What To Read While Quarantined
Updated: Apr 9
There are so, so many amazing books out there that it can be really hard to narrow the list down and decide what you want to sink into, especially at a time like this. Whether you want total escapism, or something that makes you think deeply about the situation we're in now, I've got you covered. Here are a few recommendations on what to order/download/find in your local Little Free Library.
(Photo: Felix Edouard Vallotton, Woman Lying Down and Reading, 1904)
Just for fun:
The Shades of Magic Trilogy, by V.E. Schwab (2015-2017) - Fiction
One of my favorite reads in recent years. The world-building is on point. The series follows Kell, a magician who has the rare ability to travel between four parallel Londons - Red, Grey, White, and Black. Kell and friend Delilah Bard fight to stay alive, and to stop the spread of dark magic. (Rumor has it a movie adaptation is in the works)
The Night Circus, by Erin Morgenstern (2011) - Fiction
"The circus arrives without warning... It is called Le Cirque des Rêves, and it is only open at night." Two young magicians, Celia & Marco, follow the paths their instructors have set out for them - a fated duel that places themselves and the rest of the performers and patrons at risk; and only one can come out alive. The visuals in this book are stunning, and I hope they make a movie/series out of this some day!
The Flavia de Luce Mystery Series, by Alan Bradley (2009-2019) - Fiction
There are 11 Flavia de Luce novels (I have read all but the most recent one from 2019). The series follows a young girl, Flavia, living in a small English village with her father and two older, disagreeable sisters. Somehow (not unlike Jessica Fletcher), there always seem to be murders wherever Flavia goes... and of course she is always the most adept at solving them!
Round Ireland with a Fridge, by Tony Hawks (1998) - Non-Fiction
Hawks lost a (drunken) bet with a friend. As a result, he had to hitchhike around Ireland... with a small refrigerator. He begins in Dublin and visits every county along the perimeter of the island, then back to Dublin. "In their month of madness, Tony and his fridge met a real prince, a bogus king, and the fridge got christened." It's especially enjoyable if you've been to Ireland and can practically see and hear the crazy cast of characters he meets along the way. (There was also a movie made in 2010, which my ex's cousin in Sligo made an appearance in!)
Thoughtful, and beautifully written:
Homegoing, by Yaa Gyasi (2016) - Fiction
I love a book that follows generations of the same family, all intertwining in different ways throughout the years. Homegoing follows the very different lives of the two daughters of an Asante woman in Ghana. One daughter, Effie, marries a British governor, and her descendants remain in Ghana, while her sister Esi is captured and sold to America as a slave. The following chapters follow generation after generation of their children, eventually leading to some of those future generations meeting again.
Time's Arrow, by Martin Amis (1991) - Fiction
This one takes some real concentration, as it is written entirely in reverse chronology. The main character, Tod Friendly, becomes younger as the novel progresses, and each small thing he does is backwards. (For example, Tod works as a physician, and the narrator recounts patients starting off healthy and then growing ill due to his actions.) "Our narrator’s identity changes several times as he gets younger and younger. These shifting aliases add to our sense that the book’s protagonist has something to hide or someone to hide from."
Safekeeping: Some True Stories From a Life, by Abigail Thomas (2000) - Non-Fiction Vignettes
This is a beautiful little memoir written in brief, elegant passages of prose (some four pages long, others just a paragraph). Thomas looks back at her life and tries to parse out who the young woman was who married and had children at a young age, and how that relates to who she is today, a grandmother with three marriages under her belt. The book is by no means only for those who've had children &/or been married (I loved it, and I've done neither). The truth of her realizations is universal. (This book was chosen by Writers & Books' Debut Novel Series author Mira Jacob for the Turning Pages Readers Circle)
Code Name Verity, by Elizabeth Wein (2012) - Historical Fiction
This is an easy but great read. It is technically a Young Adult novel, but that label never stops me from reading great books! Written in a series of confessional journal entries by a spy, Julie (code name: Verity), who is captured by the Nazis in German-occupied France, the book follows the friendship of Julie and pilot Maddie, and their harrowing adventures as British intelligence.
For the serious, dive-right-in crowd:
The Empathy Exams, by Leslie Jamison (2014) - Non-Fiction Essays
Jamison draws from her own life experiences to discuss and pose questions about how we should care for one another, and feel each other's pain. "From poverty tourism to phantom diseases, street violence to reality television, illness to incarceration," the book looks at empathy (from the Greek em, meaning into, and pathos, meaning feeling) as a means to connect to others, and to ourselves. (Another Turning Pages Readers Circle pick, this one chosen by Rochester Reads author Rene Denfeld)
Station Eleven, By Emily St. John Mandel (2014) - Fiction... or is it?!
Judging by the "trending" movies & shows that Netflix wants me to watch, people like apocalyptic stories during a pandemic. So, if you're that sort, you should definitely dig into Station Eleven. I read this book when it first came out (thanks for the recommendation, Dorothy!), and then again a few years later with my book club, Writers & Books' Book Thieves. The book starts off with a pandemic, then follows multiple different characters as they make their way through an entirely changed world. It would be a hard read, just now, and yet the overarching theme is: life goes on.
Blindness, by Jose Saramago (1995) - Fiction
Another epidemic book following the stories of multiple characters who are stricken with a contagious blindness, which affects almost everyone in the city. It is about the widespread panic after the onset of blindness, the quarantine of many individuals in an old, abandoned asylum, and the subsequent complete societal breakdown that follows. Again, a hard read for right now, but an interesting thought experiment. (Turning Pages Readers Circle book chosen by Rochester Reads author Karen Thompson Walker)
The Ghost Map: The Story of London's Most Terrifying Epidemic - and How It Changed Science, Cities, and the Modern World, by Steven Johnson (2006) - Non-Fiction
See my review from a few weeks ago here.
In Cold Blood, by Truman Capote (1965) - Non-Fiction
Nothing to do with the current pandemic, just a good, deep, difficult story...
"Four shotgun blasts that, all told, ended six human lives." It's certainly not an uplifting story, but if you like true-crime, it's sort of the ultimate read (apparently, it's the second-best-selling true crime book in history). Compulsively researched and precisely written, the book tells the story of the murder of four family members in a small, rural town in Kansas in 1959.