31 Terrific Books Recommended By 31 Terrific Writers
A quarantine reading list courtesy of Glennon Doyle, Veronica Roth, Julia Alvarez, and more.
Powell's Books recently asked some of its favorite authors to share which books they're reading and recommending during quarantine. Here's what they had to say.
Glennon Doyle, author of Untamed, recommends Native: Identity, Belonging, and Rediscovering God by Kaitlin B. Curtice
"In the pages of Native, Kaitlin B. Curtice is a poet, professor, storyteller, and unapologetic truth teller. This book is required reading for all those committed to learning the truth about the land we live upon and the institutions we live inside of. It both stretched me and comforted me — called me out and called me home. Kaitlin B. Curtice is a vital artist and teacher, and Native is her most important offering yet. It will remain on my shelf forever."
"In this lyric short story collection, queer is a verb put to good use. Full of blunder and ache, ball sacks and ice cream, and cosplay gone awry, We Had No Rules is a testament to Arsenal Pulp Press."
"Two suspected terrorists are captured aboard a state-of-the-art military spaceship. What follows is a tense, tightly written extended interrogation that takes place as the spaceship starts to go haywire, something that could be disastrous for everyone inside. Equal parts thriller and science fiction novel, this book is for a wide array of readers."
"An incredibly diverting, expertly well-done celebrity memoir that could serve as a template for all celebrity memoirs with its perfect balance of juicy gossip and earnest self-examination. Her ghostwriter Ariel Levy deserves some sort of special National Book Award. I picked it up on a whim and before I knew it I was all the way to the Emilio Estevez era. Most importantly, I did not think about coronavirus/my current life circumstances ONE SINGLE TIME while reading it."
"'The moment you look at things disinterestedly, everything changes.' Witch Grass is an exercise in observation, a metaphysical journey of a man in pursuit of a silhouette, and a series of accidental encounters inviting readers to see the extraordinary in the ordinary."
Chris Guillebeau, author of The Money Tree, recommends Think Like a Rocket Scientist: Simple Strategies You Can Use to Make Giant Leaps in Work and Life by Ozan Varol
"You don't have to be a rocket scientist to think like one. In this new book, Ozan Varol provides a toolkit for making better decisions (and 'giant leaps'!) even in the midst of a turbulent environment. After reading it, you might be inspired to take your own moonshot."
"This memoir has been described as 'a queering of the wild,' which is an expression I could never forget. A gay child in a prosperous, Roman Catholic family in New Jersey during the ’60s is violently abused by his father, finds respite in a community of spiritual seekers, and embarks on an enlightenment journey that few humans could survive. This memoir will transport you all over the place while you shelter at home."
"I found this book because Hilary Mantel blurbed it over 20 years ago and I'm such a sucker for books about table manners — I'm finding it wry, winsome, thoughtful, and peculiar, and an absolute delight to get to read. It's not quite escapist reading, being very engaged with all manner of human problems, but there's a lightness and a joy to the writing that makes me feel like I'm in capable, reassuring hands."
"Here’s that rare thing: a wise, literary novel that is also funny as hell. That Kate Russo — younger daughter of the great family that includes her father, Pulitzer Prize winner Richard Russo, and her sister, bookstore owner Emily Russo — should turn out to be a great novelist should surprise no one. But the story — about the tension between our private and public selves, about what we open ourselves up to when we welcome strangers into our houses — is also the perfect antidote to this time of being shut in at home. Super Host gives me hope for the future, when we can all open our doors, and our hearts, once more."
"Escapist crime fiction, at a time when we can all use an escape. Set in Palm Beach and populated by memorable characters who do outrageous but not unbelievable things. The bonus is that it contains some of the best writing in recent American fiction, illustrating Leonard's cardinal rule: 'If it sounds like writing, rewrite it.'"
"Recently I had the good fortune to read, in manuscript, most of the next novel from David James Duncan. Titled Sun House, it’s an astounding gift to humanity in troubled times, a vast and intricate revelation of the transformations so many are calling for. Readers will have to wait a little longer for that; in the meantime, prime yourself for it by curling up with Duncan’s 1992 opus, The Brothers K. It’s an everything sort of tome, full — no, not full, overflowing its banks — with word wizardry, hilarity, pitch darkness, family dynamics with religious paths parting, and pitched balls and strikes."
"In this gleefully misanthropic black comedy, the wealthy, awful Hallorans take shelter on their family estate to escape the coming apocalypse, and turn on one another as they wait for the world to end. An old favorite that seems especially timely right now. The Penguin Classics edition includes a foreword by The Ballad of Black Tom author Victor LaValle."
"A delightful historical novel, dancing through historical periods effortlessly, revealing bits of magic and power and fate as it tells the story of one woman and her several lifetimes. Great historical detail, colorful characterizations, lively plotting — and a great, fun read."
"A new collection of the always thought-provoking writings of Zora Neale Hurston, a Harlem Renaissance writer destroyed for being too far ahead of her time."
Jeffrey Cranor, coauthor of The Faceless Old Woman Who Secretly Lives in Your Home, recommends Dear Committee Members by Julie Schumacher
"A sharp, dry satire that had me laughing and thinking every single page, Dear Committee Members is told through a series of memos and letters by a creative writing professor. The protagonist is frustratingly and hilariously self-absorbed and put-upon, incapable of writing a simple letter of recommendation for a student's summer employment without commenting in detail on their shortcomings as a writer, and oblivious to how writing novels about his own relationships might alienate his partners. It's a quick, tightly packed read, full of humor, wit, as well as true moments of gravity and grace. I devoured it in a single sitting."
