Review: The Great Influenza

“In ten days – ten days! – the epidemic had exploded from a few hundred civilian cases and one or two deaths a day to hundreds of thousands ill and hundreds of deaths a day.
Federal, municipal, and state courts closed…Physicians were themselves dying, three one day, two another, four the next. The newspapers reported those deaths – on inside pages with other obituaries – even while continuing to minimize the epidemic. Health and city workers wore masks constantly…
And city authorities and newspapers continued to minimize the danger.”

Reading those words above, it feels *easily* like something you might read in a newspaper or see on television right now, doesn’t it? There are states in our current pandemic that have continued to downplay COVID-19, saying, “It’s just the flu.”. But those words are related to history, and unfortunately, history is something easily dismissed or…altered…for those who prefer not to be *inconvenienced* by the lessons to be learned. Those words come from the book, The Great Influenza: The Story of the Deadliest Pandemic in History, by John M. Barry.

I’ll be honest – I’ve had this book sitting on my shelves for a while now. I tend to be an emotional reader, one who has traveled with not only 3 or 4 books – but a Kindle as well, JUST. IN. CASE. But once we really started seeing not only COVID’s effects, but the absolute *refusal* of many to understand how much damage it can do, I was curious to read about the *other* pandemic – the one so many people are comparing *this* one to.

“It takes special trains to carry away the dead. For several days there were no coffins and the bodies piled up after something fierce….It beats any sight they ever had in France after a battle. An extra long barracks has been vacated for the use of the Morgue, and it would make any man sit up and take notice to walk down the long lines of dead soldiers all dressed and laid out in double rows…”

The interesting thing about this book is that Barry doesn’t just discuss the pandemic itself. He *also* talks about the scientists working feverishly on a vaccine, ANY vaccine, that might help somehow. He talks about the mindset of our country at the time – in a war, with a President who had no qualms about bending the laws to make sure every single citizen supported his goals. He gives a history of the science at the time, demonstrating both *how* and *why* the pandemic became as bad as it was. This isn’t to say that the book is boring – far from it. Barry does a good job tying all of this threads together in a seamless way, and it doesn’t drag along or get overly complicated.

“The disease has about reached its crest. We believe the situation is well in hand. From now on the disease will decrease.”

If you get a copy of this book to read, PLEASE do yourself a favor and get the updated version with the new afterword. It’s haunting to read about all the things that were put in place by our government and others after the H5N1 virus emerged, and to know that literally *none* of it was used during this current pandemic. It was also fascinating – and infuriating – to learn that even as China lied to the world about COVID, they had done the same thing with SARS.

“On September 28, marchers in the greatest parade in the city’s history proudly stepped forward. The paraders stretched at least two miles, two miles of bands, flags, Boy Scouts, women’s auxiliaries, marines, sailors, and soldiers. Several hundred thousand people jammed the parade route, crushing against one another to get a better look…It was a grand sight indeed…
The incubation period of influenza is twenty-four to seventy-two hours. Two days after the parade, Krusen issued a somber statement: ‘The epidemic is now present in the civilian population…'”.

It’s interesting as well that Barry discusses those in authority and the truth, particularly considering the current environment, where even simply wearing a mask has been politicized. One of the biggest faults found, looking back, on the governmental response to the 1918 epidemic was the way Wilson had co-opted messaging to the entire country, and how it did not allow for the truth to be shared. Rather, newspapers and governors all over the country (with the notable exception of San Francisco) kept to the party line – which only *increased* the fear felt by so many.

Society is, ultimately, based on trust; as trust broke down, people became alienated not only from those in authority, but from each other…

Those in authority must retain the public’s trust. The way to do that is to distort nothing, to put the best face on nothing, to try to manipulate no one. Lincoln said that first, and best.”

Overall, COVID or not, this is a book worth reading if you have any interest in the politics of healthcare, history, bacteriology, science, or influenza specifically. So many disparate pieces that make up the whole, and it truly does give a fascinating glimpse into the inner workings of science, which seems to be similar to the pieces of a puzzle – only by turning those pieces just the right way, and just in conjunction with the pieces around it, will it snap into place and be what is needed at that moment.

“This was influenza, only influenza.”

