Before the winter holidays I was asked by several students for reading recommendations. I tried to think about recent books that (a) I enjoyed and (b) I would have especially enjoyed when I was in college. I can’t say these are my favorite novels of all time, but they’re pretty good (for the time being). I’m going to add another list of book that are end of the world / pandemic related. These books should be more of an escape from our current circumstances. So here are some novels to feed your soul while you study:

Ruth Ozeki, A Tale For The Time Being

“A time being is someone who lives in time, and that means you, and me, and every one of us who is, or was, or ever will be.”

A TALE FOR THE TIME BEING: When I asked folks for their advice for this list, I was so thrilled to learn I wasn’t the only one who loved this book. I’ve enjoyed Ozeki’s other books as well (especially My Year of Meats), but this one has a special place in my heart. The plot device of the book is pretty silly – I’ll admit – but it works. The tale follows two ‘time beings’ (people) – separated by a continent and time. One is a teenage girl in Japan, and another in a middle-aged writer in British Columbia. The writer stumbles upon a literal time capsule that washed up on her beach (thus the silly plot device); the capsule includes the teen’s diary. What follows is the story of three women: the writer, the teen girl, and the girl’s Zen Buddhist Grandmother (who the teen turns to for guidance). <Warning: discussions of suicide>

Bernardine Evaristo, Girl, Woman, Other

this is not about feeling something or about speaking words
this is about being

GIRL, WOMAN, OTHER: I’m not alone in loving this book. It won the Man Booker Prize in 2019 (which is a pretty big deal). The book follows twelve different people (girls, women, and others) focusing on the Black British experience. I was invested in some of their stories more than others (Amma!) but I read this in almost one sitting. Each person’s story is told in different prose. It is not a difficult book, but raises difficult themes. <Warning: some sexual violence>

Donna Tartt, The Secret History

It’s a very Greek idea, and a very profound one. Beauty is terror. Whatever we call beautiful, we quiver before it. And what could be more terrifying and beautiful, to souls like the Greeks or our own, than to lose control completely? To throw off the chains of being for an instant, to shatter the accident of our mortal selves? Euripides speaks of the Maenads: head thrown I back, throat to the stars, “more like deer than human being.” To be absolutely free! One is quite capable, of course, of working out these destructive passions in more vulgar and less efficient ways. But how glorious to release them in a single burst! To sing, to scream, to dance barefoot in the woods in the dead of night, with no more awareness of mortality than an animal!

THE SECRET HISTORY: Another professor reminded me of this book – how fantastic it would have been to read as a college student! Donna Tartt is best known for The Goldfinch (don’t judge a book by its movie – The Goldfinch was such a terrible movie). The Goldfinch (the book) was good – but The Secret History is better. When I searched for an (albeit bad) image of this book the search tag that appeared was “dark academia books.” It’s dark. It’s a mystery. It’s about Classics students who love their professor a little too much – and take it a bit too far. So fun – I think you’ll enjoy! <Warning: violence>

Madeline Miller, Circe

“When I was born, the name for what I was did not exist.”

CIRCE: You don’t have to know anything about Greek myths, or have read (or liked) Homer’s Odyssey to love this book. To be reductive, the book is a retelling of Odysseus’ time spent with Circe (daughter of a god) on a remote island on his way back from the Trojan War. Many of us who remember our mythology know how the story will turn out, but have never heard it from Circe’s perspective. Like most good books, this one speaks to universal themes- loneliness, power, loss, romance and betrayal. Men – if you can’t live with them, might as well turn them all into swine.

I’m happy to give you more personalized recommendations – you only have to ask! And if you do end up reading any of these recommendations, please let me know what you thought! (escarbro at