Spring Reading List: My Quarantine Book Stack
Now that we’re all stuck at home, it’s time to get stuck into reading. Here are 12 books I’m reaching for during these uncertain times — whether my aim is to escape or to learn.
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Reading has always been my go-to staying-in activity. Picture being tucked under a blanket on a rainy day with a hot cup of tea and the next thing that springs to mind is probably a book. Snow day? Give me a book to read. Stuck on a train for a couple of hours? You bet I have a book on hand.
These days, thanks to the coronavirus outbreak, we’re all staying in a little more than usual. Our routines have taken quite a turn, and it’s safe to say most of us are feeling a bit lost in this new everyday. With so much free time on our hands, the days can seem long and lonely. And the anxiety-inducing nonstop news cycle doesn’t help, either.
Books can help. Whether your goal for this quarantine is to stay distracted and just get through it, or if you want to upskill and finetune your habits, there’s a book out there for you. An afternoon spent reading means you can ditch the news and indulge in some healthy escapism. You can take your mind for a wander through a gripping crime novel or that fantasy series you’ve been wanting to reread since you were a teen. You can use this free time to finally declutter your house and keep only the items that spark joy. And you can forget — even just for a few hours — that we’re in the middle of a pandemic.
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Where to find books now that all the stores are closed
It goes without saying that getting your hands on new books isn’t exactly straightforward right now. Libraries, being public spaces, were some of the first to close their doors. Independent local bookshops have largely followed suit, and even online retailers are rethinking staying open for business. It’s all in the interest of health and safety after all, and we must all play our part. Still, businesses are counting on us more than ever to stay afloat — and bookstores are no different.
So where can we still find books in the middle of this pandemic, and do it safely?
Thankfully, there are still a few ways to get your (washed and sanitised) hands on some good books. Here’s a list of six.
1. Find online retailers that still offer delivery
The usual suspects are The Book Depository and Amazon, but you can buy locally too. Some indie bookstores are finding inventive ways of delivering books to self-isolating customers, such as skateboard or bicycle delivery. You can also shop from independent bookstores near you through websites like Indie Bound or Bookshop.org. You can also check Instagram or reach out to your local favourites to see if they’re delivering — every sale counts for small local businesses.
2. Listen to audiobooks
Although they’re not really my cup of tea, I completely get the appeal. So many of you have told me on Instagram that audiobooks are your go-to while stuck at home. They help make the place seem less quiet! Plus, you can listen to them while doing mindless household chores. Audible has a great selection, and you can get your first audiobook for free to try it out.
3. Download some ebooks
When physical books are out of reach, ebooks can really save the day. If you’re a Kindle convert, you’re well used to them by now — and you can now avail of all those Kindle sales on Amazon! But you can enjoy reading ebooks on your phone or tablet just as easily. I’ve been devouring books on my phone for years, and actually find myself reading so much faster this way. Plus, I love the easy ways to highlight text and make notes without ruining the book.
Usually, I use the Moon+ Reader app on my phone, and buy epub books online. You don’t have to splash out the cash though — there are loads of classics available online for free on websites such as Gutenberg. You can also rent ebooks with a Scribd membership or for free through your local library app. And speaking of those…
4. Check out your local library app
I’ve hailed its praises before, but I’ll say it again: finding out that my local library is part of the BorrowBox app changed the game for me. The app allows me to rent 5 ebooks and 5 audiobooks at a time. There’s a huge choice and most of the books have a short waiting time — and because it’s free, I don’t mind waiting. Libraries across the US have their own equivalent apps too — so get in touch with your local library and find out if you could avail of this!
5. Shop your shelf
If you’re anything like me, you probably have a dozen books on your shelf that you’ve never even opened. What better way to spend the quarantine days than making your way through all of those to-be-reads? While browsing your bookshelf, you might also unearth some old favourites that you want to dive back into this spring. There’s something so comforting about visiting a fictional world that’s already familiar — and we need all of those little comforts right now. In fact, I may just have to add the Harry Potter series to my quarantine list!
6. Host a postal book exchange with your friends (if it’s safe to do so!)
If one of your friends is a massive bookworm, why not send each other book mail during the quarantine? If it’s safe to leave the house, making an occasional trip to the post office to send a book to a friend is a fun way to stay in touch and get some new reading material all at once.
Now that we’ve talked about all the ways to get your hands on new reading material, let me tell you all about my quarantine stack.
My Quarantine Stack: Fiction
Commonwealth — Ann Patchett
The story of Commonwealth spans half a century, following the lives of four parents and six step-siblings. It’s a family drama of childhood innocence and its loss, parental difficulties and shortcomings, the bonds of family and friendship, and the various short and long term repercussions of separations and divorces on family dynamics.
The Dutch House — Ann Patchett
Another Ann Patchett novel, The Dutch House weaves past and present to tell the story of two siblings exiled from their childhood home by their new stepmother following their father’s death. The Dutch House is not just a building but a character in itself, a richly developed status symbol, changing in meaning as the story goes on. I’ve always loved the idea of place as a character — one of my favourite books I read in college was The Haunting of Hill House, which perfectly emulates this trope. As for The Dutch House, the audiobook is narrated by Tom Hanks — all the more reason to get the audiobook.
The Song of Achilles — Madeline Miller
The Song of Achilles is a heartbreakingly beautiful telling of a familiar story. Set in ancient Greece, it tells the story of young hero Achilles and his friend and companion, Patroclus. Miller explores the themes of love, honour, war and fame on a canvas she paints best: at the intersection of immortality and humanity, where heroes, gods and mortals meet.
