minimalism made me realize that almost anything, even wandering the streets looking at flowers, is better for my psyche than the the bright and false world of social media.


Letter from Washington: Gilead or Green New Deal?

The Handmaid's Tale

Gilead came to DC on Friday. The Handmaid’s Tale filmed at the Lincoln Memorial.

I hurried down at the end of the day to catch a bit of the shoot. Was I watching a TV show or a preview of the future?

Visually, it was striking to see the red robes against the white marble. And unsettling to see a police state operating in an American setting, even if it was just fiction.

The handmaids moved with military precision. When the scene at the Lincoln wrapped up, they turned en masse and marched in formation down the marble steps. I hurried out of the way, intimidated by the martial display.

The handmaids then assembled at the base of the memorial, lining up in neat rows with the Washington Monument in the background.

Production assistants walked down the lines of handmaids, adjusting robes and bonnets. The camera wheeled into place. Brown-robed Aunts with cattle prods surrounded the handmaids and, surrounding them, soldiers with assault rifles.

“Veils on!” the director commanded. The handmaids covered their mouths. Then the camera rolled down the line of women, all perfectly still in their obedience.

It can happen here, I thought as I watched. Anything is possible.

Earlier in the day, Trump had declared a national emergency, so that he could violate the Constitution to build his border wall. Republicans cheered.

Democracy only works when people follow the law. Once the law becomes meaningless, anything is possible.

A precedent has been set. Congress won’t do what you want? Declare a national emergency.

I had coffee with a friend. He said that Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez’s proposal to build a fair and environmentally sustainable country was unrealistic. We can’t afford a Green New Deal. The Washington centrist position is is that AOC’s vision for this country is unattainable.

Or is it?

Trump has shattered our democratic norms. Now, anything is possible.

On the steps of the Lincoln Memorial, I witnessed the Republican vision for the country. A handmaid future, with women enslaved for the benefit of men.

One possibility.

But with the norms of convention smashed, it’s possible to create another, better future, too, one in which we go beyond the stale politics of our era to build a country that is fair for all its citizens.

Gilead or Green New Deal? Both are possible now.

The Club: How the English Premier League Took Over the World

Wearing a Premier League jersey turned into a way to tell your friends that you were sophisticated, curious and sometimes drunk in the morning.

That’s me!

The Club tells the story of how the English Premier League transformed a grim, violent, working-class sport into a slick, family-friendly TV spectacle seen around the world.

The EPL was formed in 1992, motivated equally by greed and duress. English soccer was a primitive backwater in a modern nation, a holdover to when football matches were semi-organized riots between neighboring villages.

And it was deadly, with Victorian-era parks stuffed to capacity and beyond. After the 1989 Hillsborough disaster, in which 96 Liverpool fans were crushed to death in overcrowded stands, the Taylor Report mandated comprehensive changes, including replacing standing terraces with all-seater stadiums.

This meant fewer tickets sold and financial distress for clubs. Out of desperation, the top teams in the country broke away from the existing league to form the English Premier League.

Making a fortune off television rights for a sport rarely broadcast seemed unlikely. Yet, the big clubs – Manchester United, Liverpool, Chelsea – had inspiration from across the pond, where the NFL sold their rights for billions of dollars.

The league was born. And once it was seen around the world, it was flooded with cash. Every plutocrat wanted an EPL team for his portfolio. It was a way to show that they were not just about the money.

Unlike the NFL, there are no guarantees. Spend as much as you want on your team! But if you don’t win enough games, you could be relegated. The three lowest teams get bounced down to the lower division.

Filled with wild dreams and outsized personalities, The Club is, at its core, about money. An infusion of international cash saved the game and broadcast it to the world, where it is now seen more than ever, including by me at home (or in a bar) in Washington, DC.

One of the last chapters in the book is about the deal where NBC Sports bought the rights to the EPL in America. NBC does the coverage perfectly. Show lots of games on lots of channels, including free ones. Use English commentators with just enough American flavor to remind you that you’re in the States. And reach out with local fan fests and social media.

