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20 Books to Read in Quarantine This Summer

Our picks for immersive, escapist, or nostalgic reading—wherever you are


For many of those lucky enough to be able to stay home during the coronavirus pandemic, books have taken on a special meaning. COVID-19 book clubs have popped up to help readers feel connected to one another, group readings have brought new life to old poems, and—in this time of ambient anxiety—the value of losing yourself in a novel has never seemed more apparent. What follows is a selection of recommendations from The Atlantic’s culture writers and editors, with an eye toward stories that will resonate during a summer of continued social distancing and tentative reopenings. We’ve loosely grouped them according to literary cravings you might have: Perhaps you’ll decide on a breezy beach read to devour responsibly on your fire escape or a collection of nature essays that lets you explore the outdoors from your living room. Either way, stay safe, and happy reading.



For the past several years, my family has spent our summer vacations exploring America’s national parks. Acadia, Glacier, Badlands, Grand Teton, Yellowstone—they’re places as humbling as they are astounding, and our goal is to visit each one, eventually. When we canceled this year’s trip (hope to see you soon, Zion), I found some consolation in the writings of John Muir. And because the naturalist turned activist was so prolific—many of his writings were originally published in The Atlantic—I’ve been loving Wilderness Essays, a collection of the work he produced as he explored the western United States in the late-19th and early-20th centuries. Muir had the eye of a scientist and the wonder of an enthusiast; in his observations, run-on sentences spill forth in adjectival ecstasies (“the vast forests feeding on the drenching sunbeams, every cell in a whirl of enjoyment”), nature transforms from a place into a character, and the whole tumult resolves in giddy benedictions. “Climb the mountains and get their good tidings,” Muir urges. “Nature’s peace will flow into you as sunshine flows into trees.” — Megan Garber



Set in a drizzling and benighted aftertime (nuclear war happened hundreds of years ago), written in lumps of half-destroyed English that make perfect sense when read aloud—“I dont think it makes no differents where you start the telling of a thing. You never know where it begun realy. No moren you know where you begun your oan self”—Riddley Walker is a book you’ll carry with you forever. The eponymous hero is like Holden Caulfield crossed with the narrator of Brendan Behan’s Borstal Boy: He makes his way; he pierces reality. Read it not for the pandemically appropriate apocalypse vibe, blah blah, but because it’s a work of complete fiction—an entirely made-up world with its own gravitational integrity, its own language, its own codes, its own myths, its own poetry, almost its own sense of humor—that breaks upon our world like the truth. Dazzling. — J. P.



If you’re hoping that this 1974 Nebula Award winner will help you escape our current reality, beware that the word quarantine appears on page 2. Hang on, though, as Ursula K. Le Guin does fastidiously build a new world for the reader to get lost in—or rather two new worlds. A physicist-philosopher named Shevek journeys from an inhospitable moon populated by nobly struggling anarchists to the opulent and unequal planet those people fled a few generations earlier. He hopes to reconcile the political disagreements that caused the lunar secession, and—thank the stars—the ideological contours probed by Le Guin’s starchy yet swooning prose only hazily conjure modern debates. Still, at its base, the novel searches for a social structure that can ethically withstand both boom times and crises. All the while, Shevek ponders a metaphysical question that feels especially pressing amid a historic emergency: Does time move linearly or cyclically? His eventual answer, mind-bending but earnestly argued, is a comfort. — Spencer Kornhaber



Hex, Rebecca Dinerstein Knight’s hypnotic second novel, is an intimate study of both loneliness and connection. Its narrator, Nell, freshly out of a lukewarm relationship, has been expelled from her Ph.D. program after a labmate’s fatal accident; even more frightening, she’s lost the approval of Joan, the distant, demanding thesis adviser she adores. As Nell struggles ahead with her research on ways to neutralize toxic plants, her notes to Joan become a record of another, equally dangerous chemistry: the network of frustrations and desires that sets the two scientists at odds with the people closest to them. The resulting novel is tightly plotted and compelling. And if Nell’s upended life—adrift, solitary, devoted to lethal substances, and frequently spent pantsless on her apartment floor—resonates a little painfully with the reality of quarantine, her darkly funny observations and obsessions offer an absorbing escape. — R. I. S.


