As we’re finishing up our second full month of social-distancing, it has become abundantly clear that books have remained a major source of comfort at this time. Luckily, with the help of Bookshop, friendly recommendations, eBook downloads, and digging around our personal libraries, we have gotten around to reading some amazing books. Here are the titles we have been devouring, recommending, and supporting while in social isolation.
Hannah’s Pick #1: Ever since I started working in publishing, my friends have asked me for great book recommendations. Once we began this period of social-distancing, they were hungry for some new reads to keep them occupied at home. I was quick to suggest ASK AGAIN, YES by Mary Beth Keane. This novel is about a friendship-turned-romance that blossoms between the children of two NYPD officers. After a shocking night that leaves the families starkly divided, Peter Stanhope and Kate Gleeson demonstrate unfailing loyalty to each other. At its core, ASK AGAIN, YES is a beautiful story of family ties, rooted trauma, and the power of forgiveness.
One of the most beloved novels of the year, the 2019 Tonight Show Summer Reads pick and “magnificent” (NPR) New York Times bestseller offers “profound insights about blame, forgiveness, and abiding love” (People) about two neighboring families in a suburban town, the friendship between their children, the daily intimacies of marriage, and the power of forgiveness.
Francis Gleeson and Brian Stanhope, rookie cops in the NYPD, live next door to each other outside the city. What happens behind closed doors in both houses—the loneliness of Francis’s wife, Lena, and the instability of Brian’s wife, Anne, sets the stage for the explosive events to come.
“A beautiful novel, bursting at the seams with empathy” (Elle), Ask Again, Yes is a deeply affecting and “smartly told” (Entertainment Weekly) exploration of the lifelong friendship and love that blossoms between Kate Gleeson and Peter Stanhope, born six months apart. One shocking night their loyalties are divided, and their bond will be tested again and again over the next forty years. Heartbreaking and redemptive, Ask Again, Yes is a gorgeous portrait of a relationship haunted by echoes from the past, yet marked by tenderness, generosity, and grace.
How Small Moments, Family, and Forgiveness Inspired Mary Beth Keane to Write Her Beautiful Novel, Ask Again, Yes
Hannah’s Pick #2: As soon as I realized Bookshop was up and running, and I could get a copy of this book, I bought it. I loved Samantha Irby’s WE ARE NEVER MEETING IN REAL LIFE, and I knew her newest book would make me laugh out loud—and if there’s anything I need right now, it’s a good laugh. Not only did this read make me cackle, so my boyfriend looked at me like I was crazy, but it also brought me a feeling of connection. The writing is very familiar, so I felt like I was having a conversation and being told really funny stories by a friend. It was the perfect antidote for social isolation reading.
Holly’s Pick #1: During this time of self-isolation, I knew I needed to lean on one of my favorite authors for some beautiful writing and literary entertainment. In my Bookshop haul, I ordered THE LINE THAT HELD US by David Joy. Set in rural Appalachia, this story follows the wake of an accidental death and the succession of dark events that follow as the main character attempts to cover it up. Darl Moody had his eye on a massive buck and was intent on killing it for his own game. But when his bullet accidentally hits and kills a fellow hunter in the woods, he’s left completely shocked. Worse yet, the man he killed was a Brewer – a family known for their vengeance and violence. When Dwayne Brewer begins to investigate what happened to his missing younger brother, a series of awful events escalates into a full-on nightmare.
Holly’s Pick #2: I have been using this period of isolation to read some of the well-respected classics that I somehow never got around to reading – one of which being, THE BELL JAR. This moving novel follows a woman as she falls into a state of insanity. Esther Greenwood is beautiful, smart, talented, but severely struggling mentally. Through Sylvia Plath’s writing, readers are pulled into Esther’s breakdown, touching on the deep and dark corners of the human brain.
A haunting classic that chronicles the breakdown of Esther Greenwood: brilliant, beautiful, enormously talented, and successful, but slowly going under. This deep penetration into the dark and harrowing corners of the psyche is an extraordinary accomplishment and makes us mourn Sylvia Plath’s tragic suicide at age thirty all the more.
