A List of Books, by Genre, to Help You Through Quarantine (and the Summer)
By Lauren McKinnon
During the summer, especially now in the wake of the COVID-19 pandemic, those with the ability to stay at home may find themselves with more time on their hands. Hypothetically, this could mean more time to write--but not everyone has the luxury of spinning quarantine into a new novel or poem. There are people who are essential workers, risking their own health to protect ours, people who are struggling to make ends meet, and some who may feel creatively snuffed under the weight and pressure of a global pandemic. It’s hard to whip up a Shakespearean sonnet when you’re worried about how to buy groceries or where to find toilet paper. So, instead of providing tips for your prose or fun prompts for your fiction, here is a list of lovely reads. Hopefully, if you have the time and means, these fiction, nonfiction and poetry recommendations may bring a little bit of joy and light into your lives.
1) Tiny Beautiful Things, Cheryl Strayed. This book takes excerpts from Strayed’s time as an advice blogger, and her words are timeless, kind, and understanding. A read you can pick up at any spot to find guidance and authenticity. Her humor, healing, and empathy shine a beacon of well-needed light during this difficult time.
2) Heart Berries, Terese Mailhot. This lyrics style memoir is poetically captivating, and invites readers to stare into Mailhot’s life, a woman and mother who has been through poverty, loss, and abuse. I love this memoir for the way Mailhot refuses to ignore her pain, or claim a resilient air, but instead, invites readers to simply stare at who she is. Trigger warning: Molestation, eating disorder, bipolar disorder, PTSD.
3) The Glass Castle, Jeannette Walls. This has been one of my favorite books since middle school. I believe The Glass Castle was my first love in nonfiction, and is a beautiful memoir about a girl growing up in a neglectful, yet loving, family. The memoir follows Walls’ journey as she grows into a woman and discovers her love for writing.
4) The Book of Delights, Ross Gay. A series of delightful essays from a phenomenal poet, this book is a well needed uplifting escape.
5) Bad Feminist, Roxane Gay. Truly, anything by Gay is incredible, but I love this book because it is easy to pick up anywhere, flip open, and walk into thought-provoking prose. Roxane Gay writes about her thoughts on feminism from a place of authenticity, humor, and intelligence.
1) The Rithmatist, Brandon Sanderson. This fantasy novel takes readers inside a world where some people are born with special gifts--the ability to bring life to chalk drawings. The story focuses on a boy, born without these gifts but incredibly talented in his own ways, solving an action-packed mystery involving the disappearance of his peers. Brandon Sanderson's talent for world creation consumes readers in a story you will be unable to put down. Tension, excitement, mystery, creativity, and friendship await you in this pure pleasure read. Who needs Netflix when you have this much excitement at your fingertips?
2) Heads of the Colored People, Nafissa Thompson-Spires. A series of interwoven short stories, Thompson-Spires words stay with you. She crafts unusual characters full of humor and depth. Trigger warning: self harm, suicide, violence.
3) Where the Crawdads Sing, Delia Owens. When you open and book and sigh because from the first line, it is clear, the author knows that they are doing. Full of rich imagery, this is a story about a girl abandoned by her father, left to raise herself.
4) The Round House, Louise Erdrich. A heart-wrenching story following the perspective of a boy on the cusp of teenagerhood when his mother is assaulted. An important story about real policy still implemented today that prevents many Native American women from receiving justice after an assault. Trigger warning: Sexual assault, violent assault.
5) The Giver of Stars, Jojo Moyes. Most recommended from my mother’s book club, this novel follows the lives of five women who travel through the mountains of Kentucky to deliver library books during the Depression era. Based on a true story, you are guaranteed to fly through this book.
1) New and Selected Poems, Vol. 1. Mary Oliver. Oliver is one of my favorite poets, she writes with honesty and beauty. I like this book because it has a mixture of poems released only in this edition as well as beloved poems such as Wild Geese reprinted from her previous books.
2) Inside the Animal, Shanan Ballam. Ballam takes a dark and unique spin on the well-known little red riding hood tale through a series of poems, offering perspectives from characters both beloved and overlooked. I love how raw and personal all of Ballam’s writing feels, and her book Pretty Marrow is an additional phenomenal read.
3) Life on Mars, Tracy K. Smith. Inspired by her father who worked on Hubble’s telescope, Smith crafts a beautiful string of poems that are quite literally out of this universe. This book is a quick read, the images she spins are mesmerizing. I highly recommend flipping through the pictures taken from Hubble’s telescope during or after this read.
4) On Love and Barley, Basho. Hiakus are a beautiful, introspective form of poetry. I like this book because it is easy to wake up, start your day reading a couple of pages, and feel teleported into another world of thought and beauty.
5) From Totems to Hip-Hop, edited by Ishmael Reed. I love this book. A large collection of multicultural poems from varying poets. Some of my favorites include, The Last Days of the Slow Cooker, by Mursalata Muhammad and A Place without Shame by David Baraza. Baraza’s verses are bound to get stuck in your head.
Hopefully you will read books from this list that will bring joy, light, laughter, and good tears into your life. If you do not have the time or the emotional capacity to start a new book, do not feel embarrassment or shame. Everyone copes in different ways, and I am sure a lot of you are dealing with stress. The important thing to remember is that we are not alone and this pandemic will not last forever. Happy reading, napping, Netflixing, or whatever self-care I hope you will find time for.