Pandemic Must-Reads

In what feels like 5 years worth of breaking news compressed into a week, Coronavirus has officially been declared a pandemic, the entire NHL got suspended, Europeans can’t fly to the US for 30 days (but Americans living or currently visiting Europe can because, as we all know, our rabid patriotism makes us naturally immune to carrying viral contaminants across borders), and of course, blah blah something stock market blah (tbh I have no idea what the implications of that are, since I’ve never had enough spare cash to participate in societally-sanctioned gambling—err, I mean, The Market.)

Oh and PS, we’re all supposed to stay home as much as possible now.*


I have prepared a list of book recommendations to hunker down with while you’re trapped in the ever-shrinking four walls of your house. I’ve ranked them in order from “educational texts about all the dystopian issues we should be discussing right now” all the way up to “fluffy tales guaranteed to distract you from contemplating our imminent doom”:

Heavy Nonfiction (or, If You Think This Planet Is Fucked, Just Wait Till You Read These!)

The Uninhabitable Earth: Life After Warming by David Wallace-Wells

Look, I’ll be real with you: I had no less than 3 panic attacks within the first 120 pages of this book. It’s terrifying. But it’s also, even more scarily, very well-researched and nuanced. It does not talk about our climate future in terms of big Day After Tomorrow-esque scenarios. It takes a realistic approach: who will be the hardest impacted (spoiler: those communities, countries and economic groups that are already struggling). What could a world with the minimal degrees of warming we should expect look like (it’s not great!). How commonplace will natural disasters like the California fires, the increasingly large hurricanes battering the East Coast, etc. be (very).

This was a hard read, but such an important one. We need to face what’s coming. And this book takes a level-headed, realistic look at it. What made reading it so terrifying was that it did not sound like science fiction or a dystopia. It was easy to imagine. We’re already seeing some of it now, in fact.

That’s the problem.

Invisible Women: Data Bias in a World Designed for Men by Caroline Criado-Pérez

I wish I could magically implant the knowledge from this book into everyone’s minds with a snap of my fingers. I cannot stress how important a read this is, not just for the women out there, but for the men, too. Because if you’re a man reading this, I guarantee there’s at least one, if not many, women who you love in your life.

This book isn’t about raging against men, or complaining about women’s lot in life. It takes a deeply researched, very logical and straightforward approach to looking at the world we all inhabit, and the ways in which it has been designed, either accidentally, on purpose, or through sheer ignorance, to work against women.

Sexism doesn’t always show up as conscious bias (although sadly, it still shows up there frequently too). It doesn’t always look like physical violence or abuse (although that still happens very often as well).

Many times, the bias isn’t even something other people are doing to women. It’s just the way the world is set up. The way cars are manufactured, the way iPhones are designed, the way buildings are built, the way we talk and think about what’s work and what’s free labor (i.e. childcare). I like to think I’m pretty aware of the patriarchy and the ways it impacts my life, but a lot of the facts in this book startled even me. It never occurred to me to think “oh hey, you know how women can never open jars? It’s because the jars were designed to fit a man’s hand.”

1491: New Revelations of the Americas Before Columbus by Charles C. Mann

I read this book almost two years ago and I have not stopped thinking or talking about it since. We all know by now (I hope) that Christopher Columbus was not the pioneering explorer we were taught to believe growing up, but rather a genocidal invader who destroyed whole civilizations in the process of robbing them blind to finance a greedy empire.

But what we still don’t hear much about in history classes or common parlance, are the civilizations that existed before the Old World arrived at the New (which, frankly, is a misnomer in and of itself). I thought I had a  decent idea of American history, since I’d traveled through Central and South America, visited the pyramids at Teotihuacan, hiked Machu Picchu.


A TON of what we learn in history class is just plain wrong. A lie. Even our timelines of immigration to the so-called “New World” might be completely off. This book does a great job of blending thorough research with fascinating story-telling in order to give us the best possible picture we can sketch of the period in history before one half of the world was wiped out by the other.

(Fair warning, I sank into a deep depression for months after finishing this book, because it finally truly hit me just how much knowledge, culture, art, science and LIFE was lost when Columbus invaded the Americas.)

Light Nonfiction (or, Ok, Not Everything Is COMPLETELY Fucked)

Sapiens and Homo Deus by Yuval Noah Harari

I am convinced this man is either a genius or a space alien or both. Either way, his realistically optimistic(ish) perspective on the human species is both refreshing and well worth a read. Some of my favorite points of his: our modern political systems function the way religions did in the past. Money is an imaginary concept. Stories are what provided the bedrock for all of civilization to be created.

Can you tell why I like his writing?

Come As You Are by Emily Nagoski

Sex is not a dirty word. The female orgasm shouldn’t be so damn rare. We need to talk about what better sex looks like if we want to have it, or to encourage others to enjoy it. This is a great, inclusive read that takes a look at female sexuality, and how many factors that we don’t normally associate with sex play into it.

The Order of Time by Carlo Rovelli 

This one made my head hurt, but in a good way. Written by a theoretical physicist who also spins poetry-worthy prose (because being a theoretical physicist wasn’t impressive enough on its own, I guess), it’s one of the first books I’ve read that helped me actually visualize a lot of the theoretical concepts I’ve heard batted around about our universe.

Also, this lead me to the conclusion that it’s fucking batshit any of us or this planet exist at all. What the hell.

