Blanche’s Book Club: A Quarantine Reading Guide.

Well, I figure the times are definitely tough enough to call for a complete list of books fit for an expanded period of self-isolation. Let’s face it, we could be here awhile. But honestly, I’m feeling pretty good about it considering I’ve got a fresh stack of books to read.

I polled my followers on Instagram @OrangeJulius7 to see if they’d prefer fun-candy-beach books or more scientific-factual-type reads. ALL of them said they wanted the fun ones, but I’m going to give you a mix of several different options.

Please note that I linked all of these to the Amazon Kindle versions (I don’t think Amazon is shipping anything other than essential items right now), but I would also encourage you to order online from your current locally-owned bookstore to offer support during this time.

If you don’t have a local shop, my favorite is The Bookshelf in Thomasville, Georgia, and at the time of this writing, they are still fulfilling online orders.

The Island by Elin Hilderbrand

When I was thinking of putting this list together, I knew I had to include something from Elin Hilderbrand. I read a book of hers during a hurricane in Texas and she has the ability to create a beautiful escape. Here’s the scoop on “The Island“:

Birdie Cousins has thrown herself into the details of her daughter Chess’s lavish wedding, from the floating dance floor in her Connecticut back yard to the color of the cocktail napkins. Like any mother of a bride-to-be, she is weathering the storms of excitement and chaos, tears and joy. But Birdie, a woman who prides herself on preparing for every possibility, could never have predicted the late-night phone call from Chess, abruptly announcing that she’s cancelled her engagement.

It’s only the first hint of what will be a summer of upheavals and revelations. Before the dust has even begun to settle, far worse news arrives, sending Chess into a tailspin of despair. Reluctantly taking a break from the first new romance she’s embarked on since the recent end of her 30-year marriage, Birdie circles the wagons and enlists the help of her younger daughter Tate and her own sister India. Soon all four are headed for beautiful, rustic Tuckernuck Island, off the coast of Nantucket, where their family has summered for generations. No phones, no television, no grocery store – a place without distractions where they can escape their troubles.

But throw sisters, daughters, ex-lovers, and long-kept secrets onto a remote island, and what might sound like a peaceful getaway becomes much more. Before summer has ended, dramatic truths are uncovered, old loves are rekindled, and new loves make themselves known.

A Good Neighbor by Therese Ann Fowler

This one was delivered to my doorstep yesterday and I’m so excited to read it! I ordered it pre-quarantine, but since so many of us are stuck at home… I thought this one about neighbors might be an interesting choice. Here’s the description:

In Oak Knoll, a verdant, tight-knit North Carolina neighborhood, professor of forestry and ecology Valerie Alston-Holt is raising her bright and talented biracial son, Xavier, who’s headed to college in the fall. All is well until the Whitmans—a family with new money and a secretly troubled teenage daughter—raze the house and trees next door to build themselves a showplace.

With little in common except a property line, these two families quickly find themselves at odds: first, over an historic oak tree in Valerie’s yard, and soon after, the blossoming romance between their two teenagers.

A Good Neighborhood asks big questions about life in America today—what does it mean to be a good neighbor? How do we live alongside each other when we don’t see eye to eye?—as it explores the effects of class, race, and heartrending love in a story that’s as provocative as it is powerful.

The Dreamers by Karen Thompson Walker

I read this one last year and I knew it would be fitting for these times — you’ll know what I mean when you see the description:

One night in an isolated college town in the hills of Southern California, a first-year student stumbles into her dorm room, falls asleep—and doesn’t wake up. She sleeps through the morning, into the evening.

Her roommate, Mei, cannot rouse her. Neither can the paramedics, nor the perplexed doctors at the hospital. When a second girl falls asleep, and then a third, Mei finds herself thrust together with an eccentric classmate as panic takes hold of the college and spreads to the town. A young couple tries to protect their newborn baby as the once-quiet streets descend into chaos. Two sisters turn to each other for comfort as their survivalist father prepares for disaster.

Those affected by the illness, doctors discover, are displaying unusual levels of brain activity, higher than has ever been recorded before. They are dreaming heightened dreams—but of what?

Written in luminous prose, The Dreamers is a breathtaking and beautiful novel, startling and provocative, about the possibilities contained within a human life—if only we are awakened to them.

