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10 Hand-Picked Books to Ease You Back into Real Life

Sarah Walsh
July 15 2021
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With more and more of the US population fully vaccinated, the restrictions we’ve become accustomed to are being lifted and it’s finally time for post-COVID life to begin (cue this TikTok). While the idea of going out to dinner or hanging out with friends mask-free sounds great, you might be wondering how exactly one socializes since we’re all a little rusty at the whole being around people thing. As is the answer to most of life’s problems, start by turning to books to ease you back into real life. We’ve put together a list of our ten favorites to get you ready for whatever adventures come your way!

The Museum of Forgotten Memories
by Anstey Harris

Museums offer us the chance to escape into the past and appreciate the art and culture of the world around us. With most museums opening back up, the chance to beat the heat while wandering around historical artifacts and enchanting paintings is on the table again. Get excited for your first post-COVID museum trip by checking out THE MUSEUM OF FORGOTTEN MEMORIES by Anstey Harris. In the book, you’ll join Cate Morris after her husband’s death, when she makes the hard decision to leave her London flat and head to her late husband’s family’s Victorian taxidermy museum. While taxidermy might not be the kind of museum you had in mind, Harris’s expertly woven tale of love, life, and loss will have you excited to visit exhibits and sprawling grounds in the near future.

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The Museum of Forgotten Memories
Anstey Harris

“Moving.” —Booklist (starred review)

At Hatters Museum of the Wide Wide World, where the animals never age but time takes its toll, one woman must find the courage to overcome the greatest loss of her life.

Four years after her husband Richard’s death, Cate Morris is let go from her teaching job and unable to pay rent on the London flat she shares with her son, Leo. With nowhere else to turn, they pack up and venture to Richard’s ancestral Victorian museum in the small town of Crouch-on-Sea.

Despite growing pains and a grouchy caretaker, Cate begins to fall in love with the quirky taxidermy exhibits and sprawling grounds, and she makes it her mission to revive them. But threats from both inside and outside the museum derail her plans and send her spiraling into self-doubt.

As Cate becomes more invested in Hatters, she must finally confront the reality of Richard’s death—and the role she played in it—in order to reimagine her future. Perfect for fans of Katherine Center and Evvie Drake Starts Over.

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The Summer House
by Hannah McKinnon

During the best of times, family gatherings can be tricky events that require much mental preparation. Whether you’re worried about reacclimating to a bunch of different personalities in one room or overwhelmed by the thought of hugging people you haven’t been in physical contact with for more than a year, get your feet wet with Hannah McKinnon’s THE SUMMER HOUSE. Flossy Merril gathers her three adult children for a family reunion meant to change their lives after they’ve all recently experienced personal tragedies. In the book, you’ll learn to navigate highly emotional situations as a family and come out on the other side all the better.

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The Summer House
Hannah McKinnon

When Flossy Merrill summons her children to the beloved family beach house to celebrate their father’s eightieth birthday, both cherished memories and long-kept secrets come to light in this charming and lyrical novel from the author of The Lake Season and Mystic Summer.

Flossy Merrill has managed to—somewhat begrudgingly—gather her three ungrateful grown children from their dysfunctional lives for a summer reunion at the family’s Rhode Island beach house. Clementine, her youngest child and a young mother of two small children, has caused Flossy the most worry after enduring a tragically life-altering year. But Samuel and his partner Evan are not far behind in their ability to alarm: their prospective adoption search has just taken a heart-wrenching turn. Only Paige, the eldest of the headstrong Merrill clan, is her usual self: arriving precisely on time with her well-adapted teens. Little does her family know that she, too, is facing personal struggles of her own.

No matter. With her family finally congregated under one seaside roof, Flossy is determined to steer her family back on course even as she prepares to reveal the fate of the summer house that everyone has thus far taken for granted: she’s selling it. The Merrill children are both shocked and outraged and each returns to memories of their childhoods at their once beloved summer house—the house where they have not only grown up, but from which they have grown away. With each lost in their respective heartaches, Clementine, Samuel, and Paige will be forced to reconsider what really matters before they all say goodbye to a house that not only defined their summers, but, ultimately, the ways in which they define themselves. Featuring McKinnon’s “sharp and evocative” (Kirkus Reviews) voice, this warm-hearted novel is perfect for fans of Elin Hilderbrand and Mary Alice Monroe.

