As an avid early reader, I have been getting lost in books since I was three years old, and have been voracious ever since I began to turn pages.
Whether going to the eye doctor across town or getting on an international flight, I always have a book with me.
When I worked on cruise ships, I used to check books out of the library wherever we had our ports. I had library cards in Juneau, Alaska; Fort Lauderdale, Florida—and would even mail books back to my mom to return to the library in Los Angeles.
During COVID-19 #SafeAtHome, I have been reading nearly every day. I wanted to share some of the books that have transported me out of quarantine and into the worlds carefully created by the authors.
This book begins in Havana in 1947, and the descriptions by author, Susana López Rubio, made me feel like I was back walking along el Malecón.
I loved my travels in Cuba when I spoke Spanish, danced salsa and of course— drank cuba libres! Whether you have visited Cuba or not, this book will make you will feel that you are walking the streets and into El Encanto—one of the most luxurious department stores in the world.
Our young protagonist, Patricio, flees Spain and creates a new life. He makes friends and enemies on both sides of the tracks, and learns that his ability to make someone laugh can change your life.
Of course, when you move countries you bring yourself and your problems with you! I loved that the twists and turns in this tale matched the politics of the government and my feelings about being inside for COVID-19.
While author Alka Joshi’s story starts in 1955 in Jaipur, India, I have to admit some of her descriptions reminded me of my travels there in 2013. I spent three months on the public bus traversing the sub-continent—and her descriptions of the colorful saris, delicate samosas and other tasty treats reminded all my senses (especially my sense of smell) of my adventures.
Women’s lives are intertwined from the village, to town, from one town to another and one life to another. The way that boys become men, and men act like boys, causes many dramas and traumas in this tale. The women find ways to run away from one life but are often surprised by the ways it catches up to you.
I felt compelled to continue reading to discover how each part is embedded into the life of another—just as a henna artist may secret the groom or bride’s name into her designs.
It is surprising to me that I never read Wild by Cheryl Strayed before quarantine. Her book came out in 2012 while I was on an 18-month adventure in South East Asia. During my travels, I conquered my fears and did two eight-day treks in Nepal with no sherpa.
I fell madly in love with this book and Strayed’s honest account of the challenges on the Pacific Crest Trail. When she named her backpack, Monster, I remembered when I had a breakdown in the REI store because I felt so overwhelmed to think that all my belongings had to fit in the bag, and I had to lug it around with me.
I am in awe of her accomplishment and raw feelings—and her black and blue toes, which lost nearly all their toenails.
Re-reading Elizabeth Gilbert’s tale of Italy, India and Indonesia during quarantine felt at moments like a gift of gelato and pizza—and at the same time a punishment of being locked in one location.
In so many ways, her book unlocked the conversation for women about wanting something different or something more. In part, she left her marriage because she did not want to have children. It was not the right place for her anymore and she searched in new places for clues to how her new life would unfold.
As Glennon Doyle writes in Untamed:
“What is better: uncomfortable truth or comfortable lies? Every truth is a kindness, even if it makes others uncomfortable. Every untruth is an unkindness, even if it makes others comfortable.”
Like Doyle, Gilbert showed us her truth. The ways she was uncomfortable led many others to try something new.
I have loved Jodi Picoult’s books for decades and read every one. I learned from one of her tweets that the musical about a book written by her and her daughter, Samantha van Leer—Between the Lines—would not be opening because all of Broadway was closing for COVID-19. I felt her disappointment and decided to read it.
Most of the books on the list have taken me away to an amazing bucket list destination—yet this story led me into a book something I dreamed of doing as a child. I always wanted to walk into my books and meet the characters. My adult and childhood selves loved this journey so much, and I have recommended it to many mothers and daughters to read together.
You can continue the experience in their next book together, Off The Page.
And mark your calendars for September 22, when The Book of Two Ways, Picoult’s newest will be available for purchase.
This book was on my radar last summer because when a book becomes a major motion picture, I always want to read the book first. I finally read it while #SafeAtHome—which felt humorous as her home and the creation of it is so much a part the lead character’s story.
Bernadette’s relationships with her house, her child, her husband and herself—as well as her lack of relationships with others, except for her virtual assistant and endless online orders—become somewhat comical, but also tragic. There is jealousy and the destruction of others’ creations and homes.
My final continent to visit is Antarctica, so even without the compelling interpersonal drama, I would have been enthralled with going somewhere with Bernadette far away in nature and perspective.
While Netflix’s series Unorthodox (loosely based on Deborah Feldman’s Unorthodox: The Scandalous Rejection of My Hasidic Roots) captivated viewers during COVID-19, I was reading Naomi Ragen’s An Unorthodox Match—about a different choice: to join an Orthodox community, not about choosing to leave.
Walking into or out of the world of religion can feel like discovering a new world. Being able to participate in my synagogue was one of the reasons I returned from full-time travel in Asia. Humans need community.
In Ragen’s tale, a California girl chooses to enter an ultra-Orthodox enclave in Boro Park, Brooklyn, against her family’s wishes. Hidden secrets on all sides create questions and issues of how to belong, should you belong and where do we really belong.
Reading Emily Giffin’s newest book during COVID-19 quarantine was very triggering for me: I was in New York City on September 11, and my company went bankrupt within eight days. To be clear, I was one of the lucky ones—I only lost my job, where many people lost their lives or family members. I was grateful to be alive.
But like many other people, 9/11 changed my career and my life. I nearly gave up on this book several times—but as Cecily struggles with whether to stay in New York City after 9/11 and who to love and what job will fulfill her, I realized that we too will get through this #alonetogether time. My hope is that someday soon COVID-19 will be context, not content, of the story—just as with 9/11 and The Lies That Bind.
I hope that this time at home has helped you clarify what you are passionate about, who you want to spend your time with and which location makes your heart sing.