The 18 Best Escapist Reads For When You’re Social Distancing

Sometimes, you need to lose yourself completely in a novel. These books will do the trick.

It’s a beautiful day in New York (and across much of the west coast, it’s raining — finally!), but many of us are stuck inside, social-distancing, cooking lasagna, and drowning ourselves in The Bachelor, if my Twitter feed is any indication. Once you get sick of those things, might I suggest… a book?

I’ve long used books to escape what’s happening in my life, and to shut off the relentless anxiety swirling around in my head morning to night. With the coronavirus infringing on our sense of health and safety, and as we live through another horror show of a seemingly never-ending election, I’m now not the only one who desperately needs emotional and mental release — and, now, a little time to pursue it.

Behold, then, my brief roundup of some of what I and my bookish friends think are the funniest, warmest, most thrilling, uplifting, and romantic reads that you can either buy now or preorder for delivery within the next few weeks. Tweet at me or let me know in the comments what you’re most excited to read during this period of social distancing.

HOUSE OF EARTH AND BLOOD, Sarah J. Maas. From the author of the YA fan-favorite A Court of Throne and Roses series. In her first adult novel, a half-fae assistant antiquities dealer must work with a (super hot) fallen angel and her full-fae brother to uncover a sinister plot after her best friends are brutally murdered. This book is very violent, so take that into account, but I found it utterly absorbing — I couldn’t put it down. Read my full review here. Aggregated critical reviews, Indiebound, Amazon.

DEACON KING KONG, James McBride. From the author of the National Book Award-winning The Good Lord Bird. In south Brooklyn in 1969, an elderly resident of the projects shoots the ear off the most brutal drug dealer the neighborhood has ever seen, throwing in motion a series of strange, hilarious events that show the lengths that people will go to protect the community they love. I found this book laugh-out-loud funny, absolutely brilliant, heartwarming, and uplifting. It’s what inspired this list to begin with — I couldn’t have read it at a better time. Read my mini-review here. Aggregated critical reviews, Indiebound, Amazon.

SIX OF CROWS, Leigh Bardugo. Absolutely one of my favorite books ever, about a team of misfits who must plan a heist to rescue the creator of a dangerous drug that super-powers magicians’ magical abilities. Even if you’re not typically a fantasy reader, you’ll love this fast-paced, gritty, tender story that is, ultimately, about friendship. This book has some violence. “Bardugo dives deep into this world, with full color and sound. If you’re not careful, it’ll steal all your time.” — The New York Times. Indiebound, Amazon.

ELLA ENCHANTED, Gail Carson Levine. Seems as good a time as any to revisit this middle-grade fantasy classic. When she’s born, Ella is “blessed” with the “gift” of obedience, which has obviously horrific implications. Can she beat the curse and regain her free will? Indiebound, Amazon.

THE SEVEN HUSBANDS OF EVELYN HUGO, Taylor Jenkins Reid. When a legendary elderly movie star chooses journalist Monique Grant to finally tell her magnificent life story, Monique is baffled. Why her? Her life is falling apart, and she has no connection to the woman, who has withheld the details of her glamorous, romantic history for decades. But as the beautiful older woman unspools her story, it becomes clear how intertwined Monique and the star’s lives are. This is a beautiful, heartbreaking novel with a meticulously-crafted balance of literary heft and romantic escapism. Indiebound, Amazon.

RED, WHITE, AND ROYAL BLUE, Casey McQuiston. The handsome son of the president of the United States has a beef with a prince across the pond. When their mutual hatred becomes a PR nightmare, they must fake a friendship that before long becomes all-too-real — and blossoms into something more. My friend, the book genius Elena Nicolaou, calls it “nothing short of fantastic.” Aggregated critical reviews, Indiebound, Amazon.

THE BORGIA CONFESSIONS, Alyssa Palombo. A delightful, juicy historical novel about Maddalena Moretti, a servant to the infamous Lucrezia Borgia. I adored this, and now I’m obsessed with the Borgias! Oops. Read my mini-review here. Indiebound, Amazon.

