Surviving the quarantine: 50 Books to Read Now

Some of The Citizen’s favorite citizens share what they’re reading to get them through the twilight zone, er, pandemic

Surviving the quarantine: 50 Books to Read Now

Some of The Citizen’s favorite citizens share what they’re reading to get them through the twilight zone, er, pandemic

You can joke all you want about now being the perfect time to read War & Peace, or you could actually use the time you’re saving on showering/dressing/commuting to tackle the books on these local authors’, bookstore owners’ and tastemakers’ must-read lists.

Check with your local independent bookstore to see if you can order these books through them as a way to support their business during COVID-19; then, dig in, and feel free to share what you’re reading with us on Twitter or Instagram.

And stay tuned to The Citizen for recs on podcasts, movies and more things to do during the coronavirus quarantine.

What to read during the coronavirus quarantine



The Hot Hand by Ben Cohen. I love these Gladwell-ian kinds of books, and Ben is a superb reporter.

The Russian Job by Douglas Smith. Smith is a very fine Russian historian, and this little-known tale reminds me of a time when America had its house in order.

Stoner by John Williams. I have what we call “The Man Book Club” in Philadelphia. Half a dozen of us assemble once a month for a good meal and literary talk (and well, drinks), and I’m still a bit behind on this follow-up to Butcher’s Crossing.



Temporary Hilary Leichter is one of 50+ books recommended by a group of prominent and well-read Philadelphians during the coronavirus quarantine.
Temporary Hilary Leichter

Right now I’m looking to be absorbed, taken elsewhere, made to laugh and given a little hope.

These are all immersive, lush and totally transporting books about worlds very different from our moment:

Lakewood by Megan Giddings explores class and race through the lens of medical experimentation.

Minor Feelings by Cathy Park Hong tells the story of a Korean American immigrant’s journey.

Temporary by Hilary Leichter is an original commentary on the workplace, and its role in our lives.

These essay collections will make you laugh A LOT:

Here For It by R. Eric Thomas is a collection of candid, touching essays.

Wow, No Thank You by Samantha Irby offers essays that are equally witty and wise.

These books will give you hope:

Recollections of my Nonexistence by Rebecca Solnit is a call for all of us to find our voice.

How Much of These Hills is Gold by Pam Zhang reframes our collective understanding of the American West.

And, because I can finally get around to reading a big door stopper:

Cats Eye by Margaret Atwood explores the many roles and relationships women inhabit.



I am reading three right now. (Not sure if it is the best strategy.)

Black Teachers on Teaching by Michele Foster explores the struggles, challenges, and victories in the field.

The Lost Education of Horace Tate by Vanessa Siddle Walker. I enjoy reading history and this tells the story of the ordinary people who went to extraordinary lengths to gain equality for students and educators.

May We Forever Stand by Imani Perry, because I think more Black children need to know and understand the Black National Anthem. It was always important for me that our students sing the entire song.



As I posted on Instagram, these are the four books I’m planning on reading over the next few weeks:

Billion Dollar Whale by Tom Wright and Bradley Hope is based on a true story of massive fraud that spans from Wall Street to Hollywood. I tend to always be reading at least one book that is a political or financial thriller based on real events.

Where Do We Go From Here—Chaos or Community by Martin Luther King Jr. and Lincoln on Leadership by Donald T. Phillips were both highly recommended to me.

I would also recommend some books that I’ve recently finished: The Color of Law by Richard Rothstein is an an amazing historical account of racial segregation that was done not just by banks but by our federal government in the 1930s and decades thereafter, that laid the groundwork for disadvantages in many of our city neighborhoods today; and

Bleeding Out by Thomas Abt, is about gun violence in our cities and how to solve it.



I can’t even imagine how hard it has been for writers who have released their work into the world during the pandemic. These are some of the books I’ve really enjoyed (and in some cases been honored to read early copies of) that have come out this week:

The Herd by Andrea Bartz is a page-turning thriller about the disappearance of the owner of an all-female co-working space.

The Grace Kelly Dress by Brenda Janowitz is about three generations of women, and the ties that bind them. 

In Five Years by Rebecca Serle is a love story with a time-travel twist.

You Can’t F*ck Up Your Kids by Lindsay Powers is the reassuring parenting guide we all need right now.

Untamed by Glennon Doyle is a memoir that explores the power of living honestly and fully.

Separation Anxiety by Laura Zigman offers a fresh, quirky, fun take on the struggles of middle-aged womanhood.



The Yellow House Sarah M. Broom is one of 50+ books recommended by a group of prominent and well-read Philadelphians during the coronavirus quarantine.
The Yellow House Sarah M. Broom

The books on my list are a mix of what I consider comfort food, like:

Homegirls & Handgrenades by Sonia Sanchez won the American Book Award for its timeless beauty and honesty.

Hitting a Lick With a Crooked Stick by Zora Neale Hurston is a brilliant collection that has eight stories that had previously never been made public.

Greens, like:

Hood Feminism by Mikki Kendall addresses the need to look at feminism from an intersectional perspective, and invite all voices to an important conversation.

Emergent Strategy by Adrienne Maree Brown is a self-help book, a map, a guide, to anyone who wants to make a better future.

