These are strange and difficult times – the likes of which have become the subject of numerous science fiction books about pandemics, from A Journal of the Plague Year by Daniel Defoe (1722) to Michael Crichton’s The Andromeda Strain (1969) and The Stand by Stephen King (1978). So, I began wondering what people are reading to help fill their time and mind during this period.

I posed the question on Facebook: “What are you reading? These days we have a lot more time to get lost in a book, a novel or non-fiction. If you could choose one book to recommend, what would it be? Make it something modern (last 50 years) and tell us about it.” 

I heard back from dozens of friends, with varying backgrounds and interests. The list includes a former editor at the NY Times, reporter at the LA Times, local newspaper editors and reporters, radio personalities, and people from varying professions and backgrounds. The list of books is intriguing, and perhaps will spark some interest in readers here. I have not included the names of those recommending books since I did not ask their permission to use their names publicly. This is part 1. Part 2 will follow tomorrow.

So, here’s the list. If you like, add your recommendations.

  • I began with my suggestion, Half of a Yellow Sun by Nigerian author Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie. This historical novel was published in 2006 (made into a movie years later, I think) and tells the story of the Biafran war through the eyes of a family and the small group that surrounds them. The historical references are quite accurate, the writing compelling.
  • On Earth We’re Briefly Gorgeous by Ocean Vuong. Here’s what Heller McAlpin of NPR.org said: “Ocean Vuong’s devastatingly beautiful first novel, as evocative as its title, is a painful but extraordinary coming-of-age story about surviving the aftermath of trauma…Vuong’s language soars as he writes of beauty, survival, and freedom, which sometimes isn’t freedom at all, but ‘simply the cage widening far away from you, the bars abstracted with distance but still there’… The title says it: Gorgeous.” 
  • The Stand by Stephen King. Here’s how Penguin books describes The Stand: “Stephen King’s apocalyptic vision of a world blasted by plague and tangled in an elemental struggle between good and evil remains as riveting and eerily plausible as when it was first published. 
  • I’ll make an exception here and name the contributor. It’s Elliot Krieger, former Book Editor at the Providence Journal who continues to write a blog called Elliotsreading:https://elliotsreading.blogspot.com. So you can go there to learn more about a book he’s re-reading, Light in August by William Faulkner. A quick hint, it was written in 1932. The novel is set in the American South, during Prohibition , and Jim Crow laws that legalized racial segregation in the South. The rest is for you to find out – either through Elliot’s blog or reading the book.
  • A Gentleman in Moscow by Amor Towles, I highly recommend it for creativity on “sheltering in place.” Count Alexander Rostov is sentenced to house arrest in a grand hotel across the street from the Kremlin.
  • Rules of Civility, also by Amor Towles. From the Boston Globe: A ‘sharply stylish’ (Boston Globe) novel of a young woman in post-Depression era New York who suddenly finds herself thrust into high society.
  • All I Know and Love by Judith Frank. From the author’s website: With the storytelling power of Wally Lamb and the emotional fidelity of Lorrie Moore, this is the searing drama of an American family on the brink of dissolution, one that explores adoption, gay marriage, and true love lost and found. For years, Matthew Greene and Daniel Rosen have enjoyed a contented domestic life in Northampton, Massachusetts. Opposites in many ways, they have grown together and made their relationship work. But when they learn that Daniel’s twin brother and sister-in-law have been killed in a Jerusalem bombing, their lives are suddenly, utterly transformed.
  • Code Girls by Liza Mandy. Non-fiction account of women working in code breaking during WWII.
  • The Button Man by Andrew Gross. Goodreads: “Morris, Sol, and Harry Rabinowitz grew up poor but happy in a tiny flat on the Lower East Side, until the death of their father thrust them into having to fend for themselves and support their large family… equal parts historical thriller, rich with the detail of a vibrant New York City in the 1920s and 1930s, and family saga.”
  • In the Hurricane’s Eye by Nathaniel Philbrick. The third book in a Revolutionary War non-fiction trilogy. Not the story you think you know.

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