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Convenience Store Woman
by Sayaka Murata

Whether it’s for better or worse, most of us have changed our shopping habits during the course of the pandemic: from going to your favorite stores for retail therapy to exclusively shopping online. The idea of going back into stores can feel intimidating, especially small businesses where you never know if you’re supposed to talk to the workers or just quietly look at the goods while letting the employees do their jobs. In CONVENIENCE STORE WOMAN, Keiko Furukara thrives off of the controlled social expectations of the convenience store she’s worked at for most of her life. She follows the rulebook provided by management and never has to worry about the “weird” version of herself lurking beneath the surface. While reading this book, you’ll be reminded of how we interact with each other while shopping and feel empowered to head to your favorite local store.

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Convenience Store Woman
Sayaka Murata

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The Love Goddess' Cooking School
by Melissa Senate

All those months in quarantine have many of us craving social interaction, but as we all know, making friends as an adult can be hard. One of the top ways to make friends in postcollege life is to join a club or take a class. To help you get over any nerves about meeting new people in an unfamiliar environment, turn to THE LOVE GODDESS’ COOKING SCHOOL by Melissa Senate. In the book, Holly Maguire keeps her grandmother’s memory alive by continuing her cooking school—and learning to cook for herself along the way. You’ll also meet a cast of characters that will give you a taste of what to expect of the fellow students in your club or class.

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The Love Goddess' Cooking School
Melissa Senate

When recently heartbroken Holly inherits her grandmother’s Italian cooking school, she takes on the challenge of teaching her mouth-watering family recipes to a new set of students, despite the fact that she cannot cook. Garnishing recipes with her grandmother’s essential ingredients of memories and wishes, a determined Holly soon comes to learn a thing or two about her own recipe for happiness.

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Turbulence
by David Szalay

For many people, traveling by plane was scary enough even before the fear of catching COVID on the flight emerged. One way to make the air travel feel less stressful is by checking out David Szalay’s novel, TURBULENCE. The book introduces you to a slew of diverse protagonists as they travel the world many times over to reconnect with loved ones, including estranged family members and new babies. These stories come together to reveal the interconnectedness of the lives we all lead and might resonate with you as you experience post-COVID life.

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Turbulence
David Szalay

*A New York Times Book Review Editors’ Choice*

A “masterful” (The Washington Post), “cathartic” (Star Tribune, Minneapolis), novel about twelve people, mostly strangers, and the surprising ripple effect each one has on the life of the next as they cross paths while in transit around the world—from the Booker Prize–shortlisted author of All That Man Is.

In this “compelling” (The Christian Science Monitor), “crisp and clever” (Vanity Fair) novel, Szalay’s diverse protagonists circumnavigate the planet in twelve flights, from London to Madrid, from Dakar to Sao Paulo, to Toronto, to Delhi, to Doha, en route to see lovers or estranged siblings, aging parents, baby grandchildren, or nobody at all. Along the way, they experience the full range of human emotions from loneliness to love and, knowingly or otherwise, change each other in one brief, electrifying interaction after the next.

Written with magic and economy, “Szalay explores the miraculous ability of our shared humanity to lift us from loneliness” (Esquire) and delivers a dazzling portrait of the interconnectedness of the modern world.

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Take Me Home Tonight
by Morgan Matson

Do your summer plans include a trip to NYC? Get ready for the magic of the Big Apple before even stepping a foot out the door by checking out TAKE ME HOME TONIGHT by Morgan Matson. While reading the book, map out the journey Kat and Stevie take on their one night out in New York City as they soak up as much of the magical place as it has to offer. And while their journey is ultimately a fun one, we recommend not following in their footsteps and getting up to hijinks involving dry cleaning delivery and unexpected Pomeranians. Maybe stick to the museums and restaurants they had planned instead.

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Take Me Home Tonight
Morgan Matson

Ferris Bueller’s Day Off meets Nick and Norah’s Infinite Playlist in this romp through the city that never sleeps from the New York Times bestselling author of Since You’ve Been Gone.

