What We’re Reading While We’re Social Distancing

No time like the present than to really delve into a good book—and our editorial team has a few suggestions.

We’re not totally virtuous—we’re all streaming our fair share of television, too—but we’re all taking our self-isolation seriously and digging through the stack of books on our bedside tables, starting with these ones.

Little Fires Everywhere by Celeste Ng

My sister got me this book for Christmas (in addition to Lindy West’s Shrill and Lynne Kutsukake’s The Translation of Love, so yeah, she knows me) and I’ve been devouring it every chance I get—which is to say, I read half of it on an airplane and a few more pages in a bath that got colder much faster than I had anticipated. The story begins with Izzy, the youngest of four children, setting small fires in each (empty) bed in her family’s house. That bit is a sort of flashforward, and the rest of the book (or, as far as I’ve read) unravels the events that led to those five little fires. Think: mystery, drama, and some charming teen angst. The book has also been made into a TV show, which is streaming on Hulu starting March 18. (Did I know that before I started writing this? No, but that’s what you call accidental timeliness, folks). I’m still only around halfway through, but loving the novel’s authentic characters, quick pace, and various twists and turns. It’s also reminding me that, even though we’re in full pandemic-mode, at least I’m not a teenager anymore.—Alyssa Hirose, contributing editor

Nothing to See Here by Kevin Wilson

It’s a little tough to explain what makes this book so excellent since, plot-wise, it’s a little bizarre: main character Lillian is asked to look after a former-best-friend’s stepkids who…regularly burst into flames. But like author Kevin Wilson’s previous novel, The Family Fang, this one manages to balance that fine line of laugh-out-loud funny and heartbreaking realness. Wilson’s plainspoken prose is also endearingly reminiscent of Miriam Toews, another favourite of mine who does that cry-one-minute-laugh-the-next dance, which is basically life these days, so pandemic reading this indeed is. Honestly the best book I’ve read in a year. —Anicka Quin, editorial director

Before the Lights Go Out by Sean Fitz-Gerald

Many of the people in my life have asked me how I’m doing with the recent pausing of the NHL. I tell them I’m just taking it day by day and giving it 110 percent and not thinking about things outside my control and all the other hockey clichés I can think of, because yes I’m literally losing my mind. But I’m starting to realize it’s not all terrible. After all, I’ve had time to catch up on this excellent read, in which The Athletic‘s Fitz-Gerald recounts a season spent with one of Canada’s most storied junior hockey teams, Ontario’s Peterborough Petes. It’s some of the best sports writing I’ve read in some time (and I’ve read a lot), as Fitz-Gerald covers a lot more than just the games. It’s really about the decline of Canada’s favourite game and how the fates of many struggling small towns in our country are inextricably linked to it.—Nathan Caddell, associate editor

Oligarchy by Scarlett Thomas

I’ve always had a soft spot for kids-at-boarding-school books (where my Bruno and Boots fans at?), so I’m obviously a sucker for Thomas’ satirical tale of a Russian girl whose mysterious and rich father has come into her life only to send her to school at an English castle. Natasha’s new school is full of casual cruelty and rife with trouble—a plague of eating disorders and mysterious deaths—but despite the tragic subject matter, it’s pointedly funny and poetic, and approaches horror with perfectly deadpan teenage apathy. —Stacey McLachlan, executive editor

Even Cowgirls Get the Blues
by Tom Robbins 

When life gets me down, I usually reach for a little Tom Robbins. What can I say? I’m a sucker for funny feminist ’70s novels, and he always delivers. Even Cowgirls Get the Blues has some problems, but still manages to be one of the most beautifully written books I’ve ever read, full of though-provoking prose and eccentric characters. The story follows Sissy Hankshaw, a woman with huge thumbs, as she hitchhikes across the country in search of freedom and meets all sorts of characters along the way. It’s bizarre, surreal and more than a little provocative, but it’s a good read. It provided some welcome distraction for me this weekend.—Elia Essen, editorial intern

Mrs. Bridge by Evan S. Connell

God love our editor Anicka. She’s a voracious reader and is always asking me if I’ve read this or that and I nod and say not yet, knowing that, given that outreads me at 10:1 I’ll never catch up on her reading list. So in many ways I’ve just given up being remotely current at all. I think the last book I read as soon as it came out was Colson Whitehead’s The Underground Railroad—a book my daughter is now studying in high school, which should give you an idea of how long ago that was.

So I find myself looking backwards: to classics I never got to and to overlooked gems that have fallen out of favour. Mrs. Bridge by Evan S. Connell is a book that falls into both categories. It’s a series of only tangentially related episodes in the life of India Bridge, a housewife living in St. Louis between the wars. Her husband is a lawyer who’s not prone to emotions and her three kids also express varying degrees of indifference to their mother. Nothing much happens to Mrs. Bridge, but Connell manages to structure a level of mundane complexity that’s in turns enlightening and heartbreaking. It’s a style of writing that’s been taken up by Alice Munro and Elizabeth Strout, who likewise have the ability to capture the monotonous path that is life without ever seeming to be whinging about.

Some years ago Merchant and Ivory (no slouches when it comes to sussing out great source material) made a movie based on the book starring late-career Paul Newman and Joanne Woodward—I haven’t seen it, but like most of us, it seems like I’ll finally have the time to get to it.—Neal McLennan, food editor