Perhaps you are looking forward to today’s inaugural activities, either with pleasure or as a witness. Perhaps, however, like me, you have been absorbing the news with increasing concern (not to say despair — never despair), and, while you have been making plans for strong action in the coming years, you would like to spend today peacefully away from any source of news, reading something good.
Well, what’s good? Something purely escapist, that will help you forget it all for a few hours? Something uplifting, that will give you hope? Something by an author from a marginalized group, so you can show solidarity and maybe open up your horizons? Something that will remind you that literature and art are here to make connections in our world? I’ve got some suggestions for you!
If You Just Want to Forget Everything For A While:
The Last Werewolf, by Glen Duncan. This novel, narrated by Jake Marlowe, a 201-year-old, whiskey-drinking aesthete of a werewolf, the last of his kind, is breathless, witty, ironic, fast-paced, and fabulous. Look out for purple prose, but it’s well-earned.
11/22/63 , by Stephen King. What if you could go back in time and change the world — but only to one specific spot? This is what happens to Jake Epping, who discovers he can travel back in time, but only to October, 1958. Can he save John Kennedy, and by so doing, save Bobby Kennedy, Martin Luther King, millions in Vietnam? Find out in this great, suspenseful time-travel novel.
Bellwether, by Connie Willis. This is an extremely funny book about fads and chaos theory, luck, work, and inspiration, exasperation, and the way love can bloom in a weird environment. If it doesn’t make you laugh (even today), I’ll be very, very surprised.
Jamaica Inn, by Daphne du Maurier. If you’ve only read Rebecca, you’ve only just started. This is a thrilling, sinister Gothic romance in a great tradition, with touches only du Maurier can do right.
High Rising, by Angela Thirkell. Actually, you could read any of Thirkell’s Barsetshire Chronicles and be equally delighted, charmed, and amused, but this is the first one and it’s satisfying to start with.
If You Would Like Something Uplifting For a Change:
Hope in the Dark, by Rebecca Solnit. A book about how action results from and produces hope, even if we don’t know anything about our possible futures.
Delusions of Gender, by Cordelia Fine. This wonderful, immensely readable book on neuropsychology first debunks many old experiments that claimed men were more intelligent or more able than women, then posits that our brains are molded by our environments. If we have a more just society, we will have more just brains. Simple as that, right?
Bird by Bird or Operating Instructions by Anne Lamott. These books (about writing and the first year of having a baby, respectively) revolve around the importance of friendship, faith, love, sobriety, forgiveness, and Cheetos. They are some of my mainstays.
The Hobbit, by J.R.R. Tolkien. Even the smallest person can make a difference.
Résistance: A Frenchwoman’s Journal of the War, by Agnès Humbert. This story of fighting back against the Nazi occupation of France will fill you with determination and pride.
If You Would Like to Create Solidarity With Your Reading:
Between the World and Me, by Ta-Nehisi Coates. This letter to Coates’s son, inspired by James Baldwin’s The Fire Next Time (another good selection!) is an indictment, a memoir, and a manifesto.
Americanah, by Chimamandah Ngozi Adichie. This is a book about being an immigrant, about being a NAB (Non-American Black) in a racialized country, about being a woman in a patriarchy — and it’s also about a long relationship, and about the meaning of home.
The Arrival, by Shaun Tan. This wordless book shows you what it means to make a life in a really, really new place.
There but for the, by Ali Smith. This novel is a marvelously strange construction of humor and seriousness, about a man who has been invited to a dinner party by total strangers (it’s implied that he’s there because he’s gay — they like to invite people who are “different.”) In the middle of the party, he goes upstairs, locks himself into the spare room, and won’t… come… out. The way Smith unfolds meaning like a paper flower from this premise is glorious.
All the Single Ladies, by Rebecca Traister. A comprehensive, readable, sensible look at single womanhood in the United States.
The Round House, by Louise Erdrich. This novel begins with a crime — rape and attempted murder — and should feel isolating. But it is about community and shared pain, and the complicated limits of that community. A great choice from a great author.
Lila, by Marilynne Robinson, is in the voice of a woman who has known abandonment and homelessness, poverty, loss, danger, and distance from mainstream, middle-class values all her life. Her deep, intuitive understanding, her reach for words to express her knowledge, and her yearning for love and relationship (even while she is wary of it) make this one of the best books I’ve read in years.
If you are reading today, I wish you peace and contentment. What will you be reading, if anything? What would you add to this list — any of the categories? Would you add a category? If you aren’t reading, what are you doing?