Reading in Uncertain Times: In isolation, our readers turn to books—and a little show bingeing 

What are the books that call to readers homebound by coronavirus? See the results of our poll. And let us know what you're reading in the comments.

“What are you reading?” seems benign enough a question, under normal circumstances. These days being anything but normal, I wondered if the books that called to readers now offered them comfort, inspiration, or escape. So I polled our audience.
Here’s what they (and some SLJ staff) had to say: 

I’m reading Dry by Neil Shusterman and Jarrod Shusterman. While flipping through the news, I saw two women fighting over toilet paper in a Tesco. My daughter, 13, sat up and went to her room. She came back with the book and said, “Read this, it will tell you want happens next.” As she walked away, I yelled, “What happens next! Hey come back here.” It was a classic librarian move. Now I had to read this book about a sudden drought that escalates to catastrophic proportions and a teenage girl and her little brother who must survive as humanity breaks down all around them.
Janet Damon, library services specialist, Denver Public Schools

These days, I spend Sunday nights glued to CNN—I'm mesmerized by the new docuseries The Windsors: Inside the Royal Dynasty. At a time when we can't trust the information coming from the White House, I'm heartened to learn about leaders who dedicated themselves to public service. After Edward VIII abdicated the throne, his younger brother George VI took up the monarchy at great personal sacrifice; he and his wife, Queen Elizabeth, even remained in Buckingham Palace amid the Blitzkrieg.
I'm also immersed in Howard Blum's Gangland: How the FBI Broke the Mob. Blum chronicles a cat-and-mouse game between FBI special agent Bruce Mouw and crime boss John Gotti. Gripping, with some truth-is-stranger-than-fiction moments, it's an ideal distraction from the chaos unfolding around us. Finally, what better way to escape the terror of the unknown than by turning to the familiar? I'm rereading Andy Runton's "Owly" books and smiling at his tenderhearted protagonist who always puts others first—a message more timely than ever.
Mahnaz Dar, reference & professional reading editor, SLJ


Hard cheese and a stout

I am reading The Most Fun We Ever Had by Claire Lombardo. It’s a fiction novel about four sisters and their loving parents that reflects on the complexities of family relationships. I am enjoying peering into the lives of others as a magnified glimpse into another family’s dynamics while living so closely among my own.
Stacy Brown, 21st century learning coordinator, the Davis Academy

Desperately seeking cozy in a time of Covid19, I read old cookbooks, like the 1896 classic, The Boston Cooking School Cook Book, by Fannie Merritt Farmer on how to stock a pantry in a pre-refrigeration era. The Great Scandinavian Baking Book by Beatrice Ojakangas gets me away from theory and into the glorious execution of cardamom bread and vørtelimpa, or orange rye bread, which is good with hard cheese and a stout that I usually don’t have time to drink.
At bedtime, I build a house in my head with Tanizaki’s In Praise of Shadows, and then rely on Barbara Pym’s Excellent Women, because they—and she—are so dependable in a crisis. Television? Anything dystopian, anything about Shackleton.
Kimberly Fakih, senior editor, picture books, SLJ

I just finished Minor Feelings by Cathy Park Hong and it gave me an opportunity to reflect on anti-Asian sentiments that exist within America from Hong’s perspective. A space to deeply reflect today’s xenophobia incidents in light of COVID-19 and the need to highlight solidarity in these challenging times.
Raymond Pun, instruction/research librarian, Alder Graduate School of Education


Two for The Dutch House

I am a librarian with anxiety raising two children with anxiety, one 17 and the other 11. During the past few days, we have been doing a lot of comfort reading in my home. For us, this means listening once again to A Snicker of Magic by Natalie Lloyd on audio, an enjoyable read that we listened to originally as a family and are happy to be listening to again. It’s a delightful story about a family that moves to a town that claims to have lost all of its magic and the sisters that help the town find that magic once again. Like the heaping scoop of ice cream pictured on the cover, A Snicker of Magic is the type of comfort food that nourishes the soul with its charm, wit, and, well, magic. During a time when the world seems like a scary place, Midnight Gulch is a charming place to visit.
Karen Jensen, "Teen Librarian Toolbox"

