How many of you guys are plowing through books during the pandemic? With all this tie on our hands, it’s never been a better time to dig into a good, enthralling story. Here contributor Monet shares her tips for 10 books to read during lockdown.
I’ve been known as a Reader since I was a small child, but it wasn’t until five years ago that my literary life changed forever.
I adopted a dog.
But not just any dog. I adopted the chubbiest, slobber-iest, vertically challenged basset hound known to humankind. Apparently, his nose is up to 100,000 times more sensitive than mine, and his walking speed is about that many times slower than mine.
On our first walk, it took us 20 minutes to walk just one city block. As I tugged uselessly on his leash for the umpteenth time, I feared I had made a grave mistake. It was our first day together, and I was bored out of my mind.
“He’s so slow; I could write a novel while walking him!” I complained to my dad. As soon as I said it, the lightbulb pinged. Maybe I couldn’t write a novel, but could I read one?
That year, I read 50 books, all while walking my dog.
Since then, I’ve read-while-walking through mountains and sandy beaches and New York City sidewalks. I’ve tripped over roots, stepped in dog poo, and narrowly avoided stop signs. In the morning, I balance my coffee, book, and leash across all appendages. When it rains, I add an umbrella.
I’ve moved three times, and in each neighborhood, I quickly gain a reputation for being the woman-who-reads-while-walking-her-funny-shaped-dog.
And throughout these five years, I have read a whole lot of books.
My favorites are those where the setting is brought to life so completely that it might as well be the main character. These are the books that whet my travel appetite in ways obvious and subtle. Some delve into the history of a country, while others take you on a visceral journey through it. We all know that a good book can inspire a trip.
If you’re looking for a vicarious adventure, check out my pick for ten books to read during lockdown that will satisfy your wanderlust – enjoy!
1. State of Wonder by Ann Patchett
Often I will begin one of Ann Patchett’s novels and think, “There’s no way I am going to get into this story.” Twenty minutes later, I’m refusing to move until I’ve finished the chapter, or maybe the next one.
State of Wonder takes you deep into the Amazon rain forest of Brazil, where two doctors (both female—representation matters, people!) are entwined in a medical research mystery.
2. Persepolis by Marjane Satrapi
Marjane Satrapi’s autobiographical graphic novel details her childhood in Iran during the Islamic Revolution. Before reading Persepolis, I hadn’t touched a graphic novel for over a decade. I have to say I was a little nervous to start!
But of course, reading is reading, and a graphic novel is an art form in and of itself.
Satrapi’s drawings and words bring together this hyper-personal coming-of-age tale embedded within the context of a country’s rise of religious extremism. The story is poignant and revealing. Long after you put it down, the book will make you think.
3. Circe by Madeline Miller
A feminist retelling of a Greek myth? Yes, PLEASE.
Circe, one of Helios’s daughters, is a family outcast who hones her skills in the occult while living alone on a windswept island. And for those of us spending a lot of time alone these days, Circe’s solitary lifestyle might just be the relatable content we’ve been looking for.
It’s definitely one of the best books to read during lockdown.
4. The Sympathizer by Viet Thanh Nguyen
If you want to visit Vietnam, Viet Thanh Nguyen’s book should be required reading.
It’s funny and sad and offers a too-often-untold perspective of the Vietnam War, especially if all you’ve seen are Hollywood films, the likes of Apocalypse Now or Platoon.
If you’re after some books to read during lockdown, put The Sympathizer on your list.
5. Born a Crime by Trevor Noah
This is not your average Celebrity Book.
Trevor Noah writes an ode to his mother in this hilarious and touching memoir about growing up mixed-race in South Africa.
The title refers to the fact that, at the time of his birth, marriage and sexual relations between black and white South Africans were illegal. Noah’s book will give you incredible insight into life during Apartheid South Africa. Be prepared to fall just a little bit in love with his fierce, loving mother.
6. The Girl with Seven Names by Hyeonseo Lee
Hyeonseo Lee grew up wondering why the Chinese neighborhood across the river had lights on at night. Her town, in North Korea, was completely dark at night. She would realize the answers to her questions when she defected several years later.
I have no desire to visit North Korea, but I am a sucker for learning about the country’s ruthless government and prohibitive culture.
Lee Hyeonseo’s story of defection will leave your jaw permanently on the floor as she overcomes one obstacle after another to get freedom for herself and her family. It’s one of these great books to read during lockdown
7. Sapiens: A Brief History of Humankind by Yuval Noah Harari
Remember your textbook from social studies class? It’s okay, neither do I.
The point is that Sapiens is the anthropology lesson you never knew you needed. This book overflows with juicy tidbits about human history that, at times, it felt like I was reading real gossip–but the kind that goes back a million years.
I can’t wait to re-read this gem so I can soak in that omg-I-did-NOT-know-that all over again.
8. The Sixth Extinction by Elizabeth Kolbert
Some people find reading climate change nonfiction incredibly depressing. I find it oddly comforting, especially when presented in The Sixth Extinction.
Kolbert’s reporting will take you from bat caves in North America to a research station in Antarctica, and many places in between, as she details the five great periods of extinction the Earth has faced leading up to the one humans are currently creating. Which sounds depressing, I know!
But it can’t help reminding me of the Earth’s resilience; we probably won’t survive, but I feel like the planet will. After we have made humankind extinct through our insatiable greed, the Earth will live on to repair itself once again. That’s a bit of comfort, isn’t it?
9. The Neapolitan Novels by Elena Ferrante
Technically this is four books in one listing, but if you come to love these, you’ll understand why I had to include them on this list. You” easily get sucked into these books to read during lockdown.
Long before I read Elena Ferrante’s words, Naples, Italy, swept me up in its beautiful chaos. To read the Neapolitan novels is to grow up with the main characters through decades of turmoil and friendship in this complex Italian city.
10. Alif the Unseen by G. Willow Wilson
If you’re a sucker for fantasy, you know that some of the best literary-traveling you can do is to places that don’t even exist.
Alif is a computer hacker from an unnamed Middle Eastern country who goes on the run with his neighbor, Dina. The storyline incorporates Islamic mysticism, computer programming, and political undertones––and will pull you in so fast, you might just forget you’re in lockdown.
What are your best books to read during lockdown? Have you read any of these? What did I miss? Share!