Two girls. One night. Zero phones.

Kat and Stevie—best friends, theater kids, polar opposites—have snuck away from the suburbs to spend a night in New York City. They have it all planned out. They’ll see a play, eat at the city’s hottest restaurant, and have the best. Night. Ever. What could go wrong?

Well. Kind of a lot?

They’re barely off the train before they’re dealing with destroyed phones, family drama, and unexpected Pomeranians. Over the next few hours, they’ll have to grapple with old flames, terrible theater, and unhelpful cab drivers. But there are also cute boys to kiss, parties to crash, dry cleaning to deliver (don’t ask), and the world’s best museum to explore.

Over the course of a wild night in the city that never sleeps, both Kat and Stevie will get a wake-up call about their friendship, their choices…and finally discover what they really want for their future.

That is, assuming they can make it to Grand Central before the clock strikes midnight.

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The Fifth Avenue Story Society
by Rachel Hauck

Over the past year, meeting new people has been mostly limited to Zoom calls and other virtual hangouts. If post-COVID life has you excited and maybe a little terrified to meet new people again, check out Rachel Hauck’s THE FIFTH AVENUE STORY SOCIETY. In the novel, five strangers who couldn’t be more different come together after receiving a mysterious invitation to a story society. As you might expect, their interactions are awkward at first, but as they return every week, bonds begin to form between the unlikely quintet. After reading the book, maybe you’ll be inspired to wave at a neighbor, chat in line at your favorite coffee shop, or start a society of your own.

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The Fifth Avenue Story Society
Rachel Hauck

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Limelight
by Amy Poeppel

As Jimmy Fallon and Lin-Manuel Miranda enthusiastically shared, Broadway’s back! There’s nothing quite like live theater and having your favorite actors reprise their much-loved roles. But how do we get used to sitting snug up against strangers in public again? Start by grabbing a copy of LIMELIGHT by Amy Poeppel and read the story of Allison Brinkley as she struggles to adjust to New York after moving her family to the city. Her life soon changes after an unexpected encounter with a young pop-star-turned-Broadway-sensation. As this meeting turns into a unique opportunity, Allison finds herself closer to the lights and sounds of the theater than she ever imagined. This tribute to Broadway will have you excited to grab your tickets to the next performance of a must-see show.

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Limelight
Amy Poeppel

In a smart and funny novel by the author of the critically acclaimed “big-hearted, charming” (The Washington Post) Small Admissions, a family’s move to New York City brings surprises and humor.

Allison Brinkley—wife, mother, and former unflappable optimist—discovers that her decision to pack up and move her family from suburban Dallas to the glittery chaos of Manhattan may have been more complicated than she and her husband initially thought. New York is more unruly and bewildering than she expected, defying the notions she developed from romantic movies and a memorable childhood visit. After a humiliating call from the principal’s office and the loss of the job she was counting on, Allison begins to accept that New York may not suit her after all.

When she has a fender-bender, witnessed by a flock of mothers at her son’s new school, she is led to the penthouse apartment of a luxurious Central Park West building and encounters a spoiled, hungover, unsupervised teenager who looks familiar. It doesn’t take long to recognize him as Carter Reid—a famous pop star who has been cast in a new Broadway musical. Through this brush with stardom, Allison embraces a unique and unexpected opportunity that helps her find her way in the heart of Manhattan.

“A tribute to Broadway, teen celebrity life, and a mother who has now seen it all, this work is tough love at its finest and a great read for those wanting a ride on the wild side” (Booklist, starred review).

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The Barbizon
by Paulina Bren

For many people, staying in hotels is a treat they haven’t been able to indulge in for several months. Between the cozy robes and maid service, there’s something about hotels that make you feel powerful and sophisticated, which is exactly how women in the 1920s felt staying at the Barbizon. In the book by the same name, Paulina Bren explores what it was like for women in the Roaring Twenties who sought out successful careers in the arts while staying at this luxurious hotel. If you feel inclined to remake yourself after the pandemic, get your copy of THE BARBIZON, find inspiration in the stories of the remarkable women who lived there, and get ready to book a hotel stay that just might transform your life.

