Whether you're self-quarantined or under a shelter-in-place order, you might find yourself feeling a little bit restless. But remember that everyone is in this together — even the authors whose books are on your nightstand right now. Bustle has put together a list of 22 books your favorite authors are reading while quarantined, so you can read along with them, or crib reading recommendations from their notes.
Many authors are finding comfort in pandemic-centric fiction. Like Crissy Van Meter, who is hunkering down with her copy of Gabriel García Márquez's classic novel Love in the Time of Cholera. Or Gish Jen, who's reading They Came Like Swallows, an epic about the Flu Epidemic of 1918 and how it impacts one individual family. But other novelists are seeking out escapism by way of their bookshelf. Abby Jimenez is devouring romance novels like The Honey-Don’t List, which has many parallels to the Netflix rom-com, Set It Up. And Stephanie Wrobel is all about the incisive take on celebrity culture and reality television, Followers.
Read on for the 22 books your favorite authors are keeping calm with during quarantine. Let them inspire you, entertain you, and above all, offer you a little levity.
Samira Ahmed is reading The Tenth Muse by Catherine Chung
"Elegant, engaging, and complex, The Tenth Muse by Catherine Chung follows the story of Katherine — a Chinese-American girl with an incredible aptitude for math, who is growing up in the 1950s Midwest and whose life is defined by two mysteries: why her mother inexplicably left her, and her quest to solve one of the most elusive math problems in history. As she pursues the answers to these puzzles, that surprisingly intertwine, the journey takes her deep into secrets hidden during World War II and also into the harsh, patriarchal world of academia. I love this book because it asks big questions: Who am I? Where do I come from? What are the costs of female ambition? Of love? And answers them as they impact a single lifetime, on a deeply personal, intimate scale. Katherine is a protagonist who refuses to be silenced in a male-dominated world and an openly racist society and looks to the genius of women whose stories were lost, buried for strength, for inspiration. I think a lot of us can relate to feeling connections like that, through time. I don’t need all the novels I read to have a happy ending but I like stories with grit, that lean into hope. And even when confronted with the possibility that what she seeks might ultimately be unattainable, Katherine persists."
Afia Atakora is reading Blindness by José Saramago
"There’s two types of people in the world — the ones that need a well-deserved break from COVID-19 coverage and the ones that popped some extra-buttered popcorn and queued up Contagion on Netflix. I’m the latter sort, and immediately revisited Blindness by José Saramago, in which the inhabitants of an unnamed city lose their sight one by one. It’s stayed with me because of the vibrant language with which Saramago renders this psychological dive into how a mystery epidemic brings out the worst in people. Upon reread it feels eerily prescient and the novel gets dark, but what emerges are these immeasurable bright spots of hope and humanity. The fear of disease becomes secondary to the real story — one about love and sacrifice and the surprising ways a community can come together (in the metaphorical, social-distancing sense) and start to rebuild."
Andrea Bartz is reading Take Me Apart by Sara Sligar
"In Take Me Apart, the adult son of a famed photographer hires Kate Aitken, a young archivist with a dark past, to catalog the work his mother completed before her untimely death... but what Kate finds makes her question whether the artist's suicide was actually murder. Sara Sligar's debut literary mystery is blowing me away and making the quarantined hours fly by — it's nuanced and beautifully written, with shades of A.S. Byatt's Possession."
Clare Beams is reading Oligarchy by Scarlett Thomas
"I bought this book in Boston in late February, on my first (and it looks like, for now, only) leg of my book tour for my novel The Illness Lesson, and read it shortly after, when the entire world had changed. I had high expectations; it has exceeded them. Oligarchy is dark and gothic and hilarious and so sharp on the sentence level I can feel my mind waking up when I read it. It’s set at an English boarding school, where a group of adolescent girls take on anorexia as a sort of group project (groomed in this, we will learn, by sinister forces). It’s perfect quarantine reading in that it makes me very grateful I’m no longer quarantined inside the mind of a teenage girl — that endless hyperaware reading of peers and self, an entrapping cycle of comparison; that constant, exhausting turning of every feeling inward. And yet it’s pure aesthetic pleasure to live in these pages too, because Thomas allows these girls their full intelligence. Here’s a skewering description of one character’s disgust for a member of the school’s staff: 'From her neck to her knees, a zone that should be all interest and angles and light and shade, there is just one great milky mass, like a boring hike on the moon.' Yes, just like that. Or another: 'She is well-groomed and well-maintained, but she looks like money rather than sex or love.' There’s a piercing clarity to the vision here. It’s the kind of seeing that only art makes possible. And so this book has been, for me, an urgently needed reminder of the gifts of reading and writing — during this time when it might be easy enough to sink under and stop doing either."