The Yellow House by Sarah M. Broom is a powerful memoir set in New Orleans and the 2019 National Book Award winner.

And I shouldn’t-eat-this-but-I-can’t-help-it-dessert, like:

Beloved by Toni Morrison, is an American classic from the late, great Nobel Prize winner.

Station Eleven by Emily St. John Mandel is a spellbinding novel that explores art and humanity during, fittingly for our times, a flu pandemic.

The City We Became, by N.K. Jemisin is a midnight snack, a juicy, beautiful New York City tale.



I am currently reading Joseph Ellis’ American Dialogue: The Founders and Us. We often ask, “What would the founders think or do?” Ellis tries to answer this question in dealing with topics like race and inequality.

I finished Empire of the Summer Moon by S.C. Gwynne a few months back and really enjoyed it. Another example of the untold stories of American History.

I had the chance to walk the Edmund Pettus Bridge with Congressman John Lewis several weeks ago so I just started reading March. I’ve already read his biography, Walking with the Wind by Lewis with John D’Orso, but I bought several sets of March years ago. My kids have read it but I haven’t.

The Miracle of Castel Di Sangro by Joe McGinniss is an awesome read for any soccer fan.

For fiction, I’ve read a number of Christopher Moore’s books but Lamb still makes me laugh out loud.



The Shadow King by Maaza Mengiste is one of 50+ books recommended by a group of prominent and well-read Philadelphians during the coronavirus quarantine.
The Shadow King by Maaza Mengiste

These are some of my favorites:

We Are Not Ourselves by Matthew Thomas. The character displays an internal fortitude amid increasing challenging and life altering circumstances and discovers a deeper meaning to her life and manifests a more authentic self

Outline by Rachel Cusk. An examination of a woman confronting a period of her life when none of her “handles” are working—spouse, writer, mother, professor-and through conversation with another person—10 chapters and 10 conversations-she tries to ascertain what character traits about this other person could be successfully incorporated into the new self that she aims to build, while jettisoning the old facets of her being that no longer work. Masterful and written with piercing insight.

The Power of Habit by Charles Duhigg. Illuminates how unconsciously we often go through life and how to whom and we can adopt powerful habits to constructively contribute to our lives. Duhigg explains why most people fail when trying to change their patterns and how they can achieve success.Wonderfully told.

A Gentleman in Moscow by Amor Towles. A marvelous story about a Count confined to a hotel in Moscow during the 1930’s. Elegant, intelligently-written and optimistic in its view of our capacity to overcome.

The Shadow King by Maaza Mengiste. This novel explores the females of Ethiopia that found the courage, resolve and resourcefulness to go to battle against Mussolini’s army during Italy’s invasion of their homeland during. WWII. A magnificent, beautifully written story.



I’ve been working hard to adapt our little brewery to these new and anxious circumstances, so I haven’t yet gotten a chance to dive into my piles of books and Netflix watchlist much. But in my downtime, I find myself turning to familiar comforts more than ever. I’ve been re-reading Jane Austen because it feels like spending time with an old friend.



Parable of the Sower by Octavia Butler. I’m a huge fan of science fiction books and movies. It’s a form of escapism, for sure. But I’m really drawn to the kinds of sci-fi stories that can give me a new lens to view the world around me. While Butler’s Parable of the Sower is certainly stark and possibly edging a little too close to our current reality, it has a brilliant lead character who sees her world’s current challenges as temporary, if not still harrowing, and part of a much longer journey.



Erik Larsen’s latest masterpiece, The Splendid and the Vile, a study of Winston Churchill during World War II’s London Blitz, is a master class in political leadership in times of crisis. Reading how Churchill rose to meet every existential moment makes you yearn for an elected official today who can do what JFK once observed of Churchill: He “mobilized the English language and sent it into battle.”

Maybe that leader is in the pages of The Ones We’ve Been Waiting For: How a New Generation of Leaders Will Transform America, by Charlotte Alter. Among the millennial political leaders Alter profiles: a young Bronx bartender and a Midwest Mayor with a funny last name. But even if her characters didn’t include Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez and Pete Buttigieg before they became household names, Alter’s deep dive into the political values of a generation raised on 9/11 and the debacle of the Iraq war would be an important step to understanding this political moment and where we might be headed.

Finally, next up is Say Nothing: A True Story of Murder and Memory in Northern Ireland, by Patrick Radden Keefe, because, you know, light reading.

Header photo courtesy Thought Catalog / Unsplash

The Philadelphia Citizen will only publish thoughtful, civil comments. If your post is offensive, not only will we not publish it, we'll laugh at you while hitting delete.

Be a Citizen Editor

Suggest a Story

Advertising Terms

We do not accept political ads, issue advocacy ads, ads containing expletives, ads featuring photos of children without documented right of use, ads paid for by PACs, and other content deemed to be partisan or misaligned with our mission. The Philadelphia Citizen is a 501(c)(3) nonprofit, nonpartisan organization and all affiliate content will be nonpartisan in nature. Advertisements are approved fully at The Citizen's discretion. Advertisements and sponsorships have different tax-deductible eligibility. For questions or clarification on these conditions, please contact Director of Sales & Philanthropy Kristin Long at [email protected] or call (609)-602-0145.