Brian Krista, Baltimore Sun Media
Last summer the pandemic kept many inside — vacations, concerts, nightlife, all were halted by social distancing efforts to curb the spread of COVID-19. A year later, mask mandates are slowly lifting with increased vaccination numbers and many are beginning to see the light at the end of the tunnel, ready to enjoy a semi-normal summer. But for those who are still cautious of the sweaty summer crowds, there are still ways to have a Megan Thee Stallion-themed “hot girl summer.” And what else says hot girl summer like a comprehensive list of books to explore while staying indoors?
Starting off the list is the recently published novel, “Crying in H Mart,” by Michelle Zauner. The book was released in April of this year but was originally published as a personal essay in “The New Yorker” in 2018. The novel is a memoir about Zauner’s mother who died of cancer and honors the bond she shared with her mother through food. H Mart, the Asian American supermarket chain is where Zauner relives the memories she had with her mother. The novel recognizes the struggle of upholding one’s cultural identity through the grief of losing a parent.
“Bad Feminist,” by Roxanne Gay, is a collection of essays published in 2014 that explore the complexities of modern-day feminism. Gay’s prose is witty and introspective as it deals with the timeless struggle many women face in labeling themselves as feminists. For example, Gay writes that she listens to “thuggish rap” on her way to work, the lyrics often degrading to women, but she still enjoys it. Hence, she is a ‘bad feminist.’ These moments capture the duality of feminism in our society and the book delicately discusses this with humor and vulnerability.
Worldwide, many used the pandemic’s “time-out” from social life to work on themselves. The time spent at home allotted room for healthier meals, workouts, meditating, journaling, and an overall self-improvement initiative. “The Subtle Art of Not Giving a Fuck,” by Mark Ronson, a book usually found in the “self-help” aisle, avoids the stereotypical preachy nature. Ronson’s tone is that of a stern friend, guiding the reader with sarcasm and self-deprecation toward newfound liberation. The novel is a lighthearted read that teaches the reader to embrace all moments in life, good and bad.
“The Year of Magical Thinking,” by Joan Didion, is a 2005 memoir of her late husband John Dunne. The novel withstands time and is especially poignant today. Many during the pandemic have experienced devastating grief of their own, whether through the passing of loved ones or experiencing the loss of normalcy and their old life. Didion takes the reader through her journey of facing grief with the stark memories of her past life compared to her present reality.
Malcolm Gladwell’s, “Talking to Strangers,” published in 2019, explores why it is so difficult to do just that. During COVID-19, many were saved from awkward Tinder dates, large work events or gatherings, and conversing with strangers. Rejoining that reality is a daunting factor of the end of quarantine and re-openings — cue Gladwell’s novel. The book is an exploration of miscommunications and how they affect our humanity and behavior for worse, or for better.
Even if picking up reading was just another quarantine hobby amongst the banana bread making and TikTok dancing, these books capture every which way society has been grappling with the effects of the pandemic. Whether it’s dealing with grief, a social and cultural awakening, or simply just trying to be a better human, these novels remind us that we aren’t alone in our journey.