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Book Recommendations Personal

5 Books to Keep You Company During Isolation

I recently came across the article “Kristin Hannah Recommends 5 Books to Keep You Company During Isolation.”

Since I’ve been having trouble writing much of anything at all, I decided to use the format of this post as a template for my own recommendations. 

Here are the categories, Kristin Hannah’s recommendations, and my own suggestions.

One Book That Made Me Laugh

Kristin Hannah’s recommendation: This is Where I Leave You by Jonathan Tropper

This is the hardest category for me, since I almost never read any book described as “comic.” In fact, I’ve had an adversarial relationship with comedy most of my life. As a kid I hated The Three Stooges and Marx Brothers movies. More recently, I tried reading Cold Comfort Farm by Stella Gibbons after a couple of cousins talked about how funny it is at a family gathering. I hated it and gave up after the first few chapters. I did read all 394 pages of A Confederacy of Dunces by John Kennedy Toole—it won the Pulitzer Prize in 1981, after all—and still regret every minute of my life thus wasted.

Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy

But I absolutely loved The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy by Douglas Adams and still believe that the answer to The Question of Life, the Universe, and Everything is 42.

One Book That Left Me Feeling Hopeful

Kristin Hannah’s recommendation: The Fellowship of the Ring by J.R.R. Tolkien

A Constellation of Vital Phenomena

My recommendation: A Constellation of Vital Phenomena by Anthony Marra. Who’d have thought a novel about the war in Chechnya could be so full of hope? But this one is, and it will make your heart swell.

One Book That Was a Total Escape

Kristin Hannah’s recommendation: Tell No One  by Harlan Coben

“You can’t go wrong with Harlan Coben,” Hannah says. My thoughts exactly.

The Boy from the Woods

That’s why I’m recommending Coben’s most recent thriller, The Boy from the Woods.

A Book I Binged in One Sitting

Kristin Hannah’s recommendation: Interview with the Vampire by Anne Rice

This category was also difficult for me because I read very slowly and therefore almost never binge a whole book.

Our Souls at Night

But I did just that with Kent Haruf’s final work, Our Souls at Night. It’s a sorrowful story, but also compelling.

The Book I’m Currently Reading

Kristin Hannah’s: Mildred Pierce by James M. Caine

Before She Knew Him

My current read is Before She Knew Him by Peter Swanson.


© 2020 by Mary Daniels Brown

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Author News Book News Book Recommendations Bookstores Fiction Film Publishing Reading Television

More Arts-Related Pandemic News

More Book-Related Pandemic News

Luckily, books still exist, and can be their own vehicle for connection. And what better reading material for right now than books where the characters are, in some way, alone? None of these are dystopian (at least not in the traditional sense), but are instead characterized by protagonists with complex interior lives who are either isolated (in some way that’s not about a contagion) or fiercely independent, or both.

Feeling overwhelmed? How art can help in an emergency by Olivia Laing

During this febrile period, I’ve found myself longing for a different kind of timeframe, in which it would be possible both to feel and to think, to process the intense impact of the news and perhaps even to imagine other ways of being. The stopped time of a painting, say, or the dilations of the novel, in which it is possible to see patterns and consequences that are otherwise invisible. Art has begun to feel not like a respite or an escape, but a formidable tool for gaining perspective on what are increasingly troubled times.

America Infected: The Social (Distance) Catastrophe

In the Paris Review, J. Hoberman looks at cinematic representations of plagues, including The Plague by Albert Camus and Contagion by Steven Soderbergh.

Pandemics from Homer to Stephen King: what we can learn from literary history

From Homer’s Iliad and Boccaccio’s Decameron to Stephen King’s The Stand and Ling Ma’s Severance, stories about pandemics have – over the history of Western literature such as it is – offered much in the way of catharsis, ways of processing strong emotion, and political commentary on how human beings respond to public health crises.

So We’re Working From Home. Can the Internet Handle It?

I live in the greater metropolitan Seattle area, which was the first site of infection of COVID-19 in the United States. This was therefore one of the first areas to cancel in-person classes and move to online education and to encourage remote working for non-essential employees. 

