Our Personalized Quarantine Book Recommendations, Round 10

At the beginning of our now apparently unending isolation, we put out a call asking that those of you who need something good to read in this trying, frightening time, might send us a few of your favorite books (and other things) so we could recommend a good book for you to read. And turns out quite a lot of you are looking for something new to read! We’ve gotten hundreds of requests, from everywhere from Belgium to Rome to Cape Town to Ireland to Tasmania to Singapore. So firstly: thank you. We are all reading together in solidarity!

You can find our first round of 50 answers, pulled from email, Facebook, and Twitter, here. Our second round is here. Our third round is here. Our fourth round is here. Our fifth round is here. Our sixth round is here. Our seventh round is here. Our eighth round is here. Our ninth round? Here. While we (still and forever) haven’t been able to get to every request, and while we’ve had to slow down a bit, we’re hoping that these recommendations might be useful to more than just the readers who sent them in, which is why we are continuing to publish as many as we can for all to see. Read on, everyone.

Virginie Despentes, tr. Frank Wynne, Vernon Subutex 1

Tim de Z loves:

Since my bookshelves are currently overwhelmingly white, male and from the Anglosphere, I’m looking for some books that can tell me a very different story. Think of books like:

Fernando Pessoa, The Book of Disquiet
Clarice Lispector, The Passion According to G.H.
Arundhati Roy, The God of Small Things
Azareen van der Vliet Oloomi, Call Me Zebra
Jens Peter Jacobsen, Niels Lyhne

In short, I’m looking for a book that will slap me in the face and shake me awake in these dull times.

Lit Hub recommends:

I feel you, Tim. Things are getting pretty stale in all our apartments these days. I can highly recommend Paul Beatty’s The Sellout, an admittedly Anglophone satire but one that will grab you by the shoulders and shake. Same goes for the French writer Virginie Despentes’ books, which are absolute riots of action and id—start with Vernon Subutex 1. For a more metaphysical slapping style, you might also give Samanta Schweblin’s Fever Dream, translated by Megan McDowell, a try. Oh, and what about Leonora Carrington? The surrealist’s work is probably exactly what you need—start with The Hearing Trumpet. –Emily Temple, Managing Editor

Helen K. loves:

Probably my favorite book is The Savage Detectives by Roberto Bolaño (the multiple perspectives over multiple decades on a singular and now-unrecoverable time and place is beautiful, and the first 100 or so pages are also hilarious).

Han Kang, Human Acts (in contrast, was not a fan of The Vegetarian)
Jenny Erpenbeck, The End of Days
Hanya Yanagihara, The People in the Trees
George Saunders, Lincoln in the Bardo
Italo Calvino, If on a Winter’s Night a Traveler

On another note, if you can recommend anything similar to Dead Girls by Selva Almada (which is sort of feminist memoir/southern gothic/true crime exploring violence against women in rural Argentina), I’d love to hear about it. One of the best books I read in the last year (and out in English this fall).

Lit Hub recommends:

Hi, Helen! Dead Girls sounds amazing, I just got ahold of it and can’t wait to read. Forgive me if you’ve already read it, but I think you’d love Dead Blondes and Bad Mothers, by Sadie Doyle; it explores the various ways that pop culture, patriarchy, and violence against women intersect. There’s also an amazing true crime book coming out this summer called Hell in the Heartland that you’re going to be stunned by—it’s by Jax Miller, who spent nearly a decade investigating the unsolved murders of two members of a family and the disappearance of two teenage girls—another family member and her best friend. Miller finds evidence of police corruption and misconduct, and connects the murders and disappearances into the larger landscape of drug-related violence in an area devastated by methamphetamines. I also want to recommend the works of Hye-young Pyun, who’s literary/horror/thriller mashups should be right up your alley, especially her latest, The Law of Lines, which combined the horrors of everyday life with a deeply humanistic quest for meaning. –Molly Odintz, CrimeReads Senior Editor

helen dewitt lightning rods

Ivy G. loves:

Patricia Lockwood, Priestdaddy
Arkady Martine, The Memory of Empire
Katherine Addison, The Goblin Emperor
Maggie O’Farrell, I am I am I am (desperately looking forward to Hamnet)
Neil Gaiman, American Gods
Dodie Smith, I Capture the Castle

I skew heavily towards speculative fiction (it would be hard for you to recommend something I haven’t read, but I urge you to try) but will read anything. I really want to laugh and feel as positive as some of these books have made me feel.

