I am an American citizen living in South Korea. After a couple of months of contact tracing, rigorous COVID-19 testing, and pushing out social distancing guidelines, the South Korean government has substantially controlled the spread of the coronavirus. Their playbook set a great example for the rest of the world. As a result, we have been in a period of “relaxed social distancing” for a few weeks now, meaning schools are re-opening with restrictions, most restaurants and some bars are fully open for business, and Korean professional baseball has famously been one of the only sporting events going on anywhere in the world.
During this time, I’ve been fortunate to have the opportunity to enjoy many activities that have been completely off the table since late-January, like going to museums, meeting up with friends at restaurants, and visiting Korea’s many different themed cafes (raccoon cafes and board game cafes are my two favorites). Despite the new opportunities available during my free time, reading every day has been one of the quarantine activities that I’ve continued to enjoy during “relaxed social distancing”.
If you’re living somewhere that feels a world away from “relaxed social distancing”, perhaps you’re working your way through a reading list during your abundant free time. My goal here is to add at least one book to that list. If you don’t have a reading list yet, I’m pretty confident one of these 10 books could get you started.
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.
10. Talking to Strangers — Malcolm Gladwell
What is it about? Adolf Hitler, Jerry Sandusky, Hernan Cortes, Fidel Castro, and Bernie Madoff, all make an appearance to explain the why behind a police encounter gone wrong.
You’ll like this book if: You like watching crime movies where the detective makes one of those suspect boards with push pins and red string. This book kind of reads like watching Gladwell make one of those, but in the end, you’re not so sure that the suspect he identifies is the true culprit. I am a big fan of Gladwell’s work, but this book didn’t earn my highest recommendation. Check out some of his other books (like #5 on this list) before you pick this one up.
9. Trust Exercise — Susan Choi
What is it about? High school drama told in a way that feels less cringy than poignant. It features a creative mid-novel twist that is unlike anything I’ve ever read.
You’ll like this book if: You did theater in high school and you’ve secretly dusted off the old DVD recording of one of your shows to watch in the past couple of years. Where did you find a DVD player, by the way?
8. When — Daniel H. Pink
What is it about? Figuring out that everything you were told as a kid is wrong. Like, breakfast is not the most important meal of the day. Who says? Science. Also, procrastination is fine and choir has as many health benefits as sports. Take that, high school.
You’ll like this book if: You’ve been to Spain and ever since have wondered why corporate America doesn’t embrace the siesta. Good news. Daniel H. Pink has a bunch of science to back up your love affair with naps. If you’re curious, the scientifically best nap you can take is called “the nappuccino.” What a name.
7. Meditation for Fidgety Skeptics — Dan Harris, Jeff Warren, Carlye Adler
What is it about? I mean. The title doesn’t leave much up to the imagination.
You’ll like this book if: You’ve already decided that you are interested in meditation and you’re looking for a step-by-step guide for how to get started. But be warned: you’re not going to read the words namaste, chakra, or enlightenment in this book without Dan Harris making a joke about them.
6. The Fifth Risk — Michael Lewis
What is it about? From the guy who brought you The Big Short and Moneyball, comes this important journalistic work best summarized by the phrase “ignorance is bliss”. If you didn’t already have doubts about the competency of the people involved with the Trump presidency, including POTUS himself, this book is the peek behind the curtain that you wish you hadn’t seen.
You’ll like this book if: You want to simultaneously feel proud of the American system of government, and horrified about the people who are currently running it.
5. The Tipping Point — Malcolm Gladwell
What is it about? How epidemics can go from something relatively unknown to spreading wildly with a small push in the right place. This is a theme that seems uniquely topical in 2020.
You’ll like this book if: You watched Blues Clues or Sesame Street as a kid and you would be surprised to find out that those are arguably two of the most brilliant TV shows ever to air. This is the third time I’ve read this book and it’s captivating every time.
4. Start With Why — Simon Sinek
What is it about? It reads like a love letter to Apple. This might sound strange, but by the end of the book, you too might be tempted to write a sonnet to the company that not only brought the world the iPhone, but first told us WHY they do what they do.
You’ll like this book if: You like TED Talks, but for 250 pages. And I don’t mean that as a critique. Simon Sinek has the third most popular TED Talk of all time on this very topic. This is a highly thought-provoking book for anyone who has an idea and wants to get it out into the world.
3. The $100 Startup — Chris Guillebeau
What is it about? A whole bunch of people taking imperfect ideas and turning them into legitimate businesses — most for less than the price of a pair of Allbirds.
You’ll like this book if: You have always had an idea for a side hustle but never felt confident or motivated to get it off the ground. This book is half inspiration, half motivation, and half a workbook to get you started on your side hustle today. That’s 150% of a book for the price of FUN.
2. The Gene — Siddhartha Mukherjee
What is it about? This book takes everything that put you to sleep in your Intro to Bio class in college and demonstrates how your professor should have taught this stuff. That’s coming from someone with a biology degree.
You’ll like this book if: You, like Bill Nye, think science rules. Honestly, if you don’t already think genetics is slightly interesting, this 600-page book is going to be tough to finish. But for those of you who aren’t immediately scrolling to the next book, you’ll love it. This is simultaneously one of the best science and history books I’ve ever read.
- Digital Minimalism — Cal Newport
What is it about? In three words: taking back control. The founding president of Facebook said that the purpose of social media is to consume as much of your time as possible. It sure feels like they’re doing a good job, right? This book provides a philosophy of technology use that is as practical as it is compelling.
You’ll like this book if: You signed up for Instagram or Facebook for good reasons, only to discover that these services are undermining the very values that made them appealing in the first place. For example, we signed up for Facebook to stay in touch with friends from across the world, yet we can’t maintain an uninterrupted conversation with a friend sitting across the table. I’ve never felt compelled to say this about a book before, but this one has changed my life. Simply put, it’s brilliant.
If you’re looking for more recommendations in this format, I invite you to check out my previous list.