Ye olde shitehawk is up and running his gob now at a WH presser

Georgia: Brian Kemp maneuvers to cancel key Supreme Court and DA elections


The poster boy of Republican voter suppression is using loopholes in state law to cancel key Supreme Court and district attorney races in 2020.


Brian Kemp rose to national prominence in 2018 after eking out a narrow victory in Georgia’s gubernatorial race, in which he deftly leveraged his position as Georgia’s secretary of state—the person responsible for administering elections—in order to win the promotion he coveted. As Democrat Stacey Abrams vied to become America’s first Black woman governor, his office froze the voter registration applications of more than 50,000 Georgians, nearly 70 percent of whom were Black. It purged 1.4 million voters from the rolls between 2012 and 2018, and stood by as county officials closed hundreds of polling places, many of which were located in low-income and minority communities. Two days before in-person voting began, Kemp even accused Democrats of “hacking” the state’s voter database in an announcement on the secretary of state’s website; 16 months later, the Georgia attorney general’s office closed its investigation of the governor’s claim after finding absolutely no evidence to support it.

Republican-coordinated voter suppression is hardly a new phenomenon in America, but the sheer brazenness of Kemp’s efforts to flout the democratic process has since made his name synonymous with the practice. As governor, Kemp has pivoted from hollowing out democratic elections to simply cancelling them. At a moment when the death of Ahmaud Arbery has drawn national attention to the administration of justice in Georgia, he and other high-profile officials are exploiting legal loopholes to block voters from choosing new leaders for the state’s criminal legal system. Thanks to a series of eleventh-hour maneuverings, three of this year’s key races—two for seats on the state Supreme Court and another for a competitive district attorney race in his hometown of Athens—will not take place after all. Brian Kemp, instead, gets to decide them by himself.

Over the past few months, two of the Georgia Supreme Court’s nine justices have announced plans to resign from the bench, even though their terms were already set to expire at the end of this year. In December, Chief Justice Robert Benham revealed that he would retire on March 1; in February, Justice Keith Blackwell announced that he, too, would leave his post, effective on November 18, 2020. (As the Atlanta Journal-Constitution’s Bill Torpy explains, this extended lame-duck period allows Blackwell, who previously made one of President Trump’s shortlists for the U.S. Supreme Court, to reach the 10-year service requirement necessary for his pension to vest.) The Georgia Constitution gives the governor the right to fill temporary vacancies on, in theory, a temporary basis: Interim appointees to any “public office” serve the remaining balance of the term “unless otherwise provided by this Constitution or by law.” Otherwise, if a justice’s six-year term reaches its natural conclusion, an election takes place. Had Blackwell and Benham not quit, they would have been on the ballot this year, in a contest originally scheduled for May 19 and later postponed to June 9 for COVID-19-related safety reasons.

You might think these provisions would entitle Benham’s and Blackwell’s replacements to serve only through the end of 2020, spending a few uneventful months keeping the seats warm for their duly elected successors. That “unless otherwise provided” caveat is an important one, though, because the state constitution also specifies that appointees to elected judicial positions automatically get extra time in office, serving through the year of the next general election that is more than six months out from their appointment. Put differently: If Brian Kemp makes you a Supreme Court justice with fewer than six months to go until an election for Supreme Court justice, that election gets bumped for two full years. Sure enough, on March 1, Secretary of State Brad Raffensperger cancelled the contests for both seats on the grounds that Kemp would fill these vacancies himself. The policy rationale for this loophole sounds sensible enough: It prevents rookie justices from having to learn the ropes of their new job while simultaneously running a hastily assembled campaign to keep it. But maneuvers like Blackwell’s and Benham’s are less about easing bureaucratic transitions than they are about transforming seats on the court into prizes for the governor to dole out as he sees fit. When resignations conveniently arrive this close to an election, Kemp gets to dispense entirely with the burden of holding one.


