3 Books to Read if You’re “Trying to Get Back Into Reading”

Aren’t we all?

I know what you’re thinking: I haven’t read a book for fun since 8th grade and now this college application is asking me what books I read for pleasure and I’m not a liar but I have to lie because for the last 4 years I’ve barely even had enough time to do the required reading, let alone read on my own because I was trying to get into this stupid college that wants me to give them a $70 application fee and their last essay question is literally “why do you want to come to our prestigious institution” which is just a nice way of saying “Beg for it”. I get it. We all used to like to read in middle school, after all, if you go to Magnet you were likely the nerdy kid at some point, and what’s a nerd without a book? Here are some more grown-up options for your quarantine reading.

If you want to forget about the world right now…

The Secret History by Donna Tart

This one by far has the most intriguing storyline on this list. It has twists and turns and ranges from exploration and intrigue, to isolated, to gripping and sinister, from real life to fantastical and back again. It tells the story of a 19-year-old named Richard, who, tired of the superficiality of the West Coast, decides to attend a tiny private college in New England. He has no great plans for his life, and consequently, joins the college’s 6 person classical studies major (which is Greco-Roman history and philosophy) taught by an eccentric, calculating professor. I really really don’t want to spoil anything else here but just know the book ends in so many different places than where it started. It’s suspenseful and erudite, and overall, the type of book that you need to take a day off after you finish it to process what just happened. It’s WILD, I promise. 


If you want something quick and dirty and (slightly) plague-y…

The Decameron by Giovanni Boccaccio

Have you ever seen medieval marginalia? The book reminds me of that.

The premise of this book is that a group of young aristocrats in the Medieval times decide that this whole Black Plague thing is a total drag! They reunite at a funeral and decide that they will all spend of what might be their last days on earth, quarantined together at one of their beautiful countryside houses,  playing games, drinking wine, and telling each other stories. All of this takes place only in the introduction as a frame story; the rest of the book is just an account of each story they tell. For an anthology compiled in medieval times, it’s crazy ridiculous and SO interesting and SO SO funny. It’s chock-full of affairs, murder, deception, drunkenness, idiocy, and innuendo. I imagine these are the type of bedtime stories you want to tell children of the future if you’re trying to be the “cool uncle/aunt”. One story, for example, tells of a young man named Masetto, who goes to work at a convent (where nuns live) as a gardener, but since he is attractive, he must pretend to be a deaf-mute to discourage the temptations of the young nuns. The nuns are undeterred by his fake handicap, however, and all “compete to lie with him.” In the end, he approaches the abbess (head nun) and complains about having to satisfy all nine of them, saying his body literally can’t take it. What an absolute pimp. The abbess is like “What is this? I thought you were a deaf-mute” and he’s like “No wait! I am, it’s just that God has suddenly restored my speech, it’s a miracle!” and so she lets him stay at the convent despite his sins because God granted him a miracle or something. He continues to get with the nuns and finally, one day when he’s old and has “generated a large number of little monks and nuns,” he just puts all his stuff in a hobo sack and leaves to go home all rich and happy. The rest of the stories are just as insane. 


If you want something really plague-y and strangely prophetic… 

Severance by Ling Ma

If you’re judging a book by its cover: look how pretty this is!

I think this plague story was originally just meant to be a commentary on modern society and the “millennial condition” but it’s turned out to be quite a bit more true to life than the author could have ever expected when it was written in 2018. Since I haven’t gotten a chance to read this one yet I’ll let Wikipedia do most of the explaining: “Severance takes place in the United States in the 2010s, before and during a pandemic of Shen Fever, a fictional fungal infection originating in Shenzhen, China [how weird is that?!!!] Some people are inexplicably immune and try to survive during the slow apocalypse. People infected with Shen Fever repeat old routines compulsively, without consciousness and until death.” Creepy. The book follows Candace Chen, one of the immune, who meets up with fellow survivors who have formed a “quasi-religious group, led by a former I.T. guy named Bob, traveling towards ‘the Facility,’ which he promises to be safe. On the way there, they ‘stalk’ houses for supplies, killing the infected people inside.” According to the New York Times it “offers blatant commentary on ‘dizzying abundance’ and unrelenting consumption, evolving into a semi-surreal sendup of a workplace and its utopia of rules.” I, for one, cannot wait to read this.