Fiction So Good It’ll Make You Question If You Should Bother To Even Try Writing Anything, Ever

Gideon the Ninth by Tamsyn Muir

Lesbian necromancers in space. That’s all the pitch you really need. This book was by turns hilarious, razor-edge-level witty, gut-wrenching, and downright ridiculous. I loved every fucking page, and to say I’m dying to get my hands on the sequel is an understatement.

But if I do die, someone have Harrow revive me to read it ok, thanks.


This is How You Lose the Time War by Max Gladstone and Amal El-Mohtar

I loved Max Gladstone’s Three Parts Dead (basically fantasy lawyers), so I was looking forward to this one, and it did not disappoint.

It’s novella-length, so a quick read, but damn do the authors pack a compelling romance into a few pages. It follows two rival time-traveling agents bent on destroying one another’s factions. Save your bullshit oh, they don’t like each other at work but are forced to work together on a project stories—THIS is how you do enemies-to-lovers, my friend.

A History of Glitter and Blood by Hannah Moskowitz

Glitter. Faeries. Cannibalism. An extremely fucked-up world with even more fucked-up characters violently carving out space for joy and peace and love amidst the wreckage.

I devoured this book whole and yes that is a cannibalism reference, don’t worry about it.

Oh and PS it’s super gay. Like however gay you’re thinking, multiply by a gazillion. Love to see it.

The Fever King by Victoria Lee

Couldn’t write a list of books to read during a pandemic without including this one, about a boy who becomes the sole survivor of a viral outbreak that killed his family—and, oh yeah, the virus also granted him magical abilities.

This might hit a little too close to home at the moment, or it could be cathartic to read about how after his illness, Noah’s real story begins. He’s recruited to work for his magic-powered government; a government he deeply distrusts, since he is the son of undocumented immigrants and he spend his life protesting the government’s treatment of them. But maybe this will prove the perfect opportunity to bring his country’s leaders down from the inside…

Girls Forced into Arranged Marriages with the Same Guy But They Fall for Each Other Instead

Ok, there are only two books in this category, but the fact that there is more than one and that I love them both and this is my new favorite trope really says something positive about the state of queer rep in YA these days.

Girls of Paper and Fire by Natasha Ngan

A girl in the most persecuted class in her kingdom is stolen from her family and made to join the group of eight girls who will serve their cruel king. Fair warning, this book gets real about sexual assault, the harm it does, and what it takes to survive it (and how everyone does that differently).

It’s also a poignant, butterfly-inducing, heart-racing portrait of two girls falling head-over-heels in the kind of love they write books about.

We Set the Dark on Fire by Tehlor Kay Mejia

This book really tackles the expectations and restrictions we place on girls. In Mejia’s world, there are only two kinds of females: emotional, sexy, passionate ones, and level-headed, logical, Type-A ones.

Every man who comes of age is awarded one of each, in marriage. But are the two girls really so different? And is it right how little control they have over their own lives, or how much their husband wields over them?

This book is a slow slide into a terrifying finale that will leave you breathless—not to mention dying for the sequel, which lucky for you JUST CAME OUT so you don’t even have to wait!

Fluffy and Fun

Don’t let anyone call these guilty reads, because there’s no guilt when it comes to books! But with all the heartache and stress going on in the world right now, we could all use some lighthearted fiction in our lives, so:

Get a Life, Chloe Brown by Talia Hibbert

After a chronically ill computer geek narrowly avoids death, she decides to make a list of all the badass things she wants to do to in order to, well, Get a Life.

Enter the “Red” Morgan, the handyman in her building: he’s got tattoos, a motorcycle and a dangerously attractive grin. But he’s also probably her best bet if she wants help accomplishing the bad-girl to-do items on her list.

Red and Chloe’s chemistry is off the charts, and their fun, twisty romance will definitely keep you distracted from counting how many rolls of TP you panic-bought yesterday.

The Gentleman’s Guide to Vice and Virtue by Mackenzie Lee

Set in 18th century England, this story follows the roguish son of a gentleman as he embarks on his Grand Tour of Europe. Afterward, he’ll have to return home and take over his father’s estate. But before that, he’s determined to have as much fun drinking, gambling and romancing his way across the continent as possible. And if it gives him more time to flirt with his best friend and traveling companion, a boy he’s been hopelessly in love with for years, well, all the better.

There’s alchemy, there’s a chaos bi and his cinnamon roll best friend, there’s a whip-smart but annoying younger sister tagging along… and of course, a caper that pisses off the wrong person, and a manhunt that stretches from Paris to Venice.

Perfect way to travel in spirit, when we can’t venture outside!

Remember: if you do buy any of these, please consider ordering from your local indie bookstore, or via Indiebound, since local & small businesses will be the hardest hit by this period of economic slow-down.

What books are you hunkering down to quarantine with? Any suggestions? <3

* Yes, self-quarantine sounded like an extreme reaction to me too, until I started reading about how overwhelmed the hospitals in Italy are getting. I’m fortunate enough to be young(ish) and healthy, without any prior respiratory issues, so I would probably (*knock on wood*) be all right if I caught the virus. But many people wouldn’t be, and the more hospitals are flooded with patients, the less they can help each individual patient, which leads to rising death tolls. We’ve got to think about more than just ourselves, right now. Think about your parents, your friends’ parents, your grandparents (no no, not the racist ones, the nice ones who bake you cookies). Think about your friends or family members with compromised immune systems. If you can help avoid putting them in more danger by staying home (and if your job allows), do it.

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