I love watching the English Premier League for the reasons described in the book – it’s international, the games are exciting and they’re 90 minutes long. Plus, the concept of relegation means that no games are meaningless.

It’s hard for me not to contrast the league I grew up with – the NFL – and the one the I’ve adopted – the EPL. The NFL has grown incomprehensible, even for Americans. What is a catch? What is a football move? You’ll get a dozen answers to these questions.

Also, in light of what we know now about concussions, watching the NFL gives me an uneasy feeling, as if I’m seeing men damage their brains for our entertainment.

And why can’t we get rid of a team like the Washington Redskins? Mediocre, with a racist name and an evil owner, they persist in a league without the gift of relegation. America claims to be capitalist but no team is ever allowed to fail in the NFL.

I’ll watch men chase a ball around a field instead, tuning in on Saturday and Sunday mornings to listen to English accents wax poetic over the beautiful game. Maybe I’ll do so over a pint. More likely, a cup of coffee. Give me the swashbuckling drama of The Club.


Bus to Work Day DC: A Story in Four Lines

Busses stuck on 16th St

Today is Bus to Work Day DC.

Before the age of Uber, riding the bus was a rite of passage in DC. It is now a lost art, which is a shame. Riding a bus teaches you patience, math skills and geography.

Plus, you get to overhear fascinating conversations! Taking the bus is the best way to learn about Washington beyond the monuments.

My transit experience helped me write several novels about the city, providing ideas and inspiration for my writing.

Here’s my public transit story. A story of four bus lines.

Patience: The N Bus

As a student at American University, my introduction to the city was through Metrobus.

That bus was the N2/N4/N6 bus which stopped at the edge of campus. Running down Massachusetts Avenue, it took you to internships in downtown DC.

It was a bus line that taught you patience. You’d get to the stop, check the schedule and then the bus wouldn’t appear. Or the bus would be pulling away as you arrived.

The random quality of the Metrobus experience taught me patience. Unlike Uber, there was no countdown to your ride. No estimated arrival time.

So, I’d sit down and wait, with only my thoughts for company in this pre-iPhone age. There’s a quote in the novel LessBoredom is essential for writers.

If you want to be creative, take the bus. Plenty of time to let your mind wander.

Math Skills: The 96 Bus

It’s 6:32. The 96 bus to Adams Morgan will be across the street at Wisconsin and Woodley at 6:58. Do you have enough time to finish your plate of spaghetti?

That and other dramas were part of my life when I lived off campus in an apartment building. My home was well-served by the 30s bus, which ran constantly along Wisconsin Avenue and the 96, which ran infrequently to Adams Morgan.

My roommates and I liked to take the bus to the 18th St bars of Adams Morgan. But the 96 bus didn’t run that often, particularly on weekends.

So, we became adept at math problems like the one above, adding and subtracting, factoring in walk times, the probability of the bus being late and the speed at which a plate of pasta could be shoveled down.

We even counted money, in this era before SmartTrip cards. There’s a pile of nickels and dimes on the kitchen table – is that enough for the bus?

There was something really satisfying about running for the 96, jumping aboard with no time to spare and then feeding loose change into the fare box as the bus rolls away.

Geography: The H2

One of my first jobs after graduation was a temporary job at the National Rehabilitation Hospital.

Located across the city, it required me to take the H2 bus west to east from Tenleytown to Washington Hospital Center.

This was pre-gentrification DC. Marion Barry DC. Murder capital of the country DC.

The bus would chug from leafy Northwest, through tony Cleveland Park and then cross Rock Creek Park, the barrier between good and bad in DC at the time. The bus would go down Irving Street, where the Target is now, past boarded-up buildings and one of the largest open-air drug markets on the East Coast.

The bus is different from taking an Uber. An Uber will take you directly to your destination. Bus routes wind their through cities, picking up passengers here and there, as they go from neighborhood to neighborhood. By taking the bus you learn the place.

