Recommended Reading: Books in the Time of Corona(virus)

Greetings from the Great Indoors! During this time of confinement—whether it be self-imposed or government-mandated—a healthy stack of reading material can make the hours fly. Readers have always found pleasure and escapism in the pages of their books, and there is no better time to dust off your overflowing TBR pile than quarantine. Regardless of whether you’d prefer to meet the apocalypse head-on or pull a comfort read off the shelf, here are some recommendations from my library to yours.

Square Haunting by Francesca Wade

Group biographies are a perfect fit our modern times. In the internet age, connecting the dots between our favorite writers has never been easier, but let Francesca Wade do it for you. In Square Haunting, Wade tells the stories of five radical women who made London’s Mecklenberg Square home between the World Wars: imagist poet HD, mystery writer Dorothy L. Sayers, historian Eileen Power, classicist Jane Harrison, and the illustrious Virginia Woolf. In chronicling how each woman found solace and power in “a room of one’s own,” in Mecklenberg Square, Wade also reveals the ways in which they attempted to reconcile how they personally wanted to live with society’s broader picture of traditional feminity.

Severance by Ling Ma

A zombie apocalypse. An office satire. An indictment of late-stage capitalism. A love story. Severance is all of these things. Candace Chen— a 20-something, first-generation Chinese American—works in publishing. Managing the supply chain between Shenzen, China and the U.S. for Bible production is deadly boring. And then it actually becomes deadly. The Shen Fever transforms people into zombies, doomed to repeat quotidian tasks until their bodies give out. When New York becomes the breeding ground for the outbreak in the U.S., life as we know it falls apart. Executives flee. The news cycle breaks down. Candace, however, agrees to stay behind to supervise the corporate office in exchange for a major payout. Sound familiar? Sometimes the best way to handle reality is to confront it head-on, and there’s no book more prescient on my shelves. If you’re interested, check out my interview with Ma for Shondaland!

84 Charing Cross Road by Helene Hanff

Now that we’re all separated and sequestered away in our various abodes, epistolary structure hits the spot. We’re all pen pals now! Helene Hanff, a freelance writer based in New York, gets in touch with Frank Doel of London’s Marks & Co. regarding their second-hand book selection. A transactional exchange transforms into a 20-year transatlantic correspondence replete with Arthur Quiller-Couch, Chaucer, and a potentially offensive six-pound ham. If you’re looking for a laugh, look no further! 84 Charing Cross Road had me in fits of giggles that even a stern glance from my resident feline could not silence.

Emma by Jane Austen

Take a cue from Regency rules of etiquette and respect that six-foot barrier! Austen heroines are the reigning queens of social distancing, and there is no better time to get acquainted. Once Emma Woodhouse sets her heart on matchmaking, there’s no stopping her. Emma, the Queen Bee of her sleepy hamlet, goes to elaborate lengths to arrange the lives of those around her— namely, her new friend Harriet Smith and the eligible vicar Mr. Elton. Hijinks ensue. I’ve never felt very rah-rah where Emma was concerned. Even Jane Austen admitted it, describing Emma as “[a] heroine whom no one but myself will much like.” Yet, 180 pages in, I have to confess that I love her. After all, Emma’s obsessions are not so unlike our modern preoccupations with swiping through dating apps and measuring our likes. Is Emma Woodhouse a reflection of our own times, albeit better dressed? Maybe.

Looking for more? Here are some other popular quarantine reads:

  • War and Peace by Leo Tolstoy: Yiyun Li and A Public Space are teaming up to lead a #TolstoyTogether reading group of War and Peace via Twitter. Check it out!
  • On Being 40(ish): Fifteen Writers on the Prime of Their Lives edited by Lindsey Mead: The fabulous Emma Gannon started a book club! The Hyphen Book Club meets via Instagram Live, starting with On Being 40ish.
  • In Search of Lost Time by Marcel Proust: You always said you’d read it (or was that just me?). Now you’ve got nothing but time.
  • Love in the Time of Cholera by Gabriel García Márquez: We’ve all watched the movie, but…

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