Literature

31 Books to Read While Self-Isolating, Chosen by Boston Booksellers

From bucket list tomes to how-to guides, here are all the reads you need to mentally escape quarantine.


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As this uncertain period of self-isolation and social distance stretches on, you might now be reaching the point where the novelty of board games, virtual happy hour with your friends, and staying at home all day in your sweatpants is starting to wear off. If so, you might be wondering how to bide your time next. Yes, you could take this as an opportunity to dive deeper into Netflix than ever before (how many The Office quotes can fit into one human brain?), but you could also take a more old-fashioned approach—turning off the TV, putting your phone aside, and cracking open a book. While independent bookstores across Boston have closed their doors for now, many are still delivering and shipping books to city residents, and there’s truly no time like now to escape into a pleasure read. Not sure where to start? Below are 31 book recommendations from local booksellers, sorted into helpful categories for your perusal (and be sure to scroll all the way to the bottom for more information on each store’s shipping policies). Happy reading!

Books That Are Really Short

So you can read a bunch and feel accomplished.

The Archive of Alternate Endings by Lindsey Drager
“This book weaves together multiple tales which are each unique and separate and exceptional. Here are some themes that run through the stories: queer stories and when they don’t get told, the story of Hansel and Gretel, Haley’s Comet, the bond between siblings.” -Katherine Nazzaro, Trident Booksellers

Death in Venice by Thomas Mann
“A classic novella about one man’s infatuation with a young boy’s ideal beauty as cholera sweeps through the canals of Venice, emptying the hotels and quieting the streets.” -Jillian Kravatz, Harvard Book Store

Forgotten Journey by Silvina Ocampo, translated from Spanish by Katie Lateef-Jan
“Like looking at a landscape through a blindfold of gauze. Or like reading Virgin Suicides underneath a jungle gym in a rainstorm. Like spells. Or being seven again and lost in a corn maze. That’s this book, these stories. C’mon! Get a little bit dazzled today.” -Bradley Trumpfheller, Brookline Booksmith

Get A Life, Chloe Brown by Talia Hibbert
“The romance genre may not be the best example of social distancing, but sometimes it’s necessary to escape for a couple hours and be reminded that happy endings still exist, that no matter what, there’s still a path through.” -Katherine Fergason, Harvard Book Store

Loaded by Roxanne Dunbar-Ortiz
“Dunbar-Ortiz strikes a nerve in this book by not only challenging the idea of gun ownership as a sacred right essential to American identity, but confronting its racist origins. Within this small book, the author probes why Americans, like herself for a time, have long had an affinity for firearms and links this history to the rise of white nationalism in the U.S.” – Christina Ciampa, All She Wrote Books

Metropolitan Stories by Christine Coulson
“A truly magical book, this is a collection of interwoven stories centered at the Metropolitan Museum of Art. This feels like a cross between The Mixed-up Files of Mrs. Basil E Frankweiler and Night at the Museum. The stories are filled with magical realism, but because of the setting, they read as incredibly plausible.” -Katherine Nazzaro, Trident Booksellers

Seven Brief Lessons on Physics by Carlo Rovelli
“If this enforced time apart is going to accomplish at least one good thing, may it be a new, better perspective on the world. Rovelli’s poetic master class distills what we know about the seven most important components of our universe. One of the best books I’ve ever read.” – Paul Theriault, Brookline Booksmith

This is How You Lose the Time War by Max Gladstone and Amal El-Mohtar
“I devoured this book in one day, and it has rocketed to the top of my All Time Favorite Books list. Red and Blue are agents on opposite sides of the Time War, trying to nudge the arc of the universe into curving one way or the other, and braiding together different strands of time until the other side can’t get in. They are both good and loyal soldiers, until one of them leaves a letter for the other to find. Told through vignettes and letters, this book is beautiful, and funny, and heartbreaking.” -Katherine Nazzaro, Trident Booksellers

Whose Story is This? Old Conflicts, New Chapters by Rebecca Solnit
“I love Rebecca Solnit’s work and this short book hits on a lot of old conflicts that still exist today such as voter suppression, the telling of women’s stories and more.” -Christina Ciampa, All She Wrote Books

Books That Are Really Long

Because we’ve got nothing but time.

