May 6, 2020

Stephen Chbosky, Kristin Hannah, Ocean Vuong and other authors discuss the books that are helping them cope


One day at a time, one book at a time. Like many of us, authors are self-soothing during indefinite stay-at-home orders by reading — perhaps turning to comforting old favorites or getting lost in escapism. We asked 11 popular authors what they’re reading to cope with these tough times and why.

Stephen Chbosky, author of “Imaginary Friend” and “The Perks of Being a Wallflower

For a reason only my therapist could explain, the genre I am finding greatest comfort in during this horrific time is, in fact, horror. I am moving back through my cherished Stephen King collection, starting with “The Stand.” After that, I plan on a steady diet of Joe Hill, Max Brooks, Emily St. John Mandel, Guillermo del Toro and Chuck Hogan.

Kate DiCamillo, whose books include “Because of Winn-Dixie” and “Beverly, Right Here

I’ve been doing a lot of rereading. In the last few weeks, I’ve pulled these books off the shelf in my house: Marilynne Robinson’s “Gilead,” Mary Oliver’s “Upstream,” Ann Patchett’s “The Magician’s Assistant,” the collected fairy tales of Hans Christian Andersen, Isak Dinesen’s “Seven Gothic Tales,” Mary Norton’s “The Borrowers” and Gabriel García Márquez’s “Love in the Time of Cholera.”

As I list these out, I can see that I’ve kind of instinctively turned toward books of timelessness, magic, hope and love. These books have comforted me. They have cast a steady, calming light on my days. I’m grateful for them.

Bernardine Evaristo, author, most recently, of “Girl, Woman, Other

I’ve been rereading Derek Walcott’s poetry collection “Midsummer” during lockdown. I find myself drowning in the beauty of his language and reassured by his deep awareness of the passing of time that the world as we’ve known it will return to normal.

Kristin Hannah, whose books include “The Great Alone” and “The Nightingale

Reading has been my salvation these past few weeks and helped me through the quiet of shelter-in-place. “The Glass Hotel” by Emily St. John Mandel was a lovely, beautifully written and constructed novel that I couldn’t put down, full of memorable, unusual characters. I especially loved the remote Vancouver Island setting — it’s a place I know well. Mandel’s agility with time in this story was a marvel.

I always recommend Tim Egan’s remarkable, intelligent books, and “The Good Rain” is one of my all-time favorites. I am a Pacific Northwest girl, and this book speaks to my soul in prose that is both luminous and accessible. In this difficult time, it is a reminder of both the beauty of this region and the fragility.

Erik Larson, author, most recently, of “The Splendid and the Vile

I’m big on distraction and simply wallowing in language. I just finished reading “Things in Jars” by Jess Kidd, which I adored — it dragged me back to 1863 London and environs, and kept me rooted there, entwined in vines of lush prose. Right now, perhaps ill-advisedly, I’m rereading William Golding’s “Lord of the Flies,” feeling quite glad to be sequestered in my self-distancing abode and not on some remote island with a bunch of primal schoolkids. Next up: Kate Atkinson’s “Behind the Scenes at the Museum,” which I just found on a bookshelf here, fortuitously unread — such a gift in these pandemic times.

Amanda Lovelace, whose books include “The Princess Saves Herself in This One

I’ve recently dived back into Sarah J. Maas’s “A Court of Thorns and Roses” series. I find that this rich and beautiful fairy tale is the perfect escape for a time like this.

Jojo Moyes, whose books include “The Giver of Stars” and “Me Before You

I’m halfway through Glennon Doyle’s “Untamed,” which I will give my daughter afterwards. I find myself (unusually) reading nonfiction at the moment, and this has made me think hard about how women police themselves and their behavior. In the same vein, I am reading Pema Chodron’s “When Things Fall Apart,” which is helping me through lockdown. And for fiction, the latest Lee Child, “Blue Moon,” because everyone needs to kick some [butt] sometimes, even if it’s just imaginary.

Jenny Offill, author, most recently, of “Weather

I just reread Natalia Ginzburg’s “The Little Virtues,” a collection of essays that quietly circles around the darkness of World War II and the death of her husband in prison. It is a strangely comforting book for these times. I’m also enjoying the weirdly technical but fascinating book “Bold Endeavors: Lessons from Polar and Space Explorations,” which is all about how best to handle life in close quarters.

Kiley Reid, author of “Such a Fun Age

With seasons such as this, where it seems impossible to take in any more surprises, I adore rereading favorites, particularly when the work is so deserving. Paul Harding’s “Tinkers” is very fitting. The sentences make you wonder, “How long did it take to write this?” and the world, much like ours now, often makes the reader question exactly how much time has gone by. I’m also ready to reread Ta-Nehisi Coates’sBetween the World and Me.” I’d love to see what passages knock me out five years later, and if they are the same that completely took me in 2015.

R. Eric Thomas, author of “Here for It

Something old: There’s little I find more life-affirming and motivating than the writings of Audre Lorde, so I’ve picked up a tattered, highlighted copy of “Sister Outsider” from college and I’m diving back in. Something new: L. C. Rosen’s extraordinary new YA novel “Camp” (out May 26) is so boundlessly joyful and creative it leapt straight from the page into my heart. Something borrowed: I’m taking advantage of my Enoch Pratt Free Library card to catch up with the inventive Kate Atkinson via the e-book of “Transcription.” Something blue: There’s never a bad time to read Casey McQuiston’s “Red, White & Royal Blue,” a book that only gets more perfect every time you read it.

Ocean Vuong, author, most recently, of “On Earth We’re Briefly Gorgeous

I’m rereading C.D. Wright’s “Cooling Time,” a book that defies and eludes definition. I return to it often to steady me during wavering times — but also, quite frankly, during “normal” times, too. Originally written in the wake of 9/11, the book is subtitled as a “poetry vigil,” but it’s also a heady, erudite and carefully passionate call to arms that, in Wright’s now-classic hearty and no-nonsense ethos, quickly becomes a call to ethics, to art. I will never tire of this light-beam of a book.

Angela Haupt is a freelance writer and full-time health editor in the District.



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