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The Best Books To Binge While You're In Self-Isolation

The cinemas and libraries are closed.

No one wants to venture to their local café and workplaces are sending staff home. So, what is the best way to spend alleviate the boredom and anxiety of social distancing? After cleaning the fridge, perfecting the baked bean jaffle and scrolling through your social media feeds until your thumb aches, it might be time to pick up a book.

Here are some options that will get you through these uncertain times, whether you’re looking for a light-hearted read that will make you feel better, a page-turner that will distract you from the alarming news cycle, or apocalyptic fiction that will maybe put our current situation in perspective (or scare the bejeesus out of you).

Funny books

If you need a laugh... (Image: Little, Brown Book Group / Penguin / Atlantic Books)

Let’s Explore Diabetes with Owls by David Sedaris

The master of the humorous essay has again used his life and family as punchlines in Let’s Explore Diabetes with Owls. Sedaris’ social observations are sometimes a little cruel but always irresistibly funny, as he writes about his father’s eccentricities, his attempt to find a stuffed owl and his experience buying condoms in Costco.

My Family and Other Animals by Gerald Durrell

As in Sedaris’s work, the near and dear are the source of humour in this novel about an English family’s extended stay in Corfu. I still can’t get the image of their arrival in the small town, accompanied by all the local strays, out of my head.

Fleur Morrison

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Less by Andrew Sean Greer

While Andrew Sean Greer’s Pulitzer Prize-winning novel is not without its heartache and angst, ultimately it is a hilarious account of the lows of writing life. Greer has a sharp eye for absurdity, of which he senses much when he travels the world to avoid his ex’s wedding and to attend a string of half-baked literary events.

A Confederacy of Dunces by John Kennedy Toole

Difficult times call for just one thing -- toilet humour. A Confederacy of Dunces offers plenty of fart jokes that will make even the most uptight of readers chuckle. It is also a hilarious portrayal of a man who resolutely believes he is superior to all others, including his long-suffering mother, despite his many and varied flaws (including his problem with flatulence).

My Sister, the Serial Killer by Oyinkan Braithwaite

Sure, it might not sound like an uplifting novel, but don’t judge this book by its title. The novel about sisterly love, loyalty and murder is surprisingly funny and unmistakably of our times, as Korede cleans up after the murderous transgressions of her beautiful sister, and tries to stop her posting pouting selfies on Instagram.

Feel-good stories

If you need a dose of positivity... (Image: Text Publishing Co / Orion Publishing Co / Little, Brown Book Group)

The Rosie Project series by Graeme Simsion

Possibly Australia’s most heart-warming series, Graeme Simsion’s Rosie series starts with genetics professor Don Tillman’s search for love in The Rosie Project. Without issuing a spoiler, it’s safe to assume that everyone can expect these books to end well for Don and Rosie.

Salmon Fishing in the Yemen by Paul Torday

The title of this book is indicative of its outlandish premise -- a businessman wants to attract tourists to Yemen by introducing salmon fishing. This sets the tone for a book that embraces the ridiculous and never takes itself too seriously. It is just the recipe for uncertain times.

The No. 1 Ladies’ Detective Agency series by Alexander McCall Smith

It is impossible not to love the perpetually unruffled Precious Ramotswe, who owns the detective agency in Alexander McCall Smith’s popular series. A cup of tea is a frequent accompaniment as Mma discusses cases brought through her welcoming door. The cases are always intriguing, but never greatly troubling, and there is never a doubt that all questions will be answered by the end of the book.

The Little Paris Bookshop by Nina George

The idea of a story about a bookshop on the bank of the Seine is enough to seduce anyone looking for a comforting read. The bookshop is run by a kind and likeable bookseller who has the ability to recommend books that will alleviate the problems of his customers. The only thing that is missing is a plate of freshly baked madeleines to enjoy while reading.

Escapist novels

If you've had enough of reality... (Image: HarperCollins / Atlantic Books /  Bloomsbury / Affirm Press)

The Good Turn by Dervla McTiernan

The Good Turn is the third book in Dervla McTiernan’s Cormac Reilly series that also includes The Ruin and The Scholar. These page-turners, set in small-town Ireland, feature a central mystery that ultimately exposes police corruption, offer a welcome distraction from empty supermarket shelves, alarming news stories, and cabin fever, without being scary enough to trigger a whole new set of worries.

Crazy Rich Asians by Kevin Kwan

The high life of the uber-rich Singaporeans that Kevin Kwan depicts in Crazy Rich Asians is intoxicating, extravagant, and frequently ridiculous. Reading this book is like a watching a reality show starring the world ’s most glamorous, snobbish, and occasionally unstable contestants. Even during social distancing, you will feel like putting down Crazy Rich Asians to get a bit of ‘me time’ after reading about the outrageous shenanigans of some seriously loaded extroverts.

The Harry Potter series by JK Rowling

With the potential of weeks of isolation ahead, now might be the time to settle in to this publishing phenomenon. While you’re reading about Hogwarts, Hedwig, Hagrid and Harry, you’ll feel far removed from the threat of coronavirus, and wishing that the social distancing could last longer. For the same reason, the Nevermoor series by Australian author Jessica Townsend is another good option.

The Nowhere Child by Christian White

The premise of Christian White’s debut thriller -- a child who is kidnapped and found years later on the other side of the world -- is enough to make anyone desperate to know more. Set between Australia and the US, The Nowhere Child is an exploration of identity, memory and trauma, and is impossible to put down.

Apocalyptic fiction

If reality isn't scary enough for you... (Image: Pan Macmillan / Penguin)

The Road by Cormac McCarthy

With its grim and deserted landscapes, the setting of The Road resembles shopping strips around Australia. Then there is the search for dwindling supplies of food and looted grocery store, and the separation of survivors into the bad (whose modern counterparts have stockpiled enough pasta to last the decade) and the good (who are merely trying to find a packet of pasta to go with their bolognaise sauce).

The Plague by Albert Camus

The Plague is set in a small village in Algeria, where rats begin to die in the streets. Eventually, a doctor treating patients recognises the symptoms of the plague. Albert Camus’ classic novel is a book of hope and despair, as villagers react to the disease in different ways, some shutting themselves off emotionally to deal with the deaths they are witnessing, while others flourish due to the new sense of shared experience among the villagers.

Life

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Wolfe Island by Lucy Treloar

Australian author Lucy Treloar addresses a dystopia of a different kind in Wolfe Island, which tells the story of a woman who is resigned to her fate as the island that she lives on is slowly falling into the sea as a result of erosion. However, this book is not just about land being engulfed by the ocean. It also explores the social breakdown accompanying the physical disintegration.

One Hundred Years of Solitude by Gabriel Garcia Marquez

Combining magical realism with the really scary, One Hundred Years of Solitude is not the usual plague story, but it does include an insomnia plague that descends on the fictional town of Macondo that causes loss of memory and sleep. While it might sound far-fetched, Gabriel Garcia Marquez claimed that everything he wrote in his books was based on something he had known, experienced or heard, saying, “You only have to open the newspapers to see that extraordinary things happen to us every day.” It’s difficult to argue, right now.

Year of Wonders by Geraldine Brooks

Based on a true story, Year of Wonders tells of the brave inhabitants of Eyam in the UK who made a tough decision to stop the spread of the plague in 1666. It has a familiar ring to it, although without Netflix and the scuffles over toilet paper in the supermarket aisles.