Whenever I am troubled, and I am plenty troubled these days, I find odd comfort in re-reading King Lear. Its nihilism is so complete that it makes whatever I might be going through seem bearable. When Edgar says “men must endure their going hence, even as their coming hither,” it reverberates somewhere deep inside me.
Mike Lindgren, managing editor, Melville House

In these unsettled times, I turned to Ann Patchett, one of my favorite authors. I just finished reading The Dutch House, Patchett’s story about a flawed family and the giant house they live in. The characters are complex and interesting, and the story spans several decades, giving it an epic feel. A relationship between a sister and brother is at the heart of Dutch House and Patchett digs deep into the complicated ways that we connect with our families.
The state of the world feels overwhelming right now for many reasons, and Dutch House is a great escape. It is a well-told, deeply satisfying story.
Melanie Kletter, freelance editor, SLJ

I just finished bingeing Hunters, a wild speculative account of a diverse band of Nazi hunters in 1977 New York. The last episode blew my mind. Now I’m going back in time to join Jamie and Claire as they brace for the American Revolution in Outlander Season 5. As for books, I just finished The Dutch House, The Joy of Search, and Chances Are. On my night table: Long Bright River, Children of Virtue and Vengeance and Stamped from the Beginning.
Joyce Valenza, “NeverEnding Search”


Contagion (really)

All of my trips to schools and conferences have been cancelled, so I am catching up on the pile of unread graphic novels in my office. I don’t usually carry them when I travel—too heavy! I just finished Dragon Hoops by Gene Luen Yang. The story is a memoir of Gene’s last year as a teacher at Bishop O’Dowd High School, the year their varsity basketball team plays an epic, comeback season after losing the state championship the previous year. Not much of sports fan, Gene becomes fascinated with the Dragons’ back stories, the school’s basketball legacy, and the history of basketball. I cheered and cried through the final panels. Librarians and teachers will have a line of kids waiting to read this one.
Donalyn Miller, teacher, author

I’ve been entranced reading the “Legend” trilogy by Marie Lu. If you know anything about this work, you will know that it’s a dystopian novel, with a subplot about a spreading plague and mass quarantines. While it hits a little too close to home, I just hope everyone doesn’t die at the end. I’ll hopefully let you know when I’m done.
Zack Barnes, assistant professor of special education, Austin Peay State University

I've gone back to watching The Great British Baking Show and, for some reason, have taken great joy in jotting down phrases that apply to our current situation: “mushy and shapeless,” “disaster,” “collapsed slightly,” “nightmare to cut into,” and, of course, “soggy bottom.” Hopefully sooner rather than later we’ll be back to “lovely,” “well done,” and “absolutely delicious.”
Amy Blaine, school librarian

One perk about working from home has been my radio playing in the background. My staples are WNYC/NPR’s Morning Edition, BBC Newshour, the Brian Lehrer Show, and All Thing Considered. I’m also planning to spend some time getting to know some of the excellent library-related podcasts; Christian Lauersen, director of libraries and citizen services in Roskilde Municipality, outside of Copenhagen, put together this handy list. My husband and I started re-watching some pandemic classics like Outbreak (1995) and Contagion (2011), but we’ve quickly shifted to more escapist entertainment. Over the weekend, we started Netflix’s sci-fi police procedural, Altered Carbon, season one. I also suspect that the #askalibrarian hashtag on Twitter could get busier than usual over the next few weeks. I’ll be keeping an eye on it.
Kiera Parrott, reviews director, SLJ, LJ