MY BRILLIANT FRIEND, Elena Ferrante, Ann Goldstein (translator). Quarantine is a great time to finally read one of the most important books of the past ten years, the story of two best friends growing up together in an impoverished neighborhood in Naples. There’s a bit of violence in this book. Indiebound, Amazon.

A DARKER SHADE OF MAGIC, V.E. Schwab. The first in an addictive fantasy series about a smuggler who can travel between worlds. “Fantasy fans will love this fast-paced adventure, with its complex magic system, thoughtful hero and bold heroine,” writes Kirkus. The full series is out, so this is a really great option to dive into during this period of self-isolation! Indiebound, Amazon.

SUNBURN, Laura Lippman. A noirish mystery about a couple who fall in love one summer in a small town in Delaware — but when someone in the town dies, the couple’s closet skeletons threaten to overwhelm their new relationship. “Plotty, page-turning pleasure plus instructions on how to make a perfect grilled cheese sandwich and how to stab a man in the heart,” writes Kirkus in a starred review. Aggregated critical reviews, Indiebound, Amazon.

THE CITY WE BECAME, N.K. Jemisin. This novel doesn’t come out until March 24, but unfortunately I think we’ll probably all still be social distancing by then, so add it to your preorders. In a world in which cities are literally alive and represented by human avatars, New York’s boroughs must come together to fight off an encroaching evil. Jemisin scarcely needs introduction; suffice to say this is one of spring’s most exciting releases. Read an excerpt here. Aggregated critical reviews, Indiebound, Amazon.

THE TIME IN BETWEEN, María Dueñas, Daniel Hahn (Translator). The sweeping, absorbing story of a young woman who, after being abandoned by her loser boyfriend on vacation in Morocco, forges a new life for herself as a seamstress in Franco’s Spain. I read this glamorous novel a few years ago in only a couple days, despite its heft (it’s 615 pages) — I fell in love with Sira, who survived a nightmarish time period with tenderness and grace. Indiebound, Amazon.

UPROOTED, Naomi Novik. A stunning, Polish-inspired retelling of Beauty and the Beast that will remain forever on my favorite-books-ever list. Amal El-Mohtar wrote for NPR that it’s “moving, heartbreaking, and thoroughly satisfying, Uprooted is the fantasy novel I feel I’ve been waiting a lifetime for. Clear your schedule before picking it up, because you won’t want to put it down.” Read an excerpt here. Indiebound, Amazon.

THE WEDDING DATE, Jasmine Guillory. A mayor’s chief-of-staff and a pediatric surgeon are trapped together in an elevator, but when they go their separate ways, they discover they had a connection they can’t keep lying to themselves about. Roxane Gay calls it “a charming, warm, sexy gem of a novel.” Indiebound, Amazon.

THE HERD, Andrea Bartz. A researcher joins a hot new feminist coworking space, but the night before the company plans to make a big announcement, the cofounder vanishes, and nobody knows where she went. From the author of the popular thriller The Lost Night; this one comes out March 24, and I can’t wait to read it. Indiebound, Amazon.

GIDEON THE NINTH, Tamsyn Muir. Gideon, an orphan with a love for dirty magazines, must join forces with her enemy, the necromancer Harrowhark Nonagesimus, and participate in a series of challenges and trials for the emperor. This book has quickly become a cult favorite; Constance Grady for Vox writes that it’s “an incredibly immersive book, with a rich, detailed mythology, gorgeously balanced sentences, and a genuinely meaningful central relationship.” Aggregated critical reviews, Indiebound, Amazon.

AND THEN THERE WERE NONE, Agatha Christie. The classic vacation murder mystery from one of the greatest mystery writers of the 20th century. Why not read her entire ouevre in the next couple weeks? Indiebound, Amazon.

JACK KEROUAC IS DEAD TO ME, Gae Polisner. A 15-year-old takes comfort in her older boyfriend and the butterflies she’s raising to cope with her absent father, mentally ill mother, and the disintegration of her relationship with her best friend. This one comes out April 7, and there’s a chance we’ll still be isolating by then, so click that preorder button! Indiebound, Amazon.

I’m a columnist for OneZero, where I write about the intersection of health & tech. Also seen at Elemental, The Atlantic, VICE, and Vox. Brooklyn, NY.

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