U.S. jobless now exceed 36 million, despite reopenings

‘Rolling Shock’ as Job Losses Mount Even With Reopenings

Nearly three million new unemployment claims brought the two-month total to more than 36 million, even with some still frustrated in seeking benefits.


Scattershot reopenings of retail stores, nail salons and restaurants around the country have not halted the flood of layoffs, with the government reporting Thursday that nearly three million people filed unemployment claims last week, bringing the two-month tally to more than 36 million. The weekly count of new claims has been declining since late March, but that hopeful flicker barely stands out in an otherwise grim and chaotic economic landscape.

“This is a very protracted, painful situation for the labor market,” said Rubeela Farooqi, chief U.S. economist at High Frequency Economics, “and I just don’t see anything positive.” In places where the fitful reopening has started, workers called back to their jobs often face reduced hours and paychecks as well as a heightened risk of infection. Declining to return, however, is likely to put an end to any jobless benefits.

“It’s a very tough choice for those in the service industry and those at the lower end of the pay scale,” Ms. Farooqi said. “Do you go back and risk getting sick, or have no money coming in?” Lags in data make it hard to calculate just how many workers may have been rehired after the most recent shelter-in-place restrictions were lifted. And Connecticut cited an error in the government’s report that appeared to have inflated the state’s latest claims by more than 200,000.

But Michelle Meyer, head of U.S. economics at Bank of America, said she doubted that callbacks to work outnumbered additional layoffs from other sectors. The slowdown has been rippling beyond the early shutdowns in retail and hospitality to professional business services, manufacturing and health care. “In a sense, it’s a rolling shock,” she said. Georgia, one of the first states to reopen, is an example. “The reopening is bringing people back to work, reducing the total amount of people receiving unemployment insurance,” Ms. Meyer noted. “But the number of initial jobless claims is still rising, which suggests there is still residual weakness in the economy.”


NYT: Talking Can Generate Coronavirus Droplets That Linger Up to 14 Minutes

A new study shows how respiratory droplets produced during normal conversation may be just as important in transmitting disease, especially indoors.


Coughs or sneezes may not be the only way people transmit infectious pathogens like the novel coronavirus to one another. Talking can also launch thousands of droplets so small they can remain suspended in the air for eight to 14 minutes, according to a new study. The research, published Wednesday in The Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, could help explain how people with mild or no symptoms may infect others in close quarters such as offices, nursing homes, cruise ships and other confined spaces. The study’s experimental conditions will need to be replicated in more real-world circumstances, and researchers still don’t know how much virus has to be transmitted from one person to another to cause infection. But its findings strengthen the case for wearing masks and taking other precautions in such environments to reduce the spread of the coronavirus.

Scientists agree that the coronavirus jumps from person to person most often by hitching a ride inside tiny respiratory droplets. These droplets tend to fall to the ground within a few feet of the person who emits them. They may land on surfaces like doorknobs, where people can touch lingering virus particles and transfer them to their face. But some droplets can remain aloft, and be inhaled by others. Elaborate experiments have revealed how coughing or sneezing can produce a crackling burst of air mixed with saliva or mucus that can force hundreds of millions of influenza and other virus particles into the air if a person is sick. A single cough can propel about 3,000 respiratory droplets, while sneezing can generate as many as 40,000.

To see how many droplets are produced during normal conversation, researchers at the National Institute of Diabetes and Digestive and Kidney Diseases and the University of Pennsylvania, who study the kinetics of biological molecules inside the human body, asked volunteers to repeat the words “stay healthy” several times. While the participants spoke into the open end of a cardboard box, the researchers illuminated its inside with green lasers, and tracked bursts of droplets produced by the speaker. The laser scans showed that about 2,600 small droplets were produced per second while talking. When researchers projected the amount and size of droplets produced at different volumes based on previous studies, they found that speaking louder could generate larger droplets, as well as greater quantities of them.

