Essential Books Worth Reading To Take Your Mind Off Things Coronavirus Quarantine | NICK

| BOOKS WORTH READING DURING THE QUARANTINE | NICK FITNESS EXPERT
| BOOKS WORTH READING DURING THE QUARANTINE | NICK FITNESS EXPERT


Essential Worth Reading To Take Your Mind Off Things. Books For Those In Self-isolation During Coronavirus Quarantine.


For many of those lucky enough to be able to stay home during the coronavirus pandemic, essential books have taken on a special meaning. COVID-19 essential book clubs have popped up to help readers feel connected to one another, group essential readings have brought new life to old poems, and—in this time of ambient anxiety—the value of losing yourself in a novel has never seemed more apparent. 

WILDERNESS ESSAYS, BY JOHN MUIR | BOOKS WORTH READING DURING THE QUARANTINE | NICK FITNESS EXPERT

For the past several years, my family has spent our summer vacations exploring America’s national parks. Acadia, Glacier, Badlands, Grand Teton, Yellowstone—they’re places as humbling as they are astounding, and our goal is to visit each one, eventually. When we canceled this year’s trip (hope to see you soon, Zion), I found some consolation in the writings of John Muir. And because the naturalist turned activist was so prolific—many of his writings were originally published in The Atlantic—I’ve been loving Wilderness Essays, a collection of the work he produced as he explored the western United States in the late-19th and early-20th centuries.Climb the mountains and get their good tidings,” Muir urges. “Nature’s peace will flow into you as sunshine flows into trees.” — Megan Garber


A THOUSAND ACRES, BY JANE SMILEY | books worth reading during the quarantine | NICK FITNESS EXPERT

A few weeks ago, I reread Jane Smiley’s A Thousand Acres. A modern reworking of King Lear, the novel hinges on a farmer’s decision to pass his land to his three daughters. As in the play, a disagreement between the patriarch and his favorite daughter causes the family (and the father’s mental acuity) to unravel. Smiley’s take explores the cultural and political shifts that ripped through Middle America in the 1960s and ’70s. Here, long-trusted ways of life show signs of breakdown: Farmers have started using chemicals that poison water sources; banks offer loans that can’t be repaid; individuals find themselves at odds with one another across generational and gender lines.  But more than anything, A Thousand Acres is about a place on the cusp of change—a place that the reader knows won’t look the same after the last page is turned. — Thomas Gebremedhin

THE AGE OF INNOCENCE, BY EDITH WHARTON | BOOKS WORTH READING DURING THE QUARANTINE | NICK FITNESS EXPERT

The Age of Innocence re-creates the New York of the Gilded Age that Edith Wharton grew up in. Central Park is known as Central Park. A character muses of the Met, “Someday, I suppose, it will be a great Museum.” Plans for a subway provoke skepticism and fear. No bridges connect the different boroughs, and no skyscrapers grace the Manhattan skyline either. In other words, the city feels odd and off the mark—not too unlike the New York of the coronavirus pandemic, where scenes that were once taken for granted (sold-out Broadway shows, a busy Grand Central Terminal, hordes of tourists downtown) have vanished.

TARKA THE OTTER, BY HENRY WILLIAMSON | BOOKS WORTH READING DURING THE QUARANTINE | NICK FITNESS EXPERT

“Twilight upon meadow and water, the eve-star shining over the hill, and Old Nog the heron crying kra-a-ark! as his slow dark wings carried him down to the estuary.” This, the first line of Henry Williamson’s 1927 novel/shamanic trip, Tarka the Otter, is, strictly speaking, a sentence without a subject. Like the entire book—which Verlyn Klinkenborg, in his introduction to a new New York Review Books Classics edition, calls “a vanishing act of the highest order”—it is fundamentally and rapturously decentered. Don’t be fooled by the heron’s Kiplingesque name. Williamson’s animals are not people, they are not symbols, and they do not speak.


RIDDLEY WALKER, BY RUSSELL HOBAN | BOOKS WORTH READING DURING THE QUARANTINE | NICK FITNESS EXPERT
Set in a drizzling and benighted after the time (nuclear war happened hundreds of years ago), written in lumps of half-destroyed English that make perfect sense when reading aloud—“I don't think it makes no differents where you start the telling of a thing. You never know where it has begun really. No more you know where you began your own self”—Riddley Walker is a book you’ll carry with you forever. The eponymous hero is like Holden Caulfield crossed with the narrator of Brendan Behan’s Borstal Boy: He makes his way; he pierces reality. 


THE MEMORY POLICE, BY YOKO OGAWA | BOOKS WORTH READING DURING THE QUARANTINE | NICK FITNESS EXPERT

With The Memory Police, Yoko Ogawa has written an astonishing novel about an island on which objects—perfume, harmonicas, boats—disappear. More precisely, the idea of the objects goes away: The physical objects are disposed of, but, disturbingly, people’s memories of them (and of their signifiers) all abruptly fade too. Ogawa, a spare writer who often withholds details, never explains how this inexorably shrinking world came to be, which only deepens its eeriness. The authoritarian squad that monitors residents to ensure that they aren’t harboring illicit memories recalls the Eyes of The Handmaid’s Tale. 