Sarah’s Pick: One of my first weeks home, I ordered a stash of books. Choosing which to read first is always a challenge, but I went with SAY NOTHING by Patrick Radden Keefe, as my book club had moved online, and this was our next pick. This engrossing and atmospheric true account blew me away, and I can't recommend it more highly – from the wide cast of characters that Keefe somehow convinces you to both remember and admire the second they hit the page, to his author's note and final chapter describing his research and findings. This take on the Irish "Troubles" beginning in the 1960s in a fight for Irish independence is as eye-opening and informative as it is a homage to the people who risked so much and received so little.
Hannah’s Pick #3: One of the new TV series I decided to binge when we started staying home was Unorthodox on Netflix. After finishing all four episodes, I immediately wanted to dive into the memoir of the same name on which the limited series is based. The memoir is written by Deborah Feldman, a woman who grew up as a member of the very strict Satmar sect of Hasidic Judaism. From what she could wear and who she could talk to, everything Deborah did was restricted and controlled. Despite this—and thanks in large part to books she read — she grew into an independent young woman. But she still found herself in an sexually and emotionally dysfunctional marriage as a teenager. When she gave birth at just nineteen years old, Deborah knew she needed to f
Now a Netflix original series!
Unorthodox is the bestselling memoir of a young Jewish woman’s escape from a religious sect, in the tradition of Ayaan Hirsi Ali’s Infidel and Carolyn Jessop’s Escape, featuring a new epilogue by the author.
As a member of the strictly religious Satmar sect of Hasidic Judaism, Deborah Feldman grew up under a code of relentlessly enforced customs governing everything from what she could wear and to whom she could speak to what she was allowed to read. Yet in spite of her repressive upbringing, Deborah grew into an independent-minded young woman whose stolen moments reading about the empowered literary characters of Jane Austen and Louisa May Alcott helped her to imagine an alternative way of life among the skyscrapers of Manhattan. Trapped as a teenager in a sexually and emotionally dysfunctional marriage to a man she barely knew, the tension between Deborah’s desires and her responsibilities as a good Satmar girl grew more explosive until she gave birth at nineteen and realized that, regardless of the obstacles, she would have to forge a path—for herself and her son—to happiness and freedom.
Remarkable and fascinating, this “sensitive and memorable coming-of-age story” (Pittsburgh Post-Gazette) is one you won’t be able to put down.
Holly’s Pick #3: One of the things I miss most about life pre-isolation is my ability to freely go on hikes in my surrounding state parks. A breath of fresh, natural air is all I need to reset my mind and make room for a new stress-free wave of productivity. So, since I have been limited in my outdoor activity and forced to remain indoors as much as possible, I figured a good book about the outdoors would give me my fix of nature. The memoir, A WALK IN THE WOODS, by Bill Bryson chronicles his time on the Appalachian Trail. Packed with funny characters Bill encounters on the way and beautiful recounts of the untamed wilderness, this autobiographical book was just the pick-me-up I needed.
Hollys Pick #4: As a distraction from the current climate of the world, I thought a historical fantasy read would do me good. THE LOST QUEEN is set in ancient Scotland, when Languoreth reigned queen. But during her rule, the burgeoning forces of Christianity threatened to obliterate the kingdom's ancient beliefs. Along with her twin brother, a handsome warrior, and the man she has already promised to marry, Languoreth must fight to preserve the Old Way to save her kingdom.
Sarah Jane’s Pick: Stephen King has always been one of my favorite authors, so a new book from him is always an event for me. I tuned in to his virtual reading of an excerpt from IF IT BLEEDS, which naturally ended on a cliffhanger, and I knew I needed this collection of short stories and novellas immediately. Luckily, my local Indie is shipping books during this tough time and I was able to order from them. I can't wait to dig into it, especially because it features Holly Gibney, one of my favorite characters from THE OUTSIDER.
From #1 New York Times bestselling author, legendary storyteller, and master of short fiction Stephen King comes an extraordinary collection of four new and compelling novellas—Mr. Harrigan’s Phone, The Life of Chuck, Rat, and the title story If It Bleeds—each pulling you into intriguing and frightening places.
The novella is a form King has returned to over and over again in the course of his amazing career, and many have been made into iconic films, including “The Body” (Stand By Me) and “Rita Hayworth and Shawshank Redemption” (Shawshank Redemption). Like Four Past Midnight, Different Seasons, and most recently Full Dark, No Stars, If It Bleeds is a uniquely satisfying collection of longer short fiction by an incomparably gifted writer.