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Home wrestling, masked dinners and lots of books: Kevin Wilson’s Tennessee quarantine diary

Author Kevin Wilson, flanked by younger son Patch, left, and older son Griff, is the author of "Nothing to See Here" and "The Family Fang."
(Leigh Anne Couch)

The Times asked authors to track what they do in isolation. Already isolated in rural Tennessee, bestselling novelist Kevin Wilson (“Nothing to See Here”) enjoys great books for kids and adults. He also plays fantasy basketball and practices WrestleMania moves with his kids.

Sunday, April 5


I live on a mountain in Tennessee with my wife and two sons. We are surrounded by woods. There is a pond in our backyard. We are used to isolation. But there’s a difference between the kind of isolation that you live within, the boundaries that you make for yourself, and what’s happening now. After dinner, we usually walk to Green’s View, which looks down into the valley, nothing but green and green and more green, but now there are barriers at the beginning of the gravel road that leads to the bluff, preventing cars from getting closer. So what can we do but retreat into ourselves, get weirder, create distractions.

On Friday, my wife went into our mudroom and found the box of our wedding china, which we have never opened. She unwrapped each plate, a design we chose almost 15 years ago, and the boys set the table. We put on suits and dresses. My younger son, Patch, is obsessed with the masked rapper BennY RevivaL, and so we have 30 or 40 masks in the house, and we each put on a luchador mask for dinner. Afterward, we watched “Seinfeld,” the one where Kramer gets addicted to the chicken at Kenny Rogers Roasters, and I mentioned that Kenny Rogers had recently passed away. Griff and Patch asked if it was from the virus, and I said that I didn’t remember.

I don’t have much time to read, and the reading I do is now in concert with other people. The previous Monday, in my fiction workshop, we talked about the story “Dog Days” by Judy Budnitz, where a man in a dog suit appears at the home of a young woman and her family, who are living in isolation as a war makes everything scarce, the world slowly falling apart around them. It was maybe not the best choice.

Kenny Rogers, R.I.P.
(Mark Humphrey / Associated Press)

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Griff and I have just finished reading “To Kill a Mockingbird,” which I hadn’t read since eighth grade, and now Griff wants to make a costume of a huge ham. We start Hannah Tinti’s “The Good Thief,” which Griff picked because I told him it was about a grave-robbing orphan with a missing hand. Patch and I are working our way through “The Baby-Sitters Club” graphic novels. He loves Claudia and Kristy, and I love Mary Ann. There’s a panel where Mary Ann holds up a slice of pizza and yells out, “Pizza Toast,” and we both decide that, when things return to normal, I’ll get a tattoo of that image. When the boys have reading time on their own, we go outside to the teepee that Leigh Anne built with them; Griff painted a black exclamation point on a pale blue pillowcase and attached it to a tree branch, and the flag waves in the breeze. I finish the first book for pleasure in a long time, Alexandra Chang’s “Days of Distraction,” which is brilliant. Even with so little space in my head, so many bad thoughts I try not to consider, I let this book in and I’m so grateful for it.

Authors like Lionel Shriver, Alexander McCall Smith, Laura Lippman and Steph Cha are under coronavirus quarantine too. Here’s what they’re reading.

Monday


There’s no NBA, which was a major source of obsession for me. My friend, the poet Caki Wilkinson, and I created our own league, the Universal Basketball Association, made up of six teams. We drafted current players, made up a 54-game schedule. I paid $30 for a basketball simulator that lets me run games and record stats. Every two days, I put in the teams and the computer spits out the winners. Then I write it up and send it to Caki. Today, the Montreal Moose hand the Las Vegas Gemstones their first loss of the season thanks to a huge game from Anthony Davis (31 pts, 11 reb, 3 asst) and a great defensive effort from Jimmy Butler against the Gemstones’ red-hot Bradley Beal, who usually scores around 30 points a game. The Mexico City Yowzas have still not won a game, and they get thrashed today by the Virginia Beach Vanguard, who boast James Harden, Luka Doncic, Kawhi Leonard and Giannis Antetokounmpo (the team has still somehow managed to lose two games). We cannot figure out why Andre Drummond of the Yowzas pulls down almost 24 rebounds a game. LeBron James, for the Pittsburgh Perfectos, averages less than 11 points a game. Spencer Dinwiddie is a bona fide star. We think maybe we’ve broken the simulator.

I ordered the WWE Network for Patch so we could watch old WrestleManias and Elimination Chambers and Hell in a Cell. It’s been really fun. Patch is most interested in the ways the wrestlers make something look so realistic, how hard they have to work to not hurt each other while making us believe that they are. He loves Kofi Kingston, Ricochet, the high-flyers, but he really loves Randy Orton, whose finisher, the RKO, comes “out of nowhere.” Patch waits and waits for that moment, just when you’ve given up hope, when Orton hits it, prevails, and then basks in the adulation of the crowd. He’s made up his own character, Black Dragon, and we wrestle on the bed. I’m Zeke Brokenwood, from the swamps of Louisiana. This evening, Griff and Patch break the frame of Patch’s bed while executing a body slam, and I spend 30 minutes with a drill. It feels good, to restore something.

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Wilson family favorite Randy Orton awaits a beat-down. Don't try this at home unless isolated for weeks on end.
(WWE)

At night, Leigh Anne and I watch British murder mysteries, anything where someone who isn’t a detective ends up solving the murder. We plan out our next day, figuring out a hike that won’t be populated with other people, picking movie options for the kids to watch. In January, we adopted a cat who lived behind the Blue Chair Cafe & Tavern in downtown Sewanee, Tenn. Her name is Dolly, and she is the most affectionate cat we’ve ever met. She lies between us on the sofa, and she purrs so loudly, twisting her body into the strangest shapes. We know that the days are going to stretch out in front of us, one after the other. It’s OK. We’re OK.

Tuesday

On our hike, Griff picks two dandelion puffs and then asks me to make a video of him. I get out my phone and record. He yells, “I’m an artist,” and then he delicately places each dandelion in his mouth, one and then the other. He blows out a little cloud of fluff, and they hover around his face. It’s beautiful. For a moment, that’s all I think. Later, I’ll be glad that no one was around to see it, the worry it might have caused, to spit into the open air, all those germs. But now we hike into the woods, searching for frogs and lizards, for all the living things moving around us, unseen unless you try to find them.

Clowning with books in the woods: Author Kevin Wilson (left) with his sons Patch and Griff (behind) and wife Leigh Anne Couch.
Clowning with books in the woods: Author Kevin Wilson, left, with sons Patch and Griff, behind, and wife Leigh Anne Couch.
(Kevin Wilson)

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