Our Pandemic Reading List
Originally published Spring 2020.
We always have a lot of fun putting together our summer book picks, but this year the task felt almost… dire.
Life as We Know It is feeling very far behind us at this point, and the summer is shaping up to look and feel very different than what any of us had planned. With camp, school, work, travel and, well, pretty much everything else up in the air, all I can say is: thank god for books.
Hopefully, our carefully-curated reading list can bring you some solace, comfort, and escape this summer. You deserve it, parents.Divert yourself, and enjoy every page. 🙂
Quarantine Reading List
If you’re ready for a love affair with the forest: The Overstory, Richard Powers
The Overstory is a rich, beautifully-written saga of human life overlaid atop the eminent forests of the Pacific Northwest. Powers’ novel reads like a gripping ballad to the trees, whose roots elegantly unite an eclectic and interesting cast of characters.
If you prefer to listen to it: The Dutch House, Ann Patchett
Ann Patchett’s newest release really might be her best yet. The Dutch House follows the story of one family’s life and stately Philadelphia home over the span of a generation. This impressive literary production is a relatable coming-of-age story with a dysfunctional family undergirding — you won’t want to put it down. *Tom Hanks narrates the audio version perfectly, so listen to it if you can.
If you’re thinking about what it means to be an American: The Travelers, Regina Porter
Porter’s first novel follows the intersecting lives of two complicated families (one African-American, the other white), from the 1950s through the Obama administration. Brimming with historical imagination, The Travelers’ action-packed plot follows full-bodied, authentic characters through tragedy, love, friendship, and all the ordinariness in between.
If this has you inching toward a mid-life crisis: I Miss You When I Blink, Mary Laura Philpott
This beautiful book of essays reads like your best girlfriend’s memoir — funny, smart, and imminently relatable. Anyone who’s questioning what “success” looks like will appreciate Philpott’s honest take on how it really feels to “have it all”… and how to move forward with grace, love, and good humor.
If you want a juicy story about friendship: How Could She, Lauren Mechling
How Could She is your classic summer beach read — it’s rich with detail and has all the right ingredients: drama, scandal, success, failure, love, jealousy. This book follows three BFFs who reconnect in their mid-30s and acerbically catalogues the details of the triad’s thick relationship dynamics. Like dispatches on the complications of female identity and friendship today, this book is such a timely escape.
If you want an addicting story about friendship and new motherhood: Friends and Strangers, J. Courtney Sullivan
Sullivan’s newest novel is one you’ll want to devour all at once. It follows the intertwined stories of Elisabeth, a new mom in a new neighborhood, and her babysitter Sam, a local and lovable college student. With its passing references to things like the My Brest Friend pillow, pumping and dumping, and sleepless nights, plus its rich exploration of motherhood and self, community, and fertility treatments, Friends and Strangers is refreshingly relatable… plus it is seriously is addicting.
If you’ve been rocking out to Patti Smith, Janis Joplin, or Stevie Nicks: Daisy Jones and the Six, Taylor Jenkins Reid
This novel about a fictitious 1970s rock band is… addicting. And sex, drugs, and rock ’n’ roll are only the beginning — based on hundreds of hours of oral interviews, this book goes backstage, off stage, on tour and everything in between. It’s the real deal. If you weren’t into 70s music beforehand, you will be soon enough. (Pssst — word on the street is that it’s also Reese Witherspoon’s new pet project for an Amazon miniseries.)
If you’re in the mood for a mystery: Disappearing Earth, Julia Phillips
Set against the frigid and iconic landscape of far northeastern Russia, this haunting and sophisticated book will probably keep you up at night (reading, not biting your nails). When two young sisters suddenly go missing, the women in their community all respond differently — Disappearing Earth chronicles their stories and the evocative, multi-dimensional piecing together of the past that happens when things go amiss.
If you’re looking for a laugh: Adult Conversation, Brandy Ferner
Hot off the press, this novel about April, a sarcastic young mom with a thing or two to say about the modern culture of motherhood, is sure to make you laugh, smile, and nod in agreement all the way through. Honest, real, and acerbic.
If you want to get lost in a different outbreak: The Dreamers, Karen Thompson Walker
This strangely prescient and imaginative book follows what happens when a communicable disease that causes unending sleep emerges in a small college town. Chilling, eerie, and yet ravishing, The Dreamers will bend your sense of reality past its current gauge — surreal, right? — and into dreamlike.
For a bold twist on historical fiction: The Archive of Alternate Endings, Lindsey Drager
This sweeping reimagination of watershed moments in human history is as brilliant as it is bewildering. Drager somehow weaves together fairytale (Hansel and Gretel), the cosmos (Halley’s Comet), printed word (the Gutenberg family), illness (the AIDS epidemic), and more in this monumental philosophical time warp. Prepare for a mind trip.
If you’re rethinking what and how to feed your children: Kid Food: The Challenge of Feeding Children in a Highly Processed World, Bettina Elias Siegal
This eye-opening book explores the problem of trying to raise healthy eaters in a world saturated with crappy processed food, aggressive and exploitative food advertising and cultural norms that celebrate callow eating habits (can you tell where I stand here?). Kid Food is down-to-earth, informative, compelling and compassionate — the New York Times called it a “blueprint for how to raise healthy eaters in a fast-food culture.” Umm — yes, please. Read it before your next pandemic trip to the grocery store.
Because we all need a feel-good project right about now: Cozy: The Art of Arranging Yourself in the World, Isabel Gillies
In the tradition of Marie Kondo, Isabel Gillies’s uplifting book makes the case for cozy. Gillies’s tone is partly prescriptive, partly therapeutic, partly tough love, partly social scientific, and partly pep talk-y (to summarize: the tone is your fairy godmother). “Cozy isn’t just something that exists,” she says — “you have to make cozy happen.” This book tells you how. Authentic, warm-hearted, meditative, and practical, Cozy feels like the book we all really need right now.
If you missed it: The Immortalists, Chloe Benjamin
This suspenseful and stunning book follows the fates of four siblings who visit a fortune-teller together as young children. It’s graphic, dark, and spellbinding. You will become obsessed.
If you missed this, too: The Interestings, Meg Wolitzer
God I love Meg Wolitzer. The Interestings is a few years old, but SUCH a perfect, rich book for an escape. It’s a cliquey coming-of-age story about a group of artsy and talented friends who meet as teenagers at a beloved summer camp. The characters are so relatable, and everything about this book will remind you of something — I swear. It’s unbelievably… human. (The audiobook narrator nails it, too, so The Interestings is another great title to listen to.)
Annnd that’s a wrap! Happy reading, friends — there’s nothing like a good book in times of duress. If you have a suggestion to add, we’d love for you to share it in the comments below. 🙂
Thank you for this list! I’m always looking for books to read. But “The Dutch House” is set outside of Philadelphia, not the Midwest! Happy reading!
Thanks, Janette — facepalm!
YES! Have read or want to read many on this list, and every single thing by Ann Patchett and Meg Wolitzer. The Interestings was the first I read by Wolitzer (my entreee into her…I also love really connect with The Ten Year Nap), and I’ve never stopped. I list The Interestings as a favorite too. Great list.
Funny, I read it months ago but would say it was much more the NY side of NJ versus the Philly side. Perhaps not geographically, but a lot of the story happens in NYC.