Our world has changed so much the past few months. To slow the spread of the coronavirus, we’ve been at home for over a month (the stay home order began here in Oregon on March 23rd). Depending what country you live in, perhaps you’ve been at home even longer than that.
I’m so grateful to all the healthcare professionals and essential workers here in the US and around the globe, as they work tirelessly to serve and protect others. It’s undoubtedly a difficult time for everyone, in ways we may not even realize. I’m truly thankful to be safe at home with my family.
Books have been an escape for me since I was a kid. No matter what was going on in my life, I could always get lost in a story. I majored in English in college and then went on to an MFA in Writing, so it’s safe to say I’ve read a lot over the years.
When I first started thinking about what to put on this list, I was unsure where to start. Do I choose something from every genre? Do I share only contemporary books or mix in a few classics? That led me down an endless rabbit hole, so then I simply asked myself: what have I been reading lately?
In this time of uncertainty, I’ve found myself primarily reaching for beloved books or favorite writers, the ones I knew I could count on—the ones who’d been there for me, in other times of turmoil throughout my life. In this time of much-needed escapism, these books transport me to other times and other places, and make me feel inspired even in the face of adversity.
Almost all of these are works of fiction—all but one. But that one feels so perfectly timed for the current state of our world that I simply had to add it.
On a slightly different note, I wanted to provide a link to our local independent bookstore here in Portland, Powell’s Books. I’m not sponsored by them or anything like that, I’ve just honestly been a customer of theirs since I was a kid. Their locations have been closed during this time, but their online store remains open for orders. This is such a tough season for local shops and small businesses, and, if you’re able, I encourage you to support local businesses in your communities.
Without further ado, “What to Read While in Quarantine: Hope, Love, Loss, and a Bit of Time Travel.”
There are two historical fiction novels on this list: The Nightingale and All the Light We Cannot See. Both are beautifully written stories set in World War II, so if you enjoy that era, I couldn’t recommend these two more.
Both novels have strong female protagonists and have overarching themes of love and loss. They do an incredible job with descriptive, elegant language that paints such vivid imagery. I particularly admire the way both novels discuss familial relationships, abandonment, and complex family dynamics during times of great hardship.
All the Light We Cannot See is also an exceptional example of finding light in times of darkness, something that feels especially relevant this year.
Up next is the only work of nonfiction on this list, Everything is F*cked: a Book About Hope. (I paired it with a bottle of whiskey as a quarantine-worthy gift for my best friend’s birthday). This book is from Mark Manson, the bestselling author of The Subtle Art of Not Giving a F*ck, and is written in the same candid, witty style.
Though I’ve just started reading this, I knew it had to make the list because of our current world crisis with the coronavirus. Manson does such a great job of questioning the anxieties and hopelessness we often feel in our modern world, with his signature curse words and straightforward manner. He’s one of those writers that literally makes me laugh out loud, and these days we all could use a little extra humor.
If you want to dip your toes back into some classics without committing to a giant tome, these two novels are on the shorter side (at least when compared to a lot of classic lit).
The Great Gatsby is something a lot of people only read once in a high school English class, and this great American novel is well worth revisiting as an adult. I try to re-read it every few years, and I honestly gain something new with each read through. This tale is such an iconic portrayal of disillusionment and longing that is just as relevant now as it was almost a century ago.
Pride and Prejudice is arguably Jane Austen’s most famous novel and is equal parts charm, wit, and poignancy. Even though the 19th century customs of the English social hierarchy might feel very foreign to a modern reader, the complex portrayal of relationships (both familial and romantic) feels ageless.
Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone (AKA Sorcerer’s Stone here in the US) is, of course, the book that started the international phenomenon. I included it on this list because Harry Potter got me through some very dark days in my childhood and no matter how old I get, the Wizarding World has never lost its wonder or appeal.
The photo above is when we visited the Harry Potter Studio Tour at Warner Bros. in London, back in 2017. I’m standing in the Great Hall, where every single movie was filmed. I might be pushing 30 now, but my love for all things Harry Potter will never cease!
It’s been so fun to revisit the Harry Potter books and movies during this past month at home. After all, if there was ever a time for a bit of escapism and magic, then this would be it.
The final two books on the list are The Time Traveler’s Wife and Outlander. Though both of these novels have time travel as a pivotal element, they’re quite different in most other regards.
I’ve mentioned The Time Traveler’s Wife on the blog before, as it’s one of my all-time favorite novels. I’ve read it many times and, though I do love the star-crossed lovers Henry and Clare, something I’ve long admired is the novel’s structure.
Back in college when I was studying literature, my professors talked a lot about “form contributing to content.” This novel is a prime example of such a notion, as it doesn’t follow a typical chronological timeline. Instead, each section is labeled by its date and point-of-view because the story is told in first person from Henry and Clare’s unique perspectives.
Much in the same way that Henry skips around in time and has no control over what day or year he suddenly finds himself in, we the reader also bounce around in time. One section Clare may be a little girl, and in the next she might be in college or getting married. In this novel, the way that the story is told mirrors the concept of time travel.
As for Outlander, I’m the first to admit that I’m late to the party on this one, but after binging season one of the hit TV show on Stars, I knew I had to read the sensational novel that it’s based on.
Though this novel is quite long at over 800 pages, Diana Gabaldon’s writing is so elegant and descriptive that the page number becomes irrelevant. I love how this story defies genres, since it really has a bit of everything in it—historical fiction, romance, sci-fi, fantasy.
I also find the protagonist Claire Randall to be such a strong and compelling female lead (yes, another main character named Claire, though with a different spelling!). Though some might dismiss this book as “airport fiction,” I truly enjoy the genre-defying storyline, beautiful writing, and historic detail. (And who doesn’t like reading a good love triangle from time to time? 😉)
This list, of course, is personal—I wanted to share books that have been a source of comfort and inspiration to me recently and over the course of my life. If there are books or films that you love, that hold a special place in your heart or bring back happy memories, then that’s what I encourage you to enjoy during these weeks at home. On days when I’m feeling blue or unlike myself, these books have brought encouragement and joy.
And isn’t that part of why we as humans love stories? To find meaning, to connect, to be uplifted?
I’ve always been a bookworm, but I honestly haven’t read this much since grad school. I’ve revisited old “friends” like Elizabeth Bennett, Jay Gatsby, and Harry Potter and discovered a few new ones. I hope these stories provide some escape for you, as they have for me, along with some gems of wisdom and inspiration that—even in times of great darkness—there is always hope and light.
Perhaps Dumbledore said it best in Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban: “Happiness can be found, even in the darkest of times, if one only remembers to turn on the light.”
My thoughts and prayers are with you all. Stay safe and stay well ❤️