Monday, May 4, 2020

Reading in Quarantine

                   woman covering her face with white book

For some, a good quarantine read is a book that contains absolutely zero hints of sickness, loneliness, or the end of the world. For others a good quarantine read is a book with so much sickness, horror, and death, that it makes the current crisis look like a walk in the park. With a gas mask.
And then there's me.
Lately, I've found myself reaching for books that deal with themes of isolation and survival, Dystopian books, and books that either deal lightly with a plague subplot or deal heavily with a plague that looks nothing like COVID-19.

Some people read to escape, some read for perspective, and others read to process. I've got book recommendations for everyone.

For those of you looking for literary escapes, I have some vivid fantasies for you. But first, here's a cozy song by Morgan Wallen about staying inside with your Love, "til someone needs medical help or the magnolias bloom."

        The Raven Boys (The Raven Cycle, #1)  Beyond the Deepwoods  (The Edge Chronicles: The Twig Saga #1)  The Night Circus by Erin Morgenstern (2012-05-24)

1. The Raven Boys by Maggie Stiefvater
The Raven Boys, book one of a four-book series, is a beautifully-written YA paranormal fantasy about the only normal girl in a family of psychics and a boy who desperately wants to find an ancient Welsh king. It's intricate and vivid with colorful characters and enchanting magic. If you're looking for something transportive and nostagically beautiful with a restful, meandering plot and lovely characters, this is a good choice. The audiobooks, narrated by Will Patton are, in my opinion, the best way to experience the story. I'm just about to embark on my third run-through, and I'd love the company.

2. The Edge Chronicles by Paul Stewart and Chris Riddell
The Edge Chronicles is an action-packed Middle Grade series set in the land of The Edge. The Edge being a fantastical world filled with all sorts of creatures and cultures, alternative sets of scientific laws, and corresponding technologies and politics. Beyond the Deepwoods is the first of the Chronicles and the first of three installments that follow Twig, an aspiring Sky Pirate. The larger series continues with further trilogies and standalones which follow members of Twig's line (father, son, etc.). The Chronicles feature impressive world-building complemented by quirky illustrations throughout. If you're looking for something to read aloud with your kids, this is the way to go. 

3. The Night Circus by Erin Morgenstern
Two old magicians each select, mark, and train a child for a years-long magical duel between two schools of magic in this delectable historical fantasy novel. A Romance in more ways than one, this story, and the quiet duel that inexorably drives it forward, finds its stage in a traveling circus that's only open after dark. It's one of the most exquisite, vivid reading experiences I've ever had. Escape into this world, written with such real-life magic you can touch, smell, and taste it. I dare you.

If escape is what you need right now, these stories might be the way to go. But alternatively, I recommend picking up and rereading your desert island books: the books you know and love that you'd take with you to a hypothetical deserted island; the books you've read enough times to make them comfortable places to fall back on--these can be the very best soul-balms in times of crisis.

Processing Aids
If you're like me, and you try to reach for books with just the right themes and feels to help you process what you're going through, here are a few I've found helpful during this season. But first, here's a song Luke Combs just released called "Six Feet Apart."

                        The Martian The Host (The Host, #1)
                        Z for Zachariah Skyward (Skyward, #1)

1. The Martian by Andy Weir
Speaking of desert island books, here's one of mine. Most of you have probably seen the movie starring Matt Damon, which is fantastic, but the book is just on a whole other level of nerdy, science-y deliciousness. I have never read a work of speculative fiction more unapologetically technical, but it really works. Mark Watney, alone on Mars with nothing but science and his sense of humor to keep him alive is exactly what I needed during self-isolation, and you might too. 