Lit Hub recommends:

Look, I usually hesitate to recommend Helen DeWitt’s Lightning Rods to people, because, well, it’s about a guy who starts a business to cure sexual harassment in the workplace, and that business is hiring women to have anonymous sex with the men. It is a tongue-securely-in-cheek situation, but if you’re of delicate constitution, you may not be into it. Which is fine! But if your constitution is hardy (and since you like Lockwood, you are probably hardy enough) this is a hilarious, strangely uplifting book, and may be just what you need. Also: for funny and speculative—have you read Chandler Klang Smith’s The Sky is Yours? Please say you have; I need someone to talk about it with me. –Emily Temple, Managing Editor

Highroad to the Stake: A Tale of Witchcraft, by Michael Kunze

Kiana J. loves:

Jo Baker, Longbourn
Joel F. Harrington, The Faithful Executioner: Life and Death, Honour and Shame in Turbulent Sixteen Century
Stephen King, The Green Mile

Lit Hub recommends:

Man, do I love the 16th Century. Almost as much as the 17th Century. So brutal and yet full of so many cultural innovations. I’m going to mainly go off of your mention of The Faithful Executioner for my recommendations. First off, you should check out Highroad to the Stake: A Tale of Witchcraft, by Michael Kunze, one of the earliest works to examine the history of witchcraft through the lens of social history and microhistory. Highroad to the Stake is pretty brutal, but I think you’ll be up to the challenge. It tells the story of an ordinary 17th century family accused of witchcraft, and the terrible events that stem from the accusation, based on meticulous court records and brilliantly conceived by an author whose lyricism shines through, even in translation. I also think you might enjoy the Hangman’s Daughter series, by Oliver Potsch, which draws from the diaries of that Faithful Executioner you mention for some of its inspiration. Set in the mid-17th century, the series follows Magdalena, the headstrong daughter of a dutiful Bavarian hangman, who doesn’t let being ostracized from society for her father’s profession stop her from solving plenty of murders. Enjoy! –Molly Odintz, CrimeReads Senior Editor

utopia avenue david mitchell

Patrick L. loves:

Quarantine has afforded me time to dip into some of the longer books that were collecting dust on my shelf. These three were especially immersive and memorable. 

David Mitchell, The Thousand Autumns of Jacob de Zoet
Richard Powers, The Overstory
Hanya Yanagihara, A Little Life 

Lit Hub recommends: 

Well Patrick, you may be interested to know that David Mitchell has a new book coming out this summer, Utopia Avenue, and it concerns a descendant of Jacob de Zoet, who is still suffering the effects of some of his ancestor’s decisions. It’s not as lyrical as your choices here, but it’s big and pleasant and entertaining, and you won’t be sorry if you hang out with it for a little while. Jasper de Zoet is one of four young musicians in 1960s London who come together in search of rock stardom, and there are plenty of ups and down and cameos along the way. You might also like Kate Atkinson’s Life After Life, another long one, and certainly memorable, if you ask me: it concerns one Ursula Todd, who by some trick of fate gets to try her life over and over again every time she loses it. It’s like they turned history into a video game, kind of—and you won’t be able to quit reading. –Emily Temple, Managing Editor

Lisa C. loves:

After finishing the 20 library books I’d checked out the day before lockdown, I’ve found myself returning to old favorite authors: Anya Seton, Dorothy Dunnett, and even Taylor Caldwell. The level of detail (without trumpeting “look at all the research I did!!!”) still astonishes me, especially the Dorothy Dunnett Lymond Chronicles.

Molly Odintz had earlier recommended Sharon Kay Penman, who’s another favorite of mine. I also enjoy Ellis Peters in all her permutations, Dorothy Sayers, Cynthia Harrod Eagles, and Ben Aaranovitch. And of course Flavia de Luce!

I would be forever grateful to find a new series to fall in love with. Thanks so much!

