At the start of the pandemic I couldn’t read at all. I sat listlessly on the couch, unable to do anything but scroll endlessly through twitter. I was afraid to see what horrible news would come out next, more afraid to miss any of it. As time went on, I ventured back into the world of books, at first slowly and then voraciously. The world of fiction let me retreat, while the world of nonfiction offered some semblance of control through education. Now, as I finally get the chance to reemerge into the world after two weeks of self-quarantine (after returning from Southeast Asia to the United States), three months of self-isolation (like hell I was racing out to crowded bars or beaches), and another two weeks of self-quarantine (after moving to Ireland—right, that also happened recently), and in that time I’ve read 29 books. Here are my favourites of the books that got me through it.
Everything Inside by Edwidge Danticat
Edwidge Danticat is one of the best short-story writers of our time. Every sentence she writes is full of magic. While Everything Inside, her latest short-story collection, wasn’t my absolute favourite of her works, it still left me in awe of her talent, the way she captures characters and setting, the tight-yet-lyrical style of her prose.
My Sister, The Serial Killer by Oyinkan Braithwaite
I briefly rejoined an old book club when they switched from in-person meetings in Seattle to zoom catchups for the duration of the pandemic, and this was my pick. Despite the dark topic, it’s a fun, light read by a fresh new voice in literature.
Strange Hotel by Eimear McBride
Eimear McBride is another of my favourites. This novella is more like a series of vignettes, tracing a woman (possibly the protagonist of her previous work, The Lesser Bohemians?) through hotel rooms across the world and the fleeting dalliances with strangers that she has within them. Like peeping through translucent curtains, it feels voyeuristic and ephemeral in such a compelling way.
Say Nothing: A True Story of Murder and Memory in Northern Ireland by Patrick Radden Keefe
Fantastically researched and reported, Say Nothing follows a host of characters on both sides of the Troubles. Harrowing, in-depth, and at times infuriating as it reveals the story of the so-called “Boston College Tapes,” in which perpetrators and accomplices revealed what they knew while thinking their words would remain anonymous—a promise from the researchers that turned out to be untrue—this is an excellent nonfiction work about a part of history I knew little about.
Smoke Gets In Your Eyes: And Other Lessons from the Crematory by Caitlin Doughty
You wouldn’t think a memoir about working in a crematory could be both funny and uplifting, but this one manages to be both. Doughty’s work and writing is about taking the fear away from death and bringing it back to a place of understanding and love, the peaceful end of a journey. She peels away the curtain and offers a compassionate look behind it, with plenty of humour mixed in.
The Old Ways: A Journey on Foot by Robert Macfarlane
Robert Macfarlane’s writing truly captures the magic of nature and our Mother Earth. This book traces several walking routes around the UK as well as a few other places, and imbues them with such deep meaning through the infusion of culture, history, and environmentalism. He has a deep respect for nature and an awareness of its impact on our lives (and the impact of our lives on it), and that comes through completely in his books.