Jennifer Finney Boylan is reading Girl, Woman, Other by Bernardine Evaristo
"I usually have several books going at once. I just finished There There by Tommy Orange, which was harrowing and illuminating. I just started Girl, Woman, Other (last year's Booker Prize winner) by Bernardine Evaristo, and I’m already hooked — reminding me of the life I lived in London in the late 1970s. And then, for the last 50 years I’ve more or less been reading Lord of the Rings on a continuous loop. Of late have been thinking of the classic exchange in which Frodo says, 'I wish none of this had happened,' and Gandalf responds, 'So do all who live to see such times, but that is not for them to decide. All we have to decide is what to do with the time that is given to us.'"
Frances Cha is reading Dear Girls: Intimate Tales, Untold Secrets & Advice for Living Your Best Life by Ali Wong
"Last week, I read a number of quietly devastating books but this week, I felt like I really needed to read something funny. I started Ali Wong’s Dear Girls and slid off the couch laughing. The premise is that she tells her two young daughters what she went through and the advice that she can give based on her experiences. I love this book for many reasons — first because she is such an excellent writer that pays great attention to perfect word choice, but also because it makes me think so much about how I don’t know what kind of lives my conservative Korean parents lived before they had me, because they presented such a very limited version of themselves. I wish my father had written a brutally honest account of his youth before he passed away, and predicted what advice I would need. Ali Wong explodes every preconception about Asians as a model minority and a good parent, and in the process cements her transcendence into an even better role model in both capacities. These days, I feel that the racist vitriol hurled at Asian faces in America stems on a large part from the preconception of Asians as a passive model minority, and we need more Asians to explode that idea the way Ali Wong does so raunchily."
Alexandra Chang is reading Burning Province by Michael Prior
"I’ve been reading and rereading the poems in Michael Prior’s second collection, which grapples with the legacy of Japanese Canadian incarceration during World War II. The burning province of the title references wildfires that ravaged British Columbia in 2015 and 2017 — a recurring backdrop in the book. These poems map out the ways in which historical traumas and grief endure from generation to generation, and yet, throughout, there is an unwavering appreciation for the beauty of all living things — stuttering fireflies, a corgi straining on her leash, flowers surviving in salt water, earless newborn salamanders… The poet Ishion Hutchinson calls Prior’s voice 'tenderly apocalyptic.' Exactly the kind of voice I’ve needed to turn to these days."
Sarah Gailey is reading A Neon Darkness by Lauren Shippen
"I'm currently reading A Neon Darkness, Lauren Shippen's second novel in The Bright Sessions series. It's the story of a young man with the ability to make other people want precisely the things he wants — an incredible, dangerous power that he can't always control. Shippen's debut novel, The Infinite Noise, was tender and lovely and achingly kind. This novel already promises to deliver the underside of that one — a dark, twisted story of the ways wanting things at all can turn into a weapon."
As of this writing, the cover image for A Neon Darkness has not yet been released. Pictured is Shippen's first novel, The Infinite Noise.
Shilpi Somaya Gowda is reading Crossing to Safety by Wallace Stegner
"Though I have the usual towering stack of recently acquired books on my nightstand (as well as on my tablet), I'm pulling an old favorite off the shelf to read first. I read Crossing to Safety for the first time at least 25 years ago, and it has remained in my mind since that time as the perfect novel. That was long before I started writing and even reading more critically, so I have been somewhat reluctant to return to it, and perhaps have that impression tainted. But, as we're all learning so distinctly, there's no day like the present one and I feel inexplicably compelled to return to that story of life, marriage and friendship. The silver lining of this quarantine period can be open time, solitude and a return to simple pleasures. I'm looking forward to rediscovering my favorite novel in the coming days."