#FeelGoodFriday

Another week in paradise, right? And by paradise, I mean weird snows in April, desperate people cutting their own hair (or, in my case, cutting my daughter’s), and finding SOMETHING to cook for the 13,000th meal in quarantine. So, that brings us to our weekly update of *actual* good things – stories that make us smile, or laugh, or giggle, or maybe even tear up a little bit. Truly happy things, because we all need that right now – maybe even more than ever. So…here we go!

First up, straight up “awwwww” power. Because WHO DOES NOT WANT TO BE THIS LITTLE MAN RIGHT NOW?! Dogs – animals in general – can be the best comforts around, and this little boy *knows* this.

Amidst all the talk about illness and death – it’s easy to forget that some of those who are very, very ill DO survive. Those patients mean *a lot* to the hospital workers who have helped care for them – I’m certain it’s got to be emotionally and mentally draining to have people dying left and right. So when a patient survives, and is actually well enough to be discharged? It seems a party is in order!

What needs to be said about this, other than ALL THE FEELS. This gentleman, in his suit and flip-flops, is a DAD. His daughter will remember this moment for the rest of her life – while many of us barely remember the *actual* prom, she will always have this memory. And she will NEVER doubt that she is loved.

And to close us off today, what was it Mr. Rogers said? Look for the helpers? Here’s a great story about one of those very people – a man who never went out of his way to be a helper before, but has stepped up now. Even better? He’s planning on continuing when all of this is over.

It can be hard to see the good through the ever-present cycle of bad news, but that just means we have to try a little harder. I hope that at least one of these strikes a chord with you, because we all need that little extra bounce of joy. And remember – be kind to others, but also be kind to *yourself*.

Re-Evaluate The Connection

It’s day 1,634 of quarantine, and people are getting tired. You have folks like the wannabe Walking Dead in Michigan, protesting the governor’s attempts to keep them safe. You have folks that are trying to do their job, and can’t because said Walking Dead *were blocking the hospital*. This gentleman was not exactly eloquent, but I ABSOLUTELY appreciate his passion:

You have folks who have lost friends and loved ones to COVID-19, and truly understand the toll it takes, knowing those people died very sick and all alone. You have folks like my family – *extremely* lucky to live in a state that was reasonably proactive, and who – to the best of our knowledge – do not know anyone who has been ill or died from this virus.

But through it all, we have people trying to work from home. People who typically work in an office setting, where they can hold regular meetings, and where the internet connections are generally SUPER reliable. Folks who assumed that their home connections were “just fine”. And, reader – they may have been, Before COVID-19. But now? We’re seeing just how NOT fine they really are.

I’d love someone to do a thorough polling or study of how many people who are trying to hold Zoom meetings have struggled with it dropping or slowing down to the point of ridiculousness. How many people who are working on something and suddenly notice their internet has…disappeared. AGAIN. Mine did just as I started working on this. Essentially – how many Americans are finding, suddenly, that their “just fine” internet service is not really just fine, and certainly can’t hold a candle to places like South Korea. And I know for a *fact* it can’t hold a candle, because we had an exchange student from there who simply could not understand how AMERICA had slow-ass internet. I guess they didn’t talk about that at orientation…

Look, this is definitely a first-world problem. But here’s the thing – WE ARE SUPPOSED TO BE A FIRST-WORLD COUNTRY. And good, reliable internet connection is – these days – a necessity. Numerous studies have been done on why this is so important, particularly in rural communities. Here is an article that discusses some of that:

https://theconversation.com/reaching-rural-america-with-broadband-internet-service-82488

My hope is that people all over this country are complaining – to their local government, to their state government, and ESPECIALLY to their internet providers, about just how terrible they’ve discovered their service really is. I hope people in rural communities are doing the same, because with so many libraries closed, they are really struggling right now. Looking for jobs, ONLINE SCHOOLING (which we’re *all* struggling with to one degree or another) is virtually impossible. Accessing services for health right now, when so many clinics and offices are doing virtual calls for basic care means they’re left out. So many things that so many of us are taking for granted right now, that have moved to virtual out of necessity, are struggles still for far too many people. Which naturally means that, when the country begins to try to get back on its feet, they’re going to struggle even further with delays and difficulties.

