What to Read When the World is on Fire

Jul 15, 2020

If the past few months have taught me anything, it’s that I really should have read more read more Science Fiction. Seriously, a few more dystopian novels would have prepared me a bit more for what is passing for normal today. Am I dreaming this or is there seriously a “bubble town” in Disney World where professional basketball players are living right now?  School re-openings sound more like preparing for space travel. Most of us are banned from traveling to the EU, and even the Canadians are giving us a pleasant “no thanks.” Things feel really surreal, uncertain, and scary. 

When the world is on fire, different readers look for different things in their next reads. Here are my suggestions for the variety of reasons you might be turning to books right now. (annotations from TCCL’s catalog)

For Historical Perspective: 

Pandemic 1918: Eyewitness Accounts from the Greatest Medical Holocaust in Modern History by Catharine Arnold 

Before HIV or Ebola, there was the Spanish flu--this narrative history marks the one hundredth anniversary of an epidemic that altered world history.

How to Survive a Plague: The Inside Story of How Citizens and Science Tamed AIDS by David France 

The definitive history of the successful battle to halt the AIDS epidemic, and the powerful, heroic stories of the gay activists who refused to die without a fight.

For Comfort: 

I Capture the Castle by Dodie Smith 

I Capture the Castle tells the story of seventeen-year-old Cassandra and her family, who live in not-so-genteel poverty in a ramshackle old English castle.

Eleanor and Park by Rainbow Rowell 

Set over the course of one school year in 1986, this is the story of two star-crossed misfits--smart enough to know that first love almost never lasts, but brave and desperate enough to try. 

For Escape: 

The Expats by Chris Pavone 

An international spy thriller about a former CIA agent who moves with her family to Luxembourg where everything is suspicious and nothing is as it seems. 

The River by Peter Heller 

The story of two college friends on a wilderness canoe trip—of a friendship tested by fire, white water, and violence. 

For Variations on the Apocalypse: 

Parable of the Sower by Octavia E. Butler 

When global climate change and economic crises lead to social chaos in the early 2020s, California becomes full of dangers, from pervasive water shortage to masses of vagabonds who will do anything to live to see another day.

Zone One by Colson Whitehead 

Mark Spitz and his squad of three "sweepers" move through Zone One of lower Manhattan, a walled-off enclave scheduled for resettlement in the aftermath of a zombie plague.

For Goodness in the World (with a side of cathartic crying): 

A Place for Us by Fatima Farheen Mirza 

A story of family identity and belonging follows an Indian family through the marriage of their daughter, from the parents' arrival in the United States to the return of their estranged son.

Southernmost by Silas House 

After a devastating flood that displaces many of his neighbors, evangelical preacher Asher Sharp offers shelter to a gay couple. This simple act of hospitality reveals the fractures in Asher’s marriage, church, and community, causing him to set across the country with his son to try to discover what he truly believes about grace and love.

For whatever reasons you’re reading these days—whether for escape, knowledge, or a sense of connection—I hope that you’ll continue finding the right book at just the right time. And, if you need a little inspiration for finding your next great read, the library is here to help.