With all these additional people online during the day, I’ve noticed a significant increase in the length of time web pages take to load. Of course things were worse back in the first days of modems and dial-up internet, but still . . . . The New York Times reports on this issue with a more national focus.

IT’S THE RIGHT TIME TO READ CRIME NOVELS

Molly Odintz, senior editor for CrimeReads, explains why she’s taking refuge in reading Scandinavian thrillers:

Not because thrillers are low-brow. They take immense thought to create. But they don’t—and this is key—take commensurate mental energy to consume. They are the kindest art form, because they do the work for the consumer, allowing us a break from fretting about our very real woes so that we can worry, safely, for the fates of fictional characters instead.

20 MUST-READ FEEL-GOOD FANTASIES

If fantasy is more your choice for light reading, Nicole Hill has you covered with this list.

The Best of Speculative Fiction

More suggestions, these from Ken Liu, winner of the Nebula, Hugo, and World Fantasy awards.

How you can support bookstores during the coronavirus pandemic

Jonny Diamond reports on how to support local bookstores, which are suffering from lack of sales while people aren’t going out shopping. (See my article Life in an Independent Bookstore Near Seattle.)

The World of Books Braces for a Newly Ominous Future

“Publishers, bookstores and authors are struggling to confront and limit the financial fallout from the unfolding coronavirus crisis.”

15 Books and Authors Hurt by the Coronavirus

Novelists Ignite A Mighty Blaze in Response to Extinguished Book Tours

two novelists, Caroline Leavitt and Jenna Blum, are promoting their colleagues with an ambitious initiative called A Mighty Blaze. Anyone can participate in the conversations on A Mighty Blaze on Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram about new releases, but for authors wanting their books to be signal boosted on these platforms, there are a few requirements: the book has to be traditionally published for adult readers, and the author’s book tour has to have been canceled.

Without Places to Gather, Debut Novelists Reimagine Book Promotion

Canada’s book publishers scramble to cope with the impact of coronavirus

As New York’s Indie Bookstores Close Their Doors, They Search for Community Online

Sales Skyrocket at Libro.fm and Bookshop.org

“As a result of the new coronavirus crisis, sales at downloadable audiobookstore Libro.fm and online Bookshop.org have soared. Both digital stores collaborate with independent booksellers and return a share of the sales back to them.”

Tolstoy Together

“Read and discuss War and Peace with Yiyun Li and A Public Space. Starting March 18, join us for a free virtual book club—a moment each day when we can gather together as a community. #TolstoyTogether.”

How To Take Your Book Club Online While Practicing Social Distancing

11 authors, from Laila Lalami to Jonathan Lethem, on the books they might finally read in quarantine

8 Books to Crack Open While Society Closes Down Because of Coronavirus

This list is from Teen Vogue, but the books are decidedly grown-up (for example, Steinbeck’s East of Eden).

Penguin Random House Open License Online Story Time and Classroom Read-Aloud Videos and Live Events

In order to encourage reading and classroom read-aloud experiences, and to support schools and public libraries forced to close by the escalating COVID-19 outbreak, Penguin Random House is permitting teachers, librarians and booksellers to create and share story time and read-aloud videos and live events, according to the following guidelines:

Since such presentations normally violate copyright law, Ron Charles of the Washington Post calls this “a generous offer.” If you plan to take advantage of the offer, be sure to read all the guidelines, including the one about later removing the presentation from the social platform’s archives.

Art Galleries Respond to Virus Outbreak With Online Viewing Rooms

Prolonged travel restrictions and venue closings leave some people craving artistic and cultural stimulation. Many organizations are satisfying those desires.

12 World-Class Museums You Can Visit Online

This article is from 2016, but the links still work.

No travel required: 10 iconic museums you can tour online

Met Museum Prepares for $100 Million Loss and Closure Till July

“The Met’s executives say the coronavirus outbreak makes painful layoffs likely for every cultural institution.”

Melbourne Symphony Orchestra will live stream performances in lieu of cancelled concerts

Met to launch “Nightly Met Opera Streams,” a free series of encore Live in HD presentations streamed on the company website during the coronavirus closure

Hollywood production has shut down. Why thousands of workers are feeling the pain

As film crews have quickly shut down in an effort to slow the spread of the coronavirus, a domino effect has befallen Hollywood’s working class. A range of people from actors to lighting directors, drivers and grips to administrators, painters, hair stylists and caterers, now suddenly find themselves out of work.