Daisy Jones and the Six — Taylor Jenkins Reid
You’d be forgiven for thinking Daisy Jones and the Six was a real rock and roll band in the 1970s after reading this book. I had to Google it twice just to be sure — that’s how real it feels. The story is told interview-style, adding a Rolling Stone feel and allowing the reader to deduce the truth from the band members’ inconsistent statements. The story is beautiful and heartbreaking, yet wildly entertaining.
Taylor Jenkins Reid has truly mastered the creation of complex, wanting characters on a pop culture background. I loved reading The Seven Husbands of Evelyn Hugo, which follows the life of a Hollywood actress across her seven marriages — the whole point being that there’s so much more to her character than that particular statistic. This one is just as brilliant, and the perfect escape when you’re stuck in self-isolation.
Outline — Rachel Cusk
Outline is a story told in ten conversations between a writer teaching a course in Athens and the people she meets along the way. It reads philosophically but still holds its ground as a story, outlining human desires for self-expression and self-storytelling. Throughout, the narrator remains just that — an outline. She is never described outright but instead is deduced by the reader through her reactions to her well-spoken conversation partners’ stories. Outline is first in a trilogy, and I have already picked up the second book in the series.
My Quarantine Stack: Nonfiction
Atomic Habits — James Clear
If this isn’t the perfect time to hit the reset button on your daily routines and habits, I don’t know what is. But James Clear’s philosophy is not one of radical change. Instead, he promotes making atomic changes to our habits — small choices that are easy to implement, but go a long way in improving our day-to-day lives. Being hugely interested in the topic of daily habits, I can’t wait to give this one a read.
Minimal — Madeleine Olivia
If you’re planning to use these quarantine days to consider your daily habits, make more sustainable choices and minimise your life, Minimal is the perfect new release for you. Written by minimalism and sustainability YouTuber Madeleine Olivia, it’s jam-packed full of plant-based food swaps, DIY beauty recipes, decluttering tips and so much more.
Becoming — Michelle Obama
I mentioned earlier that I wasn’t a big fan of audiobooks — well, here’s the exception. There’s a long waitlist for the audiobook version of Becoming at my library (the Grammy win might have had something to do with it) and my turn is almost here. This story needs no introduction. In her memoir, Michelle Obama opens up about the experiences that shaped her along the way to the White House and beyond it, forging her status as an icon for women across the world.
Trick Mirror — Jia Tolentino
I just finished Trick Mirror the other day, and I’d already class it as recommended reading for any Millennial/Gen-Z woman trying to make sense of self-centred modern culture. Jia Tolentino is a staff writer at The New Yorker, and this book of literary essays is a perfect compilation of essays on self-delusion. She unpacks various forms of self-delusion present in our day to day lives: reality TV, American scammers, the idea of the difficult woman, and the commercial wedding industry.
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Educated — Tara Westover
“You could call this selfhood many things. Transformation. Metamorphosis. Falsity. Betrayal. I call it an education.”
Tara Westover’s story is earth-shattering to those of us who grew up in the education system. Growing up in an extremist Mormon family who spend their days preparing for the end of the world and believing that doctors and teachers are part of a brainwashing, poisoning conspiracy, her life is as extreme as it gets to most of us.
Educated is the story of Tara’s move away from her family’s beliefs to gain an education, and ultimately her estrangement from the home (and world) she always knew. The story is inspiring, terrifying, psychologically complex, and never judgemental. Trust me: if there’s one book you read from this list, make it this one.
Know My Name — Chanel Miller
Many of us know the name Brock Turner, the Stanford student who sexually assaulted a fellow female student on campus. Less of us know the name of his victim, who was known as Emily Doe to preserve her anonymity during the case trial. In this memoir, Chanel Miller claims her identity, sharing her side of the story that shook America and changed California case law. While this subject matter is inherently dark, it is ever important in today’s culture — especially while so many are still denied a voice in the matter.
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Girl, Woman, Other — Bernardine Evaristo
Widely acclaimed, Girl, Woman, Other tells the story of twelve black women in the United Kingdom. It is described as “a gloriously new kind of history, a novel of our times: celebratory, ever-dynamic and utterly irresistible.” After reading the story of Three Women last year, I’m curious to see a similar narrative structure applied here in an exploration of modern selfhood, albeit in a very different setting and cultural context.
This is Going to Hurt — Adam Kay
Finally, a very timely book and one of my favourite nonfiction reads. It’s so good that I gifted it to multiple relatives last Christmas, but it seems even more poignant now in the midst of a pandemic. Adam Kay shares his hilarious secret diary entries of life as a junior doctor with the NHS. Beneath the humour lies the true state of the matter: the understaffing, overcrowding and exhaustion that accompanies doctors through their years at the NHS — as well as the incredible work that healthcare staff do on a daily basis, which goes largely unnoticed or unappreciated. It will bring you to tears of laughter as well as grief. It’s undoubtedly a must-read.
Well, there you have it: my quarantine book stack. Books have always been my safety net, and having immediate access to unexplored titles as well as old favourites is one of the comforts I hold dear right now. Although focusing on reading hasn’t been easy the last few weeks, I’m making my way through these ones, and hopefully many more to come.
Please share your quarantine books with me in the comments below or over on Instagram — I’m always looking for recommendations! And while you’re here, check out my guide to working from home during the quarantine without going stir crazy.
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