It was an education, revealing a whole other city beyond the world I knew west of the park. A city full of stories. This experience, of seeing DC at its roughest, eventually ended up in Murder on U Street, which is set in many of these same neighborhoods.

Conversations: The X2

I’ve lived in DC forever. There’s only one bus that scares me: the X2. Running down H St, from the White House to Benning Road, it’s the Jerry Springer show on wheels.

Everyone has their X2 story. The craziness doesn’t just happen inside the bus – a teen was caught holding on outside to the back of the bus.

The line uses articulated buses that are twice as long as normal buses. Miscreants congregate in the back, far from the driver and engage in all sorts of illicit trade. The bus attracts even more crazy people than normal – the babblers, the shouters, the recently released.

Sit there and listen to people on their phones discussing court cases, relationship problems and family issues, like a George Pelecanos novel set on public transit.

As a writer, it’s great. Buses are ideal for hearing other people’s stories. Remove your earbuds and listen to the drama around you.

Take the bus! It’s easy – get a SmartTrip card and the NextBus app to navigate your way around Washington. Learn patience, math and geography while you’re entertained by overheard stories from city residents.

Switchers: A Guide to Changing Careers

Switchers by Dawn Graham

When I was looking for a job, Switchers by Dr. Dawn Graham was the most helpful book I read.

You don’t have to stay in the same position forever. Nor do you need to remain in the same industry. You can change to something new. Your skills are transferable, no matter where you are in your career.

While a career switch can seem like an impossible chasm to cross. Graham breaks it down into small, achievable steps.

The first task is to figure out where you are now. What is your role? What is your industry? What do you like to do? And what do you want to do next?

Switchers can get you to that next place by showing how to translate your experience into something new. The book is filled with real-world stories of people who have successfully switched jobs and industries in search of meaningful work.

What kind of switch do you want to make? Do you like your industry but want a different role? Do you want to do the same job in a different industry? Or do you want to swap your current job and industry for something completely different?

The secret is to design your resume around what you want to do – not what you’ve done in the past. Focus on where you’re going, not where you’ve been.

Apply for fewer jobs. When I was job-searching, I followed the traditional “spray and pray” approach. I’d apply for everything, even jobs I knew weren’t suited for me.

It’s more productive to aim for a specific job title and industry. Spend your time on quality jobs that you want to do rather than the temptation of clicking “submit” on endless job postings.

Try to stay out of the resume pile, Graham advises. While everyone seems to recognize that the hiring system is broken, with managers overwhelmed by resumes and applicants ghosted by employers, I don’t see an alternative, at the moment. It would be nice to think that you can network your way to something new but most people I know find new jobs through old-fashioned applying.

Graham also includes helpful tactics to convince skeptical employers to shelve their assumptions about career switchers. This is the biggest barrier for switchers but, as a hiring manager, wouldn’t you want someone enthusiastic about joining a new field?

In my job search, I ultimately ended up in the same role and same industry. I’m a digital communicator for government agencies. Thanks to Switchers, however, I know that my experience is transferable.

Life is too short for a job you hate. Use Switchers to make a daring career move into something more satisfying.

My Photos in Song Protesting Child Separation Policy

Hard to believe that we’re a nation that puts children in cages. But we do every day at the border.

The Trump administration tried to hide the child separation policy from the public, knowing that it was cruel even for this cruel age. Despite statements from the Department of Homeland Security, families are still being separated.

Americans have hit the streets in protest. With my camera, I’ve documented those protests in Washington, DC, from the White House to DHS headquarters. I want future generations to know that we protested this crime against humanity.

Now, my photos have been put to music in a new song called Cages by Flo Anito and Seth Kibel.

A rough version of this song received an Honorable Mention from the Mid Atlantic Song Contest. This version was recorded at American University and Asparagus Media and will be released on an upcoming EP of original protest music.

Flo Anito has toured Europe and appeared on DC’s biggest stages: Strathmore, Wolf Trap, Merriweather Post Pavilion, the Birchmere, Blues Alley, the Fillmore, Hamilton Live, and Bethesda Blues & Jazz. She’s a clever songwriter with a unique voice and a sense of social mission.