What to Stream: Classics for Comfort

From film critic Richard Brody:

I’m picking up on a search for substance, for movies that have the settled and solid quality of classics (despite the narrow assumptions on which such classicism is based)—movies serious enough for the mood, compelling enough to provide ready distraction, and confident enough to look beyond the troubles that they evoke. Here are some of the movies that I’ve been grateful to watch in the past few stressful days.

What to Watch, Listen to, and Read While Coronavirus Self-Quarantining

“Here are some suggestions from New Yorker writers and artists to ease the stress of isolation.”

Recommendations for TV, movies, podcasts, books, and streaming content to keep yourself occupied.

The Fever Room: Epidemics and Social Distancing in “Bleak House” and “Jane Eyre”

A look at how quarantine helped prevent disease in these 19th century novels, when there were no other options for handling epidemics.

The first lines of 10 classic novels, rewritten for social distancing

Because sometimes all you can do is laugh. Example:

Pride and Prejudice

It is a truth universally acknowledged, that a single man in possession of a good fortune, must be hoarding toilet paper.


© 2020 by Mary Daniels Brown

Categories
Book Recommendations Fiction Last Week's Links Publishing

Literary Links

I’m Not Feeling Good at All

“The perplexingly alienated women of recent American fiction”

Jess Bergman writes, “the new heroines of contemporary fiction possess a kind of anhedonic equanimity, more numb than overwhelmed.”

Doing No Harm: A Look at Writing Suicide and Self-Harm in Fiction

Alice Nuttall makes the case that “Suicide and self-harm are serious topics, and ones that are absolutely necessary for literature to tackle – but carefully, thoughtfully, and in a way that avoids harming any vulnerable readers.” 

The article provides several links to further discussions of this topic.

A Close Reading of the Chilling Prologue of Donna Tartt’s The Secret History

I’m a fan of close reading. Here Emily Temple offers a close reading of the prologue of a big and very complex book.

Why Emma Is Still Jane Austen’s Most Pleasurable Heroine

With the recent release of the new film Emma, Hillary Kelly explains why Austen’s novel is “not a story of a young woman who makes her way up in the world through a lucky combination of strong character, bright intellect, and an estate-owning love match, but one of a bored 20-year-old sprite whose family ‘has no equals’ in the town of Highbury, but whose days have little to fill them.”

Woody Allen’s book could signal a new era in the publishing industry

According to Maris Kreizman:

The book publishing industry last week learned the potency of pushback — that bad business decisions have consequences and that lower-level employees have more power than for which they’d previously been given credit.

The Best of Speculative Fiction

The term speculative fiction means different things to different people. Here’s science fiction and fantasy writer Ken Liu’s definition:

to me, speculative fiction is generally the type of fiction that uses the technique of literalizing some aspect of reality that we usually speak of as metaphorical. By making that aspect literally true—by making that metaphor literally true—we are able to gain a different perspective and understanding of reality.

Here he recommends five works of this type.


© 2020 by Mary Daniels Brown

Categories
Book Recommendations Personal

St. Patrick’s Day Reading

7 Books With Striking Green Covers to Read This St. Paddy’s Day

My own stack of green books appears at the top of this post.

15 IRISH CRIME WRITERS YOU SHOULD BE READING RIGHT NOW

This is reprinted from 2018.

8 Irish Writers We’re Lucky to Have on Our Shelves

10 Audiobooks with Incredible Irish Accents

13 Lucky Facts About St. Patrick’s Day

OK, it’s not about books, but it’s informative nonetheless.


© 2020 by Mary Daniels Brown

Categories
Big Books Book Recommendations Personal Reading

Big Books to Read Right Now

If there’s some extra reading time in your life right now, this article has you covered:

Long live Big Books!

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Seriously, please take care of yourselves and each other during this trying time. 

I live in Washington State, one of the hottest spots in the U.S. for this pandemic, and everything here is shut down. As much as this introvert loves the excuse to stay home and read, I wish the circumstances were not so dire. 