Lit Hub recommends:

Hi Lisa! Thanks so much for the shoutout, Sharon Kay Penman is so great. think you might enjoy the works of another Sharon—have you ever read Sharyn McCrumb’s Ballad Series? Each book is set in Appalachia and is named for a different ballad (mostly murder ballads, as these are mysteries), and is either set in the past or connects a present day crime to a past murder. They’re steeped in the atmosphere and history of the area, and beautifully crafted both as mysteries and as literature. Plus, there’s a ton of them, so you don’t need to worry about running out any time soon! I also think you might enjoy Sherry Thomas’ Lady Sherlock series, starring the gourmand detective Charlotte Holmes, who solves crimes using a male relative as her proxy in between tantalizing romances and even more tantalizing little cakes. You’ll never be hungrier for English tea than while reading this book. I may have to go have a scone just thinking about it . . . And one more Sharon to recommend! I think you’d love Sharan Newman’s Catherine LeVendeur series, set in 12th century France and featuring a heroine torn between her Christian faith, her Jewish roots, and her incorrigible curiosity when it comes to solving murders. –Molly Odintz, CrimeReads Senior Editor

Play it as it Lays 1st first edition Joan Didion 1970

John K. loves:

Gore Vidal, Matters of Fact and of Fiction
Erica Jong, How To Save Your Own Life
Marlon Brando, Songs My Mother Taught Me

Lit Hub recommends:

Very interesting choices, John. I’m getting a sense you like sharp writing, candor, and also the 70s. Maybe New York City, too, or perhaps I’m projecting. If you haven’t read it, I think you would enjoy Joan Didion’s Play It As It Lays; if I’m right about New York, I’d also recommend Joseph Mitchell’s collection of reported pieces, Up in the Old Hotel and Elizabeth Hardwick’s Collected Essays. Even if I’m wrong about New York, they’re worth a look. –Emily Temple, Managing Editor

The Iron Dragon’s Daughter

Darren N. loves:

Franz Bengsston, The Long Ships
Jasper Fforde, Shades of Grey
Dan Simmons, The Terror/Hyperion Cantos
Ken Kesey, Sometimes a Great Notion 

Also love dogs, softball and bowling.

Lit Hub recommends: 

Hi Darren! You have fantastic taste—the Hyperion Cantos and Sometimes a Great Notion number among the few works I’ve read multiple times as an adult. Since you enjoyed Hyperion, I want to recommend a fantasy novel that’s got enough steampunk in it that you should enjoy it even as a sci fi fan. Have you ever read The Iron Dragon’s Daughter, by Michael Swanwick? It’s so good (and hopefully if I mention it enough on the internet someone will reissue it, it’s currently out of print but easily available used). In The Iron Dragon’s Daughter, a changeling grows up in a factory that produces iron dragons, used to make magical warfare. She escapes into a strange dystopia of boring mall jobs and bloody rituals, and ends up in an epic confrontation with a vision of herself in a parallel universe. This next recommendation might be a big abstract, but based on your interest in Sometimes a Great Notion, I also think you’d love the history book Big Trouble: A Murder in a Small Western Town Sets Off a Struggle for the Soul of America by J. Anthony Lukas. There’s something about the history of the Western Federation of Miners that feels similar to Kesey’s tale of struggle against the inevitable violence of the roaring Russian River in an Oregon town. And last, since you like The Long Ships, I want to suggest reading The Wake, by Paul Kingsnorth; it’s set in Britain just after the Norman Conquest and written in a hybrid language inspired by Old English and mixed with modern speech. It’s devastating, beautiful, and well worth the read. –Molly Odintz, CrimeReads Senior Editor

giovanni's room

Nirbhay P. loves:

Arundhati Roy’s novels
Hanif Kureishi, The Buddha of Suburbia
Haruki Murakami’s Norwegian Wood (of course, also The Beatles’)
The latest addition to Phillip Pullman’s His Dark Materials series, The Secret Commonwealth

Overall it seems like I love books that aren’t predominantly white (with Middle Asian, East Asian, or Indian characters/places) or cis straight males. Art, music, and cats are added bonuses! Side note—I have trouble reading or watching media with violence or gore.

Lit Hub recommends:

Since you’re in Paris, I have to assume you’ve read James Baldwin’s Giovanni’s Room, but if not, start there. I admit that the characters are white, but they’re definitely not straight, and anyway the book is so enchanting that you won’t even notice. I also think you’d enjoy Yann Martel’s Life of Pi, in which a young Indian boy is shipwrecked and ends up stuck on a raft with a Bengal tiger. Speaking of tigers, if you’re interested in short stories (and can risk a little bit of violence—a tiger mauling or two, say), I’d also recommend Rajesh Parameswaran’s I Am An Executioner, which is funny and strange and full of amazing characters, and which I’ve loved and thought about regularly since it first came out in 2012. –Emily Temple, Managing Editor

atmospheric disturbances rivka galchen

Andrew R. loves:

Paul Beatty, Slumberland
Diane Cook, Man v Nature
Maria Semple, Where’d You Go Bernadette
Patricia Lockwood, Priestdaddy
Sam Lipsyte, Home Land
Elif Batuman, The Idiot

I also love pretending to be surprised that people can tell I’m American.

