While practicing social distancing by staying home, many people are reading more than they normally do, which I love! It was sad to see libraries close their doors (appropriately), but fortunately for our modern world, ebooks and audiobooks are easily accessible here (or through your local library’s website). Of course, fewer copies for a larger number of patrons means that you’ll probably need to wait a while for the most popular books. So here is a roundup of ten of my favorite older books. I checked several of the eight library systems I have access to and made sure that these books are readily available. Also, I excluded classics because most are in the public domain and available for free here (or somewhere on Google). If you haven’t already, add me on Goodreads!
Come to the Edge by Christina Haag
Starting off with one of my favorite books of all time. This is a memoir by a woman who grew up with John F. Kennedy, Jr. before they dated seriously for five years. Her writing is incredibly eloquent, and she does an exquisite job of showing readers the complicated nature of their relationship, as well as their growth and self-discovery. I might be slightly biased because I love any story set in 1970’s New York. It always feels magical to me.
Fates and Furies by Lauren Groff
This is a modern literary masterpiece. An epic story with a fittingly nonepic quality (or maybe the other way around) from the points of view of two people in a marriage. It examines the many layers of relationships and solitude through flawless prose. I’m a slow reader, but this novel took me almost a year to finish because there was just so much to analyze in the details, not to mention the great emotional weight this book naturally projects. Prepare to be moved. I’m biased again because much of the story is set in New York and one of the protagonists is a playwright.
Memories of my Melancholy Whores by Gabriel García Márquez
Not surprised that Love in the Time of Cholera is completely checked out everywhere, since “Love in the Time of Corona” is trending! Fortunately, everything Gabo writes is gold. I’m recommending this short novella, an elegantly written reflection on time, aging, and purpose. Márquez’s trademark magical realism brings characters and the setting to life. I found the translation stylistically perfect. Another stunning novella by Gabo that might be available through your e-library is Chronicle of a Death Foretold.
The Girls’ Guide to Hunting and Fishing by Melissa Bank
Haven’t read this one in a while, but it used to be designated my “favorite” book. These short stories capture what it’s like for a young woman to come of age in the U.S. (specifically New York… again). Some would argue that The Girls’ Guide started the “chick lit” genre, but as a low key book snob I disagree. The writing is amazing, and I found the narrator to be hilarious. I used to feel deeply connected to the main character–curious, smart, and insightful, though now I think I should revisit the book just to make sure.
A Constellation of Vital Phenomena by Anthony Marra
This novel is definitely the darkest and heaviest in subject matter, but equally rewarding. It’s a haunting story about the power of love during the Chechen-Russian conflict. Made me wonder if I could survive such difficult times without losing my own sense of humanity. Captivating language and richly fleshed-out characters. Honestly, I sometimes think my long-term memory is going down the drain because there are tons of books I’ve read from which I can’t remember a single detail… But there are several unforgettable scenes from this book that I remember vividly and think about often.
My Cousin Rachel by Daphne du Maurier
The more popular Rebecca is likely always checked out from e-libraries, but if you’re looking for a similarly gothic, romantic, psychological thriller, this novel is just as gripping. A grief-stricken young man meets the beautiful, mysterious widow of his recently deceased cousin who always wears black. What could go wrong? This sometimes dreamy, other times nightmarish, Downton-Abbey-meets-Hitchcock world kept me on my toes until the end of the story.
Between the World and Me by Ta-Nehisi Coates
This is one of those books that every single person should read. I can’t recall an author who better describes the struggles of being black in America in a way that readers can relate to or at least understand. Coates weaves his personal experiences into a letter to his son that attempts to explain their historical burden. Not only is the subject matter timely, but the prose is equally captivating.
The Reader by Bernhard Schlink
I’ve read this book a few times because it’s a quick read, but it always blows me away. There are several elements of surprise, so I won’t go into the plot. Just trust me when I say that this story of love, secrets, horror, and compassion in postwar Germany is compelling. The writing (translated) is simple, yet subtly pushes the boundaries of readers’ comfort in a brilliant way.
American Wife by Curtis Sittenfeld
This is one of my favorite authors, and you might’ve read her more popular books, Prep or Eligible. But I think this novel is just as good, if not better. Sittenfeld researched historic First Ladies to inspire the complex protagonist of this story–a FLOTUS with secrets of her own. As usual, Sittenfeld’s writing is gorgeous as she creates a tale of class, race, and fate. I’d also recommend her most recent short story collection, You Think It, I’ll Say It, which might be available through your e-library.
The Girls by Emma Cline
This novel lives up to the hype and the $2 million advance Cline scored as a result. In sum, a girl joins a cult similar to the Manson family, but incredibly, the sensational narrative doesn’t overwhelm the heart of the story–the protagonist’s curious, unceasing, strangely weary mind. There are so many ideas here that should’ve been difficult to carry out, but everything, from the language to the themes, feels very organic and never forced. I can’t think of a book that better portrays the endless nuances, subliminal influences, and quiet tragedy of being a young woman, both in the 70’s and today.