Although the scientists did not record speech droplets produced by people who were sick, previous studies have calculated exactly how much coronavirus genetic material can be found in oral fluids in the average patient. Based on this knowledge, the researchers estimated that a single minute of loud speaking could generate at least 1,000 virus-containing droplets. The scientists also found that while droplets start shrinking from dehydration as soon as they leave a person’s mouth, they can still float in the air for eight to 14 minutes. “These observations confirm that there is a substantial probability that normal speaking causes airborne virus transmission in confined environments,” the authors wrote in the study.


Photos: The Coronavirus in Brazil


As of today, Brazil has reported 180,737 (update, it is now 203,165) cases of COVID-19, and a total of 12,635 deaths—with thousands of new cases recorded just yesterday. One physician in São Paulo said he feared the country might become “the next epicenter of the pandemic.” Brazilians are coping with the coronavirus outbreak in multiple ways: sending medical workers out into favelas to meet with patients at home, encouraging residents to wear masks and practice social distancing, setting up field hospitals, and volunteering to help those in need. Samba school members who would normally be sewing costumes for Carnival are sewing masks and scrubs for medical staff. Below are images from across Brazil over the recent weeks, as residents struggle with the COVID-19 outbreak and its wide-reaching effects.

a selection, more at the link

Spot the Robot Dog, Now a Social Distancing Narc, Is Freaking People Out

Good intentions. Bad dog.


Spot, the Internet-famous robotic dog fresh off stints defusing bombs, inspecting oil rigs, and helping hospitals fight the coronavirus, has landed his latest gig: terrifying people into social distancing. Since May 8, Spot has been patrolling the Bishan-Ang Mo Kio Park in Singapore, functioning like a gatekeeper during the COVID-19 (coronavirus) pandemic, according to a report in the South China Morning Post.

Singapore's government is the entity actually funding the robotic dog, per a press release from last week. Spot is meant "to assist safe distancing efforts at parks, gardens and nature reserves" that the government owns. So in the U.S., that would basically be the equivalent of running across Spot at places like Yellowstone or Redwood.

The pilot will last for two weeks, according to the release, and Spot will take on its vigilante duties only during non-peak hours. Additionally, Spot will play a recorded message to remind park visitors to observe safe distancing measures. At least one park ranger will be present during the trial period. "Spot will be controlled remotely, reducing the manpower required for park patrols and minimizing physical contact among staff, volunteer safe distancing ambassadors and park visitors," the government notes in its release. "This lowers the risk of exposure to the virus."

If the trial proves successful—no word on how Singapore is measuring that—the government will consider permanently deploying the robot dog at Bishan-Ang Mo Kio Park during the morning and evening peak hours. Singapore will also conduct studies to see if it's worth deploying Spot in other parks. The problem? People seem to be pretty perturbed by Spot, practicing social distancing—and then some—to stay away from the dog bot.



A Biblical Mystery at Oxford

A renowned scholar claimed that he discovered a first-century gospel fragment. Now he’s facing allegations of antiquities theft, cover-up, and fraud.


On the evening of February 1, 2012, more than 1,000 people crowded into an auditorium at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill. The event was a showdown between two scholars over an explosive question in biblical studies: Is the original text of the New Testament lost, or do today’s Bibles contain the actual words—the “autographs”—of Jesus’s earliest chroniclers? On one side was Bart Ehrman, a UNC professor and atheist whose best-selling books argue that the oldest copies of Christian scripture are so inconsistent and incomplete—and so few in number—that the original words are beyond recovery. On the other was Daniel Wallace, a conservative scholar at Dallas Theological Seminary who believes that careful textual analysis can surface the New Testament’s divinely inspired first draft.

They had debated twice before, but this time Wallace had a secret weapon: At the end of his opening statement, he announced that verses of the Gospel of Mark had just been discovered on a piece of papyrus from the first century. As news went in the field of biblical studies, this was a bombshell. The papyrus would be the only known Christian manuscript from the century in which Jesus is said to have lived. Its verses, moreover, closely matched those in modern Bibles—evidence of the New Testament’s reliability and a rebuke to liberal scholars who saw the good book not as God-given but as the messy work of generations of human hands, prone to invention and revision, mischief and mistake.