© 2020 by Mary Daniels Brown

Categories
Book Recommendations Literary History

Celebrate International Women’s Day!

In honor of International Women’s Day, here are some suggested books about women:

  • The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks by Rebecca Skloot 
  • Shirley Jackson: A Rather Haunted Life by Ruth Franklin
  • Woman As Healer by Jeanne Achterberg
  • Hidden Figures by Margot Lee Shetterly
  • The Woman’s Hour: The Great Fight to Win the Vote by Elaine Weiss

For more reading suggestions, Canterbury Classics has put together a list of works by authors who “all had to defy social norms and push boundaries in order to accomplish what they did, and although some didn’t live to see it, get the respect that they deserved”:

And publishing conglomerate Penguin Random House features the series Modern Library Torchbearers, books by “women who wrote on their own terms, with boldness, creativity, and a spirit of resistance”:

How about you?

What other reading do you suggest for International Women’s Day and Women’s History Month?

© 2020 by Mary Daniels Brown

Categories
Book Recommendations Libraries List

Happy Valentine’s Day!

Some holiday reading . . .

50 States of Love

“From sea to shining sea, here’s a tour of unforgettable fiction that explores matters of the heart.”

125 Books We Love

As the New York Public Library celebrates its 125th anniversary, “125 Books We Love honors all the books from the past 125 years that made us fall in love with reading.”

Happy reading!

Categories
Book Recommendations Fiction Film Last Week's Links Literature & Psychology Reading

Literary Links

Looking for a Book to Read With Friends?

The New York Times introduces Group Text, “a monthly column for readers and book clubs about the novels, memoirs and short-story collections that make you want to talk, ask questions, and dwell in another world for a little bit longer.” The focus for book clubs will be on “the kinds of propulsive, thought-provoking books worthy of discussion.”

Its inaugural choice is Long Bright River by Liz Moore:

What it’s about: When their neighborhood is battered by opioids, two sisters choose very different paths through the wreckage. One is a cop; the other is an addict. And one of the two is missing.

I have a copy of this book on my shelf right now. It was my December 2019 choice from the offerings of Book of the Month.

This article includes discussion questions for Long Bright River and some suggestions for related reading. There’s also information on how to join the book discussion on the Times’s Facebook page.

SIX NOVELS EXPLORING HOW (AND HOW LONG) WE PROCESS TRAUMA

Laurie Faria Stolarz wrote her most recent novel, Jane Anonymous, to focus on “that period of time, post-trauma, when the threat is removed but the wounds remain, raw and searing, as the individual tries to acclimate back in her safer space”:

people’s reactions to trauma are as varied and complex as the trauma itself. Numerous factors can influence one’s reaction(s), including age, personal history, one’s own brain chemistry, and the nature of the trauma. Time, effective treatment, and having a solid support system are also key factors. But, bottom line, while therapists can and do identify common threads and behaviors among victims of trauma, every case is as unique as the person who experiences it.

Here Stolarz discusses six novels that feature some varied reactions to trauma.

HOW HORROR HELPS WITH PROCESSING GRIEF AND TRAUMA

In an article related to the one above, S.F. Whitaker, who describes herself as a trauma survivor, discusses how horror literature and films have helped her deal with her experience. Whitaker says that she “gravitated to the grotesque and weird” from an early age: “Before I could articulate where it hurt there were books, and movies to serve as a balm. In the progression of my reading I found familiarity.”

Whitaker says that one might think that reading horror literature or seeing horror films would exacerbate a person’s feelings of grief and trauma. But she points some psychology studies that have shown that the opposite is true:

Studies have shown that horror can help us with grief, anxiety, depression, and a number of other disorders. For someone experiencing a deep loss or processing trauma, it becomes less about the deaths and more about the survivor. Grief studies in particular have found that trying to make someone feel better only makes the situation worse. You’re invalidating their feelings rather than helping. A book can take someone suffering on a journey. You feel the pain with the characters, some surviving while others do not, and there is a resolution of some kind.

Whitaker does not give specific references to those studies, which I see as a weakness in an article like this. However, her discussion is quite general, and her conclusion pertains only to herself:

In my case, Quincy [in Final Girls by Riley Sager] in particular made it feel like I did not have to have it all together. I can be flawed and that’s okay. There is beauty in the journey, even if it’s blood soaked pages riddled with ghosts, ghoulies, and monsters galore.