The Count of Monte Cristo by Alexandre Dumas (Penguin Classics Edition)
The Count of Monte Cristo has been retold countless times, and remains a classic for a reason. The ultimate story of revenge, Dumas’ tale keeps the reader engaged from the very start. Robin Bass is also the only translator I’ve read who makes the relationship between Eugenie and Louise overtly romantic, which is something I very much appreciated.” -Katherine Nazzaro, Trident Booksellers

Dracul by Dacre Stoker and JD Barker
Dracul uses research from Bram Stoker’s journals, as well as unpublished drafts of Dracula and other translations to tell the story of Bram Stoker’s life, and how he was introduced to the monster story of the Vampire. Stoker and Barker did a wonderful job setting up the tense atmosphere and building pressure found in Dracula, as well as turning historical figures such as Bram and Matilda Stoker into captivating three-dimensional characters. I sped through the last half of this book because I couldn’t put it down. If you’re a fan of Dracula, of horror, or of vampires in general, you’ll love this book. I did, also, briefly entertain the thought ‘Is Dracula a true story?’ after finishing this book, so be prepared for that.” -Katherine Nazzaro, Trident Booksellers

Ducks, Newburyport by Lucy Ellmann
“So, this book is 1,040 pages, and I am still in the midst of reading it. If you like a book that has some terror, laughter and social consciousness rolled into one, then this is the book to read. It is narrated by an Ohio mother besieged by MAGA hats and mountain lions.” -Christina Ciampa, All She Wrote Books

The Flight Portfolio by Julie Orringer
“A superb work of World War II fiction, but also a love story, a thriller, and a meticulously researched portrait of one man and the very real, and devastatingly impossible, decisions he faced every day. It’s somehow both sweeping and intimate, beautiful and gripping, heartbreaking and hopeful. It has the feel of a classic and the immediacy of the best kind of modern fiction. Orringer’s writing is so good you’ll want to both tear through it and savor it—she’s achieved that rare and wonderful feat: a 500-page novel without a wasted word.” -Serena Longo, Harvard Book Store

Hold Still by Sally Mann
“Join photographer Sally Mann as she digs through the boxes in her attic, and her generations of stories. Part memoir, part family history, Mann writes the the nostalgia and romance typical of her photographs. She examines both her own life and those of her family, weaving an engaging and beautiful tale, complete with prints of both her own photos, and those of her family through the ages.” -Katherine Nazzaro, Trident Booksellers

Priory of the Orange Tree by Samantha Shannon
“It’s the perfect time to start a brick of a fantasy novel, and this is a queer, feminist brick of a fantasy novel.” -Amy Brabenec, Brookline Booksmith

Books Set in Massachusetts

To help you remember what it’s like out there.

The Trial of Lizzie Borden by Cara Robertson
“The Borden murders are perhaps the most famous in Massachusetts’ history, sparking countless retellings and gripping the imagination of all who hear about them. Never before have they been taken apart like this. Robertson’s use of primary sources is masterful, and by focusing on the trial instead of the crime, she allows the reader to experience the obsession and excitement felt by those who followed the case during the late nineteenth century.” -Katherine Nazzaro, Trident Booksellers

Tuesday Mooney Talks to Ghosts by Kate Racculia
“This book is The Westing Game for Millennials. Set in Boston, starring a human disaster, a disappointed gay, an evil brother, his charming sibling, some perfect teens, a wonderful widow and more, all racing to solve a mystery and unlock a dead man’s fortune.” -Alex Schaffner, Brookline Booksmith

We Ride Upon Sticks by Quan Barry
“This book is truly magical. Think The Craft, if instead of the goth kids and outcasts it was the girl’s field hockey team that decided to resort to witchcraft to solve their problems. Told in the first person plural, Barry emphasizes the bond between the team as they slowly succumb to the darkness in a way that highlights the fun of teen friendships while not flinching away from the hard parts of growing up. There is nothing I didn’t love about this book—from the characters, to the tone, to the ending.” -Katherine Nazzaro, Trident Booksellers

Books by Massachusetts Authors

Support your neighbors!

