I’ve finished two books since last week and I’m halfway through a third. There’s a good chance I will finish all the unread books in my house before [waves arms everywhere] this is all over. I’m sure you’ve been reading more than usual lately, or you’re about to, or you really should consider starting to do so. Books are perhaps the most foolproof way to escape right now. Reality is too close no matter where you go on your phone or computer, and even scrolling through Netflix’s menu you’re likely to stumble upon Outbreak or something similar. Books are just the words on the page and the world you create with them. They are safe.
I asked some local authors to tell me what they’re reading or what they think people should be reading right now. Maybe you have some of these at your house, and are just waiting for a good reason to pick them up. If not, consider ordering from Interabang or Deep Vellum or The Wild Detectives.
As for me, I’ll point you to the last two I read: Jung Young Moon’s Seven Samurai Swept Away In a River (which is ridiculous in the best way, written during his time at the 100 W Corsicana writers’ retreat) and Kevin Nguyen’s New Waves (which is funny and sad and of the moment, regarding how we creates lives for ourselves online).
(Billy Lynn’s Long Halftime Walk and Beautiful Country Burn Again)
Waiting for the Barbarians, J.M. Coetzee
A classic novel about siege, claustrophobia, paranoia, and muddling through.
Lonesome Dove, Larry McMurtry
Instead of going stir-crazy while sheltering in place, take a nice long trip with the Hat Creek gang.
(Tigers, Not Daughters and All the Wind in the World)
I’m recommending two big novels, both set in the 19th century.
The Terror, Dan Simmons
I found this novel in a Little Free Library, and after reading it, wondered where on Earth it had been all my life. It’s a beautiful and brutal horror novel that describes how the members of the ill-fated Franklin Expedition (we know that the crew abandoned their ships in the Arctic ice in 1848, but that’s about all we know) meet their demise at the hands of madness, starvation, and a monster.
The Hummingbird’s Daughter, Luis Alberto Urrea
I’ve read several of Urrea’s books, but this remains my favorite. Set mostly in the Mexican Sinaloa, it’s about the Urrea’s ancestor Teresita. She goes from humble beginnings to sainthood. There are lots of miracles in this novel, and I’m a sucker for miracles.
(the forthcoming We Are All the Same in the Dark and Paper Ghosts)
Beautiful Ruins, Jess Walter
Oh, Italy! My heart breaks! But this funny, poetic literary romance will sweep you away on a virtual vacation to the Italian shores and restore your heart and hope. One of my favorite books of all time.
A Prayer for Owen Meany, John Irving
More than ever, I personally need to be reminded that life has purpose, destiny, connection, and humanity. This classic delivers that times 100. John Irving doesn’t believe in God, but he has said that in squeaky little Owen Meany, he created a character that would change his mind.
(Note: please consider ordering your books online at Interabang Books, the wonderful indie bookstore ravaged by last year’s tornado and now by COVID-19.)
(The Neon Palm of Madame Melançon and Lord Vishnu’s Love Handles)
Super Sad True Love Story, Gary Shteyngart
It’s a near-future satire that will keep you laughing through the near-apocalypse. One reviewer says it has “all the tenderness of Chekhov and hormonal hijinks of Judd Apatow.”
The Burn, Kathleen Kent
The Dallas Morning News says: “A labyrinth of a police procedural punctuated by nonstop action fuels North Texas native Kathleen Kent’s second gripping novel about Dallas narcotics Detective Betty Rhyzyk.”
(The Burn and The Dime)
A Long Petal of the Sea, Isabelle Allende
Begun in 1930s Spain during the civil war, the novel spans continents and generations to illuminate the terror, and the courage, of refugees fleeing from their homes and communities to carve out a better life in Chile. Pablo Neruda’s soaring poetry and inspiring political activism is the scaffolding for much of the action.
Sapiens, Yuval Noah Harari
Written for the lay person, this fascinating non-fiction book explores the biology and history of “modern” humans beginning 70,000 years ago; what makes us the same as other animals, and what makes us different. The final unanswered question in Harari’s book being: are we intelligent enough to save ourselves from extinction?
(The Night Driver and When the Devil Drives)
Lovecraft Country, Matt Ruff
Come for the updates to Lovecraftian tropes that permeate modern mainstream horror, stay for the way Ruff grafts those tropes onto the games white people play with each other that others must navigate to survive. The supernatural horror is mild, but the strong and nuanced characterization of multiple generations of characters—and the palpable fear they feel as they roll through sundown towns after dark—are showstoppers.
Priest of Bones, Peter McClean
A crook and his men return from devastating war to reclaim their city, opposed by political machinations, turf wars, and PTSD. An atypical fantasy page-turner infused with the pitch-black soul of post-war noir.
(Crepuscule W/ Nellie and Of All Places in This Place of All Places)
The Book Of The New Sun, Gene Wolfe
Masterful world-building; simultaneously pulpy and Chaucerian; oh, and it also all manages to resolve, unlike A Song of Fire and Ice (just pretend George R. R. Martin is making good use of all this downtime).
Mosquito, Gayl Jones
One of the great novels of the Texas border, by one of our most unjustly neglected novelists (ask Toni Morrison); ripe for rediscovery.
Ark, Ronald Johnson
It’s an epic poem. It’s also a spaceship. At least, keep telling yourself that in those moments when this challenging—but achingly optimistic—book feels like it’s taking you to the woodshed.
(The Cloak Society and Space Runners)
Circe, Madeline Miller
It’s not a bad time to lose yourself in another world, and Miller’s engrossing, lyrical prose couldn’t be more inviting. Bonus points for dealing with isolation and having a killer audiobook, so it’s perfect for anyone who is stress-cleaning their home right now.
The Burn, Kathleen Kent
Kathleen is a nationally lauded local author and her crime series (most recently The Burn) is set in Dallas, so it’s a thrilling ride narratively speaking and almost a substitute for getting out of your house.
Saga, Brian K. Vaughan (writer), Fiona Staples (artist)
There are over 50 issues of this sweeping space epic—currently on hiatus—to dive into right now. It’s smart, hilarious, poignant, and involves a space prince with a TV monitor for a head and a cat that can tell if people are lying, so I feel like I shouldn’t really have to sell it anymore.