In sending an email to my church small group last week— which now meets exclusively via computer screen or outside— I posed the question, “Who would have thought last March when we all started staying home more, we would still be in a state of semi-isolation some ten months later?”
It will soon be one year, and although we have hopes of a vaccine returning us to lives of freely moving about without conducting a risk assessment, we are not there yet. At least I’m not.
Therefore, we continue with coping mechanisms that take the place of social interaction. For those of us who enjoy reading, books provide not only a needed avenue for occupying leisure time, but a way of taking our minds off these (Buzzword Alert) unprecedented times.
Today I’ll share three I’ve recently enjoyed (two fiction and one non-fiction) and, as a bonus, I’ll tell you about a TV show that has risen above anything I have watched in a long time.
First, the books.
For years I have enjoyed the writing of Fannie Flagg, the Alabama native probably best known for her 1987 novel “Fried Green Tomatoes at the Whistle Stop Café,” which was made into a movie with the shortened title “Fried Green Tomatoes.”
Fans of the book and/or movie should be delighted, as I was, with “The Wonder Boy of Whistle Stop,” which provides a return to the fictional town of Whistle Stop, Alabama and its quirky and lovable characters.
With a storyline that spans decades, Flagg expands the “Fried Green Tomatoes” plot and ties together loose ends most of us had probably forgotten. Not many writers could pull off both prequel and sequel in the same book or write something this heartwarming without being cheesy, but Flagg artfully accomplishes both.
And if you are a sucker for endearing characters, you might find yourself enthralled by “The Lager Queen of Minnesota,” the second novel by J. Ryan Stradal (his first being “Kitchens of the Great Midwest,” which I have not read.)
Lifelong southerners might have to stretch some to identify with the seemingly hardened characters in “Lager Queen,” set in the author’s native Minnesota. But give it a few pages and I have a hunch you will become entranced by the lives of two sisters and the different paths they take.
If you like beer or you’re interested in how it’s made (or both), the breweries around which the plot revolves will draw you in even more. I know I’ll feel more educated when I feel comfortable going back to my favorite craft brewery and striking up a conversation with the guys who make the stuff.
Speaking of guys, Harrison Scott Key’s memoir, “The World’s Largest Man,” will hit a nerve with any man who has ever tried to do all the supposedly masculine things men do while feeling awkward and out of place doing so. And even those who don’t fit in that category could find this to be a page-turner.
Key recounts his years growing up in Mississippi with a father who insisted he participate in sports during the week and hunt on the weekends, as he gravitated toward literature and grocery shopping with his mother.
“Sports taught us a lot as young southern men, mostly how to hurt each other in exchange for the praise of our fathers,” he writes in one of the early chapters.
His narrative is likely to have you laughing out loud from cover to cover, while coming upon unexpected poignant moments. Now a professor of English at Savannah College of Art and Design and the father of three daughters, Key realizes maybe he and his father had more in common than he realized – another common thread among men as they marry and have families.
Finally, when you’re tired of the effort of reading and want to be entertained by a screen, “Ted Lasso” is one of the more delightful offerings I’ve happened upon in years.
The plot centers around the title character, played by former “Saturday Night Live” cast member Jason Sudeikis, an American football coach recruited by the owner of an English Premier League soccer (“football” in England) team to coach. Lasso and his deadpan assistant make the trip across the pond to accept the challenge.
Lasso has neither played nor coached soccer, which is precisely the motive behind the owner, a scorned ex-wife who got the team in a divorce settlement, hiring him in the first place. She plans for Lasso to fail miserably and, in so doing, help her bring revenge against her ex-husband who, in her estimation, never loved anything except the team.
Sudeikis is brilliant as the folksy Lasso, who reveals more depth with each episode. His boss, Rebecca Welton (played by Hannah Waddingham), tries her best to keep their relationship arms-length even as he insists on getting to know her better. This is demonstrated no more clearly than by the “Biscuits with the Boss” sessions he initiates with her each morning, in which he brings her cookies (“biscuits” in England) to enjoy with her tea, the source of which he will not reveal.
Welton is completely smitten by the delicious sweets, presented to her each morning in a pink box as if purchased from a baker. She has her assistant comb nearby establishments to determine where they are made, which he is never able to do since Lasso bakes them himself.
"Ted Lasso" is offered on Apple TV+, Apple’s steaming service which is $4.99 per month. The current season is ten episodes, each of which is about 30 minutes. (My understanding is it has been renewed for two more seasons.)
I watched the first two episodes on a complimentary basis before signing up for a free one-week trial. Three days into the trial, I still have four episodes remaining. If I manage to watch them before the seven-day period is done, I’ll cancel. If not, I’ll pay $4.99 for one month and then cancel.
I searched my soul about this. Apple makes their terms very clear and I am abiding by them. I have a cable service and NetFlix and I don’t need another streaming service right now – at least not until the next season of Ted Lasso.
Bob McKinney is a longtime Brentwood resident, happy husband and proud father, father-in-law and grandfather. Email him at [email protected].