It’s been a long time since I’ve written a blog post,* but I figured we could all use some reading suggestions to act as a little break during this stressful time. Here are some of mine. These books are some serious diversionary tactics.
I remember reading A Wrinkle in Time in fifth grade. I sank into that book and let it close over my head. A wise choice, fifth grade being what it is.** Jaqueline Woodson talked lovingly about this kind of immersive reading a recent Ted Radio Hour interview — the way a book’s world can become our world for a little while. It’s worth a listen; click the link!
In that spirit, I’m recommending some books to lose yourself in; novels that, if they appeal to you, can open their covers like a door. I wish you a great escape.
Hild, by Nicola Griffith This novel takes you to 7th century Britain. Griffith’s research is deep and seamlessly applied. A young girl’s future hangs on the political machinations of her family and her own wits as kingdoms squabble and war and a new religion comes into the land. Every bit of this book shines like a gem — a dragonfly seen at the edge of a pond.
A Stranger in Olondria and Winged Histories by Sofia Samatar Don’t let the covers fool you — Samatar’s award-winning work is more like magical realism than fantasy, with characters and places that open up like flowers as you move more deeply into the story. Both novels are complex and wonderful. Though their plots are somewhat intertwined, you can read either one first. If I could recommend just one book to you, it would be one of these. What they say about history –the people who make it and those who simply inhabit it– will stay with you a long, long time.
The Passion by Jeanette Winterson This is one of my favorite novels. Set during the Napoleonic wars, the story moves from France to Russia to, finally, Venice. It’s got star-crossed lovers, madness, the sweep of history — all told in lambent prose and with insight that will take your breath away. What more could you want?
Cold Comfort Farm, by Stella Gibbons This one is funny. You will flat laugh. Flora Poste goes to live with her Very Dramatic cousins on a decaying farm in Sussex. Though she seems to have stepped into the pages of a particularly depressing D.H. Lawrence novel, F. Poste is not letting that kind of nonsense go unchecked. Watch out, gloomy, brooding, passive-agressive relatives: you haven’t got a chance. They also made a really fun movie out of the book in 1995 with Kate Beckinsale. Absolutely worth watching!
Always Coming Home, by Ursula K. Le Guin I have read this beautifully strange collection of linked novellas, stories, poetry, and fictionalized anthropological detail many times now. It never fails to enchant me and gets better every time. What if you could write an anthropology of the future? Le Guin has, and it is various and revealing and somehow comforting and wise. It’s a weird format, but don’t be put off. The first time I picked it up I didn’t quite know what to do with it. My advice is to start with “Stone Telling,” and then skip around as you like. That novel, told it parts spaced throughout the work, will suck you in and spit you back out with new thoughts to think. There is also a new, expanded edition from Library of America, which I covet.
I hope you’ll enjoy some of these, and that they’ll take you –however briefly– to another time, another place, or another world. Stay home, stay safe, read books.
*Like a decade? The banner photo is of a window at the Learned Owl Book Shop, where I used to work. They’re awesome! Buy books from them! Or buy books from your local, independent bookseller by clicking one of the book links above — they’ll take you to that book’s information at IndieBound, a great site that lets you search by town or zip code to find your local book shops.
*It is entirely possible that fifth grade is much nicer now. In 1979 it was basically long stretches of boredom punctuated by Presidential Fitness Tests and license-to-kill dodgeball.