Seth Kibel has been wowing audiences on saxophone, clarinet, and flute for more than a decade. Winner of 28 Washington Area Music Awards (Wammies), his most recent recording, Seth Kibel Presents: Songs of Snark & Despair, features an all-star cast of vocalists and instrumentalists from throughout the Mid-Atlantic region.

I first met Flo playing soccer. When she asked to use my photos for Cages, I was glad to help. It’s a beautifully moving song written to protest an inhumane policy, one that was done but can be undone. As the chorus goes:

Children and hearts in cages
One by choice, and the other by force
You’ve locked up what’s left of your conscience
You’ve jailed all regrets and remorse
Children and hearts in cages
One of these is an easy fix
Fling open the doors to these prisons
Let parents be with their kids

Letter from Washington: The Cruelty is the Point

Nathan Phillips leads a dance at the Indigenous Peoples March
Nathan Phillips leads a dance at the Indigenous Peoples March before the MAGA teens showed up.

When video surfaced of Covington Catholic teens mocking a Native American at the Lincoln Memorial, I realized that I had missed the encounter by just a few minutes.

After work on Friday, I biked to the Lincoln Memorial desperate to see some sun after days of gloom.

At the memorial, I saw Native Americans (including Nathan Phillips) leading everyone in a giant dance with people holding hands in an ever-expanding circle. Pictured above, it was a beautiful moment seeing how everyone came together.

And a respectful one. Non-natives watched the dance from a few feet away. When invited to join, they did so, the dance expanding outward to accommodate newcomers on the plaza in front of the Lincoln Memorial. A drum played and Phillips sang as I watched this impromptu community demonstrate how we are all one people. Lincoln would be proud.

With all the museums closed due to the Trump Shutdown, there’s not a lot to do in Washington. The outdoor monuments and memorials are some of the few things that are open. The tourists who took part in the Native American dance circle were happy to have this unique experience of a different culture in an iconic setting.

After I left, the Covington Catholic kids came along. While there are innumerable videos and Rashoman-like confusion, one thing is clear: the MAGA teens mocked Phillips. You can see and hear them laughing at him and doing tomahawk chants while surrounding him on the steps of the Lincoln. He’s one elderly man faced off against a sea of youths in Trump gear.

Ironically, they were in Washington for the March for Life. But rather than showing respect for the lives of others, they mocked a Native American elder.

Where were the parents? Supporting them. In the video, you can see the chaperones on the sidelines enjoying the humiliation.

The cruelty is the point is the theme of a great essay by Adam Serwer on the Trump movement. A party that believed in limited government now operates a gulag system across the Southwest for immigrant children.

The Covington Catholic kids chose to wear Trump hats to the March for Life. The purpose of the march was secondary. If any of these callow youth got a girl pregnant, their beliefs would change pretty quickly.

Rather, the march was an opportunity to show the power of the Trump movement in the nation’s capital. With their uniforms and crowds, it was meant to intimidate.

But Nathan Phillips didn’t back down, even as he was jeered. He stood up to hate.

Their behavior exposed, the Covington kids face online humiliation. It won’t last. Like other wealthy men, they won’t suffer for their transgressions.

Ironic that this confrontation occurred under the watchful eyes of Abraham Lincoln. He did more than just free the slaves. He freed all of us from an evil system that poisoned this country, crushing an earlier version of Make America Great Again.

But he is just marble now, his faith and goodness forgotten by a Republican Party that has embraced cruelty.

Trip Report: Orlando Urban Trail

Orlando Urban Trail

Only three miles long, the Orlando Urban Trail packs in art, history and food  as it navigates a city few tourists see.

The trail starts at the edge of downtown Orlando, just off Magnolia Avenue and Lake Ivanhoe.

From there, it follows the path of an old railway, the Dinky Line, which used to ferry students to Rollins College in Winter Park. This green corridor is preserved because the line was used into the 1980s, not by students, but by businesses, including a lumber yard on Mills Avenue.