The Joys of Yiddish

I’m using this time to try to get through some of the books I have on my shelves that I haven’t read yet. I’m mostly staying away from anything too heavy. Fantastical, lighthearted, or funny are all my go-to themes right now. Similar to my book philosophy, I’ve been watching things that make me happy, no matter how many times I’ve seen them. For me this includes The Great British Bake Off and Disney movies. All in all, I’m trying to remind myself that there is light at the end of the tunnel.
Brenna Conway, teacher, Plano ISD

I've been a fan of Daniel Lavery’s for years and years. Long before he transitioned he was responsible for my favorite series on The Toast (a site he co-created) called “Children's Stories Made Horrific.” This year he’s produced his most personal book to date. Something That May Shock and Discredit You is a memoir in pieces. It is also a series of instructions on how to imitate Columbo, thoughts on Anne of Green Gables as trans literature, why Duckie in Pretty in Pink is a beautiful lesbian, the true joy of Gomez Addams, a moment of pitch perfect House Hunters horror, and (of course) copious scripture. It’s mad and wild and infinitely kind and smart. I listened to the audiobook, narrated by Lavery himself, and no one else could have done it justice. I don’t think I quite got the Mean Girls sequence, but I’ve never seen the film. So there you go.
Betsy Bird, “A Fuse #8 Production”

As an on-break school librarian, who had plans of volunteering at the dog shelter, days of combing through vintage and thrift stores, and reading books in the park, I’m at home, social distancing with not much to do other than to crack open The Joys of Yiddish, by Leo Rosten (1960), a book that, despite the ex libris sticker insisting that it belonged to my late, great Uncle David, is without a doubt in my mind, the property of Max and Roz Abrams, my very-much-missed grandparents. It still smells a bit like cigarettes and Shalimar, or at least my brain is insisting that it does. I’ve always wanted read it, and now is the time because the only thing I have an abundance of is time.
It can't be denied that Yiddish is a language of survival. When we speak it, when we say bashert or klutz or verklempt, we're uttering words that have remained and persisted against all odds. It’s a language of love and humor created by the Jewish people, but can also be heard from the mouths of anyone who’s ever watched an episode of Seinfeld or lived in NYC for a semester. In the pages of this book, author Rosten is asked to describe Yiddish in one word, “I would not hesitate: irrepressible.” May we all be so, as well.
Ingrid Conley-Abrams, library co-director, Columbia Grammar and Prep

Tell us what you’re reading in the comments.

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Kathy Ishizuka

Kathy Ishizuka is editor in chief of School Library Journal.

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Patsy Divver

I've got a mix of books going, each with a different aspect for my understanding the world sitaution. I just finished "Code Girls" by Liza Mundy and was both amazed and inspired by these women who developed their skills and talent in the crisis of WWII. I've also been reading an older book, The Friday Night Knitting Club by Kate Jacobs. It's a story that centers about a group of women connecting at a yarn shop to share their lives and concerns. We're all trying to do this now, albeit virtually. Finally, I just finished "Hey Kiddo" by Jarrett Krosoczka. It's a book about overcoming addiction and its many problems, certainly relative to the difficulties we are facing today. Likewise, I finished "Shout" by Laurie Halse Anderson. Although it was shocking and brutal with its truths, her strength and recovery is something to help many overcome tragic situations.

Posted : Mar 23, 2020 06:00

SLJ User

I am reading The Invention of Hugo Cabret to my two daughters (12 and 8) and my husband. It is such a beautiful book, and a wonderful escape from our reality, along with some very positive use of what is sometimes too much together time.

Posted : Mar 23, 2020 02:21

Teri Bennett

I just finished Where the World Ends by Geraldine McCaughrean. Fitting for current times. It was a great story of survival and I was surprised that is was based loosely on real event. Another great one that I read was A Boy and His Dog at the End of the World by C. A. Fletcher. There were a couple moments that I as like "oh not the dog" but it had a bit of twist in the end and throughout the whole book I was waiting to see what was going to happen next.

Posted : Mar 20, 2020 02:38



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