Books I Read in Pandemic Times

Books I Read in Pandemic Times

It’s been almost three years since my last list of intriguing reads, but someone just asked for a list, so I’ll share highlights from the pandemic years (2020-2022). Let me know if there are similar books you think I’d enjoy!

black and white picture of ebook reader and stack of paperback books, from Cartridge People on Flickr

No Cure for Being Human (2021). If you’re been yearning for a story of life with colon cancer, this is the book for you. But seriously, Kate writes beautifully about her love for her family, the unredeemable agonies of our medical system and breaking bodies, and the bitter irony of studying self-help at the same time as she was falling ill.

Strange Bedfellows (2021). I never thought I’d be recommending a book on STDs, but the cute stuffed crab caught my eye on the cover. Dr. Ina is wise, funny, and informative about the history of STDs, and how health departments work to contain them. I didn’t realize how—like measles—some STDs were almost eradicated…and now they’re coming back.

Pretty Sure You’re Fine (2022). On the other hand, if you’re sure that every twinge in your muscles is a sign of mortal demise, maybe read David’s book of chill-out health advice instead.

The Truth About Cinderella (2012). Evolutionary biologists Martin and Margo discuss what we don’t talk about when we glorify parenting: favored kids, uninvested stepparents, and what lions and langurs do when a new mate enters the community.

Nerve: Adventures in the Science of Fear (2020). Eva is afraid of everything… so she starts seeking out her fears. A standard memoir with some vivid vignettes of skydiving, facing a fear of heights, and hurtling down a highway out of control.

Perv (2013). Jesse explores why we gossip about others’ sex lives, and how to be supportive while still protecting the vulnerable. Content warning, obviously, and there are a lot of random factoids, but I can see what he’s trying to do in de-stigmatizing harmless folks who seem weird to the average peer.

Anxious People (2020). A sweet, unlikely, slow-paced novel about the mistakes we make, our hurts and misjudgments, and a set of people who overcome them together. Fredrik’s written in a similar bittersweet vibe to his A Man Called Ove. The hostage situation reminds me of Bel Canto, but more amicably resolved.

Perfume (2022). If you like this, check out the related series of short books / long essays on topics like Potato, Jet Lag and Email. Megan takes us through her fascination with smells and why humans wear them.

The Genetic Lottery (2021). Kathryn says we each drew a different number in the lottery of smarts, kindness, charm, health and looks – and rather than judging each other, we’re maybe better off creating a world where everyone can live a good life regardless of the cards they drew. This drags on a bit (unless you love twin studies!) so read a good review instead.

Ours to Explore (2021). Pippa’s done the white savior barbie thing in Africa, and gradually began to wonder just how much she was helping. I appreciated her historic review of past do-good attempts, and her compassion towards those who want to help, even as she challenges us to look at the actual effects of voluntourism and short-term missions.

Foreverland (2022). Heather mixes biting humor about marriage and clear affection for her husband. Some chapters are better than others.

Fat (2020). Hanne will help you appreciate the energy-storage cells that sustain us, the delicious oils we eat, and the way that fat adds to the lovely feel of our own bodies. Be prepared for explicit language (and possible flashbacks as she discusses weight stigma). But, this may help you both appreciate all that fat does for your body, and perhaps others’ rounded bodies as well.

Fulfillment (2021). If you’ve ever wondered how Amazon works and the effect it has on communities, Alec has a book for you. This was slow and dragged at points, but it touched on communities I’ve lived in, so I kept reading.

A Year by the Sea (2011). A reflective memoir in the tradition of Gift from the Sea. Joan takes a year away from her partner and professional life to inhabit the New England seacoast. Slow-paced but with some lovely vignettes of swimming and working with fishes.

As a Woman (2021). Paula is an evangelical leader who transitions to identify as female… and is surprised when she’s both a) rejected by close religious friends and b) encounters discrimination and dismissal as a female leader… Uhh… I imagine other evangelical woman could have predicted that. But, I always appreciate a memoir by someone who’s seen both sides of our gendered American lives.

San Fransicko (2021). Michael’s fed up with idealistic policies that sometimes harm homeless, drug-dependent, and mentally ill folks rather than help them. I like a good polemic, and appreciate hearing about different sides of contentious political issues as well.

Oona Out of Order (2020). Oona wakes up one day and realized the years of life got all out of order. How can she figure out who she’s meant to be with, where her children are, and how to enjoy a life that keeps constantly snapping back and forth?

Everything I Ever Needed to Know About Economics I Learned from Online Dating (2014). I mean, who wouldn’t pick up a book with a title like that? Paul uses our shared experience of seeking love online to talk about sexy economic concepts like network externalities, thick markets, positive assortative mating, and adverse selection.

I Am, I Am, I Am: Seventeen Brushes with Death (2017). Maggie explores her many near-encounters with death, as well as those of her children. At points horrifying, beautiful, pedestrian, and heartrending.

We Need to Talk: a memoir about wealth (2020). The travails of coming into sudden tech wealth. (Pity the wealthy, right?) What I found most moving was how even with millions, Jennifer’s careful mind struggled with just enjoying a nice vacation without worrying about money. If you can enjoy what five dollars–or five million–brings you, without worry, you truly have a gift.

Misreading Scripture with Individualist Eyes (2020). Randy and Rich show how we misread the Bible when we assume it’s about God calling independent individuals. Tbh, I felt like this wasn’t as good as their Misreading Scripture with Western Eyes, so maybe go read that instead.

Culture Crash (2015). Scott shows how our economy is killing off creative professions. Pair this with The Death of the Artist to drain your will to create, entirely.

How to be a Fascist (2020). Michela’s written a satirical manual on how to take control of a society. Take note, future dictators.

Work Won’t Love You Back (2021). Sarah shows how the careers we want often promise more than they deliver. If you’re a stay at home mother, teacher, aid worker, professor, techie, athlete, artist, or other idealist, you might find something relevant here.

Finally, Uprooted (2015) places a medieval heroine in a tall tower, trying to save her village from the encroaching forest, and in Spinning Silver (2018), a youthful moneylender fights for her family in a hostile and magical frozen country. In both novels, Naomi weaves together dark, modern fantasy with Eastern European myth and legend. (Just note that the audiobook of Spinning is not great; find another way to read it!)

What have you been reading?

Thoughts? Leave a note here!