Six Books to Read While Social Distancing

Like many, our family is finding our social distancing routine. My husband, who normally works from home, has exiled himself to the garage so that he can work in peace. Our kids, who started homeschooling with consistent lessons sent from their teachers, have found their own stations around the house and I’m doing everything I can to make sure that they follow a loose schedule. This week I will finally start formally teaching my students online.

Despite the extra time at home, I still have a long to-do list which includes the continuation of grading and lesson planning. We are getting caught up on shows, finally getting to watching movies we’ve wanted to watch for months (and even years), and making a list of new shows to binge watch once the kids are in bed. And like many of my friends, I have a list of books that I’m slowly working my way through during the time that I’m not going to be spending traveling, shopping, and completing mundane tasks around town.

Looking for meaningful, quality reading selections during this historical period of isolation with no idea where to start? Here are six timely suggestions:

Love Does by Bob Goff: If there is one thing that people in our busy, winner-take-all, culture need is a reminder that love is an action. In a time when people are physically disconnected from each other out of necessity, many of us are remembering just how important our personal relationships are. We are also dealing with the ramifications of people focusing only on themselves. After all, toilet paper still seems to be in short supply and weeks after being told that social distancing was necessary for protecting the weakest amongst us, some are still ignoring warnings and operating life as usual. Bob Goff’s life experiences and his determination to not just say he loves Jesus, but to show that he loves Jesus, is a message that we all need to take some time internalizing before society comes back together.

Braving the Wilderness by Brene Brown: Long before social distancing forced us all to stay away from each other, our country was seriously divided. Social media, the very thing keeping us connected to each other now, helped us find like minded people and drift further from those with which we disagree. It has become increasingly easy to find our own echo chambers and comfortably stay there. Brene Brown encourages us to step out and brave the scary unknown with a “strong back, soft front, and wild heart,” reminding us that for better or for worse, we belong to each other and we are stronger together than apart.

I Think You’re Wrong (But I’m Listening) by Sarah Stewart Holland and Beth Silvers: Sarah Steward Holland and Beth Silvers’s podcast Pantsuit Politics has spent the last five years challenging listeners to pursue grace-filled political conversations. A global pandemic hit the United States in the midst of an election cycle, with important races taking place from local campaigns to the president of the United States. COVID-19 is highlighting a lot of the social and economic issues that have been bubbling under the surface for years and we need to find a way to honestly and gracefully discuss those issues so that we can make informed decisions in the best interest of all citizens. Holland and Silvers guide readers through the process of talking politics with those with whom we disagree. Just like with Love Does, reading I Think You’re Wrong could prepare us for when we are finally able to physically come back together as a society.

Just Mercy by Bryan Stevenson: One of the many issues confronting us in the face of COVID-19 is the inequities in the criminal justice system. Like with many of the issues discussed in the above books, there are no easy answers, but Stevenson’s memoir of his experiences tirelessly working as a lawyer to right the many wrongs in the system is both heartbreaking and hopeful. While everything else appears to be paused for the time being, it may be worth learning about the many issues surrounding justice in the United States. When the immediate threat is over and we are able to find a new normal, let us seek justice as part of that rebuilding process.

Station Eleven by Emily St. Mandel: I was first introduced to Emily St Mandel’s 2014 novel about the world post-pandemic when one of my AP students asked for a dystopia/post-apocalypse novel and fellow AP Literature teachers suggested Station Eleven. I read it during a particularly bad flu outbreak, a story that was believable then and is even more believable now as we are living through the first true global pandemic in 100 years. But even if the premise of the novel may be frightening, it is also about the enduring human spirit through the struggle to survive. It shows that there is a light at the end of the tunnel. And it is beautifully written from the first to the last page.

Where the Crawdads Sing by Delia Owens: Delia Owens’ challenges readers to unravel the mystery presented at the beginning of the novel while being drawn into the story of a little girl who grows into a woman in isolation. It is a story of survival, love, and the human spirit despite the geographical and social isolation forced on Kya Clark. At a time when many of us are feeling detached from society and struggling to learn how to cope, Owens’ beautiful prose and captivating protagonist give us reason to hope.

This is far from a comprehensive list of books I would recommend for the many more weeks that we will be staying in, but I believe it is a good start. Hopefully you find the reading uplifting, challenging, and inspiring.

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