Wallace declined to name the expert who’d dated the papyrus to the first century—“I’ve been sworn to secrecy”—but assured the audience that his “reputation is unimpeachable. Many consider him to be the best papyrologist on the planet.” The fragment, Wallace added, would appear in an academic book the next year. Though he didn’t mention it onstage, Wallace had recently joined something called the Green Scholars Initiative. The program was funded by the Green family, the evangelical billionaires who own the Hobby Lobby craft-store chain. It gave handpicked scholars access to the thousands of artifacts the family had collected for their Museum of the Bible, a soaring $500 million showplace that would open a few years later near the National Mall in Washington, D.C.

Wallace’s ties to the Greens made it easy for observers to connect the dots: The Mark papyrus had to be one of the manuscripts the Greens had bought for their museum. And the papyrologist who worked out its first-century date had to be the world-renowned classicist Dirk Obbink. The Greens were known to have hired him as a consultant during their antiquities buying spree. His enlistment had been a coup. A tall Nebraskan with a mop of sandy hair, Obbink was in his mid-40s in 2001 when the MacArthur Foundation awarded him a half-million-dollar genius grant. His technique for reassembling papyrus scrolls carbonized by the eruption of Mount Vesuvius in a.d. 79 was a feat of three-dimensional puzzle solving.


NYT: Coronavirus Live Updates: Virus Response Widens Political Divide in Swing States

In swing states, the virus has become a polarizing issue.


In Wisconsin, residents woke up to a state of confusion on Thursday after the conservative majority on the State Supreme Court sided with the Republican majority in the Legislature on Wednesday night, overturning a statewide stay-at-home order issued by Gov. Tony Evers, a Democrat. In Michigan, hundreds of protesters, many of them armed, turned out at the State Capitol in a drenching rainstorm after the state had closed the Capitol and canceled the legislative session after threats directed toward Gov. Gretchen Whitmer. (Amber McCann, a spokeswoman for the Senate majority leader, Mike Shirkey, said that while some senators were concerned for their safety, that was not the main reason for canceling the session.)

And in Pennsylvania, some county lawmakers defied the Democratic governor’s orders to keep nonessential businesses closed, and President Trump flew to Allentown for a politically charged visit to a medical supply facility. “You have the one group that’s like, ‘Yay!’” said Patty Schachtner, a Democratic state senator from western Wisconsin. “And the other group is like, ‘Man, life just got complicated.’”

In the three states that determined the 2016 presidential election — and could determine the one in 2020 — the response to the coronavirus is becoming a confused and agitated blend of health guidance, protest and partisan politics, leaving residents to fend for themselves. “My anxiety for this pandemic is not having a unified plan, that we’re all on the same page, and listening to science and the same rules,” said Jamie O’Brien, 40, who owns a hair salon in Madison, Wis., that remains closed because of a local stay-at-home order.

Across Wisconsin, the court ruling left some residents in a festive mood; they headed to taverns to celebrate. Others were determined to stay home, just as they had been doing, worried that it was too soon to return to crowded restaurants and shops. It was a microcosm of a country increasingly unable to separate bitter political divisions from plans to battle a deadly disease. Democratic governors in Wisconsin, Michigan and Pennsylvania, backed by public health experts, have urged caution before reopening. Republican legislatures in those states have been pushing in the opposite direction, arguing that the extended restrictions are threatening their personal freedoms.


The one issue I take with the article is that it left out Florida as one of the most key states. All Trump needs to do is hold FL and WI, and we have almost no path, (even if we win MI, PA, NV, NM, NH, CO, MN, and VA), to beating him short of flipping AZ or NC or IA, and do we really want to come down having all our eggs in those 3 Rethug run (more or less) states?