Please recommend something to read while sitting at least 5 meters away from strangers in a Berlin park during an unusually sunny spring of quarantining.  

Lit Hub recommends:

I see you like your humor, Andrew, but no cheap laughs for you—this is a very good list of books that are both highbrow (mostly) and hilarious. Two more to add: Atmospheric Disturbances, by Rivka Galchen, a very funny and philosophical novel which also happens to be exactly the kind of cool book I imagine reading in the park in Berlin, coolest of cities. I also suspect you’d be a fan of Nell Zink—try Mislaid, an irreverent, deadpan, and yes, erudite romp. –Emily Temple, Managing Editor

Dan Sheehan, Restless Souls

Joseph K. loves:

Here are three categories, rather than books. Anything you can suggest would be great.

Books that minutely describe a physical trip through a world (ie Travels with Charley, LOTR (for the road trip aspects))
Books that themselves are a little world (ie Building Stories, Pale Fire, House of Leaves)
Literary fiction that’s also genre fiction (ie Cloud Atlas, Bone Clocks, The Intuitionist)

Lit Hub recommends:

Wow, Joseph K. Quite a literary name you’ve got there. I will answer you in three parts, to go with your three questions.

My favorite road trip novel in recent memory is Restless Souls, by Dan Sheehan (who also happens to be the editor at Book Marks), in which a war correspondent comes home from Sarajevo shaken and changed—and so his childhood friends take him on a road trip to find an experimental PTSD treatment center in California.

Any really good book is its own world, in my opinion—but this list makes me think you might like Marisha Pessl’s Night Film, which is filled with invented artifacts from a world just similar enough to our own to make it extremely eerie

Finally: so many of my favorite literary novels are also genre fiction that it’s hard to choose. Toni Morrison’s Beloved, surely one of the best novels of the century, is a ghost story. Ben Okri’s The Famished Road, which won the Booker in 1991, is narrated by a spirit child. Octavia Butler’s Kindred is a time travel novel. Kathryn Davis’s Duplex is so bonkers as to be indescribable. And how about Ursula K. Le Guin? Honestly I could go on, but I’ll just leave it there for now.  –Emily Temple, Managing Editor

Geek Love, Katherine Dunn

V. K. loves:

Neil Gaiman, American Gods
George R. R. Martin, A Song of Ice and Fire Series
André Aciman, Call Me By Your Name

Other things I like: aerial arts, i.e. pole dancing, lyra hoop, circus stuff

I like stories that are simple and powerful. Stories about strong women who are outcasted or rejected in some way are also appealing to me.

Lit Hub recommends:

Without a doubt, the book you are looking for is Geek Love, by Katherine Dunn. It’s got everything you like: fantasy elements, wonderful writing, “circus stuff” (so much circus stuff!), and female outcasts galore. It’s also a book known to change lives, so be ready. –Emily Temple, Managing Editor

Lee Connell, The Party Upstairs

Marilee S. loves:

My favorite writer is Iris Murdoch, and I’m always looking for someone with the same qualities of story, character, philosophy, humor, and social satire. 

Hernan Diaz, In the Distance
Elizabeth Strout, My Name is Lucy Barton
Paul Harding, Tinkers
Oh, and Lee Child

Lit Hub recommends:

I. LOVE. IRIS. MURDOCH. SO. MUCH. So cruel and wise, in such a very British way. I want to recommend a spy novel that I think gets to some of what you’re looking for, at least (it’s hard to match Murdoch). Edgard Telles Ribeiro’s His Own Man follows the rise of an enigmatic spy, viewed from the perspective of a colorless bureaucrat, as the two navigate the upper echelons of Brazilian society in the 1960s as first Brazil, then much of the rest of the country, see their democratically elected governments toppled by nefarious and secretive forces and replaced by dictatorships. I think you might also dig The Party Upstairs, by Lee Connell. It’s a debut out this June that has a novel twist on the upstairs/downstairs story perfect for those stuck inside. A super for a high-priced Manhattan coop is sick of the privileged tenants never thinking about the consequences of their own actions, and his daughter’s friendship with the penthouse owner’s daughter is fraught with artistic competition and increasing compromised by patronizing tones and growing resentment. It isn’t long before everything comes to a boiling point, in what I’m describing as a Marxist Mrs. Dalloway, (or maybe a Marxist Big Little Lies). –Molly Odintz, CrimeReads Senior Editor

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