Local authors recommend books for 'shelter in place' reading

Remember books? Typed, bound manuscript between cardboard or binder's board covers? You turn pages with your hands and they tell stories with characters or relate nonfictional historical data across a universe of spectrums?

You probably read some books in high school or college — give yourself a hand if you remember that the "Scarlet Letter" was an A and the woman involved was Hester Prynne — or even more recently if the name Rowling or Grisham or Patterson was affixed to the spine. Books were popular back in the day before YouTube channels or streaming, graphic novels, social media and reality TV.

In any case, one of the unintentional but possibly few positive results of the COVID-19 pandemic is that, hopefully, homebound people might pick up books again!

We exaggerate, of course. Plenty of people still love reading books, it's just that books sometimes get overlooked in this top-speed world of shorter attention spans. And, yes, there's nothing like a shelter-in-place order or, heaven forbid, martial law, to reopen the library in your heart.

We asked some of the popular authors in our region to each make a recommendation or two of really long books that don't READ like they're long. In addition, we were curious what less-known books or authors they might strongly recommend that maybe a lot of us are not familiar with — and that we could all enjoy getting to know.

Wally Lamb, Norwich native (national bestseller, two-time Oprah's Book Club honoree and author of such titles as "She's Come Undone," "The Hour I First Believed," "We Are Water" and "I Know This Much is True," the latter of which has been made into an HBO mini-series with Mark Ruffalo premieiring on April 27

"Sister Carrie" by Theodore Dreiser — "A brilliant character study and a heartbreaking account of ambition, risk, and the rewards and pitfalls of the American Dream."

"The Grapes of Wrath" by John Steinbeck — "If you're a TCM fan like I am, you've probably seen John Ford's 1940 adaptation of this book, which was published the year before. Now go back to the source material and discover a more nuanced account of the Joad family and the brutal realities of Depression-era America."

"Great Expectations" by Charles Dickens — "No one does plot better than Dickens and my favorite in his canon is 'Great Expectations,' the first-person story of an orphan whose desire for wealth and social advancement is in conflict with his basic human decency."

"My Ántonia" by Willa Cather — "This 1918 novel is a beautifully written story about the challenges of life on the Western prairie in the late nineteenth century. Narrated by protagonist Jim Burden, who leaves behind his formative years in Nebraska to become a successful New York lawyer, the novel explores Jim's memories of Ántonia Shimerda, a simple Bohemian immigrant who is both the love and the missed opportunity of his life."

"Of Human Bondage" by W. Somerset Maugham — "If you enjoy stories featuring characters you love to hate, dip into this, in which readers follow protagonist Philip Carey's lovesick obsession with Mildred, a lower-class waitress who at first disdains him and later exploits the unlikely power she has over him. The novel, which also paints a vivid picture of early twentieth century European life, is an unnerving psychological exploration of the ways in which masochists and sadists engage with each other."

David Handler, Old Lyme (author of "The Man in the White Linen Suit," the latest in his Edgar Award-winning Hoagy and Lulu mysteries as well as the Berger/Mitry and Benji Gold series)

"Shogun" by James Clavell — "I can think of two long but fascinating doorstops that are easy, addictive reading and were huge bestsellers in their day. This is one. It came out in 1975 and transports you to the world of medieval Japan for 1200 pages."

"Lonesome Dove" by Larry McMurtry — "This is the other long one, which will put you on horseback in the old West for nearly a thousand pages. Each is compulsive reading. You get completely lost in them and forget where you are, which isn't such a bad thing right now."

"Henry Wiggen's Books" by Mark Harris — "This is my off-the-beaten-path choice. Since we are not to be blessed with my beloved baseball this season, I'm a huge fan of this trilogy by a fine writer named Mark Harris about a gifted young New York pitcher that came out in the 1950s. They're funny, colorful and will help fill the void left by NO BASEBALL. We meet Henry, our storyteller, when he's breaking into the big leagues in "The Southpaw." Film fans might remember the second book, "Bang the  Drum Slowly," which was made into a very fine film in 1973 starring Michael Moriarty and Robert De Niro. Many years later, in 1979, Harris returned to Henry with a bittersweet novel called "It Looked Like Forever" that is also excellent."

