Books You’ve Been Meaning to Pick Up… That You Should Finally Get Around to During Quarantine
Self-isolation sucks for most of us. I get. Your daily office routine has been replaced by patchy conference calls and your usual Sunday brunch plans now consist of watching the news while eating a half-burnt omelette. You’ve spent your free time watching so much netflix you’ve finished all sixteen seasons of Grey’s Anatomy — twice. I bet most of you now have more time in your hands than you ever did. Why not use this time to pick up a good book?
Never been much of a reader? Who cares — it’s never too late to start. Here are a few recommendations (with a few aspirational reads slipped in, not gonna lie) from a former avid reader:
First, gotta start with the classics.
- Jane Austen. Preferably Persuasion, Emma or Pride and Prejudice. No Northanger Abbey please, that one’s just weird. It used to blow my fourteen year old mind that the themes in her book written two hundred years ago (falling in love with a best friend, or the arrogant jerk with a heart of gold) are still present in nearly all modern romcoms.
- Set in 1920’s New York high society and centers on rich socialite gentlemen and women with not-so-perfect lives. The Beautiful and the Damned by F. Scott Fitzgerald or Age of Innocence by Edith Wharton. If you want something really dark, pick up House of Mirth, also by Edith Wharton.
- Anna Karenina by Leo Tolstoy. This is my first successful foray into Russian literature. Yes, at 900 pages it is a commitment but trust me it’s worth it! The story line is very fast-paced and the characters all seem to jump out of the pages (even the dogs are given monologues). Though Anna’s love life is a main focus of the story, it isn’t all there is to the novel. In fact, my favorite parts are Levin’s inner monologues and conversations regarding labor, emancipation of serfs and agriculture management. Kind of like Organizational Behavior for Russian landowners.
- The Master and Margarita by Mikhail Bulgakov. Soviet magical realism. I think that phrase alone should be enough to convince you to pick up this book. Not convinced? The devil decides to come to early Soviet-era Moscow with his entourage (including a huge talking cat) and pull pranks on the greedy and hypocritical citizens. Intertwined with the plot is the story of Jesus Christ’s trial in 1st century Jerusalem, a novel written by the Master (who is the main character of the novel). Hilarious, poignant and intelligent.
- The Adventures of Sherlock Holmes by Sir Arthur Conan Doyle. A collection of ten short stories narrated by Dr. Watson and featuring the beloved Detective.
- Animal Farm or 1984 by George Orwell. Who can forget reading (and almost falling asleep) these books at school. “Some animals are more equal than others?” Even after so long, the two books are still so, so relevant.
- If you want to get really deep (real deep, like afterlife deep) during your isolation, Dante’s Divine Comedy is a great read. Also don’t forget its prologue Vita Nuova (this particular edition is a beautiful dual language one) which recounts the author’s accounts of his life in 13th century Florence. Plus, this book is probably the most historically significant in the list. Actually, Divine Comedy was originally written in Tuscan instead of Latin, and was so consequential that it is one of the biggest reasons the Tuscan dialect was chosen as the national language during the Unification of Italy.
- Of Mice and Men and East of Eden by John Steinbeck. There’s a reason why Steinbeck is one of the most celebrated American authors. He is able to vividly describe the time and place that you feel as if you are in central California yourself. Most of all, his books make you feel things. Of Mice and Men is only around 100 pages and perfect for younger readers or those of you wishing to get a taste of Steinbeck’s settings and writings. East of Eden is his magnum opus – an incredible homage to the story of Cain and Abel set in his birthplace of Salinas Valley in central California.
- Shakespeare. A Midsummer Night’s Dream, The Merchant of Venice, Macbeth, Taming of the Shrew. If 16th century English is too much for you, check out Charles & Mary Lamb’s book of summaries.
- In Search of Lost Time, Don Quixote, Crime and Punishment. The books you haven’t read (neither have I) but probably should.
- Sapiens by Yuval Noah Harari, or Guns, Germs and Steel by Jared Diamond: History of the world’s civilization summarized. Absolute magic. If you’ve read both, consider Salt by Mark Kurlansky.
- Confessions of an Economic Hitman by John Perkins and Why I Left Goldman Sachs by Greg Smith: Both are autobiographical accounts of the authors’ previous lives as agents of corporate evil. Not convinced they’re 100% non-fiction but still great reads nonetheless.
- Why Nations Fail, Poor Economics and Doughnut Economics: Excellent must-reads focusing on development economics and policy. All three have been in my bookshelf for years, only partly read but I haven’t had the time to get through them. Hopefully soon.
- The Freakonomics series by Levitt and Dubner: Co-written by a University of Chicago economics professor (this alone should be reason enough), these books taught me econometrics before I even heard of the term “econometrics”.
- The Black Swan by Nassim Nicholas Taleb: Fitting for the current covid-19 virus that’s hitting financial markets all over the world. I’ve never read this myself but I hope to read it soon.
Now for some contemporary fiction..
Harry Potter everything. If you haven’t read any of the Harry Potter books there’s something very wrong with you and what the hell are you doing wasting your time reading this post?! You could be reading a Harry Potter book instead! Goblet of Fire is probably the most fun — it’s full of non-stop action and the world building is on another level.
The White Tiger by Aravind Adiga: One of the best books to come out in the 2000s. Though it is a social commentary on India’s socioeconomic inequality it still manages to hit home, no matter your race and nationality.
The Goldfinch by Donna Tart: I think I accidentally clicked “buy” on this one while browsing the Kindle store. But I don’t regret this accidental purchase because I couldn’t put this book down for days. It’s exciting but also depressing, tragic but also hopeful.
Beneath a Scarlet Sky by Mark T. Sullivan: WWII. Northern Italy. Romance. Tragedy. An unlikely hero.
Haruki Murakami’s Kafka on the Shore: There’s a reason hipsters all over the world adore Murakami. His books have a surreal almost dream-like quality. The books are clearly set in Japan but at the same time they feel like they are set in a parallel universe.