Five Days at Memorial by Sheri Fink

I read this book in 2017, but it was so good and so… haunting… that I’ll never forget it. Perfect if you’re into true crime and/or investigative reporting. Here’s the book description:

In the tradition of the best investigative journalism, physician and reporter Sheri Fink reconstructs 5 days at Memorial Medical Center and draws the reader into the lives of those who struggled mightily to survive and maintain life amid chaos.

After Katrina struck and the floodwaters rose, the power failed, and the heat climbed, exhausted caregivers chose to designate certain patients last for rescue. Months later, several of those caregivers faced criminal allegations that they deliberately injected numerous patients with drugs to hasten their deaths.

Five Days at Memorial, the culmination of six years of reporting, unspools the mystery of what happened in those days, bringing the reader into a hospital fighting for its life and into a conversation about the most terrifying form of health care rationing.

In a voice at once involving and fair, masterful and intimate, Fink exposes the hidden dilemmas of end-of-life care and reveals just how ill-prepared we are for the impact of large-scale disasters—and how we can do better. A remarkable book, engrossing from start to finish, Five Days at Memorial radically transforms your understanding of human nature in crisis.

Interior Chinatown by Charles Yu

The spread of Coronavirus has brought forth a lot of nasty discrimination against Asians and Asian culture, so I wanted to feature a few books on this list from Asian authors. Charles Yu was on “The Daily Show” earlier this year, and I immediately added this book to my list:

Willis Wu doesn’t perceive himself as a protagonist even in his own life: He’s merely Generic Asian man. Sometimes he gets to be Background Oriental Making a Weird Face or even Disgraced Son, but he is always relegated to a prop.

Yet every day he leaves his tiny room in a Chinatown SRO and enters the Golden Palace restaurant, where Black and White, a procedural cop show, is in perpetual production. He’s a bit player here, too, but he dreams of being Kung Fu Guy—the most respected role that anyone who looks like him can attain. At least that’s what he has been told, time and time again. Except by one person, his mother. Who says to him: Be more.

 Playful but heartfelt, a send-up of Hollywood tropes and Asian stereotypes, Interior Chinatown is Charles Yu’s most moving, daring, and masterly novel yet.

The Leavers by Lisa Ko

Another book by an Asian author, I thought this one sounded so different from anything I’ve read before:

One morning, Deming Guo’s mother Polly goes to her job at the nail salon and never comes home. Left with no one to care for him, eleven-year-old Deming is eventually adopted by two white college professors who move him from the Bronx to a small town upstate.

They rename him Daniel Wilkinson in their efforts to make him over into their version of an “all-American boy.” But far away from all he’s ever known, Daniel struggles to reconcile his new life with his mother’s disappearance and the memories of the family and community he left behind.

A vivid and moving examination of borders and belonging,The Leavers is the story of how one boy comes into his own when everything he’s loved has been taken away—and how one woman learns to live with the mistakes of her past.

Tweet Cute by Emma Lord

I never considered myself one to love YA novels, but the last few I’ve read I have completely devoured and why not? They’re often so light and fun; perfect for what you might be craving now, plus — this one’s about food!

PEPPER: Classic overachiever, captain of the swim team, and reluctant social media manager for her family’s massive fast-food chain.

JACK: Goofball, next in line to run the family deli, and ace coder with a secret.

When the two find their family restaurants in competition for ownership of a legendary grilled cheese recipe, they become locked in a Twitter war, filled with snarky memes, that goes viral. But tweeting with the enemy shouldn’t be this fun. Will their online battle move to an IRL romance neither of them expected?

The Enlightenment of Bees by Rachel Linden

This has been on my list for awhile, and I thought it sounded like a good pick since we can’t travel, plus it has a food spin (I love a book about food, if you can’t tell).

At twenty-six, apprentice baker Mia West has her entire life planned out: a Craftsman cottage in Seattle, a job baking at The Butter Emporium, and her first love—her boyfriend, Ethan—by her side. But when Ethan declares he “needs some space,” Mia’s carefully planned future crumbles.

Feeling adrift, Mia joins her vivacious housemate Rosie on a humanitarian trip around the world funded by a reclusive billionaire. Along with a famous grunge rock star, a Rwandan immigrant, and an unsettlingly attractive Hawaiian urban farmer named Kai, Mia and Rosie embark on the adventure of a lifetime.

From the slums of Mumbai to a Hungarian border camp during the refugee crisis, Mia’s heart is challenged and changed in astonishing ways—ways she never could have imagined. As she grapples with how to make a difference in a complicated world, Mia realizes she must choose between the life she thought she wanted and the life unfolding before her.