IF we win FL and MI (and hold CO, MN, and VA, all 3 states where he is massively underwater atm), it basically breaks his back, as he can win WI, PA, OH, GA, AK, IN, TX, IA, AZ, NC, MO, KS, ME-2, NE-2, and either NH or NV and he still loses.(but not both, both plus all those others listed yields him 271 EV's, so even if we flip ME-2 and/or NE-2, he wins either with a 270 or 269-269 tie EC outcome, with the House (26 Rethug state delegations at worst, they could have more) putting him over the top in the latter 269-269 tie scenario, which would be a disastrous outcome that will cause massive chaos and violence, especially as many of the Rethug House majorities are due to illegal gerrymandering)

A Second Trump Term Would Be A Hellscape Of Indescribable Proportions

No impeachment, no 25th Amendment, no indictments. And, worst of all, no election. Nothing.


WASHINGTON, DC -- For some time now, I’ve been trying to crystalize into words specifically why a second term of the Donald Trump poseur presidency would be catastrophic for the American republic. And I think I’ve landed on the central reason why it would be a nightmare of gargantuan proportions. We’ve all witnessed, front row center, the ceaseless firehose of news -- endlessly blasting us in the face, around the clock in some cases, with all varieties of soul crushing nincompoopery, maliciousness, racism, misogyny, indecency and genocide-level death since inauguration day. Indeed, the horrendousness extends further back in time to the campaign, but the existential crisis began when Trump officially kerplunked his way into the White House.

So far, we’ve been rendered mostly powerless when it comes to fighting back. While there have been some significant gains in the House through special elections and, naturally, the 2018 midterms, Trump has been able to continue his disruption of the American system without being truly handcuffed. This is, to me, the primary reason for this sense of powerlessness. When it comes to accountability in a second term, there’s little to no chance Trump will be removed through another impeachment. Even if the Democrats take back the Senate, there won’t be 67 votes to remove -- and that’s if Nancy Pelosi is willing to impeach Trump again. So, while a Democratic Congress would thwart the Trump legislative agenda -- and that’s nothing to sneeze at -- Trump will have little fear of another impeachment.

We also know that Bill Barr’s Justice Department will never indict him, at least while he’s president. That door’s shut, too. Likewise, it should be relatively obvious by now that there won’t be any removal through the terms of the 25th Amendment, either. Mike Pence doesn’t have the guts for it, and Trump’s cabinet is, by now, mostly loaded with sycophants and spineless weasels. As of today, the only way Trump can be removed is through the election, and I know very few of us who are 100 percent confident that Trump will lose. Despite that, Trump is constrained by the fact that he has to run again. Sure, he desperately wants -- and needs -- a second term, primarily to keep himself out of prison for a while longer. However, he knows that if he hauls his ponderous bulk too deeply into the realms of despotism and totalitarianism, he might lose in November. Believe it or not, Trump is absolutely constrained by the accountability of the election. It often doesn’t seem like it, but he is. Along those lines, here’s why a second Trump term would be a hellscape of indescribable proportions.

For a moment, think back through the last four years of Trump, including the deadly incompetent response to the plague. Now, imagine all that amplified by a factor of a gazillion, knowing how Second Term Biff would be operating for another four years completely unfettered by all accountability, including an election. No impeachment, no 25th Amendment, no indictments. And, worst of all, no election. Nothing. Four more years, and literally zero constraints on the blood-curdling horror show that would begin on November 4, should this election go badly for Joe Biden and the Democrats. An unconstrained, unaccountable Trump is what some of the more radical Bernie Sanders supporters don’t seem to grasp. In their effort to kneecap Joe Biden’s general election campaign before it’s barely on the ground, and thus helping Trump’s chances, they’re losing sight of the very basic, textbook aspects of what it’d mean to have a president who didn’t really care about or respect the array of constitutional strictures in his first term, and they certainly haven’t stopped to consider how or why he’d become far worse in a second term. All they care about is their agenda, but their agenda will be set back decades if Trump gets the chance to immolate the foundation upon which that agenda would be built.

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