In this Pandemic Spring of 2020, I find myself quoting Rilke:
“Let everything happen to you.
Beauty and terror.
Just keep going.
No feeling is final.”
It’s that last line, “No feeling is final,” that both haunts and helps me. Mostly it has given me comfort.
Among the places where I have taken comfort the last two months are audiobooks. Yes, I read paper books for hours in the bathtub, and I did even before we were in the midst of a pandemic.
But audiobooks are especially comforting, as I walk in the woods or wash the dishes or contemplate the ways stray papers procreate in my library when I leave them alone. (I hate filing but I demand a clutter-free desk.) Here are a few audiobooks that gave me comfort.
“Nothing to See Here” by Kevin Wilson; narrated by Marin Ireland. A slacker nanny and a pair of children who spontaneously combust when they’re anxious. Often laugh-out-loud funny.
“Normal People” by Sally Rooney; narrated by Aoife McMahon. Before there was the TV series we all are binging, there was . . . the book. Two young people falling in and out of love in Ireland, a tale that really is — and this is the right word — lovely.
“If It Bleeds” by Stephen King; narrated by Will Patton, Steven Weber, and Danny Burstein. Even the pandemic world isn’t quite as unnerving as a Stephen King story or, in this case, collection of novellas. Each novella is thought-provoking, unsettling, and rich with characters as real as your next-door neighbor — which, yes, sometimes makes them scary as hell. It didn’t comfort me the way these other titles did, but it did remind me that as bad as things sometimes feel right now, at least we’re not living in an actual Stephen King novel.
“To Kill a Mockingbird” by Harper Lee; narrated by Sissy Spacek. My friend Todd Doughty suggested this audio to me last month. Though I know many of the novel’s sentences by heart, Spacek brings Scout Finch to life in ways that leave me lingering over the dishes. It’s just beautiful.
I will now forever associate this pandemic with Sissy’s reading of that classic, and that’s a good thing. It ameliorates the fear and frustration.
Someday we will look back on this spring and wonder at the things we once thought were important. And while no feeling is final, we will never forget how we felt.
Chris Bohjalian’s new novel, “The Red Lotus,” was published in March.