A Pandemic Reading List

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What a strange time it is to be putting together reading lists. If you’re anything like me, your mood swings wildly multiple times a day, and every day seems to last a week. That’s a lot of mood swings. But losing yourself in a good book is a timeless way to manage uncertainty, unease, and being cooped up in a house with the family and roommates that you love so, so, so much, but seriously can you just turn down the volume on your video games please? Anyway. I pulled together a few books for whatever your mood might be.

FACING YOUR FEARS HEAD ON: Are you, for some reason, not already filled with a sense of dread and doom? Only you know how much you want to stare our current situation straight in the face, but don’t say I didn’t warn you about these books. The one everyone is talking about, through gritted teeth, is Station Eleven by Emily St. John Mandel. It’s a great book, though it may be too much for some at this particular moment. Or maybe you think it’s just not enough, in which case I recommend a read, or reread, of World War Z: An Oral History of the Zombie War by Max Brooks. The book I personally can’t stop thinking about is Severance by Ling Ma. It’s one of my favorites, and it just keeps crossing my mind through these strange and scary days. It’s leavened a bit by satire and black humor, but let’s be real: It’s still the story of a country and a woman in the midst of a pandemic. In A Song for a New Day by Baltimore sci-fi author Sarah Pinsker, public gatherings have been outlawed; there’s a lot to chew on here, with some really great writing about the importance of music and art and connection.

ANXIETY READS: Anxiety getting the best of you? Lose yourself in funny books about hard times, like Jenny Lawson’s Furiously Happy or We Are Never Meeting in Real Life Samantha Irby (or preorder her new book, Wow, No Thank You, out March 31!). First We Make the Beast Beautiful by Sarah Wilson offers a more prescriptive take on living with anxiety. If you can’t sleep, don’t make the dreaded mistake of heading straight to your phone to check Twitter; let Insomnia by Marina Benjamin make you feel a little less alone in the wee hours of the night.

DOWNTIME AND ALONETIME: Learn how not to do downtime with My Year of Rest and Relaxation by Ottessa Moshfegh. Lean into your time at home with Jenny Odell’s How To Do Nothing, or make the most of your daily dose of fresh air with Walking: One Step at a Time by Erling Kagge. Maybe you, too, have heard that Shakespeare wrote King Lear while he was quarantined? Get yourself some creative inspiration with At the Center of All Beauty: Solitude and the Creative Life by Fenton Johnson.

GIVE YOURSELF A NEW BOGEYMAN: Remember when clowns were the scariest thing you could imagine? Give Stephen King’s It another go, and see if they still give you the heebie-jeebies. Revisit a classic like Frankenstein, The Tell-Tale Heart, or The Haunting of Hill House. The Hunger by Alma Katsu is the Donner Party with some even more unpleasant additions, and Victor LaValle’s The Ballad of Black Tom is a remix of The Horror at Red Hook by the influential but hugely problematic H.P. Lovecraft. You don’t need to have read the source material; LaValle makes the story his own.

AROUND THE WORLD: Since actual travel isn’t on the horizon for any of us any time soon, become the ultimate armchair traveler with A Bite-Sized History of France: Gastronomic Tales of Revolution, War, and Enlightenment and Babel: Around the World in Twenty Languages. Rough it with Caroline van Hempel in The Sun is a Compass: A 4,000-Mile Journey into the Alaskan Wilds. Explore ancient British thruways with Robert McFarlane in The Old Ways: A Journey on Foot, or swim with the whales in Philip Hoare’s The Whale. 

Whatever you choose to read during these strange days, don’t forget to support your local shops, so they can still be here when we all emerge from Coronahell. I always love to hear from you, so let me know what you’re reading on Instagram (@greedyreads). Be smart, be safe, be well, and don’t forget to reach out to your friends and family; let’s all be alone together!

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