His Dark Materials
A cute guy I recently met through a friend recommended this trilogy about Lyra, a young orphan who heads North in search of a missing pal and her imprisoned uncle whose been performing mysterious experiments. But as she battles witches, armored bears and more, Lyra doesn’t realize that to help one is to hurt the other. Technically YA, this parallel universe of magic, science, and theology is a great escape for all ages.
Stranger in a Strange Land
Robert A. Heinlein
A guy I knew 20 years ago at my undergrad student newspaper recommended this sci-fi classic about a man who was born on Mars and returns to Earth. He can’t quite adjust to the culture, social norms, and prejudices of humanity, which I think we can all relate to. Especially in this new age of “social distancing,” when isolation and alienation are real challenges we’re navigating.
The Starless Sea
I always take special note of my sister-in-law’s recommendations, and she gives two thumbs up to this 2019 release by the author of The Night Circus (which we both also loved) about a man who is searching for his door—and his story—along the labyrinthine shores of a subterranean sea. This love letter to myth and legend doesn’t offer a linear plot so much as nested stories within stories within stories.
The Left Hand of Darkness
Ursula K. Le Guin
One of my meditation teachers recommends this futuristic sci-fi commentary on society and sexuality which takes place on a planet of beings who can change their gender. This thought experiment asks who we are without male and female and what that says about our shared humanity, when a human emissary tries to pull this alien world into an intergalactic treatise.
A friend of a friend said she was “totally engrossed” by this story of two brown girls who dream of being dancers. One makes it into a chorus line, but the other (our narrator) becomes the assistant for a singer. Her new life opens doors as well as her eyes to inequality, race, womanhood, and friendship as she travels the world with her famous boss.
Emily St. John Mandel
A former co-worker said: “Station Eleven is amazing and timely. It’s not about a pandemic but the world after one. Super feminist, smart, thought provoking.” This book follows a roaming theatre troupe in an uncivilized world where ordinary people have to figure out what it means to be human. But what sets it apart isn’t the plot, it’s the dark, quiet, lit-from-within feel of it all.
Lost Children Archive
My motherly neighbor recommended this book about a family road trip from New York to Arizona during the parents’ marital crisis. The children are so much more perceptive than the adults realize, weaving the signs of turbulence into their play. And it’s all set upon the backdrop of the refugee crisis and child separations at the border, creating a micro/macro commentary on familial rupture and repair, and children’s resilience.
The Stars Are Fire
My best friend says she couldn’t put down this book about a pregnant mother fighting to protect her two young children in 1946 amidst the largest fires in Maine’s history. Her husband joined the volunteer fire fighters to control the blazes elsewhere, leaving Grace and her best friend with two children of her own to fight for their lives as the fire rages through and destroys everything they call home.
Altered Carbon (Netflix Series Tie-in Edition)
Richard K. Morgan
In a world where consciousness can be uploaded from one body and downloaded into a new one, it’s no surprise that the rich would be able to amass power and fortunes from life to life. That’s the stage of this murder mystery recommended by my classmate who said: “There’s anti-empire rebellion, Martians, war, mysteries, sex… they really knocked my socks off!”
As a lifelong bookworm, there are few escapes I rely on more than into the pages of a good book. I asked my Facebook community to recommend some of the most engrossing stories they’ve ever read because, like a lot of us, I’m planning to stay at home for now… so I really, really need to get lost in a good book. My criteria are simple: I want it to hook me. And while it does have to be well-written, it does not have to be high literature—just a great read. Here’s what everyone from my family to that guy I went to college with 20 years ago recommended.
Featured image: @sophie.nva via Twenty20