Weeks 1-3 of social distancing were full of projects for me. Then, during weeks 4 and 5, I fell deep into a reading hole and pretty much only came out to eat, sleep, shower, and work my day job. Now we’re on week six and I have some semblance of balance again but am still reading a ton. Amanda suggested we do a post of recommendations of books to read while isolating, so here we are.
To figure out what I wanted to cover in this post I started pulling books of my shelves. Then I realized how quickly my stack was growing and asked Amanda how many books were too many. (The answer is actually that there are never too many books, but I have to cut the post of somewhere or I’ll be so busy writing about books I won’t get to read any more.) Amanda said twenty, so here are twenty books to read while isolating (we agreed that series can count as one entry). As I was grabbing books I realized that the common thread across the whole stack is all these books made me feel something. These are books that give me hope, make my heart ache, make me feel less alone, and give me a place to escape to when I don’t like the real world so much.
- The G.O.A.T.: Harry Potter (the whole series) by J. K. Rowling. I know this one is kind of obvious, but I also couldn’t leave it off the list. We can all use a little magic sometimes, and this one ticks all the boxes.
- My favorite book, ever: The Night Circus by Erin Morgenstern. Erin Morgenstern’s writing is some of the most beautiful writing I’ve ever read. Her settings are extremely vivid. The Night Circus is about two magicians who are locked in a duel, and the circus is the arena. When you finish this one, check out Morgenstern’s other book, The Starless Sea, which is what I was reading in week 4 of social distancing.
- The one with the quirky, artsy timeline: One Day by David Nicholls. One Day follows the relationship between the two main characters for twenty years, but only covers one day of each year-the anniversary of the day they met. I love things with unconventional timelines (500 Days of Summer is another favorite), so this is another of my favorite books. The long time frame of the book helps it capture the complexities of human relationships.
- A science-y book to make you think: Contact by Carl Sagan. This book begins with a scientist discovers a signal that might indicate the existence of extraterrestrial life and follows the ensuing events. It touches on science, religion, and sociology in a way that really made me think.
- The Pulitzer Prize Winner: Less by Andrew Sean Greer. Less follows its titular character’s trip around the world as he attempts to avoid his ex’s wedding. Arthur Less doesn’t seem like anything special, but it is the process of getting to know and love him that makes this book a great read.
- The niche memoir: Coming to My Senses by Alyssa Harad. Harad chronicles her journey into the world of perfume in a way that makes you feel like you’ve never really smelled anything before. I loved reading this and thinking about a sense I tend to undervalue in my day-to-day life.
- The simplicity/minimalist memoir: The Year of Less by Cait Flanders. Whether you’re a minimalist, a maximalist, or somewhere in between, this book is great for making us consider our consumer habits. Flanders gave up shopping and got rid of a majority of her belongings over the course of a year and explores how the experiment affected her lifestyle and perspective.
- The artsy thriller: The Art Forger by B. A. Shapiro. This is a great thriller for anyone who likes books in the vein of The Da Vinci Code, but it will be especially engrossing for anyone with an interest in art or art history. The Art Forger is about an artist who is hired to forge a stolen masterpiece, only to begin questioning if the masterpiece is itself a forgery. Shapiro manages to work in details about how curators validate paintings and how forgers fake paintings in a really interesting way.
- If short stories are more your speed: Difficult Women by Roxane Gay. This collection of short stories dives into a series of women and their personal challenges and experiences. There are elements of magical realism in some stories, too. Read it for writing that isn’t afraid to let women be more than the pretty love interest.
- To fill the gaps from your adolescent favorites: Read the All Souls Trilogy by Deborah Harkness, which starts with A Discovery of Witches. This book has vampires, witches, and another class of magical creature called daemons. It spans alchemy, genetics, history, and magic, with a healthy dose of romance thrown in. After you read it, check out the TV adaptation of the first book on Sundance.