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The Barbizon
Paulina Bren

From award-winning author Paulina Bren comes the first history of New York’s most famous residential hotel—The Barbizon—and the remarkable women who lived there.

WELCOME TO NEW YORK’S LEGENDARY HOTEL FOR WOMEN

Liberated from home and hearth by World War I, politically enfranchised and ready to work, women arrived to take their place in the dazzling new skyscrapers of Manhattan. But they did not want to stay in uncomfortable boarding houses. They wanted what men already had—exclusive residential hotels with daily maid service, cultural programs, workout rooms, and private dining.

Built in 1927 at the height of the Roaring Twenties, the Barbizon Hotel was intended as a safe haven for the “Modern Woman” seeking a career in the arts. It became the place to stay for any ambitious young woman hoping for fame and fortune. Sylvia Plath fictionalized her time there in The Bell Jar, and, over the years, its almost 700 tiny rooms with matching floral curtains and bedspreads housed Titanic survivor Molly Brown; actresses Grace Kelly, Liza Minnelli, Ali MacGraw, Jaclyn Smith, Phylicia Rashad, and Cybill Shepherd; writers Joan Didion, Diane Johnson, Gael Greene, and Meg Wolitzer; and many more. Mademoiselle magazine boarded its summer interns there, as did Katharine Gibbs Secretarial School its students and the Ford Modeling Agency its young models. Before the hotel’s residents were household names, they were young women arriving at the Barbizon with a suitcase and a dream.

Not everyone who passed through the Barbizon’s doors was destined for success—for some it was a story of dashed hopes—but until 1981, when men were finally let in, the Barbizon offered its residents a room of their own and a life without family obligations or expectations. It gave women a chance to remake themselves however they pleased; it was the hotel that set them free. No place had existed like it before or has since.

Beautifully written and impeccably researched, The Barbizon weaves together a tale that has, until now, never been told. It is both a vivid portrait of the lives of these young women who came to New York looking for something more, and an epic history of women’s ambition.

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The Final Revival of Opal & Nev
by Dawnie Walton

There’s nothing quite like going to a concert. Music just doesn’t hit the same way when listening through earbuds or blasting it in your car. The problem is concerts have a lot of people, which can feel overwhelming. Instead of waiting until you’re actually at the venue, get reacquainted with the feel of concerts by checking out Dawnie Walton’s THE FINAL REVIVAL OF OPAL & NEV. While Opal and Nev’s rock-and-roll lifestyle takes place primarily in the 1970s, the duo’s journey will both take you back to concert culture and bring to light the harsh reality Black women face when speaking their truth.

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The Final Revival of Opal & Nev
Dawnie Walton

A kaleidoscopic fictional oral history of the beloved rock ’n’ roll duo who shot to fame in 1970s New York, and the dark, fraught secret that lies at the peak of their stardom.

Opal is a fiercely independent young woman pushing against the grain in her style and attitude, Afro-punk before that term existed. Coming of age in Detroit, she can’t imagine settling for a 9-to-5 job—despite her unusual looks, Opal believes she can be a star. So when the aspiring British singer/songwriter Neville Charles discovers her at a bar’s amateur night, she takes him up on his offer to make rock music together for the fledgling Rivington Records.

In early seventies New York City, just as she’s finding her niche as part of a flamboyant and funky creative scene, a rival band signed to her label brandishes a Confederate flag at a promotional concert. Opal’s bold protest and the violence that ensues set off a chain of events that will not only change the lives of those she loves, but also be a deadly reminder that repercussions are always harsher for women, especially black women, who dare to speak their truth.

Decades later, as Opal considers a 2016 reunion with Nev, music journalist S. Sunny Shelton seizes the chance to curate an oral history about her idols. Sunny thought she knew most of the stories leading up to the cult duo’s most politicized chapter. But as her interviews dig deeper, a nasty new allegation from an unexpected source threatens to blow up everything.

Provocative and chilling, The Final Revival of Opal & Nev features a backup chorus of unforgettable voices, a heroine the likes of which we’ve not seen in storytelling, and a daring structure, and introduces a bold new voice in contemporary fiction.

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