We may be in the midst of social distancing, but we see it as a perfect time to cozy up to some good books. As Shuffle Online’s resident mega-readers, we put together a list of must-read books to fit your every mood.
List by Shadan Larki and Jackie Ruth
“An American Marriage”
Author: Tayari Jones
“An American Marriage” is one of my absolute favorite books of the past few years and the number one book I’m likely to recommend to a friend — the perfect place to start my list. Tayari Jones’s 2018 novel follows newlyweds Celeste and Roy and what happens to their marriage after Roy is falsely accused of rape and imprisoned. The story of their marriage is told through the letters they write to one another while apart, and it is utterly captivating. You root for Celeste as she fights to prove Roy’s innocence, but just how hard is she fighting to save her marriage?
This is a beautiful novel, one that you’ll want to reread the minute you finish it. “An American Marriage” is haunting in its beauty, and in its reminder that there are Celestes and Roys everywhere; countless couples are unjustly separated and trying to make sense of what to do next. At times it’s a heavy read, but it’s an unforgettable journey.
Author: Andrew Sean Greer
Andrew Sean Greer’s “Less” shocked the literary world in 2018 when it won the Pulitzer Prize for Fiction. How did this tiny, under-the-radar, satirical comedy beat out its competition? The short answer is: It’s just delightful.
Andrew Less is a “failed novelist” about to turn 50. When news of his ex-boyfriend’s upcoming wedding arrives, he’s desperate to get away. He accepts invitations to any literary event that will have him and finds himself in Mexico, Italy, Germany, France and around the world.
This novel is perfect for any of you going stir-crazy, as you get to follow Less on his many global adventures. But beyond just exploring the hilarious neuroses of an aging has-been, “Less” is about so many things — what it means to be an artist, what it means to get older, what it means to lose true love, and what to do when you don’t know what lies ahead.
On the front cover of “Less” there is this quote from the great Ann Patchett: “I recommend it with my whole heart.” And I couldn’t agree more.
“A Thousand Splendid Suns”
Author: Khaled Hosseini
Be forewarned: “A Thousand Splendid Suns” is an incredibly heavy read. Its depictions of abuse and violence are upsetting and may be triggering for some. But there is a reason why Hosseini’s 2007 novel has appeared on nearly every list of the “Best Books of the Century.” It’s just that good. And there aren’t many writers, if any, that have Hosseini’s talent for transporting you to a world away, grabbing you from the very first page and, by the end, I believe, changing your worldview for the better.
The novel follows Mariam and Laila, two women in Afghanistan whose fortune’s become intertwined when Laila is forced to marry Mariam husband’s Rasheed and live as his second wife. As the story is told through flashbacks we learn of the series of tragic events that have brought each woman to their current circumstance, and what unfolds is an unlikely yet beautiful friendship between two women forced to make heart-wrenching decisions.
Why did I include a novel from 2007 in a list of books to read in 2020? Because I believe it is worthy of the praise — and truly one of the best books of the modern era. I read “A Thousand Splendid Suns” a decade ago, and have thought about it at least once a week ever since.
Author: Christina Lauren
I must admit I am finding myself increasingly smitten with the romance genre in recent weeks and months. Whenever I finish a heavier novel, or if I’m just looking for a light read before bed, more and more I find myself reaching for contemporary romance. My go-to author for my pick-me-up reads has been Christina Lauren. (Christina Lauren is the combined pen name of long-time writing partners Christina Hobbs and Lauren Billings). All of their books are perfect for a cozy day of reading. Don’t ask me to pick a favorite, but for the sake of this list, I went with “The Unhoneymooners.”
Olive’s sister just married Ethan’s brother, but when their siblings get an awful stomach bug and can’t go on their planned honeymoon, Ethan and Olive have to pretend to be married and go in their place. Cute banter and steamy romance set in a tropical location sounds like the perfect distraction right about now, and it’s a great introduction to Christina Lauren’s backlist of books.
Author: William Landay
I love thrillers, but increasingly I find great thrillers harder and harder to come by. Many thrillers try too hard to be the next “Gone Girl,” have ridiculous plot-twists, bad writing, or (often) a combination of all of the above.
“Defending Jacob,” in my view, isn’t saddled with any of these issues. It is well-written, with compelling twists and unique within its genre.
