“We read to know we're not alone”
Before the lockdown, I would spend hours in the neighborhood bookstore poring over paperbacks. With four vast floors to explore, I discovered genres I never thought would excite me like biography and historical fiction. As a young girl, I remember staying inside bookstores ogling shelf after shelf, wishing I had extra pocket money to purchase a new book—or two. I ached for all the lives I was not living.
With self-isolation and social distancing as our new norm, books serve as faithful companions. These let us travel unimaginable worlds without having to move. The New Yorker's Rebecca Mead said it best, “Reading is sometimes thought of as a form of escapism, and it’s a common turn of phrase to speak of getting lost in a book. But a book can also be where one finds oneself; and when a reader is grasped and held by a book, reading does not feel like an escape from life so much as it feels like an urgent, crucial dimension of life itself.”
While we collectively adapt to our new normal, here's our curated summer reading list for your consideration.
In the Country: Stories by Mia Alvar
New York-based Filipino-American writer Mia Alvar offers a sensational collection of short stories about the Filipino diaspora experience in In the Country. Set amidst the political turmoil in the '80s, she highlights familiar—and heartbreaking—stories from emigrants, exiles and wanderers with reimagined narratives of key characters from the harrowing period of Martial law. It won the prestigious PEN/Robert W. Bingham Prize for Debut Fiction in 2016.
The Art Forger by B.A. Shapiro
Inspired by the real-life Isabella Stewart Gardner Museum theft in Boston unsolved to this day, B.A. Shapiro brings us into the rabbit hole of historical art heists and forgery ala The Goldfinch. Struggling artist Claire Roth—a pariah of the Boston art scene—makes a living by reproducing famous works for a popular online retailer. A prominent gallery owner pays her to forge a reimagined version of After the Bath by contemporary artist Edgar Degas, one of the museum's stolen pieces. She complies but begins to suspect that the piece itself may be a counterfeit.
A Tokyo Romance: A Memoir by Ian Buruma
Former The New York Review of Books editor Ian Buruma recounts his early years in Japan as an impressionable young student in A Tokyo Romance. He explores the underground culture of Tokyo with his eccentric troupes in the midst of an economic boom. He narrates his exotic, otherworldly adventures as a gaijin (a foreigner) in a city engaged in radical transformation.
M Train by Patti Smith
National Book Award-winning author and performer Patti Smith narrates reflections of her artistic process from her different travels in M Train. Like her earlier biography, Just Kids, she describes it as “a roadmap to my life.” From Frida Kahlo’s Casa Azul in Mexico to her life in Michigan upon the loss of her husband Fred Sonic Smith, she weaves moving prose that shifts from past to present.
Make It Scream, Make It Burn: Essays by Leslie Jamison
The Empathy Exams author presents a new collection of essays about obsession and longing. She writes with unapologetic self-awareness making Make It Scream, Make It Burn a dazzling account—a combination of memoir, criticism and journalism. A few of her subjects include a museum dedicated to relationship breakups and an online existence called “Second Life.”
The Art of Travel by Alain de Botton
From the same author of How Proust Can Change Your Life and Religion for Atheists, contemporary philosopher Alain de Botton argues our need—and desire—to travel. Through accounts in airports, museums and other landscapes, he mixes personal thoughts and insights from historic figures to formulate a delightful read to entertain amidst our immobility.
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Let us know what you're reading for the rest of quarantine by sounding off in the comments below!
Art Alexandra Lara