“It is what you read when you don’t have to that determines what you will be when you can’t help it.
Like a big chunk of the world, I’ve been at home these past few months. I still remember the day (March 13th), I stopped traveling. I said goodbye to the road and hello to my family and bookshelves.
I have a habit of collecting books while I travel. Collecting. Not necessarily reading. Time always seems to slip away.
But once the routine of April kicked in, I started to slowly work my way through an embarrassingly large stack of unread books (I still have 50 more to go. Wish me luck).
These are the titles that gave me hope and comfort this summer. These are the books that I’ve held very close to my heart.
Without further ado, here are 10 books to read while stuck at home.
Books to read while stuck at home #1
Autumn Light: Season Of Fire And Farewells By Pico Iyer
You might have heard of Pico Iyer’s travel quotes. He’s the writer behind “We travel, initially, to lose ourselves; and we travel, next to find ourselves” and “travel, for me, is a little bit like being in love, because suddenly all your senses are at the setting marked on”. Iyer’s lilting words are the source of many a travel blogger’s Instagram bio.
So when Autumn Light came out, I knew I had to read it. It’s a story without a story. There’s no plot, no action, no linear movement. The book follows Iyer’s life in Japan after his pause on travel. It’s a collection of essays bound together by pages of stillness. Iyer’s writing is blunt and simple. And at a time when everything seems long-winded, his minimalism is wholly comforting.
Footsteps is for book lovers and travel lovers (not one or the other, both and both only). It’s an anthology based on a former NYT column of the same name. The book is a curation of stories by travelers who obsessively follow in the (literal) footsteps of famous authors. It’s brilliantly written and executed.
When it comes to authors, I’m a bit nosy. I know the exact floor plan of Eudora Welty’s house and the hour-by-hour breakdown of P.G. Wodehouse’s writing routine. So it’s unsurprising that I love Footsteps so much.
The stories help me understand how some of my favorite authors perceived a place. As a travel writer, it’s doubly fascinating. I’m used to writing non-fiction pieces so reading about an author’s creative twist and use of a landscape is something I love turning to time and time again.
Inside Footsteps, you’ll get a taste of Hemingway’s Madrid and Flannery O’Connor’s Milledgeville and Nabokov’s American West. You’ll be lost in a sea of descriptions that serve as the undercurrent of Footsteps’ literary pilgrimages. The anthology is both an ode to writing and a love letter to travel.
It’s Not All Downhill From Here is not a sad book. But if you read the first half, it might seem that way. To be honest, I was tempted to put it down more than once. I just couldn’t handle the notes of grief.
But this book is all about hope. The lead, Loretha Curry, is delightful. When a tragedy occurs in her life, she’s forced to decide whether it’s all downhill from there (unfortunately, the title is a bit of a spoiler).
Loretha’s vibrant, at times grumpy, and oh-so full of life. Her dialogue is sharp and witty. She’s a huge reason why I loved this book so much.
And while the book is about aging and mental illness and sisterhood, it’s more so about trudging on with a bang. The world doesn’t stop (even though, in some ways, it feels like it has right now).
Diana Wynne Jones’ middle-grade fantasy novel is a slow-burn. But it’s also odd and peculiar and whimsical and wonderful.
Sophie Hatter is turned into a 90-year-old woman by the Witch Of The Waste. And to break the spell, she’s forced to visit Howl’s Moving Castle and deal with the uncaring Howl.
The movie, of the same name, has a bit of a fan-following. But it’s nothing like the book. It borrows elements of the magic in Diana Wynne Jones’ world and lets it loose. And as much as I love the style and feel and direction of the movie, the book is not to be missed. It’s magical in a different way. It’s fun and sweet and wholesome and comforting (and Howl’s character is a lot more fleshed out).
Elizabeth Acevedo normally writes poetry but With The Fire On High is her foray into prose. And it’s just as lyrical as you’d expect.
The novel follows Emoni, a young Black teenage mom whose debating whether her own dreams are even worth chasing. It’s a predictable story but there’s something reassuring about its rhythm and pattern.
I love that the starting point of this book isn’t about Emoni becoming a teen mom because that’s truly not what defines her personality. At the start of With The Fire On High, Emoni’s little girl isn’t a baby anymore. Emoni’s life hasn’t just been turned inside-and-out. She’s already been at that point. This is the after.
The novel is rich with food descriptions. If you’re a foodie, you’ll love it. Acevedo evokes usually untouched senses, like smell and taste, via her writing. You’ll feel like you’re in the kitchen, right there with Emoni and her sassy grandma.
P.G. Wodehouse is a wordsmith who hammers out books infused with merriment. All his titles are equally good. But this list is opting for an old Wodehouse classic – My Man Jeeves.
A Brit wit infused collection of short stories, My Man Jeeves rounds up several hilarious tales of Bertie Wooster and his butler, Jeeves. It features aristocratic buffoonery, a tangle of misunderstandings, and slapstick humor.
It’s the kind of book that’s best read with a cup of tea.
Anne Shirley is just eleven years old when she arrives at Green Gables. She’s been through a lot before the Cuthberts meet her. She’s scrawny and outspoken. But she also exudes positivity. Anne’s full of imagination and wonder and her perspective on the world is absolutely charming. She inspires a sense of gratitude.
“Dear old world,” she murmured, “you are very lovely and I am glad to be alive in you.”
L.M. Montgomery crafts a lovable cast of characters in this children’s classic. And it’s the hope and joy diffusing each page that make this title one of the best books to read while safe at home.
Books to read while stuck at home #8
Eat Pray Love By Elizabeth Gilbert
Eat Pray Love is Elizabeth Gilbert’s memoir about finding yourself. It follows Liz’s journey across Italy, India, and Bali after her divorce.
The book wrestles with pain and strength. It’s a novel whose underlying themes of loneliness and depression and self-doubt are wholly relatable. But it’s also a novel about swapping a damaging mindset for something that’s more nurturing and forgiving. Liz grows and learns from each person she meets (to be honest, half of my favorite Eat Pray Love quotes are by Richard).
This is without-a-doubt one of the best books I’ve ever read (and it is of my humble opinion that every female traveler should read it).
Eat Pray Love is packed with insight. The storytelling is very loose and free-flowing but it adds to the style. When you read the book, you feel like you’re listening to an old friend.
A Gentleman In Moscow was my favorite find of 2020.
The story follows Alexander Rostov, a Count ordered by the Bolsheviks to stay at the Hotel Metropol in Central Moscow. I honestly went into the book expecting pages-upon-pages of sociopolitical commentary.
But instead, A Gentleman In Moscow leans into the sweet lens of Rostov. It’s escapist literature punctuated by humor. The characters feel so real, you’ll easily get swept up in their dialogues and discussions. The stakes are high but they’re lightened by the storyline, making A Gentleman In Moscow one of the best books to read whilst at home.