I am an American citizen living in South Korea, and I am on week five of self-isolation due to the risk of the coronavirus. As the COVID-19 situation continues to escalate around the world, I am aware that I have experienced a lifestyle that will likely mirror that of many people in the United States for the foreseeable future. While living the realities of social distancing or self-isolation, I have discovered that it is easy to succumb to bad habits — or at least habits that don’t leave me feeling fulfilled by the end of the day.
If a usual routine of work, hobbies, and social activities has been disrupted, it is important to establish a new normal. Finding some kind of routine that feels productive is key. Personally, that has been a daily combination of reading and yoga — two things that I was terrible at making time for before the coronavirus forced me into self-isolation. Having spent the better part of five weeks reading for hours every day, I’ve managed to finish two books per week, on average. I would like to share my recent reading history in hopes that you might pick up one of these books if you find yourself with more free time than you are used to.
Disclaimer: I didn’t intentionally pick any bad books so I could rank one of them last. I don’t think that’s how normal people source their reading material. I recommend all of these books, but inevitably one has to be #10 and one has to be #1. It’s kind of like how I used to hit 9th in the batting order on my high school baseball team. That didn’t mean I was that much worse than the lead-off guy, right? I still made the team (I told myself every time I grounded out to 2nd).
On with the list!
10. Astrophysics for People in a Hurry — Neil DeGrasse Tyson
What is it about? Well, the title is pretty telling. Black holes, dark matter, light, the elements that make up the universe, etc.
You’ll like this book if: You’re the kind of person who has some space videos in your YouTube suggestions. Also, don’t be intimidated by the topic at hand. Tyson has made a career out of being your “personal astrophysicist.”
9. David and Goliath — Malcolm Gladwell
What is it about? The simple but counter-intuitive idea that being the underdog is an advantage. Also, slingshots.
You’ll like this book if: You like listening to stories. Gladwell is a master of synthesizing stories into a compelling, and often surprising, commentary. Although, I recommend some of his other books over this one (Tipping Point, Blink, Outliers).
8. The Uninhabitable Earth — David Wallace-Wells
What is it about? Climate change. The first line of the book is, “It is worse, much worse than you think.” And he’s not wrong.
You’ll like this book if: I say, “I have good news and bad news” and you’re the kind of person who wants to hear the bad news first. This book is alarming, but important.
7. But What if We’re Wrong? — Chuck Klosterman
What is it about? The idea that most everything we believe about the world could be proven wrong in 1,000 — or even 100 — years.
You’ll like this book if: You have circus brain. One chapter is about rock and roll, the next is about the NFL, and the next is about the idea that we might all be living in a simulation.
6. War on Peace — Ronan Farrow
What is it about? Frankly, a lot. This book took me the longest on the list to read, but each chapter shared a carefully reported vignette into American diplomacy abroad. This book is undoubtedly important and necessary to understand America’s changing role as a global superpower.
You’ll like this book if: You have a New York Times subscription. This is a deep dive into the decline of America’s global influence and a peek behind the curtain into the lives of some of the most important characters in modern American politics.
5. Cherry — Nico Walker
What is it about? This relentless novel is a commentary on the U.S. involvement in the Iraq war and the American opioid epidemic.
You’ll like this book if: You like the way watching Breaking Bad makes you feel. It’s impossible to put this book down, but if you pick it up I recommend pairing it with, say, an uplifting book.
4. Originals — Adam Grant
What is it about? Leveraging ideas like procrastination, pessimism, skepticism, and asking for problems instead of solutions, in order to champion innovative ideas.
You’ll like this book if: You are the kind of person who changed web browsers from Internet Explorer to Google Chrome before it was popular. And told everyone about what they were missing out on.
3. The Brief Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao — Junot Díaz
What is it about? On one hand, it is a coming of age story about a love-sick, nerdy, social outcast living in New Jersey. On the other hand, it is a tragic story about the Dominican Republic experience under dictator Rafael Trujillo. It promises to be one of the most unique and captivating books you’ll ever read.
You’ll like this book if: You like romantic novels, historical novels, American novels, foreign novels, social novels, or dramatic novels. Even if you don’t know what type of novel you like, I think you will still like this book.
2. 10% Happier — Dan Harris
What is it about? A budding newscaster’s journey from a work addiction to a surprising and hilarious journey into the world of meditation and mindfulness.
You’ll like this book if: You’ve ever wondered if meditation could help you, but you’re too skeptical to try it. Don’t worry. So was Dan Harris.
- How to Write an Autobiographical Novel — Alexander Chee
What is it about? Great question. Living through the AIDS crisis, life in New York after 9/11, reading tarot cards, cater-waiting for William F. Buckley, the election of Donald Trump. If you’re wondering how those disparate topics come together into a book worthy of the #1 spot, I guess you’ll have to read it.
You’ll like this book if: You’re a human being. This is one of the best books I’ve ever read. It was also nominated as a best book by basically every magazine, newspaper, and website you can think of. So don’t just take my word for it.
I accessed every one of these books for FREE with my U.S. library card and the app Libby. I can’t recommend this app highly enough.