You know what they say — April showers bring May flowers, and even though we will have to admire those eventual flowers from a safe distance while self-isolating, we can outlast April showers by curling up with a good book and a hot drink. Or maybe a stiff drink, if that’s the kind of mood quarantine has put you in — either will work for this scenario! These three books are page-turners, easy to get lost in and hard to forget. You’ll laugh, you’ll cry, you’ll gasp — though these books are all profoundly different from each other, they all get at the most vulnerable, human parts of ourselves, all while providing distraction for a few socially distant afternoons.
“The First Bad Man” by Miranda July
First and foremost, this is a strange novel — delightfully so, but still. July’s debut novel follows Cheryl, who works for a women’s self-defense company and goes through each day with a perpetual lump in her throat. She has her life down to a science, abiding by strict personal ideologies to keep her from spinning out — it’s impossible to get overwhelmed by dishes piling up if you eat straight out of the container — and yet nothing really seems to work for her.
The novel teeters on the edge of surrealism, blurring the lines between Cheryl’s fantasy mindscapes and the real world until the reader feels just as jerked around as Cheryl does. When Cheryl’s eccentric bosses ask if their 20-year-old daughter Clee can stay with her awhile, Cheryl’s neatly packaged life is upended, and she has to learn to exist in the chaos of reality. Equal parts hilarious and heartbreaking, this novel sticks with you. You’ll carry it around until you finish it, and you’ll never read anything quite as beautiful or quite as cringeworthy again. Did I mention that the plot also features telepathic babies?
“There There” by Tommy Orange
The second debut novel featured on this list, Tommy Orange’s “There There,” is told from 12 different perspectives, all members of present-day indigenous Native communities. The connecting thread between all of them is the Big Oakland Powwow, which both the plot and the characters hurtle toward. The structure of the book is like someone has taken a sledgehammer to a stained-glass window — the characters are all separate fractals of the bigger picture that is the Native experience. It’s up to the reader to piece it all together. The result is an imperfect narrative told by imperfect characters, but which still shines with never-ending vitality. A recovering alcoholic, an event planning intern trying to find his way, a documentarian and a young boy trying to connect with his heritage all come together in this sometimes outright devastating, but always alive, exploration of identity. It’s a profound, powerful debut from Orange, and even in its starkest most stinging moments, it beckons readers not to look away.
“She Said: Breaking the Sexual Harassment Story that Helped Ignite a Movement” by Jodi Kantor and Megan Twohey
Jodi Kantor and Megan Twohey are the Pulitzer prize-winning journalists who first broke the story of disgraced Hollywood producer Harvey Weinstein. This book is the behind-the-scenes of how the investigation all went down. Weinstein’s recent conviction on two counts — committing a criminal sex act in the first degree and third-degree rape — and his subsequent sentencing to 23 years in prison should make you want to read this book already. Twohey and Kantor’s work — along with The New Yorker’s Ronan Farrow and activist Tarana Burke — sparked the #MeToo movement. You probably think you know all you need to about the movement. This book reveals that you don’t.
The book includes everything Kantor and Twohey went through, from explosive tantrums from Weinstein to non-disclosure agreements, from first-hand survivor interviews to emails from Lisa Bloom, the so-called feminist lawyer who pivoted from representing accusers to representing Weinstein. The book also features a section on Dr. Christine Blasey Ford, who testified to Congress that Supreme Court Justice Brett Kavanaugh assaulted her when they were in high school. The book will make you angry, that is undeniable, but it will not make you hopeless. It takes you through the process of elevating survivors’ stories to front page news. In a sense, you get to meet the helpers, the true change-makers who are putting the work in to shift the landscape and the conversation around sexual harassment in the workplace, which makes the book an absolute must-read.