Here is a selection of books recommended by Code Switch readers. Natalie Escobar / NPR hide caption
Natalie Escobar / NPR
Natalie Escobar / NPR
A couple of weeks ago we shared some of the best books we read during the pandemic, but it was more of a cage game than a book club get-together. When it comes to our reading appetite, our team is divided into two camps – Team #EscapistReads and Team #PandemicReads – and neither side will budge.
To help us overcome our impasse, we ask you, our listeners, the question: What did you read during the pandemic? And boy did you answer? We have enough book recommendations to spend the rest of our days during the lockdown (well, hopefully).
It turns out that many of you are also looking for books to get you out of our gritty reality, such as senior correspondent Karen Grigsby Bates. But there is also a good part of you who turn to books that lean into that darkness and fear, such as editor Leah Donnella. And as host umpire Shereen Marisol Meraji pointed out, many of you have said that the best books you’ve read have a bit of both.
Perhaps this list can be a balm for whatever ails you – be it election fear, fluctuating economic anxiety, or pandemic malaise. Books can’t fix everything, but they’re at least a good distraction.
The answers have been edited and compressed for reasons of clarity.
“”Reading has honestly been my greatest comfort during this pandemic. I have picked up many memoirs to live on behalf of the authors. Some of my favorites were obviously by Akilah Hughes and West Wingers, edited by Gautam Raghavan. I also loved RF Kuang’s The Poppy War, which is a dark fantasy. The third book will appear in a few months. “ – – Grace Pierce
“I’m an academic librarian, and for the past 20 years I’ve been mostly a non-fiction reader, including books for library magazine reviews. However, since the beginning of the COVID-19 pandemic, I’ve started reading more fiction, mostly dystopian novels. I joke with them Colleagues and friends that reading dystopian fiction helped me feel less pessimistic about the present.
“My first fiction read during the pandemic was The Road by Cormac McCarthy; next, City of Ash and Red by Hye-young Pyun, followed by The Running Man by Richard Bachman. From there horror and thriller by Max Brooks, Stephen King (I am currently reading 11/22/63) and Cormac McCarthy. Recently I felt the need to return to more optimistic readings. After a few years I am rereading Arthur C. Clarke’s 2001: A Space Odyssey. (I would like the eponymous Don’t necessarily call the film optimistic.) ” – Kyle Winward
“I’m team escapism, although I appreciate the ‘both’ and ‘both’ approach because I think my fictional choices include real subjects and some idealistic / romantic subjects for my nonfiction books. This year it was me more ashamed of Fiction, especially for young adults. I’m not ashamed! Some of the best YA I’ve read this year: Loveboat, Taipei by Abigail Hing Wen, The Girl of Fire and Thorns by Rae Carson; Poet X and With the Fire on High by Elizabeth Acevedo. ” – Pamela Lee
“I’ve heard a lot of Jane Austen novels about Audible. Every time I try to read something situationally relevant, I become unmotivated to read.” – Praveena Javvadi
“”I have just read Joanne Harris’ trilogy: Chocolat, The Girl Without Shadows and Peaches for Monsieur Curé. Warning: You may suddenly be baking and eating delicious chocolate stuff from scratch. ” – Lois von der Goltz
“”I am an almost exclusive romance reader. I love the genre so much. I’ve found that during these troubled times when it came to junk, I found joy in fantasy romance, where I can get lost reading about witches, dragons, and gear levers. Some of the recent ones I would suggest: Phoenix Unbound and Dragon Unleashed by Grace Draven and The Year of the Witching by Alexis Henderson. ” – – Brandan Herbert
“”Sometimes the best escape plan doesn’t work. This spring I deliberately picked up Jonathan Rosen’s book The Life of Heaven because, although it was about the end of nature, it was mainly a meditation on the intersection of nature, poetry, history, philosophy and nature, science and the human mind.