Talia Hibbert is reading Night Hawk by Beverly Jenkins
"A Beverly Jenkins romance is like literary comfort food: reliably delicious every time. So, reading Night Hawk during this difficult week was a no-brainer, and I’m so glad I did. The hero gives me olden-days Batman vibes, the heroine is the funniest, most badass lady I’ve ever had the pleasure of reading, and their romp across the Wild West as reluctant jailer and defiant prisoner is swoon-worthy fun."
Gish Jen is reading They Came Like Swallows by William Maxwell
"I am re-reading They Came Like Swallows, William Maxwell's masterpiece about the Flu Epidemic of 1918 and its effect on one family. Illness, regret, recovery, loss: it's our times in another key. We watch as ordinary lives take an extraordinary turn — the flu felling some and sparing others, and laying bare their emotional lives as it goes. People don't survive but love does in this book. It is at once devastating and steadying. I can't recommend it highly enough."
Abby Jimenez is reading The Honey-Don't List by Christina Lauren
"Audiobooks are my favorite way to escape and right now Christina Lauren’s new book, The Honey-Don’t List, couldn’t come at a better time. I can always count on them to make me laugh and give me a great couple to cheer on. I’ve been taking a lot of walks in the woods when I need a little break and having an audiobook is the best. (Plus a Broadway star narrated this one!)”
Meng Jin is reading Minor Feelings: An Asian American Reckoning by Cathy Park Hong
"Amidst the rise of blatant racism against Asians, how lucky we are to also have Cathy Park Hong's Minor Feelings, the work of Asian American racial theory we have been waiting for. In essays that read at turns like criticism, poetry, theory, and memoir, Hong puts language to feelings so murky and dissonant that even the inquisitive mind may be tempted to look away in shame. But I am grateful for her courage: the precision and depth of her questioning is a fine companion for these times of anxious solitude. Each essay is compulsively readable in its own right, but more pleasurable is how the pieces build up, with inventive, surprising movement, to a clarion call to action: for Asian Americans to reject the false lure of whiteness, unzip our histories from invisibility, and step out from amnesia into activism and art. Not since turning to Baldwin after the 2016 election have I found this kind of solace and urgency in reading."
Mikki Kendall is reading The City We Became by N.K. Jemisin
"I'm reading The City We Became by N.K. Jemisin. It's urban fantasy with an emphasis on the fantasy. And I'm enjoying the idea of cities that come alive and fight back when a potential apocalypse comes knocking. Pick it up for the cool imagery, stay for the characters and the opportunity to feel like the world sometimes has champions."
Mikki Kendall's Hood Feminism: Notes from the Women That a Movement Forgot and The City We Became by N.K. Jemisin are available now.
Sonya Lalli is reading The Golden Compass by Philip Pullman
"While it’s more important than ever to be kind to and engaged with the world around us, we also have to be kind to ourselves and occasionally take a mental break from reality. That’s why I’m reading The Golden Compass, which has been on my TBR pile for literally a decade. (I’m actually embarrassed to admit I’ve never read the Philip Pullman classic!) Right now is the perfect time to get lost in some brilliant escapist fiction, and I look forward to savoring all three books in His Dark Materials during self-isolation. I might even top it off by watching the HBO TV show based on the series!"
Laura Lam is reading Hope in the Dark: Untold Histories, Wild Possibilities by Rebecca Solnit
"I'm a promiscuous reader so I usually have about 3 books on the go at once. The one I'm finding most comforting at the moment is Hope in the Dark: Untold Histories, Wild Possibilities by Rebecca Solnit. It was originally written not long after September 11th and the Iraq War, though it's been re-issued and updated with prefaces since then. I was in my early teens when all that happened, younger and more naive that I am now. The recent outbreak has given me a similar sort of feeling of despair mixed with the hope that maybe people will start to become better, to look out for each other, and to enable us to move to a fairer tomorrow. That maybe we'll realize we need to rethink society to protect us against something like this happening again in the future. I really appreciate how Solnit doesn't shy away from difficult moments in history and yet still manages to help lift the despair and show that yes, things are terrible, and hard, but there are so many people doing amazing work. We are more powerful than we know. Remember: 'And when you face a politics that aspires to make you fearful, alienated, and isolated, joy is a fine initial act of insurrection.' I'm trying to find moments of joy in this strange, shifting new normal we are in now."