In a small Massachusetts town, a twelve-year-old boy ends up dead. His classmate Jacob soon falls under suspicion and is arrested for his murder. The assistant District Attorney working the case happens to be Jacob’s father. Did Jacob commit the crime? How far will his father go to protect him? And, most compelling, is Jacob’s demeanor a result of nature or nurture (one of my personal favorite topics to explore in literature, TV and film)?
An added bonus? “Defending Jacob” is being adapted into an Apple TV+ miniseries starring Chris Evans (an added, added bonus). Now is a great time to read the book before the show premieres on April 24.
“Quackery: A Brief History of the Worst Ways to Cure Everything”
Authors: Lydia Kang, MD and Nate Pedersen
There’s little doubt in my mind that the world of medicine isn’t on your mind these days. But if you want a lighthearted look at health care’s history, this is a great read.
This nonfiction book from 2017 explores the plants, animals, tools, elements and more that have been used to “treat” or “cure” people throughout time. Despite the fact that horrible illnesses and injuries have plagued people for all time — and that these non-cures mostly hurt more than helped — you may get a laugh from the fact that things like mercury were once thought of as actual medicines.
We’re fairly lucky to be living in modern times, but it does make you wonder: What will future societies think of our health care practices? It’s just another something to mull over while social distancing.
“Egghead: Or, You Can’t Survive on Ideas Alone”
Author: Bo Burnham
To most of those who know his name, Burnham is a comedian, not an author. But in 2013, he released his first (and only?) book of poetry, with “Egghead: Or, You Can’t Survive on Ideas Alone.”
If you like doing multiple smaller activities during your time indoors, rather than finishing a book in one sitting, this should help you pass the time. Burnham, of course, injects his poetry with comedy, but there are a couple of works in there that read as genuine and emotional. It’s a nice, positive break from the news, and the poems aren’t unlike lengthy tweet threads.
So take a break, and break out of your comfort zone if you don’t normally read poetry. This highly accessible collection may change your mind about that.
“What We Lose”
Author: Zinzi Clemmons
When you read this book, you may find it hard to believe that it’s Clemmons’s debut novel. From start to finish, it’s filled with emotion. As both a character study and an exercise in near-perfect worldbuilding, “What We Lose” packs a punch.
I picked this up a few years ago because its cover is beautiful, and it struck me as something different from a lot of what I read (or at least had been reading at the time). It was a new release from an author I had maybe read about online, but was not really familiar with. It’s taught me that it’s often worth taking chances on books like that (and maybe even sort of judging them by their covers), because something inexplicable has stuck with me ever since.
I can’t quote anything from the book; I barely remember the main character’s name. But all the same, this novel changed my worldview and provided a few hours away from my own worries. It’s not a particularly light book, as it deals with identity, a mother/daughter relationship and grief, but you’ll hopefully get sucked into the story and experience a different type of reprieve from life.
“My Best Friend’s Exorcism”
Author: Grady Hendrix
Do you enjoy horror comedies? How about teen/coming-of-age movies? This novel combines those genres for a 1980s-based story of a girl who loses her best friend…to a demon?
Hendrix is fairly well-known among readers of horror fiction; his stories often have a humorous bent to them (another good one is “Horrorstör,” about a haunted Swedish furniture retailer). This book tells the story of two best friends, who experience a bad hangout one night that leads to one of them changing in all the worst ways.
I think I read this entire book on a plane (don’t worry — it was summer 2019). Despite the main characters being teen girls, it doesn’t quite fit into the YA genre, but it’s a page-turner in the same way. If you’re looking for true escapism from current events, this would be a great one to check out.
Author: Ling Ma
Maybe you just want to fully lean in to the current pandemic. You can’t really, truly forget what’s going on (and what’s keeping you inside, reading). So why not read a fictionalized version of it?
“Severance” tells that story. In this 2018 novel, an illness spreads all over the world, leaving our protagonist, Candace, as one of the final residents of New York City. What’s strange — and yet, not that strange — is that she continues going to work and finds a way to leave in total isolation for a short while. The story jumps between the time before the illness (and how she grew up as a Chinese immigrant in the U.S.) to the period during its spread, then to the apocalyptic aftermath, where she’s joined up with a group of strangers who’ve also survived.
I actually just got the chance to read this one as COVID-19 was ramping up, and it was kind of surreal. The illness in the book is nothing like our current situation (thank goodness!), but watching traffic subside and stores close while reading a novel in which the same things were happening was something I’ve never experienced before. If it interests you — and if it won’t freak you out too much — I highly recommend trying it.