While I plan to write regular book reviews and “currently reading” updates, I want to take a moment to cover the noteworthy novels I’ve encountered so far in quarantine. Somehow I have managed to read over thirty books since late March! I have also become rather obsessed with audiobooks, as I’ve found that I can multi-task by listening while taking my dogs on extraordinarily long walks. I get my steps in, my dogs worn out, and several chapters knocked out at once. Killing the quarantine game.
Let’s start with my faves (because there’s a good chance you won’t finish reading this whole post and I want to at least get the word out about these FANTASTIC books that you should not miss out on):
Debby’s Best Books of Quarantine
This book is a must read. Chris Voss was an FBI hostage negotiator who spent decades honing his craft. He then moved into the business world and applied his skills in the conference room. He has so many practical examples to follow and tools you can use when negotiating– which, it turns out, is all the time. I am so glad I had a hard copy of this book because I highlighted, underlined, and wrote notes in the margins. It’s my new textbook for life.
Wooo this one is a doozy. Ronan Farrow, son of Woody Allen and Mia Farrow, was working as an on-air reporter for NBC in 2017 when he began investigating a story about Harvey Weinstein. Farrow’s journalistic skills are exceptional and often make this feel more like a crime thriller than a news piece. I listened to the audiobook (read by the author) and loved every second.
Rounding out my top three, Brusatte’s 2018 history of the Lost World is absolutely captivating. He weaves his personal experiences in the field with scientific discoveries from recent decades. I quickly realized that my paleontological knowledge was about twenty years behind. Brusatte caught me up on the latest developments in the field and made it feel like a jeep ride through Jurassic Park.
Novels (or things I read because everyone else was reading them)
While I would typically classify this type of book as just an enjoyable beach read, I feel it deserves more credit than that. There are some hard-hitting truths about materialism, class, race, and family that are woven together in a genuinely believable story. While the end of the book seemed to fold up a little too nicely, I thought the journey was conveyed exceptionally well.
After reading (and enjoying) Little Fires Everywhere, I had high expectations for Ng’s earlier novel. While I found the story unique and poignant at moments, the pace felt exceedingly slow and some of the character’s motivations felt overly simplistic and on-the-nose. You can see some of the sparks of LFE, but you won’t feel the fire.
This book traveled around my whole friend group this summer. It’s a quick but powerful read that centers around race but touches on privilege, insecurity, “white saviors”, social media, and more. While it has it’s flaws, it’s an engrossing read that can lead to some great conversations (especially once your whole friend group has read it!).
Like many of you, I have watched and been impressed by Trevor Noah’s commentary during these last few months, particularly with regard to the Black Lives Matter movement. I knew Trevor Noah was from South Africa, but I had no idea what his experience had been like growing up there. While he is able to see humor in even the darkest moments, there were a lot of dark moments in his childhood. This is a powerful read and an important one.
This book made me regret not appreciating our First Lady more while she was in office. Talk about an inspiring human– Michelle Obama graduated from Princeton before earning her law degree at Harvard. And her proceeding career path was just as impressive as her education. As I was reading her autobiography, I almost felt disappointed that she had to take a step back from her pursuits to accompany her family to the White House. While she was an incredible First Lady, I’m really excited to see what she does with her future.
JVN captured all of our hearts on Netflix’s Queer Eye and now he’s given us a little bit of his backstory. Let me tell you, his life has not been pretty. But he was fierce and determined and made it to the… well, over the top. If you like him, you’ll love his book.
At times hilarious, at other times heart-breaking and overwhelming, Jessica truly spills all her secrets. She’s had an incredibly successful career, but at a very high cost. Growing up in the age of Newlyweds, it was fun to get a glimpse from her vantage point on how events unfolded. But while it reads fairly open, I still got a sense that the book was meticulously manicured and meant to generate sales rather than anything else.
Fantasy and Science Fiction Escapes
A brand new Netflix show, a top-rated video game, and a legendary book series. There’s no series with quite the entertainment satisfaction of The Witcher. The Witcher is about a mutant-man named Geralt who wanders the world killing beasts that plague local villages. The books were written by a Polish author in the 1990s and have sold over 50 million copies worldwide. They’re written as short stories, so they have a different pacing than other series in the genre. Fantasy lit is my favorite form of escapism, so I did not resist the pull during this quarantine time!
