The 27 Best Books to Read While Staying Home

We ask independent booksellers for their quarantine reading lists.

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Arts 
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If you weren’t already an avid reader, you may have recently found yourself with far more time at home and hence, more inclination to crack open a good book. Or if you were already a voracious bookworm, the shelter-in-place measures around the world due to the ongoing coronavirus pandemic means you might have already reread your way through your personal library. In short, now is as good a time as ever to do a bit of book shopping.

As many in the food and drink business might be struggling to maintain revenue, your neighborhood bookstore could also likely do with extra support. “I would say everyone should look into what their local store is doing, as we are all scrappy bunch of survivalists and I know many of my colleagues are hard at work inventing their own individual initiatives,” says Josiah Wolfson, co-owner of New York City‘s Aeon Bookstore.

Aeon is regularly posting books for sale on Instagram, eBay and its own website, but Wolfson also recommends simply purchasing gift cards from or making donations to your favorite stores. “There is also this foundation which helps bookstore across the nation, and which I believe people can donate towards,” he says.

While it may be now tempting to purchase your books in a big haul from Amazon for the sake of convenience, check instead on platforms like Bookshop, which both distrubtes parts of its profits to independent booksellers and maps out indie stores to purchase from directly. For those who prefer listening to books rather than reading them, there’s Libro.fm, which allows you to purchase audiobooks straight from your local bookshops.

And even if you don’t have extra funds — or time — to spare on large orders of books, you can support your local sellers simply by interacting with their social media or reaching out to staff for suggestions on what to add to your list.

On that last note, we’ve solicited reading recommendations from some of our favorite booksellers and publishers: New York City’s Aeon Bookstore, The Mysterious Bookshop and Printed Matter, Montreal‘s Libraire Drawn & Quarterly, and Chicago publishing house Perfectly Acceptable. Read on for their picks of what books to read right now, all of which can be purchased through independent sellers.

Aeon Bookstore

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David Park

Der Klang Der Familie by Felix Denk and Sven von Thülen
Where to buy: Aeon Bookstore for $27 USD

If you’re looking for a read that grapples with cultural shifts, this book tracks the history of Berlin‘s dance music and culture following the fall of the Berlin Wall in 1989. “In a time with no clubs and in a time of being disconnected and challenged, it’s inspiring to flip through page after page detailing stories of a flourishing and almost fantastical world that followed a bleak and socially disparate landscape,” Aeon co-owner Josiah Wolfson describes.

Fluxus Experience by Hannah Higgins
Where to buy: Aeon Bookstore for $27 USD

Hannah Higgins is the daughter of Fluxus artists Dick Higgins and Alison Knowles, and here she details the history of the movement that flourished in the ’60s and ’70s. “As we travel unknown paths, it’s inspiring to read the chronicles of a group of artists who truly posited a world outside of what was widely accepted and known at that point, and who accepted that the state of the world is only able to be understood as being in flux,” Wolfson says.

The Crying of Lot 49 by Thomas Pynchon
Where to buy: Bookshop for $15 USD

“I’m using some of my isolation time to finally finish Gravity’s Rainbow (having read half of it twice), but either that or this Pynchon feels right these days,” Wolfson says of this classic, which contains “strange twisted worlds that are both like and unlike the world as we know it and full of conspiratorial entities that eerily resemble our real world workings.” If you didn’t read The Crying of Lot 49 in college, now’s a chance to give it a go.

Trap Door: Trans Cultural Production and the Politics of Invisibility, edited by Reina Gossett, Eric A. Stanley and Johanna Burton
Where to buy: Aeon Bookstore for $30 USD

Wolfson calls this book “an idispensable resource to a history and understanding of the place and displacement of trans artists in the production and discussion of arts and culture.” The volume includes essays and conversations on themes ranging from beauty to police brutality. “Now more than ever it’s important to consider those that are left at the margins and who are forced to work 10 times as hard for the same platform others take for granted.”

An Alchemical Treatise on the Great Art by Antoine-Joseph Pernety
Where to buy: Abe Books for $91 USD

Pernety’s volume explains the worldview of alchemists throughout ancient and modern times, encapsulating themes that may be applicable to the current mood. “The processes detailed by the alchemists apply perfectly towards redefining the darker mental states towards creative and healthy energy, cautioning of course that it is not easy work, but also allowing that it is within the grasp of those who are willing to try.”

Moderna Museet Catalogue by Lee Lozano
Where to buy: Aeon Bookstore for $135 USD

Stockholm‘s Moderna Museet compiled this catalog of work from New York artist Lee Lozano, who worked in the ’60s and early ’70s in a manner applicable to those of us currently facing isolation. “Her notebooks, which are reproduced here, provide an amazing insight into the mind of an artist working out problems of isolation versus participation, often hilarious social experiments which ultimately formed the praxis of her art,” Wolfson says. “This one in particular offers amazing insight into an artist whose most successful works were often from the confines of her own head and home.”