Believe Me by Jessica Valenti and Jaclyn Friedman
“In Believe Me, contributors ask and answer the crucial question: What would happen if we didn’t just believe women, but acted as though they matter? This book is incredibly powerful, an essential contribution to the intersectional feminist conversation in 2020, and necessary update to the forward-thinking theory put forth in the book Yes Means Yes.” -Christina Ciampa, All She Wrote Books

Little Fires Everywhere by Celeste Ng
“The multi-award winning novel that’s now the basis for the Hulu original series.” -Carole Horne, Harvard Book Store

The Resisters by Gish Jen
The Resisters takes us to the future world of AutoAmerica, where the things we see today—AI and surveillance technology, climate change—have reached their predictable end, in a cautionary tale both amazing and important. And there’s baseball!” -Carole Horne, Harvard Book Store

Wake Siren by Nina Maclaughlin
“For any Greek mythology fans or who enjoyed reading Circe by Madeline Miller, then I highly recommend this book for you. I read it in one sitting and loved how she rewrote the Greek myths from the women’s perspectives, bringing new voices, and humanity to these ancient Greek stories.” -Christina Ciampa, All She Wrote Books

Books About Pandemics and Apocalyptic Events

Take a break from the news without taking a break from the news.

All Systems Red by Martha Wells
“Much like most humans, the main character of The Murderbot Diaries would like it if everyone would just leave it alone to watch its shows. The perfect Pandemic friend.” -Amy Brabenec, Brookline Booksmith

Annihilation by Jeff Vandermeer
“From the very first sentence, I was sucked into this wonderfully creepy book. Nature is no longer looking or behaving normally in Area X, but every time research teams enter the quarantined zone to look for answers, the results are very bad. To get the most out of this novel’s utterly unique, mind-bending strangeness, I highly recommend savoring it by yourself, late at night, to be followed immediately by the other two books in the trilogy.” -Katherine Nazzaro, Trident Booksellers

The Plague by Albert Camus
“Because it’s one of those classics that’s been on “to read” lists forever. Now seems to be the time.” -Carole Horne, Harvard Book Store

The Stranger in the Woods: The Extraordinary Story of the Last True Hermit by Michael Finkel
“Self-isolation taken to the extreme. It’s a quietly thrilling and lyricly unsettling story of a man who disappeared from public life and lived largely undetected in the woods of Maine for twenty-seven years.” -Alex Meriwether, Harvard Book Store

Wilder Girls by Rory Power
“A book about a group of teen girls who get trapped on an island in quarantine as they slowly succumb to a mysterious disease.” -Katherine Nazzaro, Trident Booksellers

Books That’ll Help You Cultivate a New Hobby

If you actually want to take a break from the news.

Before and After the Book Deal by Courtney Maum
“If you have been daydreaming or even thinking for a while about wanting to publish a book, then this is a must-read for you! Maum captures everything you’ve ever wanted to know about publishing but were too afraid to ask and/or didn’t know where to ask. I truly appreciate her candidness and humor throughout this book.” -Christina Ciampa, All She Wrote Books

Making Comics by Lynda Barry
“Always funny, poignant, and generous, Barry’s an incredible guide through the process of drawing, focusing on the power of image and narrative over anxieties about producing ‘bad’ work.” – Lauren Artiles, Harvard Book Store

Sew Step-by-Step by DK
“This is the perfect time to learn how to put pockets in that skirt that doesn’t have them, re-hem that shirt, or learn how to adjust the size of your own clothes.” -Amy Brabenec, Brookline Booksmith

You Were Born For This by Chani Nicholas
“At first, I was skeptical about this book until I started to read it. This book acts as a guide explaining how knowing your star signs and what they mean for your individual character can be an eye-opening experience, helping you refine your intentions, identify your strengths, recognize areas of strength and growth. This is not your typical daily horoscope reading!” -Christina Ciampa, All She Wrote Books

Ready to Read?

Here’s how to order from each of the bookstores featured here.

All She Wrote Books: Place an online order that can be shipped anywhere in Massachusetts for $1, or delivered for free in Somerville.

Brookline Booksmith: Place orders online or via phone for free media mail shipping.

Harvard Book Store: Place an online order and use coupon code SHOPLOCAL for free shipping.

Trident Booksellers & Cafe: Place an online order and use coupon code MARCHSHIP for free media mail shipping to anywhere in the US. As an added perk, if you order delivery or takeout from Trident’s cafe, you’ll get a free advanced readers’ copy of a book along with your meal.