10 Books to Warm the Soul (or Just Distract It)

Straight from the Food52 book club list.

March 18, 2020
Photo by Rocky Luten

Now more than ever, home is where many of us are seeking refuge and solace in light of the novel coronavirus. This is a tough time, but we’re here for you—whether it’s a new pantry recipe or a useful tip for your kitchen, here are some ideas to make things run a little more smoothly for you and your loved ones.

If you’re like me, you’re finding that this strange time wavers between being mildly unsettling and completely overwhelming, hour to hour, day to day. It can be all-consuming, even if you’re one of the lucky ones that can continue to work from home.

While we’re unsure of what the coming weeks hold, we do know for certain that we need a distraction or two. What better way to remove yourself from reality, than to become absorbed in a book?

“A couple of friends and I are starting a remote book club,” says senior copywriter, Maggie, “and yes, there will be cheese and crackers, except I'll have them all to myself. Even if your 'book club' is just a shared doc where you can deposit ideas, or an email thread, or a phone visit, it's still a book club.”

We’re taking a hint from Maggie and her friends, and sharing with you our current reading list from “Book52,” our staff book club, so you can suck them down in the long evenings ahead. A bit of good news: A lot of libraries across the country are now allowing you to borrow books online, so just head to your local branch website to check out the titles on offer.

Now: Call a friend to discuss, share a passage with your roommate, or drop a comment below to get the conversation going.

1. Exhalation, Ted Chiang

Ted Chiang’s Story of Your Life inspired the film Arrival, one of my favorites from the past few years for its success in putting surreal, never-quite-explained events up against heartbreaking, real human emotion. He tends to draw on historical (often religious) texts, and classic science fiction elements like time travel, aliens, and robots, and twists them up so poetically. Exhalation is meant to be bittersweet but focuses on the hope that technology can lend us, so I’m excited to dive into it. —Nisse, senior customer service specialist

2. The Alice Network, Kate Quinn

Right now, I’m seeking out books (and TV shows and movies) that really transport me, as a break from all the news. This book takes place across two different timelines, and features fierce women, an international spy network, and plenty of unexpected twists and turns. I’ve gotten completely sucked in, which is exactly what I need right now. —Ishita, video programming director

3. Interpreter of Maladies, Jhumpa Lahiri

The last time I read this collection of stories was during a fiction-writing class in college, and didn’t fully appreciate it (the usual skimming, cramming, and trying to get through the semester). I recently went back and read the first short story and was blown away by the vivid detail and emotional depth. Hoping to get into some great discussions with Book52! —Caroline Mullen, assistant editor

4. The Falcon Thief, Joshua Hammer

My mom actually recommended I read this book. It ties together two hobbies/interests of ours—nature and animals (more specifically, birdwatching), and true crime. It’s definitely an unusual mix, and the fact that it’s nonfiction makes it all the more interesting. —Kelly, senior growth marketing manager

5. Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince, J.K. Rowling

I’m reading Harry Potter for the comfort it brings. I started re-reading the series (first time since I was a kid!) over the summer, when I was going through a stressful time, and it was just what I needed—something easy and nostalgic. I jumped back in on the sixth book and it’s taken me right back. —Celeste, copywriter

6. Tell the Wolves I’m Home, Carol Rifka Brunt

I’m re-reading this right now, because it’s such a beautiful book about a girl who loses her uncle and has to learn how to cope with loss—and how isolating that can be. It makes me cry, but in a good way! I love reading stories that make me happy-cry when I'm stressed out. —Elise, assistant buyer

7. House Of Leaves, Mark Z Danielewski

This is a must-read book for anyone that loves mystery, horror, and journeys into the unfamiliar. A prolific photographer and his family encounter an impossible hallway in the center of their living room, but the story itself isn't the only thing that makes this book special. It's an example of ergodic literature (books that make you read them outside of conventual reading style) where the author uses textual arrangement, multiple narrators, real and fake sources, and copious footnotes to create a labyrinth inside of a novel. —Kaleigh, customer care specialist

8. L’appart, David Lebovitz

I love how Lebovitz combines humor and sentiment to tell his stories of life as an expat in Paris, with the addition of delicious recipes along the way as an added bonus. His stories make me laugh and allow me to escape to an alternate world where I have a pied-à-terre in the 16th arrondissement, but without any of his problems. —Angela, drop ship supply chain manager

9. Fire in the Hole, Elmore Leonard

I loved this book (which served as the basis for the FX show Justified) wherein Deputy U.S. Marshall slash cowboy noir icon, Raylan Givens, faces off against Boyd Crowder, a white power preacher with a rocket launcher stash. Leonard's plots and characters can be absurd stereotypes but he's somehow able to ground them with a taut and smoky prose that adds a lot of gravity and dignity. —Cody, data scientist

10. Normal People, Sally Rooney

I don't think I know anyone who read this last year and didn't like it. It was definitely one of the "it" books of 2019, which is somewhat surprising considering it's not exactly a page-turner. Yet, I couldn't put it down. This is one of my favorite kinds of books—romantic but in a quiet, sad, complicated way. This is only the author's second book, and I snapped it up as soon it came out because I loved her first, Conversations with Friends, so much. —Alex, senior SEO strategist

What books are you reading to get through the coming weeks? Let us know, so we can add them to our lists, too!