Libraire Drawn & Quarterly

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David Park

Umma’s Table by Yeon-Sik Hong
Where to buy: Libraire Drawn & Quarterly for $30 USD

This graphic novels follows the character of Madang as he divides his time between his young family in the countryside and his aging parents in Seoul. “Umma’s Table is an incredibly human tale, mixed with a kind of magical realism that depicts human emotion like a surreal fever dream,” D&Q says. “The book is both grounded in reality and free to depict universal experiences in an experimental way.”

The Subtweet by Vivek Shraya
Where to buy: Libraire Drawn & Quarterly for $22 CAD (approximately $16 USD)

D&Q calls this “a love letter to brown women and explores themes of visibility and the peril of being seen” from multidisciplinary artist Vivek Shraya. The book follows two musicians who form a friendship online, as one’s star power falls and the other’s rises. “The Subtweet is a wonderful novel which examines art and writing in the social media era, and is a glimpse into the music industry.”

Familiar Face by Michael DeForge
Where to buy: Libraire Drawn & Quarterly for $25 CAD (approximately $22 USD)

Cartoonist Michael DeForge explores “a near-future technodystopia” in this stunning graphic novel, which follows a government worker tasked with listening to all manners of citizen complaints. “In a world where everything is constantly automatically updating, even one’s body, is true connection still possible?” D&Q asks.

Department of Mind-Blowing Theories by Tom Gauld
Where to buy: Libraire Drawn & Quarterly for $25 CAD (approximately $22 USD)

Department of Mind-Blowing Theories is made up of 150 comic strips mixing humor and science. “[Gauld's] beautifully rendered jokes cover science from nanobots, to rogue particle accelerators, to Facebook commenters posting about On the Origin of Species, to futuristic housing scenarios, to poodles falling into wormholes. These hilarious punchlines are such an amazing read during this moment,” D&Q says.

They Said This Would Be Fun by Eternity Martis
Where to buy: Libraire Drawn & Quarterly for $25 CAD (approximately $22 USD)

Eternity Martis’ debut memoir looks back on her time as a Black student on a predominantly white campus, examining the structures that students of color still grapple with today. “In beautiful, flowing prose, Martis chronicles her university experience and ties it in with broader issues of systemic racism, ablism, sexism, sexual assault on campus, inter-partner violence, carding, toxicity of social media, police violence, discrimination and mental health.”

Wow, No Thank You by Samantha Irby
Where to buy: Libraire Drawn & Quarterly for $22 CAD (approximately $16 USD)

Samantha Irby is back with her third book of essays, with the same sharp humor and frank confessions of her previous bestsellers Meaty and We Are Never Meeting in Real Life. “It is no surprise to us that Irby’s Wow, No Thank You has jumped to the top of our bestseller list in store, as well as the top of the non-fiction bestseller for the New York Times,” D&Q says of this brand new release.

The Mysterious Bookshop

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David Park

City of Margins by William Boyle
Where to buy: The Mysterious Bookshop for $26 USD

“I don’t think there’s anyone working today who writes Brooklyn as well as William Boyle, who suffuses his noir plots with the characters, the businesses, the dialects and the stories of the neighborhood,” says Mysterious Bookshop’s marketing coordinator Charles Perry, with this neo-noir novel examining the intersecting paths of characters like a college dropout, a widow and an ex-cop. “Much has changed in the area since the timing of his newest, set in South Brooklyn in the 1990s, but it’s still the perfect book for those of us homesick for the city outside our windows.”

Eight Perfect Murders by Peter Swanson
Where to buy: Bookshop for $25 USD

Perry calls this work a crowd pleaser for regular mystery genre readers, as it follows a bookshop owner drawn into a seemingly unsolvable murdery plot. “The unreliable narrator gives a modern twist to what might have been, in another author’s hands, a more straightforward whodunit,” he adds.

Take Me Apart by Sara Sligar
Where to buy: The Mysterious Bookshop for $27 USD

“An archivist tasked with cataloging the estate of an artist who died decades earlier, which has remained untouched since she passed, becomes obsessed with the woman whose life she is reassembling—and with her untimely death,” Perry says of this novel by Sara Sligar. The book is perfect for those looking to be engrossed in a psychologically suspenseful plot.

American Spy by Lauren Wilkinson
Where to buy: The Mysterious Bookshop for $17 USD

Perry also recommends Lauren Wilkinson’s debut novel, which mixes romance with the classic spy genre. “A young FBI agent is dispatched to Burkina Faso to seduce its charismatic new leader in an effort to topple his communist regime. When she gets there, she finds herself struggling with the fact that she admires the work he has done, and questioning the intentions of the government that sent her.”

The Godmother by Hannelore Cayre
Where to buy: The Mysterious Bookshop for $16 USD

“Here’s a book that didn’t seem to get the attention it deserved,” Perry says. “Released last fall, the book follows a French translator who helps police intercept drugs trafficked from Morocco to France, who ends up working in the drug trade herself when one such interception goes awry.” He praises the book for its writing and tight plotting, which did earn it a slot on the New York Times‘ 100 Notable Books of 2019.