CATHERINE HOUSE, BY ELISABETH THOMAS | BOOKS WORTH READING DURING THE QUARANTINE | NICK FITNESS EXPERT

The exceptional students selected to attend Catherine House, an elite postsecondary school, begin their life anew when they arrive on campus. But unlike their peers at other institutions, who return home for holidays, Catherine House attendees spend their entire three years sequestered. Elisabeth Thomas’s debut novel weaves a thrilling, compact story that builds dread slowly. It can feel claustrophobic at times, as though the narrator, a rebellious student named Ines, is trying to crawl her way out through its pages.


THE END OF OCTOBER, BY LAWRENCE WRIGHT | BOOKS WORTH READING DURING THE QUARANTINE | NICK FITNESS EXPERT

I don’t recall ever reading a thriller cover to cover, and that’s a confession, not a boast. I’m excited to think that I’ve found the perfect way into the genre: Lawrence Wright’s The End of October, the book that has everyone calling him prophetic. It’s about a pandemic, similar to the 1918 flu, that begins in East Asia. As the disease wreaks global havoc, an American epidemiologist heads to Indonesia to investigate and … well, I’ve only dipped in. Wright is the first to say that his novel might be just what readers don’t want right now—the antithesis of escapist fare. 

TOO MUCH AND NOT THE MOOD, BY DURGA CHEW-BOSE

Durga Chew-Bose’s essay “Since Living Alone” starts with an anecdote about using a brown paper bag and a banana to ripen an avocado. She doesn’t overstate this achievement; even so, she notes that “there is … a restorative innocence to waking up and discovering that something has changed overnight.” The stillness of isolation allows her—and, perhaps, she quarantined readers—to notice the small marvels that surround humans every day, even in a lonely apartment where spectacle becomes “the droop of plant leaves, a black sock poking out of my blue dresser.”


BROADSWORD CALLING DANNY BOY, BY GEOFF DYER | BOOKS WORTH READING DURING THE QUARANTINE | NICK FITNESS EXPERT

There are a couple of reasons to love Geoff Dyer. One is his prose, which at this stage in his practice has become a high-tech delivery system: pure wit, right to the brain stem. Another is the gorgeousness of his arc across the literary firmament—the emancipated, screw-the-editors figure he cuts, monographing away about whatever tickles his fancy. In Broadsword Calling Danny Boy, his latest, Dyer turns his attention—all of it, zooming madly in—to the clunky ’60s war thriller Where Eagles Dare, dilating and inflating and comedically depressurizing the movie in a sequence of scene-by-scene riffs. It’s a deep dive into shallow water, exhilarating to behold. Opening scene: A plane is droning over the snowy mountains.


DAWN, BY OCTAVIA BUTLER | BOOKS WORTH READING DURING THE QUARANTINE | NICK FITNESS EXPERT

In one of her notebooks, the science-fiction writer Octavia Butler wrote, “Tell Stories Filled With Facts … Make People Feel! Feel! Feel!” These directives might very well be the subtitle for Dawn, a classic of Butler’s that is full to the brim with both facts and feelings. A young woman named Lilith wakes up on an alien spaceship and finds herself charged with a gargantuan task: preparing a group of humans for their eventual return to a post-apocalyptic Earth. This, while under the gentle thumb of the Oankali, an extraterrestrial people that have their own agenda for helping another species


THE DISPOSSESSED, BY URSULA K. LE GUIN | BOOKS WORTH READING DURING THE QUARANTINE | NICK FITNESS EXPERT

If you’re hoping that this 1974 Nebula Award winner will help you escape our current reality, beware that the word quarantine appears on page 2. Hang on, though, as Ursula K. Le Guin does fastidiously build a new world for the reader to get lost in—or rather two new worlds. A physicist-philosopher named Shevek journeys from an inhospitable moon populated by nobly struggling anarchists to the opulent and unequal planet those people fled a few generations earlier. He hopes to reconcile the political disagreements that caused the lunar secession, and—thank the stars—the ideological contours probed by Le Guin’s starchy yet swooning prose only hazily conjure modern debates.


NOTHING TO SEE HERE, BY KEVIN WILSON | BOOKS WORTH READING DURING THE QUARANTINE | NICK FITNESS EXPERT

Fire children? Yes, fire children. Nothing to See Here is an enchanting novel that I sped through, initially because of its charming premise, and then because of Kevin Wilson’s deft world building. The 28-year-old Lillian Breaker—bright, acid-witted, and underachieving—gets a cryptic job offer from a wealthy high-school friend to take care of her “wild” stepchildren, who catch on fire when they are upset or excited. Wilson handles this unrealistic state of affairs with wonderful realism, as Lillian tries using gels, fire-retardant fabrics, and meditative breathing to keep her charges from bursting into flames—all while questioning whether what she’s doing is helpful or soul-destroying or some amalgam of the two. 








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