By Ana Hein | @ana_hein_
Well, we’ve all got a lot of extra time on our hands these days, huh? To avoid spending all those long hours cooped up in your home thinking about potential apocalyptic scenarios, killing your family for using the last of the toilet paper, or generally going insane from lack of stimulation, why not read about all these things happening to other people instead? Whether you’re looking for books that are directly tackling the anxieties we’re all facing during this health crisis or if you’re looking to get as far away from those worries as possible, I’ve got the perfect book that is sure to help you pass all those endless hours stuck indoors.
Leaning Into the Scare: Or, Books About Death, the Apocalypse, and Disaster
“The Yellow Wallpaper” by Charlotte Perkins Gillman
Let’s face it: you’ve been staring at the wall a lot, haven’t you? So has the narrator in Charlotte Perkins Gillman’s (in)famous short story, “The Yellow Wallpaper.” So much so that she’s certain someone is living behind the hideous yellow wallpaper of her new bedroom where she’s cooped up by her doctor husband. Why is she locked in her own bedroom? Because she’s been diagnosed with hysteria by her husband after giving birth to their child and needs a lot of rest. Gillman was a staunch feminist of her time, but also horribly racist and believed in eugenics; in my experience, “The Yellow Wallpaper” is not only her best work, but the least problematic. Plus, it’s in the public domain, so it’s easily available to download for free. It’s an unsettling story about the dangers of rest cures, which Gillman herself was forced to undergo, and the loss of sanity of someone who has literally nothing to do all day. In other words, exactly what you’re trying to avoid.
Station Eleven by Emily St. John Mandel
Station Eleven is a novel that sticks with you. I first read it back in my sophomore year of high school, and I still think about it fondly from time to time. It’s about a group of actors and musicians who travel a post-apocalyptic landscape after a horrible illness has wiped out most of humanity. But it’s also about the importance of art and how it transcends barriers and keeps us human, which is an important thing to remember in times like this. The prose is gorgeous and bursting with empathy and humanity. The ensemble cast is all richly realized and given the utmost pathos and understanding. It’s the kind of book you can pick up and not realize you’ve been reading for hours. It’s about the worst possible scenario, but also how humanity pulls itself back together, which is a pretty comforting message right now.
House of Leaves by Mark Z. Danielewski
House of Leaves is a book that actively discourages being read. It’s over 800 pages long with over a dozen sex scenes that start out tolerably and slowly become irritating in their gratuitousness, and the way it’s formatted literally hinders understanding it. Text goes off in random directions, footnotes with no beginning or end litter the margins, and some pages look like a Jackson Pollock painting. The story is intricate and intense, with layer upon layer of meta narrative that begins to blur together until you can’t tell who, or what, is narrating the story. But at the heart of it all is a house that is larger on the inside than the outside. And while this may not sound like a terrifying set up for a horror novel, then you have no idea what this book is capable of. Reading House of Leaves is hard work, but also infinitely rewarding. If you can stick with it, you’ll find a story about domestic crawl spaces and the gap between connections that will keep you up reading with the lights on. It takes time to understand what this book is all about, but hey, you’ve got that in spades now. And maybe it’ll make you grateful you’re spending all your time in a house without a hallway that leads to nothing.
Leaning Out of the Scare: Or, Books that Will Take You Forget You’re Living in Unprecedented Times
Adulthood is a Myth by Sarah Anderson
This book made me laugh out loud multiple times; I feel like we could all use that at the moment. It’s a collection of Sarah Anderson’s famous web comic series, “Sarah’s Scribbles,” which follows a cartoon version of herself dealing with everyday life things, like cats waking you up at 3 in the morning, buying things you can’t afford, and wanting to go home and be in your pajamas. A lot of the humor derives from her sketchy, scribbly art style. There are lots of harsh strokes and simple designs and caricatured faces. She’s not afraid to make her faces absurd and the result is comedic gold. It’s a fast read and is sure to lift your spirits with its charming relatability.
Strange the Dreamer by Laini Taylor
Laini Taylor is a writer who knows how to take readers to fantastical and beautiful destinations. She’s one of my favorite fantasy writers of all time, and her work does not disappoint in any regard. Strange the Dreamer is the first book in her latest series, and it hooks you right in from its first sentence: “On the second sabbath of Twelfthmoon, in the city of Weep, a girl fell from the sky.” Taylor takes her readers from deserts where demon bones have been bleached clean by angel fire to cities whose names have been stolen and introduces characters with blue skin and cinnamon colored hair and extraordinary powers. At the center of it all is Lazlo Strange, a war orphan turned librarian who once got a broken nose from a falling book of fairytales. Taylor’s prose is pure magic distilled into the written word; every word is simply exquisite. If you’re ready to be transported to a world unlike any you’ve ever seen before, this is the book for you.
A Little Something Different by Sandy Hall
There’s nothing quite like a loveable romance novel to lift your spirits with witty banter and adorable awkwardness. But it needs to be done right. If you aren’t invested in the characters, that adorableness can quickly wear thin into annoyance. I have a confession to make: for as big of a romantic as I am, I’ve never been one for romance novels. Except for A Little Something Different by Sandy Hall; I read it in one sitting. It’s a cute love story about two people in college who can’t see they would make the perfect couple. Luckily, everyone around them does, and so the story has its hook: a conventional love story told from fourteen different points of view, none of which are the main couple. The multiple points of view are all incredibly distinctive, a feat that must be accomplished to make this premise work and really flesh out the couple by proxy. It’s just really, really cute and makes me smile. And we could all use some more reasons to smile now.