"My favorite picture books are often delightfully offbeat and this book definitely fits the bill! The House of Madame M is big, creepy, creative, and outrageously beautiful. An immersive, lift-the-flaps experience."
"This book had me laughing out loud from page one. I love linked stories and here the voices are so addictive and wry. It's a tale of coming of age in the most homophobic town in America with each chapter told from a different character's perspective, exploring ideas of self-love and acceptance, sexuality, and finding community against all odds."
"A celebration of the disability justice community's wisdom, centering BIPOC folks, this book engages structures for mutual aid and tools for resilience that (as Leah Lakshmi Piepzna-Samarasinha says in the book) temporarily-abled folks can learn from. This text seems particularly important to read and share at this moment!"
"A necessary renovation of the myth of Western expansion, told through the eyes of two plucky Chinese American siblings, Lucy and Sam. This story is a powerful reminder that there are no frontier narratives without immigrant narratives. At a time I needed it most, this sparkling novel swallowed me whole."
"This is such an extraordinary book. It's about living the same life over and over, trying to make it right. But it's also about war and family and what makes life worth living. I've just finished it for the second time in floods of tears. The sections about living through the Blitz are staggering, and certainly put the woes of the current moment into very sharp perspective."
"Louise Erdrich has lit up the American literary landscape for over two decades. She is a flare of light — solar and electric both. Her sentences are beautiful, her characters are ordinary and extraordinary at the same time, her plots are sublime, and she makes time tick inside time. She captures the moment when the thorn enters the skin, but she also captures the recovery. She is a treasure. This novel is a treasure, a meditation on community and our ideas of deep connection."
"Natalia Ginzburg’s Family Lexicon is a true masterwork, a book that has brought me great comfort in this time of endlessly cycling uncertainty and boredom. A novel about the shared language of her real family, Family Lexicon chronicles with bright clarity and humor — even cheerfulness — the small and large tyrannies of daily life under Mussolini’s Italy, through the catastrophic war and its aftermath. Ginzburg’s gift is her ability to observe without judgment, and with great delight, the richness of life through its boredom and sorrow, reminding us that in the face of chaos and unknowing, plagued by the desire to master and to understand, it may be enough, simply, to look. If you pick up this book, you may be bored, or even annoyed — at first. But stick with it, and you’ll find a manual for how to survive catastrophe with your humanity intact."
"Brian Doyle had a way of seeing through everything. It's as if he had X-ray vision and could get right to the essence of all that we are. Reading this book makes me wonder how he would have seen what's going on right now... what truth he would have pulled from this virus that has upended everything. I'm pretty sure he would have found some sort of fractured beauty, not just a world torn to pieces like everybody else."
"Gently subtitled ‘A Study of Provincial Life,’ Middlemarch is the perfect novel: searingly intelligent, beautifully written, clear-eyed, and compassionate, with vividly imagined, vividly rendered characters navigating (and being swamped by) the crosscurrents of their particular natures and place and times. An excellent, blessedly long book to get immersed in, and be both saddened and lifted by."
"Things in Jars is about a female detective, Bridie Devine, based in 19th-century London, who sets out to solve a very odd sort of kidnapping. There is of course much more to it. The plot is compelling in itself, but what is mesmerizing is Ms. Kidd's prose, which transports you back to 1863 and keeps you there, as each fresh phrase sets your mind alight."
"I'm reading this book right now and I love it. It's a novel that takes the form of an oral history of a singer and a band in 1960s/1970s Los Angeles. I don't know if I love this book because of the sense of a lost world — because March 1 of this year kind of seems like a lost world now, doesn't it? — or because it's beautifully executed and the writing is fantastic, but either way I recommend it."
"Nineteen-year-old me wasn't mature enough to appreciate Toni Morrison, but three decades later I gave Song of Solomon a try, at the suggestion of my 16-year-old daughter. I absolutely loved it. Aside from her broad and deep discussion of names and naming, and how we try to control our own destinies, Morrison has painted an amazing portrait of an entire discordant family. And the style and events are so freewheeling, yet so controlled, you feel like you're in good hands all the way through. Read in the time of COVID, this book was immersive, distracting, and life-affirming."
"I understand that this is Quế Mai's first novel in English, a moving saga of Vietnam during the troubled history of the 20th century, pre- and post-Vietnam War. What I love is that it is narrated from a female point of view: an elder grandmother who lived, suffered, endured the troubles and her young granddaughter who inherits the stories and the casualties and aftereffects of traumatic times both in her family and in her nation's history. It’s lyrical, wrenching, sometimes painful to read, but ultimately glorious in affirming the resilience of the human spirit. In these traumatic times in which we are facing hard times as a global community as well as a nation, it is life-affirming to be reminded that many in our human family have endured difficult histories before and come through with kindness, kindredness, love, hope, and wonderful novels that will make your heart — as well as the mountains — sing!"
"A profound, impassioned, enlightened, and invigorating analysis of the planetary crisis by an elegant and generous thinker."
"A very beautiful and strange comic from Australia full of adventure and eerie mystery."