Remember the beginning of quarantine, when everyone wanted to make sourdough but there was no flour to be found anywhere? What hobby did you pick up to pass the time? Personally, I was super committed to learning French on Duolingo for at least one and a half weeks. I also dusted off the old ukulele again (for maybe two weeks?) and bought myself a pair of roller skates. (What can I say? I’m a sheep.) If we’re being honest, though, the One True Hobby is books, right? So here’s what to read now that all those hobbies have gone by the wayside.
Baking → Aimee Bender, The Particular Sadness of Lemon Cake
So you mastered sourdough and then you baked your way through Snacking Cakes and maybe you even got all fancy and learned how to make macarons. But tell me this: can the people eating your baked goods taste your feelings? Aimee Bender’s heartbreaking novel follows a girl who, on the eve of her ninth birthday, takes one bite of her mother’s lemon cake only to find that it tastes… sad. Empty. Haunting, no? Baker, you’ll love this one. It’s got all the right ingredients for your next great read: a pinch of fatherly detachment, a few heavy pours of forced maternal cheer, a drop (just a drop) of a disappearing brother, and a generous helping of a precocious young girl with a weird gift (curse?) trying to make sense of it all.
Puzzling → Edward Powys Mathers, Cain’s Jawbone
Ah, puzzles. Coffee-table-sized mysteries. To some, they’re unbearably frustrating. To others, they’re manageable problems with inevitable solutions. Well, level-up, puzzler! Cain’s Jawbone is 100 pages, all out of order. There are six murders, several potential weapons, and you need to find the single combination that’s just right. Reader beware: only three people have ever solved it, one of them during lockdown. (Admittedly, this is another thing I picked up half-heartedly in the middle of the pandemic, so no spoilers!)
Obsessively watching TV → Emily Nussbaum, I Like to Watch
New Yorker critic Emily Nussbaum will make you feel a lot better about spending countless hours hunkering down with Netflix. She raves about Buffy, dissects the election of a president straight out of reality TV, and scoffs at idea of entertainment hierarchy. Reading her essays is like having a conversation with a very smart friend.
Fostering and/or adopting dogs → Sigrid Nunez, The Friend
You are doing the lord’s work! While your new best friend is curled up on your lap, might I recommend that you crack open Sigrid Nunez’s National Book Award-winning novel, The Friend? When a woman’s best friend dies suddenly, she is left with mountains of grief and his giant Great Dane. It’s a novel about memory and loss, yes, but also one of the inexplicable joys borne from unexpected friendship.
Attempting to become Instagram famous → Beth Morgan, A Touch of Jen
I see you, trying to get ahead on the Tik Tok / Instagram Reel game. I get it. Somebody once told me that their dog got Internet famous, and now they never have to pay for dog food again. Dog food is expensive! Wouldn’t we all like to live that life? (For the record, my dog’s Instagram is @dropit_ollie.) But what of the dark side of our Instagram obsession? Cue Beth Morgan’s A Touch of Jen, a cautionary tale about what happens when an unhappy couple becomes too plugged in to the life of a globe-trotting jewelry-designing Instagram socialite.
Bird watching → Jenny Odell, How To Do Nothing
Everyone who feels they have not been “productive enough” during quarantine (so, everyone) should absolutely read Jenny Odell’s book because it will make you question the root of that anxiety. Why do we feel the need to be productive all the time? What does that even mean? Jenny Odell encourages us to think about our attention as a precious resource, and the result is a book that feels curative. Bird watchers will find delights throughout, as the writer is also a bird watcher. She describes learning the calls like learning a language you’ve been unable to hear till now.
Drinking → Edward Slingerland, Drunk
In case you were curious about the history, literature, and psychology around inebriation. In moderation, we’re told it enhances creativity, alleviates stress, fosters social connections, and… contributes to civilization as we know it? Cheers!
Drawing → Lynda Barry, Making Comics
Cartoonist and professor Lynda Barry’s Making Comics is essentially a crash course in, well, making comics. But it’s more than that! It’s a dare to express yourself and play with perspective, to depict yourself as hero and villain, to catalogue all of your days with as much wild creativity as you can muster. An utter delight and a welcome confidence boost for those of you who are doubting your artistic abilities!
Gardening → Merlin Sheldrake, Entangled Life
Is there a better feeling than plunging your hands into the soil? I don’t think so. Working with the earth is humbling, and calming, and can definitely make you feel connected to something bigger. Reading Entangled Life feels like that. It’s full of surprises, as tending to plants often is. (During quarantine, my mom was tending to a totally normal, non-mushroom-sprouting plant when—behold!—a few blooms of bright yellow mushrooms appeared in her living room one morning. Eerie!) Even if mushrooms aren’t your thing, you will become entranced by Merlin Sheldrake’s book.
Roller Skating → Quan Barry, We Ride Upon Sticks
Yes, Quan Barry’s novel follows a young field hockey team, not a bunch of roller derby girls, but really who wouldn’t love a novel about an enchanted group of girls who will do anything to make it to state finals, set in a town famous for its Witch Trials?! Plus, I think there is some definite crossover. We’ve got ’70s-’80s nostalgia and strong female friendship! (That said, I am just dying for someone to write a roller skating book, please!)
Running → Noé Álvarez, Spirit Run
Sometimes when I see people running around the Prospect Park loop, I like to shout after them, “Where are you going?!” I can only assume now that they are all running to their local indie to pick up a copy of Spirit Run, a gorgeous memoir that takes us on a fourth-month (!) journey from Canada to Guatemala. It’s a book that forces us to encounter not only mountain lions and the limits of the human body but also the harsh realities of deforestation and the exploitation of Indigenous and migrant communities.
Learning a new language → Helen DeWitt, The Last Samurai
If you are, in fact, learning a new language and not “learning a new language” (as so many of us are!), I applaud you and your dedication. It’s that tenacity that makes you the target reader for Helen DeWitt’s 600-page masterpiece about a single mother with lofty parenting goals and a prodigy of a son who is obsessed with 1) identifying his father and 2) reading The Iliad and The Odyssey in Greek. So much of kid genius Ludo will probably resonate with you, you overachiever!
“Reading” → _____________
You read all the books ;) You’re all caught up! Be free!!!