For most, quarantine has meant disconnection, disruption to normal life, and isolation. Quarantine has been arguably difficult for pretty much everyone, affecting education, salaries, unemployment, and connection with family members and friends—especially older and/or more vulnerable ones.
As a less extreme but still upsetting situation, us bibliophiles are in the position of not being able to browse bookstores for hours, picking up any books that interest us and leaving the bookstore with several books that will sit on our shelves, likely unread, with the other dozens of books from the other dozens of trips to the bookstore. If anyone is like me, quarantine has given me an excuse to read some of the books that have been chilling on my shelf for, potentially, years.
Some of us have had trouble focusing, while some of us have been able to read more than they have in years. Students and professors alike in the English department have had unique reading experiences that are very telling of the time we live in. Personally, I took this summer to reread the Twilight Saga by Stephanie Meyer, as well as delving into a few new genres that I have never explored, like the horror genre, reading some of Shirley Jackson’s longer works.
I sent out a poll to students and faculty in the English department, asking what books they were surprised to have read because of the quarantine.
One professor read The Bluest Eye, and said, “I owned a copy of this book for decades and had not yet read it, so the closing of libraries through the spring was a great opportunity to go through my bookshelves and finally read books I should have read a long time ago, including this one. I’m *very* late to this particular party, but obviously Toni Morrison’s first novel is a must-read for many reasons, and holds up because it is very much of its place and time (set in 1940s and written/published in late 60s-early 70s) and also timeless for its portrayal of systemic racism in its most intimate ramifications.”
Another professor started reading cookbooks, saying, “I have had a really hard time concentrating on reading novels, which are my usual go-to, so other than the news I have found myself ordering tons of cookbooks from the library and trying out lots of new dishes and treats.” Everyone struggles with the motivation to read sometimes, even English professors!
Dr. Molly Hiro noted some of the more remarkable reads for her, including On Earth We’re Briefly Gorgeous by Ocean Vuong, Kindred by Octavia Butler, and Trust Exercise by Susan Choi, and says of the latter, “Trust Exercise starts off really weird/unlikable but then gets VERY cool and ‘meta’ in the second half.”
A freshman English major picked up A Map of Salt and Stars by Jennifer Zeynab Joukhadar.
Some other recommendations by students in the English department include:
- The Things They Carried by Tim O’Brian
- The Alienist by Caleb Carr
- The Devil All The Time by Donald Ray Pollock
- Jack Reacher novels (there are tons)
- Lost Boy: The True Story of Captain Hook by Christina Henry
- Midnight At The Bright Ideas Bookstore by Matthew Sullivan
- The Saturday Night Ghost Club by Craig Davidson
- Smoke Gets In Your Eyes by Caitlin Doughty
Reading is a part of life, and we all find ways to include it, whether it is getting around to the books sitting on our shelves for years or looking at new genres and formats. The best thing to do right now is to support local bookstores and libraries in the safest way possible and making sure not to lose connection with our loved ones. We are in a new era and we need to reach out to people with love and affection.