So, people – YOU HAVE PERMISSION TO COMPLAIN. Long and loud, if you please. And if you’re so inclined, please reach out to groups like the one listed below to find out more about how you can help!

https://www.ruralstrategies.org/broadband

Events in the Time of COVID

While COVID is a scary thing (well, more scary than it should be, based on the level of “expertise” at the helm), there *is* one kinda cool thing to come out of it as a reader. So many author events and festivals and Cons have gone virtual, which means – I can actually “go” for the first time. Now, as a bookseller, I get that this is less than ideal – particularly for debut authors. Which is jut one reason why I’m doing my best (especially on Twitter) to help get the word out. However, as a reader, there’s a new equal opportunity availability that just wasn’t there before. And it’s been super exciting to see how different folks have stepped up and really helped to not only get the word out about upcoming titles, but to create these amazing virtual festivals. Talk about lemonade out of lemons!

One of the ones I’m *most* excited about just released their schedule yesterday. And I am NOT ASHAMED to say that I already signed up for a majority of the panels. And honestly, that is another thing that has – by necessity – changed with the virtual setting. Rather than having to pick and choose between panels, because there are usually at least a couple happening at a time, we can attend them ALL. I’m wondering (hoping?) if someone, somewhere isn’t taking note of this, and even after life starts getting back to normal, at least one large virtual con becomes the norm. I WOULD EVEN PAY FOR THIS, PEOPLE. *ahem* Just sayin’.

Anyway, Y’allWest has become Y’allStayHome, and I AM HERE FOR IT. Considering the amount of panels I signed up for, I mean that quite literally. But there are some REALLY awesome panels and authors and books on the two days that this is happening. There are even some giveaways that are gonna happen! I know that something like this is a *lot* of work, and I give the HIGHEST kudos to the folks that decided to make it a thing. And it’s not just this one, either! Here’s just a partial list of virtual bookish events:

Y’allStayHome 2020
April 25-26 – https://www.yallwest.com/schedule

NOVL CouchFest 2020
April 20-24 – https://www.thenovl.com/blog/2020/4/9/couchfest-2020-schedule

Virtual Con
April 24 – https://www.penguinrandomhouse.com/articles/virtual-con

Social Distance Book Fest
April 25 – https://twitter.com/SocDistBookFest

Random House Book Club: April Happy Hour
April 29 – http://www.randomhousebooks.com/event/rbc3/

Even CoNZealand is going fully virtual, though they’re still working out the details – https://conzealand.nz/blog/2020/03/25/conzealand-special-announcement

Basically – it’s a whole new world out there, and I hope that once COVID has become less of a threat to the world and organizers are working on planning their next year’s events, they really take a step back and pay attention to what was able to be accomplished virtually during this time. Give some thought to those of us who may not be able to travel to all these awesome events, but would certainly LOVE to sign up for a virtual panel (or…umm…13). It *is* possible to have in-person WITH virtual, and that would be such an exciting bonus for those of us who will be able to get all dressed up but have nowhere to go.

Bernie, Biden, & trump

I didn’t write a blog post yesterday – some days with this chaos in the world are harder than others, and finding anything I feel like I have much to say about can be…a challenge. But then – a thing happened, and more things happened, and I’m super irritated with people now. I mean, that tends to be my default these days, BUT. This is an irritation about a thing that has great ramifications for me, my family, my city, my state, MY COUNTRY. Yep. The election.

So Bernie Sanders has officially withdrawn in the Democratic race. That pretty much leaves Joe Biden as the nominee. I mean, there’s no one serious left. Sure, you could vote for Capt. Crunch, or the Tooth Fairy, but I’m not sure that’ll get you anywhere? Or, like some did last time, you could write in a dead gorilla, but again – not really any help there.

Here’s the problem. We’ve got far too many people who have decided that they simply WILL NOT vote for Joe Biden. They don’t like trump, but they won’t vote for Biden. DO YOU HAVE ANY IDEA HOW DAMN PRIVILEGED (and snotty) THAT MAKES YOU SOUND?! Whether we like Biden or not, right now, WE. NEED. HIM. We have no other viable options left. It will be either trump or Biden that walks away the winner on election day – no one else. But guess what? Maybe stop looking at trump and Biden, and start looking at the possible EFFECTS of another trump presidency vs. a Biden one.