And the Band Played on by Randy Shilts

I was searching for something related to public health — particularly, any biographies or memoirs from a surgeon general (I didn’t find any, but if you know of one, please let me know in the comments!) — and I stumbled upon this. It sounds fantastic:

Upon it’s first publication twenty years ago, And The Band Played on was quickly recognized as a masterpiece of investigative reporting.

An international bestseller, a nominee for the National Book Critics Circle Award, and made into a critically acclaimed movie, Shilts’ expose revealed why AIDS was allowed to spread unchecked during the early 80’s while the most trusted institutions ignored or denied the threat.

One of the few true modern classics, it changed and framed how AIDS was discussed in the following years. Now republished in a special 20th Anniversary edition, And the Band Played On remains one of the essential books of our time.

The Happiness Project by Gretchen Rubin

I read this book several years ago and it really gave me a new perspective. If you’re looking to use this quarantine as a time to make changes in your life, this might be the book for you:

One rainy afternoon, while riding a city bus, Gretchen Rubin asked herself, “What do I want from life, anyway?” She answered, “I want to be happy”—yet she spent no time thinking about her happiness. In a flash, she decided to dedicate a year to a happiness project. The result? One of the most thoughtful and engaging works on happiness to have emerged from the recent explosion of interest in the subject.

The Happiness Project synthesizes the wisdom of the ages with current scientific research, as Rubin brings readers along on her year to greater happiness.

In fact, Rubin’s “happiness project” no longer describes just a book or a blog; it’s a movement. Happiness Project groups, where people meet to discuss their happiness projects, have sprung up across the country—and across the world.

Rights have been sold in more than 35 countries. Hundreds of book groups have discussed the book; professors, teachers, psychiatrists, and clergy assign it. The book has spent more than two years on the bestseller lists, and The Happiness Project was even an answer on the game-show Jeopardy!

The Jetsetters by Amanda Eyre Ward

I’ll admit, I’ve seen mixed reviews about this book, but I have to see it for myself (it should arrive on my doorstep any day now). I felt like this could be a good choice given it covers a bit of travel and family drama.

When seventy-year-old Charlotte Perkins submits a sexy essay to the Become a Jetsetter contest, she dreams of reuniting her estranged children: Lee, an almost-famous actress; Cord, a handsome Manhattan venture capitalist who can’t seem to find a partner; and Regan, a harried mother who took it all wrong when Charlotte bought her a Weight Watchers gift certificate for her birthday. Charlotte yearns for the years when her children were young, when she was a single mother who meant everything to them.

When she wins the contest, the family packs their baggage—both literal and figurative—and spends ten days traveling from sun-drenched Athens through glorious Rome to tapas-laden Barcelona on an over-the-top cruise ship, the Splendido Marveloso. As lovers new and old join the adventure, long-buried secrets are revealed and old wounds are reopened, forcing the Perkins family to confront the forces that drove them apart and the defining choices of their lives.

Can four lost adults find the peace they’ve been seeking by reconciling their childhood aches and coming back together? In the vein of The Nest and The Vacationers, The Jetsetters is a delicious and intelligent novel about the courage it takes to reveal our true selves, the pleasures and perils of family, and how we navigate the seas of adulthood.

Fierce Style by Christian Siriano

Fashion designer Christian Siriano was one of the first to come forward and offer his company’s resources to make more masks for healthcare workers on the front line. Plus, he’s the most fabulous of all the “Project Runway” winners and has always stood up for marginalized groups and he’s done it with dazzling spirit.

In 2008, Christian Siriano made headlines as the youngest designer to win the hit reality series Project Runway. But the now twenty-three-year-old is bigger than a TV celebrity. From his prodigious fashion talent to his one-of-a-kind personality, Christian is the embodiment of fierce style.

Now in his first book, he helps readers discover how to look, feel, and act fierce in everyday life. With tips from some of fashion and Hollywood’s biggest names -including Victoria Beckham, Heidi Klum, Nina Garcia, and Vanessa Williams — along with gorgeous original sketches by Christian, never-before-heard stories, and behind-the-scenes photos, he tells his journey of developing his own fashion sense and overcoming obstacles to success.

Giving advice on creating personal style, sharing tips on building self-confidence, and revealing his own list of fashion dos and don’ts, Christian shows how to use one’s unique strengths to get ahead – and go from tickity-tack to totally flawless.

I hope this list will get you through your quarantine! If you’re reading something good, feel free to leave it in the comments so we can all check it out. We may be physically apart, but we’re in this together!

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