10 books to read while stuck in quarantine
Let's face it: thanks to the coronavirus many of us have, and will spend quite some time away from our friends and family this year. That may include the upcoming holiday season. Time alone is also perfect reading-time however, and as cliché as it may sound books have helped me personally through some very lonely times, including some in the past few months. I realise not everybody will be looking for the same things to read right now; some may want to seek out books specifically about isolation, where others will be in the market for some good old-fashioned escapism. I've included a bit of both in this list, all of which of course are books that I've personally loved during times of loneliness.
Along the way you may notice a trend: I've picked all of these books for their undertone of hope, as honestly: we could all use a bit more of that now...
The first, and perhaps a bit too freakishly relevant novel on this list covers the aftermath of a devestating flu pandemic, and the small clusters of survivors across America who try to rebuild society from the chaos. Before you yell at me for putting something so bleak on this list, I want to assure you that the strenght of this novel is in its hopefulness and optimism. Despite the bleak setting, Station Eleven is all about connection, humanity, honoring what you've lost and building something new in its spirit from the ground up. This understated masterpiece of literary fiction has earned its place in my top 3 novels of all time long before COVID-19 reared its head, and has only cemented that spot further since then.
If you've been with me some time already, you'll probably know this is one of my all-time favourite books. The reason it had to have a place on this list however, is that this is the single book about isolation and loneliness that has made me feel the most connected, strange as that may seem. The story about a young woman spending her christmas break alone in an empty college dorm after all her friends have left for their families. When her best friend from back home comes to visit her, she's forced to face the loneliness that has made a home in her heart, in order to find the space to fill it with new connections. If you're stuck in self-isolation this year, perhaps even during the holidays, maybe give this book a read to remind you that no matter what: you're not alone and you will be okay again. .
TJ Klune's latest novel blew up this year in the book community, in large part due to being in the exact right place at the exact right time. Described as an "adult story with middle grade vibe", this feel-good gem was everything many of us (including myself) were craving during these dark times. If you want to completely forget everything that's happening around you, and just immerse yourself in the warm-fuzzy feelings: this one is for you. We follow Linus Baker, a social worker for the Department in Charge Of Magical Youth, as he's send on a 4 week assignment to overseeing the well-being of 6 highly extraordinary children, housed at the Marsyas Island Orphanage. What begins as a run of the mill job for Linus soon turns into an enchanting and life-changing story of discovering an unlikely family in an unexpected place—and realizing that family is yours.
Maybe wholesomeness isn't quite your thing, and instead you're looking for a bit of escapist thrill to take your mind off everything. Well, I've got just what you need, my friend: a thriller about a woman unable to leave her house, that uses her time to secretly spy on her neighbours from her window. Fair warning: it's quite a formulaic thriller and not a favourite read for me personally, but I truly cannot think thriller more befitting these times. Even if it's a bit predictable, you can still have an entertaining time along the way. For those new to the genre, this might just be your perfect segway into it, and you won't notice the tropes that may bug someone who's read more American suburban thrillers before.
It's been quite a whiles since I've last talked about Circe, but to this day it's one of my favourite novels of all times. As the title suggests, this is a retelling of the classical Greek myth of Circe, a fierce witch and daughter of the Sungod Helios, who appears in many myths as a side character (usually a villain). In this story, Madeline Miller gives her her own voice to tell her story, and shows us her life through a first hand account. I put this novel on the list for 2 reasons: first because it's absolutely magical, and especially for those interested in Greek mythology, a perfect way to find yourself transported to far away lands, and completely immerse yourself in it. Secondly, because a large part of Circe's life is spent in isolation, after being banished by Zeus from Olympus to live on a deserted island. Her isolation, both the good and the bad of it, plays a large role in Circe's life and dictates many of her motivations. Despite being a literal (half-) goddess, Circe's story is a relatable and very human one at its core, that I feel will resonate with many people, especially those who feel a bit exiled themselves at the moment. I cannot recommend this enough to fans of either literary fiction, Greek mythology or both.
When I think of books about isolation, the first few that come to mind are: anything by David Vann, The Lightkeepers by Abby Geni, The Great Alone by Kirsten Hannah and probably the Alien novels based of the movies. Clearly only one of those is slightly hopeful. The feeling of isolation mostly comes from the Alaskan setting and the seeming insurmountable odds our protagonists are up against. Luckily Hannah does an incredible job of letting you feel that desperation and loneliness, only to toss out a lifeline of hope just in time to leave you with a warm feeling in your heart thinking back on this book.
When speaking of isolated settings, nothing comes to mind more than a researchbase on Antarctica, which is exactly where this novel takes place. We follow Róisín, an Irish astrophysicist tracking the paths of the comets overhead, and François, a chef from France, and their blossoming relationship whilst working at this isolated base. The Comet Seekers traces their paths through time and geography to show how they found themselves and each other at this time in this forbidding but magical place at the end of the Earth. Despite the isolated setting this book is filled with so much connection, not just between our characters on the base, but also with their long-distance connections back on different continents. It's not only a great read in itself, but offers a timely reminder for those separated from friends and family that out of sight is not out of mind, and how people can be close to one another, even from thousands of miles away.
I've mentioned Alaska, I've mentioned a researchbase in Antarctica. Now let me up the ante one more time with the isolated settings: what about being the only person left behind on a different planet. This is what happens to Mark Watney in this science-fiction survival story packed with snarky humor, unexpected emotion and a protagonist with an almost inhuman determination to live and to find optimism in the worst of situation. Many people will be familiar with this story, either from the bestselling novel or the movie starring Matt Damon (both of which I can recommend), yet I'm not sure if people will think to pick it up during these times. It's not your traditional sci-fi in space, but at it's core a story about surviving, inventiveness and making the best of a crappy situation. Mark's approach to life is one that I've had as a personal motto for years now, but seems even more relevant now than evern. "Things didn't go as planned, but I'm not dead, so that's a win!"
The second and final space-novel I want to mention couldn't be more different form the last again. The Book of Strange New things is a literary fiction novel about a minister who has been send on a mission to preach his faith to an alien colony, lightyears away from earth. Although that description is technically correct, it doesn't do justice to what the book is truly about. Although our main character is at no point "isolated" in the literal sense, as he's surrounded by colleagues and his extra-terrestrial counterparts, this is a very prominent theme in the story. Especially so in the (extremely) long distance relationship Peter tries to sustain with his wife back at home on Earth. In my original review I described the book as such:
"This is a novel about distance (both physical miles, but more importantly emotional distance between people), about love and loss, about being away from home, about hope and the lies we tell ourselves sometimes to keep that hope alive…. It’s about tolerance and acceptance of differences, and the way our beliefs can unite some, but just as well can drive others apart." I still agree with this statement, and if I can convince you to read at least one of the books on this list, this would be my pick. It's profound, it's not what you expect, and it's absolutely perfect for the current times.
Lastly, I hesitated quite some time to include this one, as I don't feel comfortable supporting miss Rowling, her personal views or her bussiness practices at this point. That being said, I'd be in remiss not to mention the Harry Potter series among books that have helped me cope with loneliness. For years now, the Holiday period has been a lonely time for me every single year, and no other book (series) has helped me through that time and time again than this one. It needs no introduction: a young boy, a magical school and a lifetime of found family.
With that, I hope to have given you some inspiration for what to read during your next round of quarantine, or perhapse when this is all over, to remember this time by. If you want to read more of my thoughts on any of these books, you can find extended reviews for almost all of them on my blog or my Goodreads.
As a bonus entry; I'd like to add two books that's, although thematically may not fit the theme completely, will be forever connected to my quarantine experience, and what I loved reading.