United we read: Writer roams a fractured nation with 52 books (or more) in 52 weeks

In an effort to see beyond the fractured state of politics, Heather John Fogarty has decided to read her way across the U.S. in the time leading up to the election of 2020:

I set myself a reading project. In the year leading up to the 2020 election, I would read (at least) one book from each state, as well as from Puerto Rico and Washington, D.C., prioritizing contemporary fiction and memoir, with the hope of exploring shared experiences, such as family, identity and a sense of home.

She is reading alphabetically and here reports on books through Connecticut, so this will apparently be an ongoing series.

MY ONLY READING GOAL THIS YEAR IS TO HAVE FUN

In 2019 Matt Grant set himself the goal of reading 100 books. After a year of pushing himself to achieve that goal—which he did accomplish—he has decided to “set myself a new goal this year: to have fun reading.”

Read his discussion of how he achieved his 2019 goal and why he has changed his approach to reading this year.

© 2020 by Mary Daniels Brown

Categories
Book Recommendations List

The Best of 2019: The Top 10 Book Lists of the Year

I swore that I was through with “Best Books of 2019” lists. But then the folks at Off the Shelf hit me with this post:

The Best of 2019: The Top 10 Book Lists of the Year

Ah, the thematic book list. Nothing makes up leap for a new read like discovering a gem hidden in a historical fiction round-up or psychological thrillers listicle. This year, we even explored new sub-genres like domestic thrillers, historical fantasy and mystery, dysfunctional family dramedies, and even books Stephen King has blurbed. Here are just 10 of our favorite book lists we ran on Off the Shelf this year.

If you love lists as much as I do, here you’ll find links to the following lists:

  • 14 Books You Wish You Could Read for the First Time Again 
  • A Cozy Winter Getaway: 9 Perfect Novels You Need to Bring
  • Stephen King Recommends: 14 Books He Wants You to Read
  • 7 Domestic Thrillers to Binge-Read Right Now
  • 11 Books That Are Guaranteed Page-Turners
  • 9 International Thrillers to Sink Your Teeth Into
  • 12 Historical Novels to Transport You to Uncommon Eras
  • The Mister Rogers TBR: 10 Books You’d Find in the Neighborhood Today
  • 9 Beautiful Novels That Will Inspire You to Be a Better Person
  • 8 Books We Can’t Stop Thinking About
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And Ron Charles, who writes about books for The Washington Post, examined 11 trends that changed the way we read this decade recently.

And editors at The Amazon Book Review list a few books “that we will be moving back to the top of that TBR pile” in The books that (almost) got away in 2019.

© 2019 by Mary Daniels Brown

Categories
Book Recommendations List Personal

The Best Books I Read in 2019

Because I read more books this year than I had in any recent year, paring down my list of the year’s favorites was much harder than usual. I always try to reduce the list of 10 best and 5 honorable mentions, but this year I couldn’t decide which should be the final title to get moved from best to honorable mention. I therefore present 11 best and 4 honorable mentions, although the differences between the two groups are indeed very slight.

As always, these are the best books I read this year, regardless of when they were published. They’re listed alphabetically by author’s last name.

Best

Crouch, Blake. Recursion: A Novel

Franklin, Ruth. Shirley Jackson: A Rather Haunted Life

Harper, Jane. The Lost Man

Kim, Angie. Miracle Creek

Lippman, Laura. Lady in the Lake

Michaelides, Alex. The Silent Patient

Obama, Michelle. Becoming

Quinn, Kate. The Alice Network

Reid, Taylor Jenkins. Daisy Jones & The Six

Turton, Stuart. The 7 1/2 Deaths of Evelyn Hardcastle

Whitehead, Colson. The Underground Railroad

Honorable Mention

Berney, Lou. November Road

Dugoni, Robert. My Sister’s Grave

Kushner, Rachel. The Mars Room

McTiernan, Dervla. The Ruin


You can find links to lists of the best books I read each year from 1996 to 2019 on the Year’s Best Books page.

© 2019 by Mary Daniels Brown