1. To Kill a Mockingbird by Harper Lee
There is a good chance you have already read it, but there’s no better time to return to old beloved classics. The book was published in 1960 and became an overnight success. Harper Lee won the Pulitzer Prize for it in 1961. The story takes place in the little town of Maycomb in Alabama, where lawyer Atticus Finch agrees to defend a black man who was accused of sexually assaulting a white woman. It is told through the innocent eyes of Atticus’s 9-year-old daughter, Scout. In an interview Lee gave in 1964, she was quoted saying that ‘..there is something universal in this little world’, regarding life in a small southern town during her time. "In other words, all I want to be is the Jane Austen of South Alabama."
2. Harry Potter and the Sorcerer's Stone by JK Rowling
If a little bit of escapism is what you’re after in these crazy times, Harry Potter is the way to go. The 7 volumes should keep you busy and entertained for a while. This beloved tale follows Harry Potter, a boy who learns he is a wizard on his 11th birthday. He gets to leave the depressing house of his aunt and uncle and starts an adventure-filled life in Hogwarts, a school for witchcraft and wizardry.
The charm of the books lies in the characters, the detailed description of their wizard-training and personal lives, and it's lightheartedness and humor. The books were so universally loved that they inspired a series of movies, theme parks and a spin-off series - Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them.
3. Guns, Germs, and Steel by Jared Diamond
Why has history unfolded the way it has, with some nations taking over and colonizing others? Jared Diamond, a professor of geography and physiology at the University of California lays out his theory in Guns, Germs, and Steel. His theory is that societies in which people had access to resources were able to advance beyond the hunter-gatherer stage sooner than other societies, as they were able to master food production. There are many counter-arguments in circulation, so Diamond's book is a good place to start a discussion.
4. A Brief History of Time by Stephen Hawking
When Hawking wrote this book, he had a clear intention in mind - to compel readers. He didn’t want to create a dry academic document designed for experts and scientists. He was told by literary agents that it was mission impossible; that it could never be a bestseller. But they were proved wrong. In the book, Hawkins offers a clear explanation of scientific theories like general relativity, the origin of the universe and even time travel. The first run sold out in the United States in a matter of days, and the rest of the world soon followed. That is not to say the book is simple and breezy to read, but it’s definitely fascinating and worthwhile.
5. The Fall of Giants by Ken Follett
The books compiling this trilogy are actual giants, but it isn't surprising considering that they contain the whole 20th century within them. The story begins in 1911 and is told from various points of view. Multiple plot strands are woven together, depicting characters wildly different in background and approach. Meanwhile, empires rise and fall, wars break out and the world that inhabits these characters continues to shapeshift. Some of the characters are the actual ‘giants’ driving this history forward - President Wilson, Lenin, and Churchill among others.
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6. Americanah by Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie
This novel, which was one of America's most loved reads according to PBS’s The Great American Read, follows Ifemelu and Obinze, former lovers who immigrated from Nigeria to the west and eventually returned home after finding their paths to success in very different ways. Despite breaking contact long ago, they still hover in each other’s minds and the story of their reunion intertwines with the story of immigration and homecoming, estrangement and belonging.
7. Lord of the Rings by JRR Tolkien
This epic adventure series probably doesn’t need much introduction. Frodo Baggins, who lives in a made-up world dubbed ‘Middle Earth’ sets out to destroy the One Ring, before it is found by the Dark Lord Sauron who wants to use it for evil purposes. Tolkien's work was the subject of extensive analysis of its themes and origins. Over the years, the story has become a staple in popular culture and was the inspiration for a wildly successful movie franchise.
The book itself had such a major influence on fantasy literature that the term 'Tolkienian' was included in the Oxford English Dictionary. Whether you're a fantasy enthusiast who is yet to read Lord of the Rings, or an old-time fan that never believed he would get the time for a re-read - this one should keep you busy at least until the end of the quarantine.
8. A Little Life by Hanya Yanagihara
A Little Life follows the stories of four young men, friends from the same college, who all move to New York City to chase big careers. But there is more that underlines the story. At first, one might feel it is one of those post-graduates looking for themselves in the city kind of tale, but as the book progresses, Jude’s mysterious and traumatic past comes to fore.
A Little Life is not an easy read, at all. Critics called it brilliant, and readers couldn’t hold back their emotional responses, one Twitter user saying he will need a support group after finishing the book. If you feel up to the task, A Little Life is definitely worth the read. But if you prefer not to be emotionally overwhelmed, you might want to leave it for another time.
9. A Short History of Nearly Everything by Bill Bryson
Bill Bryson’s way of writing can make pretty much any topic interesting. Unlike the case of ‘A Brief History of Time’, this book was not written by a scientist but just a curious individual. Bryson takes on the task of understanding science, and how planet Earth and humankind got to where they are today. He takes the readers along with him, on an infinitely funny and informative journey.
10. The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy by Douglas Adams
This is the one to go for if you really want to forget about reality and be swept off to a weird-yet-fun alternate universe. Arthur Dent is an ordinary human whose best friend Ford Perfect happens to be an alien. The Bizarre adventure begins when the Vogon aliens take over and knock down Arthur’s house to build some sort of space road. It is then that Arthur and Ford decide to hitchhike with the Vogon’s cook’s ship to save themselves. But it turns out the Vogons don’t really like hitchhikers …
11. Pride and Prejudice by Jane Austen
Even with the countless adaptations and retellings, this story never gets old. It seems like a bit of storm in a teacup kind of tale, yet it manages to capture the nature of humans relationships, misunderstandings, judgment and heartbreak in a witty and intelligent way that feels as relevant now as it did when it was published, at the very end of the 18th century. A perfect read for a cozy day in.
12. Blindness by Jose Saramago
If the topic of epidemics and dystopia does not deter you right now, do not miss Blindness. The award-winning novel begins with a man unexpectedly going blind on his way home, in the middle of rush hour. The confused and scared man is driven home by a seemingly well-intentioned stranger, and it soon becomes clear that a mysterious epidemic has struck, causing people to lose their eyesight.
It is a book that describes how disaster can bring out the best and worst in people, and raises philosophical questions that many might find interesting and relevant.
13. I Capture the Castle by Dodie Smith
The fact that this book is the fictional journal of a 17-year-old girl does not mean it is childish or only suitable for a certain audience. The protagonist, Cassandra Mortmain, is trying to ‘capture’ the people around her, who happen to be her family most of the time. Despite the fact that they reside in an old castle, their life's circumstances are not very fancy.
The building is crumbling, and the family lives in relative poverty, as Cassandra’s novelist father has been facing writer’s block for the past decade. Cassandra is an aspiring novelist herself and does quite an amazing job at capturing. The characters are alive and complex; reading this might even inspire you to write your own quarantine journal.