If you’re like me, you’re probably having a hard time reading anything during this anxious time of self-isolation and social distancing. I’m a big mood reader, so, as I’m not exactly in the mood for anything at the moment, I’m having a hard time determining new reads to pick up. Also, as I’ve no source of income at the moment, I’ve put myself on a strict “no-buy” ban, so I’m sifting through the 40-ish unread books I own and trying to decide what I’m most interested in. On the other hand, I know some folks who find themselves with an abundance of free time are absolutely breezing through novels at an impossible rate! (I’m VERY jealous of these people–tell me how you do it!!)
Regardless of how much (or how little) you’re reading right now, I thought I’d share some of my personal book recommendations with you. Whether you want to escape into a magical world or dive into an engrossing historical novel, here are my top picks!
Works of magical realism tend to pull me in quickly; I love being fully immersed in a unique world, tearing through pages to find out what will happen in the end. Erin Morgenstern’s THE NIGHT CIRCUS is an absolute dream to read, with beautiful writing and a magical plot. Another of my recommendations is Haruki Murakami’s KAFKA ON THE SHORE, a Japanese novel in translation; KAFKA is quirky, meditative, and hypnotic, exactly what you need if you’re looking for a true escape at the moment.
If you find yourself looking for a fully literary read that demands a bit of brain power, consider DISAPPEARING EARTH by Julia Phillips. Disguised as a mystery, Phillips’ debut is a slow-burn thriller about two young girls who go missing on the remote Russian peninsula Kamchatka; it’s incredibly atmospheric and thought-provoking. Also along these lines is GINGERBREAD by Helen Oyeyemi; heavily influenced by traditional fairy tales like “Hansel and Gretel,” Oyeyemi’s latest novel is a bit of a chore to get through yet rewarding in the end.
I’ve found there are two sorts of readers in a pandemic: those who want to read pandemic fiction, and those who will do anything to avoid it. If you’re the former, consider picking up one of my favorites, SEVERANCE by Ling Ma, about a fever that originates in China and spreads like wildfire, or Emily St. John Mandel’s STATION ELEVEN, a fan favorite featuring a nomadic Shakespearean troupe of actors traveling North America twenty years after a flu outbreak.
Historical fiction is the genre I most often find fully-engrossing stories; these two are books that I absolutely could not put down! First up, DAISY JONES & THE SIX by Taylor Jenkins Reid, which tells the story of a Fleetwood Mac-esque band and their break-up in the ’70s; given it’s script-like storytelling format, it’s a quick, engaging read. I’d also recommend John Boyne’s THE HEART’S INVISIBLE FURIES, an absolute epic, and another that I could not put down (despite its 500+ pages).
I’ve personally been turning toward contemporary romance stories lately; there’s just something about the feel-good happily ever afters that puts my mind at ease. Two of my favorites are Jen DeLuca’s WELL MET, an enemies-to-lovers tale which takes place at a Renaissance Faire (!!!), and THE KISS QUOTIENT by Helen Hoang, a fake relationship story (featuring a diverse cast of characters and an autism rep!) reminiscent of a gender-swapped Pretty Woman. Both are well-written with characters you’ll fall in love with.
Sometimes, in times of trouble, it’s good to remind yourself that other crises exist in the world. A recent nonfiction favorite is SHE SAID by Jodi Kantor and Megan Twohey, who tell the story behind their New York Times investigation into Harvey Weinstein. Or, try Patrick Radden Keefe’s SAY NOTHING, a detailed history and investigation into The Troubles, the conflict between Catholics and Protestants in Northern Ireland during the late twentieth century. Both are great reads to remind you we’ll get through this.