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When I'm not writing & editing for Home52, I'm likely to be found DIY-ing a new piece of furniture (or restoring an old one), hanging things on the wall in my apartment, or watching hours of vintage RHONY.


Priscilla L. April 25, 2020
Guess I must be one of the few who didn't like Normal People. I found the characters sympathetic at first, but more annoying as the book wore on. Loved Ann Patchett's The Dutch House.
If you've never read the late Brian Doyle's Chicago, a novel, please find yourself a copy. Best. Book. Ever. Hands down.
foodyjudy August 30, 2020
Me either. Love Patchett, love chicago so will look for it.,
maxie March 26, 2020
L'Appart was so so good! For a similar memoir-ish read, I recommend The Man Who Made Things Out of Trees by Robert Penn. I recently read this book and I can't stop talking about it, even with strangers at the grocery store. It's got a little bit of everything and will make you want to chop down a tree to see what you can make out of it! It's sharp, funny, and has jobs you didn't know still existed. 10/10!!
Ruth March 24, 2020
I think this might be a good time to reread Laurie Colwin's Home Cooking or Julia Child's My Life in France. Or anything by Ruth Reichl, from Tender at the Bone to Save Me the Plums. Or Bourdain's Kitchen Confidential or a book he blurbed the heck out of: Grand Forks: A History of American Dining in 128 Reviews by Marilyn Hagerty, which is beyond charming.

What's that you say? You have enough food-related books? Well, then, try Plainsong by Kent Haruf, a novel that is very much about community. Or Philip Kennicott's Counterpoint: A Memoir of Bach and Mourning. Or Hilary Mantel's Wolf Hall. Or The Hidden Life of Trees by Peter Wohlleben.
Peabody March 22, 2020
Oh I didn't like Normal People. I found the people unlikable and the story somewhat unrealistic. My favorites for the past 12 months are The Great Alone and All the Light We Cannot See.
Traci March 22, 2020
I just finished Dear Mrs. Bird, Dear Edward, and American Dirt. I'm now reading Educated. So many have loved this book, but I'm struggling with it. So much dysfunction. I loved the Alice Network! Thank you for the list! I'm going to check a few of them out.
foodyjudy August 30, 2020
Educated....hmm. Read where the crawdads sing and found it more believable
Nancy L. March 22, 2020
The Jane Austin Project was a real escape - both reading and listening to the audio book. Jane Austin and time travel, well written - what's not to like.
Wendy R. March 22, 2020
I’m looking to Jane Austen right now. Books where the biggest dilemmas are social faux pas (sp?) and which hair ribbon to choose feel just right. I’d also highly recommend anything by Van Reid. His books are joyful, laugh out loud historical fiction, packed with unforgettable characters. He really isn’t as well known as he deserves. Start with Cordelia Underwood.
Elise P. March 25, 2020
Couldn't agree more! I just re-read Emma, and it was the perfect escape!
Karen L. March 22, 2020
I loved Tell the Wolves I'm Home too! Have recommended it to those who deserve to read it!
Elise P. March 25, 2020
Truly such an underrated book! Love every minute of it.
Arati M. March 18, 2020
Thanks for this! I can't wait to read L'Appart...sounds like just the escape I need right now.
Stephanie B. March 18, 2020
I'm not sure I'd classify House of Leaves as soul warming. Soul crushing more like. Don't get me wrong, I'm enjoying this book, but it's not exactly the warm fuzzy blanket of books. Curious what other things Kaleigh finds soul warming/distracting lol - bet she's got great horror recommendations.
Kaleigh E. March 18, 2020
I am definitely on the "distracting" end of the spectrum, rather than the warming! But some of my other favorites if you're looking for good horror are "The Dark Half" by Stephen King, "The Haunting Of Hill House" by Shirley Jackson, and "World War Z" by Matt Brooks! Though that last one may be a little too close to home in the current climate.
Queen O. March 18, 2020
This is a great time to go back in time to childhood and re-read old friends - or make new ones. I'm always soothed and delighted with anything by Elizabeth Enright, Lois Lowry, Walter R. Brooks (the Freddy the Pig books, fabulous!), Robin McKinley...I could go on all day but I'd rather go read!
The Queen of Fifty Cents