After going by a brewery, the trail parallels Mills, which is Orlando’s hipster district, home to the once-and-future dive bar Wally’s and the excellent Pig Floyd’s, where I had a pork bento box for lunch.

Pork bento box at Pig Floyd's

Around mile 1.5, the trail reaches Loch Haven Park, home to museums including the Orlando Science Center and the Mennello Museum of American Art.

You cross Mills Avenue, ride along the sidewalk a bit, and then there’s a brief section on neighborhood streets where you wind your way between lakes and by some expensive real estate. Lots of signage – it’s impossible to get lost.

Mead Garden bike sign

The trail ends at Mead Garden, a green spot in Winter Park which offers walking paths and a range of programs, including yoga.

With nearly the entire trail protected from traffic, the Orlando Urban Trail is  ideal for people of all ages. And with museums, parks and restaurants along the route, it makes a great urban adventure.

An Invincible Summer: Books Read and Unread in 2018

beer and a book at Frog Level

What books did I read and not read in 2018? In a year of political turmoil, it was a time to find inspiration in novels.

Books Read

A book that stayed with me throughout the year was The Song of Achilles by Madeline Miller. No one writes better about the Greek gods than she does, presenting them as flesh-and-blood figures that are also undeniably strange, for they are immortal and we are not. Achilles is doomed to die, something even his divine mother cannot prevent. We see the hero struggle with his fate, as told by his lover Patroclus. Set against the backdrop of The Iliad, it’s a novel about embracing your destiny.

If I had to sum up the way we live now, I’d refer people to Lake Success by Gary Shteyngart. In this tragicomic novel, a hedge fund manager flees his problems on a Greyhound bus across America. It’s about wealth, inequality and the souring of the American dream. I think  his earlier novel, Super Sad True Love Story, is a better book but no novel does a better job at describing our times than Lake Success

What if we had a civil war and other countries intervened in it to prolong the agony? What if they picked sides and supplied them with arms like we do overseas? That’s the story of American War, set in the not-to-distant future, in which the country is consumed by war and environmental collapse.

The Hunger was a surprise, a book I picked up at Carpe Librum, a great used bookstore in Union Station. For the Donner Party, the horror began long before they reached the mountains.

Everyone Brave is Forgiven is another novel about overcoming difficult times, this time the Blitz in London during World War Two. A moving book that highlights the sacrifices Londoners made during the darkest hours, when they carried on with no prospect of relief.

A novel about resilience is In The Midst of Winter by Isabel Allende. It’s about people caring for one another despite the cruelty of governments.

The Man Who Came Uptown is an ode to books set in Washington, DC. It’s also a crime story and a tale of personal redemption. Should be required reading for everyone who lives in DC.

Another ode to books is The Library: A Catalogue of Wonders, a fascinating exploration of mankind’s best invention.

War on Peace was a rare contemporary read for me. This account by Ronan Farrow of the hollowing-out of the State Department highlights the fact that the rot in American governance started well before the Trump administration. We’ve become a nation of perpetual war, with billions for bombs but little for diplomacy.

Books Unread

Fire and Fury, the Michael Wolff gossip-fest released in January – remember that? Kramerbooks had it on sale at midnight and people lined up for it. Not me.

Trump has been good for booksellers. There was the Bob Woodward tome. The Omarosa book. And then all the nonfiction works about Russian collusion, as well as a separate pro-Trump category for aspiring fascists.

I did not read any books about the nascent dictator, rebelling against the idea of spending sacred reading time immersed in the horror.

Instead, I took inspiration from fiction with tales of people finding strength in difficult times. Achilles embracing his destiny. The Donner Party surviving the unimaginable. An ex-con “going uptown” and leaving crime behind.

Amid the daily chaos of the news, I found consolation in novels.

Isabel Allende took the title for her book from Camus. A fitting summary for all I read and didn’t read in 2018:

In the midst of winter, I found there was, within me, an invincible summer.

—Albert Camus