UP, UP, AND AWAY
Last week, a friend asked me what coping methods I’d plucked from the miasma of Covid-19. Amid the usual suspects—yoga pants, craft cocktails made from home—I might have mentioned my resurrection of a strange childhood fascination with hot air ballooning. I’ve yet to take to the skies myself, but I’ve immersed myself in its lore: films like The Aeronauts; books (of course); calming renderings of balloons on Pyrex bowls, brass etchings, and brutalist sculptures; and dreams of drifting through cloudbanks at the mercy of the wind.
Perhaps it’s that last part that has me caught—because, for all the romance that’s in the idea of leaving Earth and floating through a welcoming sky in semi solitude, ballooning also carries the reality of being not wholly in control of your heading. If that—the ceding of control, sans romance—is not an able metaphor for this period of social retreat, what is? We had a summer of relative calm, courtesy of vaccinations, but clouds are gathering again: the Delta Variant has arrived, shouting “PSYCHE!” into our hopeful faces with frat boy glee, impeding a return to normalcy. We are back to not knowing when, to worrying. It is exhausting. Still, we turn our eyes to the skies, and we dream of rising beyond this time.
For now, for dreaming: by chance, by fortune, hot air balloons did arise in multiple books covered in this issue. Lucky me! They are in expected places, like Man of the World, a historical novel whose lead is lifted from his agrarian day-to-day into the glam and glitter of Paris at the dawn of the age of aeronautics; and in surprising ones, too, like Lavie Tidhar’s fantasy novel The Escapement, where a ragtag team flees from a crumbling town in a rickety basket.
But should these fantasies and images not be to your taste (though I recommend them heartily), there are a bevy of other options for both reemergence and escape, from the dystopian wilds represented in The Blue Book of Nebo, to the absolute humanity of the refugee novel North, to the daring turns in our always exciting University Press feature. The essays of Under the Rainbow deal with the fluctuations of Covid-19 shutdowns directly and humanely; and for those of you ready to dispense with it all, you can look ahead to Christmas with sweet options like Mr. Nicholas and The Unwrapping of Theodora Quirke.
We were confronted with a flood of glittering options during selections for this issue; we cannot overstate our excitement about these books!
Michelle Anne Schingler, Managing Editor
Art copyright Simona Ceccarelli, from My Room Is a Zoo! by Jerry Ruff. Used with permission from Amicus Ink.
Michelle Anne Schingler