2. The Host by Stephanie Meyer
Yes, Stephanie Meyer wrote Twilight. No, The Host is nothing like Twilight, It's adult, rather than YA, and it's easily her best work--full of lonely, desert ambiance. The Host follows Wanderer (the alien parasite) and Melanie Stryder (the host) as they navigate the complications of sharing a human body with all the emotions, memories, and family members that come with it. It's spin on both the Dystopian and Alien-Takeover subgenres that lands in a simultaneous acknowledgement of human wickedness and defense of free will even when wickedness is the most likely outcome. For me, rereading this during lockdown was the absolute right decision. 

3. Z for Zachariah by Robert C. O'Brien
This book is quietly disturbing in the very best of ways. Set in a world irradiated in the wake of nuclear war, this story features a girl, hidden away in a valley, who believes she might be the last human alive, until a man appears wearing the only existing radiation-proof suit in the world. It's isolation and survival, risk and kindness, evil and goodness when there's absolutely no one around to judge your actions. I'll be thinking about this one for a while. 

4. Skyward by Brandon Sanderson
I finished this one while writing this post and couldn't Not squeeze it in here. The first of a YA sci-fi series of which only Skyward and Starsight have yet been published, Skyward is the story of the daughter of a coward, a pariah in an underground culture fighting a losing battle on a hostile planet against a mysterious alien race. Spensa knows social isolation better than most currently-quarantined humans on this planet, and she will do anything in or out of her power to fly with the DDF. The pathos of this novel surprised me right along with the tense, intricate dogfights Sanderson writes with such dexterity. Highly recommend.


Okay, crazies, watch this quarantine music video for "Level of Concern" by Twenty-One Pilots and proceed with caution.

        Station Eleven Cinder (The Lunar Chronicles, #1) Illuminae (The Illuminae Files, #1) 

1. Station Eleven by Emily St. John Mandel
First of all, I didn't particularly like this book, but it is quite popular currently, and its narrative spins around a civilization-destroying flu. I also don't have any particular reasons for disliking it goes. Station Eleven is a unique narrative that feels like an oral history, spread across decades before and after a killer flu. It features a traveling Shakespearean troupe and explores the idea that art of all sorts will endure as long as humans do, even when nearly everything else falls, because "Survival is Insufficient." Lovers of Shakespeare, in particular, will appreciate the references and motifs present throughout this work. 

2. Cinder by Marissa Meyer
Cyborg Cinderella vs. a plague and an evil stepmother and Lunar Politics. You don't need to know any more. This YA novel is the first of a series that retools not only Cinderella but also Red Riding Hood, Rapunzel, and Snow White, in that order (Cinder, Scarlet, Cress, Winter). Cinderella is a cyborg, the wolf is genetically engineered, Rapunzel is a hacker, and so on. If you're willing to face the mostly-lighthearted plague subplot, this is a family-friendly, fun ride with lots of quirky twists on the original tales. 

3. Illuminae by Amie Kaufman and Jay Kristoff
Did someone say Space Opera with a psychotic AI and a killer plague? No one? Must be hearing things. "DON'T LOOK AT ME." Sorry. I just reread this, and it was better than I remembered, and now I want to make everyone read it too. Illuminae and its sequels Gemina and Obsidio are unique in the literary world. Told in a collection of files, IMs, video transcripts, AI core readings, and more, this YA novel (warning: mature content), is the first part of the case the Illuminae group brings against evil space corporation, Beitech, responsible for atrocities committed against a remote mining planet and the horrific and unlikely events that follow. Equal parts bloody(ish) action and persistent humor, I love this story and its characters for their survivor spirit and all-around badassery. Highly, highly recommend. 

         The Stand Wanderers The Plague

For those of you looking for even-harder-core plague content, I'll cautiously recommend
The Stand by Stephen King (weaponized flu), Wanderers by Chuck Wendig (sleepwalking and a plague with concerning scientific similarities to the coronavirus), and The Plague by Albert Camus (bubonic plague). Even though I haven't mustered the nerve to pick these up yet, I've heard good things from sources I trust. If plague and death is what you're looking for, I don't think you can go wrong with these titles.

Alright, I think that's enough for now. Happy reading and stay healthy, friends.