Extremely magical. Set in the snowy, Russian landscape. Really lush, fantasy story-telling. It dragged a bit in places but I didn’t mind because it was so wonderful just being in that world. I listened to the audiobook and while the narrator was lovely, I sometimes got mixed up with all the Russian names (would’ve been easier to read a copy, I think).
I was introduced to The 100 by my short-lived, pre-COVID book club. This was the one and only book we read together before permanently disbanding due to the virus. I did end up reading the rest of the series, primarily due to the fact that I had them all downloaded on my Kindle while I was on a flight and they were very quick reads. While there were some interesting plot ideas, the characters were pretty weak/silly. I’ve heard the Netflix interpretation is actually more compelling and plan on watching it soon!
Good to Know
I read this book in late March, before the true ramifications of the pandemic were being felt or even predicted. With heightened economic and societal pressures from the virus, what is going to happen to the housing market? Matthew Desmond spent months living in the inner city of Milwaukee, learning about the housing crisis from the inside. His eyewitness accounts, along with staggering statistics, present a raw picture of the systemic problems in cities across America.
I’ve been meaning to read Gay’s work for years now– and this seemed like the perfect time to dive in. The opening lines of this book stuck with me: “I embrace the label of bad feminist because I am human. I am messy. I’m not trying to be an example. I am not trying to be perfect. I am not trying to say I have all the answers. I am not trying to say I’m right. I am just trying—trying to support what I believe in, trying to do some good in this world, trying to make some noise with my writing while also being myself.”
I picked this up after reading that it was the secret behind Adele’s transformation. While I’m not into fad diets, I was genuinely curious about what precisely a “sirt” food was. Turns out, there’s a protein called a sirtuin and that protein plays a vital role in your metabolism. The idea is that by eating a lot of sirtuins you will naturally speed up your metabolism. There’s lots of green juices and capers involved, but they also praise red wine and chocolate so I’m into it.
Other Books I Enjoyed
I once heard David Sedaris say in an interview that “small talk doesn’t have to be small”. He has the most odd and memorable interactions with strangers and shares them in a charming way. He inspires me to write more and to pay attention, for any moment could be a story.
Hilarious, whip-smart, and filthy. What else is there to say about Ali Wong? She’s a master of the comedy craft and she’s a wonderful wife and mother. It’s terrifying to see how she balances her life, but it’s also inspiring. I listened to the audiobook and was constantly cracking up while I walked my dogs around our local park… like a crazy person. Also: the very last chapter was the cherry on top.
These wonderful science fiction stories offered a more mellow take on the future than Black Mirror. The first story, with it’s Arabian Nights-esque setting, completely captivated me. I listened to the audiobook and loved the commentary that the author gave at the end of each story. It added another layer of context and complexity to each narrative.
Even More Books (and how I felt about them, in brief)
- The Last Romantics – Tara Conklin (unmemorable)
- The Immortalists – Chloe Benjamin (even less memorable)
- The Gunslinger – Stephen King (not my favorite King novel)
- Stay Sexy & Don’t Get Murdered – Karen Kilgariff & Georgia Hardstark (fun if you’re into MFM)
- Girl, Wash Your Face – Rachel Hollis (motivating and empowering… until you realize it’s all a marketing ploy)
- Whiskey in a Teacup – Reese Witherspoon (charming)
- Never Let Me Go – Kazuo Ishiguro (interesting? slow? Ishiguro is so masterful but I just didn’t know what to make of this one)
- We Need to Talk About Kevin – Lionel Shriver (made me question whether to have children)
- Dare to Lead – Brene Brown (inspiring and practical! as always!)
- Talking to Strangers – Malcolm Gladwell (interesting, but takeaways were unclear)
- City of Girls – Elizabeth Gilbert (absolutely hated. why is it so popular? will someone please explain?)
- The Communist Manifesto- Karl Marx and Friedrich Engels (powerful and prescient)
- The Ballad of Songbirds and Snakes – Suzanne Collins (surprisingly good!)
- Magpie Murders – Anthony Horowitz (rather awful, especially as far as murder mysteries go)
P.S. You can also follow me on GoodReads to see all the books I’ve ever read, peruse my reviews, and make sure I’m keeping up with my reading goals