Elizabeth Little is reading We Ride Upon Sticks by Quan Barry
Quan Barry’s We Ride Upon Sticks is the easiest book in the world to recommend — which I know because I’ve been virtually hand-selling this book left and right over the past few weeks, and I can usually seal the deal in just four texts: 80s. High school. Field hockey. WITCHES. Everything about this book is a delight: the exquisite characterizations, the unexpectedly moving first-person-plural narration, the wicked humor, the impeccable descriptions of 80s hair. Even the endpapers are a pleasure. At a moment when joy feels in such short supply, We Ride Upon Sticks is welcome — maybe even necessary — sustenance.
Hilary Mantel is reading Fraud by Anita Brookner
"I’ve begun a reread of Anita Brookner’s fiction, starting (for no special reason) with Fraud. Brookner has slipped out of fashion, but her ruminative, inward-looking fiction, with its naturally self-isolating characters, may be a corrective to over-excitement. Her work is cohesive, astringent and far funnier than her critics stopped to notice. And there are 24 novels, and if you like one, you will like them all — so you can see out your quarantine in contentment."
Ottessa Moshfegh is reading The Sound of Waves by Yukio Mishima
"I'm reading The Sound of Waves by Yukio Mishima. It's a novel set in a remote fishing village about a young fisherman who falls in love with a pearl diver. The language (in translation from Japanese) is so beautiful and soothing. I picked this book up for that very reason: wanting to be lulled by the sound of waves."
Miranda Popkey is reading The Collected Stories by Grace Paley
"It would take a writer far more talented than I to do justice to the sneaky, layered pleasures of Grace Paley's Collected Stories, which I snagged a used copy of just before our local indie closed its doors to browsers. What I can say is that the dedication — the dedication — to this collection may be the best short story I've ever read: 'It seems right to dedicate this collection to my friend Sybil Claiborne, my colleague in the Writing and Mother Trade. I visited her fifth-floor apartment on Barrow Street one day in 1957. There before my very eyes were her two husbands disappointed by the eggs. After that we talked and talked for nearly forty years. Then she died. Three days before that, she said slowly, with the delicacy of an unsatisfied person with only a dozen words left, Grace, the real question is — how are we to live our lives?' Are you flat on your back? Have you texted a friend in all caps? If so, good news: Grace Paley is for you and you are for her and she's going to do her darndest to help you get through this quarantine in one piece."
Alisha Rai is reading Love Lettering by Kate Clayborn
"Kate Clayborn’s Love Lettering is the perfect quarantine read. It’s funny, sweet, and beautifully written. The romance is so perfect it made me ache. The growing pains of friendship are too real. The characterization is too-notch, and that includes the city — I like New York, but seeing it through the eyes of a character who adores it made me adore it. Maybe order a calligraphy lesson book while you’re at it... this book made me want to take calligraphy lessons, and I have the handwriting of a drunk toddler writing with their non dominant hand. (PS: try to get it in print from your local indie bookstore if possible, the formatting and lettering inside is an extra treat!)"
Crissy Van Meter is reading Love in the Time of Cholera by Gabriel García Márquez
"This book is my comfort food and I try to read it every few years. It seemed like the perfect time to pick it up again. Now, I’m reading it as a married woman. My thoughts on love are always changing, and I’m finding myself more sympathetic to the way Márquez describes the practical parts of marriage. Still, I’m a hopeless romantic and everything about this book, especially the longing and this epic love story, makes me swoon. And, I’m so drawn to the way Márquez weaves the setting as a crucial part of the story. The heat, the dust, the colors — is the perfect escape."
Stephanie Wrobel is reading Followers by Megan Angelo
"I absolutely adored Followers by Megan Angelo. The story takes place in two timelines: the first is thirty years in the future, set in a Californian village where government-appointed celebrities live their lives in front of a camera 24/7; the second is set in present day, where two friends are willing to do whatever it takes to make it big. It's a hugely imaginative story about ambition, friendship, and social media. The writing is crisp and hilarious. What more could you want? This one was such a joy to read."
If you think you’re showing symptoms of coronavirus, which include fever, shortness of breath, and cough, call your doctor before going to get tested. If you’re anxious about the virus’s spread in your community, visit the CDC or NHS 111 in the UK for up-to-date information and resources, or seek out mental health support. You can find all Bustle’s coverage of coronavirus here, and UK-specific updates on coronavirus here.