“It seemed like the perfect leisurely escape, written by a … bird watcher from Central Park. By the time I was way down the book in May, real events overtook the world of the book with Amy Cooper’s racist confrontation with the birder Christian Cooper in Central Park and the accounting for the Teddy Roosevelt statue that stood there in front of the Natural History Museum. So much for my escape! “ – Greg Bish
“Even before the pandemic, I’ve dealt with scary, creepy, scary, bloody, and all of the above – I’m sure it will remain a favorite genre even if COVID persists. Two readings that stand out: The Only Good Indians by Stephen Graham Jones and Tender Is The Flesh by Agustina Bazterrica. ” – Madeline Hanes
“I just finished Severance by Ling Ma. Reading a 2018 book about an airborne virus spreading across the ocean seems a bit surreal right now. But while the novel can be read as a horror novel, it is so much more than that. And that ‘so much more’ is maybe even more resonant than the virus itself, if that is possible. ” – – Clara Boza
“I just finished Parable of the Sower (my first Octavia Butler) this week. I finished it late at night and immediately emailed all English language bookstores [in Berlin, where I live now] to see who had a copy of the sequel, which I almost never do. It is so good.
“One hopeful read that surprised me was In the Garden of Beasts by Erik Larson, which was about the American ambassador of the German experience in Berlin in the 1930s. It was so blatant and terrifying to read about it, but somehow consoled me that humanity has overcome these ruthlessly dark times. ” – – Ami Bogin
“”Right now I’m reading cozy secrets, Afrofuturism and non-fiction books about racism, feminism and politics. I also read self health books on dealing with anxiety and ADHD. ” – Lara Frater
“I’m on the Read All the Books team, and I’ve devoured everything I can get my hands on since I was sent from home to work in March. This includes nonfiction that really challenges me (like Danielle Allen’s Our Declaration) and all kinds (I couldn’t take off Catherine House!) But last week I sat down with Jacqueline Woodson’s Red at the Bone and devoured it in one session. It might be the most perfect thing I’ve ever read. I think it has ruined every other book for me for the rest of my life. It’s beautiful through and through. ” – – Elizabeth Richards
“”For the past few weeks I’ve been trying to wean myself off of so much social media by reading more books! I’m the kind of person who likes to have a few bookmarks in a variety of books at once – and one such book is Nepantla: An Anthology, Queer Poets of Color, edited by Christopher Soto. It’s perfect when I’m between chores or errands, when I’m particularly prone to picking up my phone for a pointless scroll and instead reading a few poems here and there by weird colored people like me. ” – – Eli Torres
“I’m a team ‘everything that can get me out of my head.’ I really think Code Switch listeners would like Dread Nation and Deathless Divide, both from Justina Ireland. They are books set in an alternate historical reality where the civil war dead rose from the battlefields and the protagonists are both young black women The series opens. Both are in training to become “companions” – personal servants and zombie slayers – who will serve wealthy white women. They have a mad scientist, reluctant female friendship, and some seriously evil heroines … and definitely some resonance with the world we live in!
On the romantic side, I’m currently reading The Duke Who Didn’t by Courtney Milan. I love the way Milan’s most recent historical novels set in England show a wide variety of characters. This is a romance between a half-Chinese duke and a young working class woman whose parents left China to work as indented servants in the Caribbean and later came to England. It’s great to start, and as a history teacher, I really want to move on to the historical note at the end!
Besides, I’m listening to the audio version of Karen Grigsby Bates’ Plain Brown Wrapper. I am really enjoying it so far! ” – Christina Heisser
“”When the pandemic broke out and libraries and used bookstores closed, I was at a loss. I don’t have an e-reader and I didn’t want to spend any money on new books that would one day end up on my shelf to be Marie Kondo-d (also # sustainability). Enter the small free library. Those community posts, usually filled with self-help books that no one wanted to read, suddenly burst at the seams, with new books switching in and out every week. I rode my bike around town to see everyone I knew and rummaged through them for my next read. I’ve read everything from Hemingway and Virginia Woolf to Big Little Lies to memoirs from the YouTuber ‘Ask a Mortician’, and now I’m reading Chinua Achebes Things Fall Apart. I can’t say I absolutely decided to to rent one of these in the library but I’m so glad I picked it up. For me, quarantine reading is about rolling with the beats, doing what you can, finding the silver lining. ” – – Taylor Thornberg