- The classic to revisit: Pride and Prejudice by Jane Austen. I almost didn’t put this one on the list because it seemed too obvious, but to me this is the comfort food of literary classics so I’m sticking with it. You can also make it a full study and watch the Keira Knightly version (worth it for the hand flex scene alone-if you know you know!) and then the six hour BBC adaptation. That should fill some quarantine time!
- All the feels: Call Me by Your Name by Andre Acimon. This book left my heart aching in a way that was simultaneously painful and transcendent. It tells the story of a teenager in Italy who develops an attraction to his family’s summer house guest. It captures adolescent desire and romance in a way that only a main character in his teens can.
- Revisit an old favorite: The Sisterhood of the Traveling Pants series by Ann Brashares. I reread this series almost every summer in high school. To me it is the epitome of nostalgia, and I love how it celebrates female friendship.
- The unputdownable nerd adventure: Ready Player One by Ernest Cline. This book is basically a celebration of nerdom written by a nerd, for nerds. I loved it. It’s about a race to solve a series of puzzles within a globally adopted virtual reality system. The grand prize is inheritance of the creator of the VR’s fortune. It’s a bit cheesy at times, but that’s part of what makes it endearing. Fun Fact: Ernest Cline drives a real-life version of the Delorean described in the book.
- A childhood classic: Ella Enchanted by Gail Carson Levine. This is another book I reread almost every year growing up, and still reread every few years as an adult. It’s a retelling of the Cinderella story, but with the twist that Ella has been cursed to obey every command given her. As a kid I loved that Ella was kind and clever and strong-willed, and I still do.
- My most recommended fantasy series: A Court of Thorns and Roses by Sarah J. Maas. Be warned, once you start this series you won’t be able to put them down until you’re done. The series is an original trilogy, plus a novella that forms a bridge to a forthcoming spinoff. (My girlfriends and I are hoping we get the next book some time this year). In its world there are humans, and there are Fae-powerful faeries that are more like LOTR elves than Tinkerbell fairies. I don’t want to give anything away so I won’t say very much, but this book checks all the fantasy boxes for me and has a great feminist lead too. In social distancing week 5 I read House of Earth and Blood, the first book of Maas’ newest series, and I can’t recommend that one enough as well.
- My favorite nonficiton book, ever: Joyful by Ingrid Fetell Lee. Ingrid Fetell Lee has spent the last ten years researching joy and things that make people feel joyful, and uses this book to outline ten aesthetic themes that tend to elicit feelings of joy. This is such a fun topic to read about, and the examples of each of the themes are incredibly interesting and inspiring. This is the only nonfiction book to ever make it into my top three favorite books list.
- The most perfect murder mystery: And Then There Were None by Agatha Christie. Up until the last moment that the murderer was revealed, I could not figure out this mystery. It’s about ten strangers who are isolated on an island in a storm and begin dying one by one. Agatha Christie is truly the queen of mystery, and this book proves it.
- To make you feel cultured: Much Ado About Nothing by William Shakespeare. This comedy is my favorite Shakespeare play. The characters are witty, the romance is sweet, and it’s just a good time. Watching the Joss Whedon adaptation that came out a few years ago is high on my quarantine to-do list.
- The cookbook: Salt, Fat, Acid, Heat by Samin Nosrat. Even though this is technically a cookbook, I’m counting it as something to read because the first two-thirds or so are about the elements of good cooking (spoiler alert: they’re salt, fat, acid, and heat). Only the end is really recipes. This book changed the way I think about cooking in a way that made me a better and more intuitive cook. The way it’s written is also really accessible for people like me who have no formal cooking training. Once you finish reading, check out Nosrat’s Netflix documentary series of the same name.
Well, there you have it! 20 books to read while isolating. Have you read any of the books on the list already? What are you reading right now? We’d love to connect on social media-I could talk about books all day. Please also consider subscribing to our email list to get a weekly roundup of our most recent posts. I do a quarterly recap of what I’ve been reading, so check it out if you’re looking for more book inspiration! You can find the Q1 recap post here.
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