  1. I love RBG. Seriously. That woman is a BAD ASS. *However*, having said that, I don’t think she’s gonna make it another 4 years. And have we considered whether she even WANTS to? And it’s not just her! A justice could literally keel over at any moment, and do we want trump replacing them? Look where THAT got us. Truthfully – we’re voting less for President, and more for the Supreme Court, and for all the lower courts that trump and the GOP have been working (successfully, I might add) to stuff with conservatives. If you have to? PICTURE RBG when you vote for Biden. Because that’s what you’re doing anyway.
  2. I suppose, with everything going on, it’s…easy?…to forget that THERE ARE KIDS IN CAGES. STILL. And honestly, with everything going on, who knows how many of them have died a very sad death because they’re crammed in like sardines and if they caught COVID, they have nowhere to go? It seems silly to ask this, but…do you LIKE kids in cages? Because there will only be *more* of them if trump wins again.
  3. Speaking of COVID…it’s pretty well established that trump did literally EVERYTHING wrong when it comes to trying to handle this pandemic. And we’re paying the price in terms of friends, family, loved ones DEAD. I doubt that we will get through this without everyone knowing *someone* who died from COVID. And here’s the thing – this could happen again!! Do we *really* want trump doing this again? I mean…seriously?
  4. Women’s rights. Trans rights. Dreamer’s rights. SO MANY RIGHTS that are either on shaky ground, or have already been dismantled to at least some degree. It’s pretty frightening when a book that *used* to be a dystopian tale set sometime in the future has BECOME THE NOW. Trans rights have been trampled into the dust. Dreamer’s rights are on a damn fault-line that could go at any time. But, I mean…you do you?
  5. “But he did this thing and it was terrible”. Ok, there may be some valid points here. But the two biggest arguments I keep seeing are related to a) I don’t want a rapist in the White House, and b) ANITA HILL. Ok, well, here’s my response to a) – THERE’S ALREADY A RAPIST IN THE WHITE HOUSE. Who stands *credibly* accused of raping *many* women. Who has raped our institutions of their talent and knowledge. Who has raped our country of it’s money whenever humanly possible. Who has raped our democratic processes – AND WILL CONTINUE TO DO SO. I don’t know whether Biden did this thing or not. I question it, since he’s been vetted 6 ways to Sunday as VP. BUT. Even if he did – as much as it pains me to say it – his actions as President will *still* be LIGHT YEARS better than trump. (PS. Anyone who gives me shit about saying trump raped our institutions, etc. because it demeans women or whatever – go to hell. I’m a rape survivor. And it’s absolutely appropriate when talking about trump and what he has wrought.). As for b) – I don’t know about you folks, but I’ve changed a hell of a lot in my time. I am not the same person I was 26 years ago. I’ve matured. I’ve gotten kinder, more understanding. I’ve learned much more about black, white, and gray areas. I’m more patient, and I like to learn. I’m willing to learn to do and be better. I’d venture to say that these things would hold true for most people. We do not live in a vacuum. Nor a time capsule. People change from day to day, let alone year to year. And, again – even if he was the exact same person as he was 26 years ago? HE’S STILL BETTER THAN tRUMP. (Also? Anita Hill is actually voting for Biden. So…there’s that.)

Look. I get it. People hate “settling” for something, or feeling like they have no choice *but* to settle. But there is idealism, and there is reality, and somewhere the two have to meet. Idealism is where the candidate you believe in with all your heart gets the nomination and does amazing things. Unfortunately, we *all* can’t have our perfect candidate. Nor do we have a perfect democracy. But the one we have is super important, and it’s on ALL OF US who believe in what it stands for to work to keep it. And sometimes, that means voting for the candidate that has better policies – even marginally – than the other person…and then WORKING OUR ASSES OFF to hold that person accountable to what we believe is important. THAT is democracy. It’s *not* “protest voting”, or writing in some ridiculous “candidate”, or voting third party. Because that ISN’T democracy. That’s showing your privilege in that the future won’t affect you as much as it absolutely will others. It’s showing that you can’t play nice with others, even when actual lives are LITERALLY at stake. When our *country* may be at stake.

There’s a school of thought that says “they have to EARN my vote”. But I often think it’s actually the other way around. They get your vote because they’re the better candidate, and then you remind them – repeatedly, if necessary – that they are only in office BECAUSE of you. Make them earn that vote, and *keep* earning it. Hold their feet to the fire with the power of your collective voices. At that point, we’re upholding the ideals of this country. At that point, we’re working to make those changes we’re so hellbent on seeing. And at that point, we become *true* citizens of a democracy.