Perfectly Acceptable

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David Park

Becoming Horses by Disa Wallander
Where to buy: Drawn & Quarterly for $23 USD

Illustrator Disa Wallander uses a conversation between three women to examine themes of creativity and self-discovery, with a mix of cartoons and collages. “The story is rendered between lush, expressive collage and painting and sweet, simple line work. At once soft and bleak. One of my all-time favorite artists,” says PA owner Matt Davis.

The Smudge, edited by Clay Hickson and Liana Jegers
Where to buy: The Smudge for $7 USD

“I think I’d be derelict in any quarantine reading recommendations if I didn’t include The Smudge, a monthly publication put out by Caboose modeled after underground newspapers of the 1960s,” Davis says. The monthly newspaper includes comics, interviews, all manners of musings and more, and better yet, proceeds from each edition are donated to a different charity.

Moth Among Butterfly by abrownrecluse
Where to buy: Cold Cube Press for $20 USD

Moth Among Butterfly is a book I often turn to whenever I’m in need of some inspiration for my own work, and this time of self-isolation is no different,” says Perfectly Acceptable assistant Yewon Kwon. This book mixes poetry with intricate ink drawings, perfect for quiet self-reflection.

Yours by Margot Ferrick
Where to buy: 2dcloud for $24 USD

Yours is another book that mixes poetry and visual arts, and hence requires focus to fully appreciate. “It’s hard to find an accurate way to describe Yours, but it’s another book I often come back to whenever I need something to inspire me,” Kwon says. “The visual poetry of the artwork and the words fluctuates between dense, color pencil drawings and sparse scribbles of text floating in the middle of the page. Yours is a book that demands careful attention and introspection, which I have plenty of time to do at the moment, and it makes passing time a delight.”

First Fronteras, curated by Adriana Monsalve
Where to buy: Home House Press for $28 USD

Adriana Monsalve began this collective work in 2017, resulting in a collaboration that explores its contributors’ first encounters with a border. “Artists and non-artists alike share drawings, photographs, doodles, paintings, collages (whatever they wanted really) of their first frontera. Along with their artwork, they include some sentences in their own handwriting about their respective border,” Perfectly Acceptable intern Meli Marie Nava says.

Printed Matter

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David Park

No New Theories by Kameelah Janan Rasheed
Where to buy: Printed Matter for $30 USD

Writer, educator and artist Kameelah Janan Rasheed culls together a mix media such as poetry and photography to examine learning as a socio-political and ecological act. “Rasheed freely assembles her own writing, autocorrect algorithms, and Oulipian poems (short texts generated with the help of imposed constraints) alongside visuals drawn from her personal image archive, pop culture, zoological journals, quranic verses, and other sources,” says PM programming manager Keith Gray. “The work gathers these threads with an emphasis on the processes of revision and improvisation as she considers the potential of meaning in place of fixed definitions.”

ESL or You Weren’t There by Aldrin Valdez
Where to buy: Printed Matter for $17 USD

PM’s fairs and editions coordinator Emmy Catedral picks ESL or You Weren’t There in light of “45’s latest xenophobic ban on ‘some immigration’ at a time when families within the same city are unable to physicaly reunite due to various COVID-19 related restrictions.” Here poet and painter Aldrin Valdez explores “memories and meditations on immigration, separation, gender, queerness and the legacies of American imperialist power” for a compelling written protest.

The Positions and Situations Project, Vol. 3 by Alex Arzt
Where to buy: Printed Matter for $75 USD

This is the third and final volume of The Positions & Situations Project from California-based artist and publisher Alex Arzt, which contains letters, emails, photographs and other correspondence between Arzt and members of the 1970s back-to-the-land movement. “Together these written correspondences depict a counterculture so disillusioned with the current political, social, and environmental climate that it spurred a movement to establish communities that could thrive outside of these systems,” says PM bibliographer Leslie Lasiter.

White Gaze by Viêt Lê and Michelle Dizon
Where to buy: Printed Matter for $45 USD

PM sales associate Anna Collins recommends the second edition of White Gaze, which unpacks archival images found in National Geographic and acts as a sort of decolonization of the world as seen through the “white gaze.” Artist and filmmaker Michelle Dizon unearths “a genealogy of a racist visuality, and work[s] in the gap between image and text to write against the grain of imperialist narratives,” while artist and writer Việt Lê makes a “poetic exploration of the legacies of war and imperialism.”

Future Fantasy by Vinca Petersen
Where to buy: Printed Matter for $40 USD

“Vinca Petersen’s Future Fantasy is a beautiful and heartfelt time capsule of the U.K. rave and free festival community circa the 1990s,” says PM bookstore and distribution manager Craig Mathis. The book archives Peterson’s youth traveling the world as a model, with insight into the burgeoning rave scene. “For those currently self-isolating, these images, flyers and texts offer a glimpse of a time long gone but also perhaps, an inspiration to create a better, more loving world.”

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