Luanne Rice, Old Lyme (New York Times bestselling author of over 30 novels for adults and young adults, including the recently published "The Last Day," celebrated as the first selection in The Day's "Read of the Day" book club)

"Our Revolution: A Mother and Daughter at Midcentury," a memoir by Honor Moore — "Honor's mother Jennie Moore was raised as a Boston Brahmin, but she escaped the rules and privilege and chose a life of service, writing, and having nine children with her equally-socially conscious Episcopalian bishop husband. Honor writes about her mother's neglect and love, and she pieces together fragments of memory and research to understand their relationship and the woman her mother became."

"Horizon" and "Arctic Dreams" by Barry Lopez — "'Arctic Dreams' is one of my old favorites of Barry's books, and 'Horizon' is one of my newest. He writes eloquently about his journeys back to the Arctic, to Western Oregon, the Galápagos, Kenya, Australia, and Antarctica. I love how he visits the coldest, hottest, and loneliest places on earth — meeting with archaeologists, scientists, artists, and locals along the way — and weaves in stories of historical explorations."

"The Outlaw Ocean" by Ian Urbina — "Perfect for sailors in our area, but not for the faint of heart! The ocean is too big to police, there's a lack of clear jurisdictional boundaries, and there are criminals out there. As the flap copy says: 'Traffickers and smugglers, pirates and mercenaries, wreck thieves and repo men, vigilante conservationists and elusive poachers.' A riveting read!"

Jeff Benedict, Waterford (New York Times bestselling author of 14 nonfiction books including "Little Pink House," "Poisoned" and, with Armen Keteyian, "Tiger Woods")

"Grant" by Ron Chernow — "Few books lift and inspire more than this tour de force biography on Ulysses S. Grant. After leading the Union forces through the Civil War, Grant steps into the void created by the assassination of President Abraham Lincoln. During the most perilous period in our nation's history, Grant perseveres through the ravages of war, ruthless partisan politics in Washington, violent unrest in the South, racism, and personal vices and weaknesses. In terms of giving us hope and perspective in difficult times, this book is on the top of my list."

"Trumpet of the Swan" by E.B. White" — This is not a long book. But it's ideal for parents to read to children, especially if you are looking for a way to encourage and inspire a young one. The dialogue between the cob and his son, Louis, is timeless. Here's one of my favorite lines: 'Do not let unnatural sadness settle over you, Louis. Swans must be cheerful, not sad; graceful, not awkward; brave, not cowardly. Remember, the world is full of youngsters who have some sort of handicap that they must overcome.'"

"The Wizard of Oz" by L. Frank Baum — "There is so much to learn from this classic. Again, a perfect book for a parent to read with a child, although the messages are universally applicable for adult and child alike. When the wizard is exposed as merely a man, the lion fears that he will never find his courage, to which the man says: 'You have plenty of courage, I am sure. All you need is confidence in yourself. There is no living thing that is not afraid when it faces danger. True courage is in facing danger when you are afraid, and that kind of courage you have in plenty.'"

James Benn, Essex (author of the Barry Award-winning Billy Boyle World War II mysteries including the 15th in the series, "The Red Horse," due Sept. 1)  

"The Foundation Trilogy" by Isaac Asimov — "The three books are 'Foundation,' 'Foundation and Empire,' and 'Second Foundation.' According to Asimov, his works were inspired by Edward Gibbon's 'The History of the Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire.' The plots focus on the growth of the Foundation, against a backdrop of the decline and fall of a Galactic Empire. The Foundation uses psychohistory and the statistics of mass action to mitigate the effects of the collapse of civilization over centuries. While these books can be enjoyed as a space opera, they also tackle issues of individualism and consequences of the uncertainty principle throughout history, making for multi-layered reading."

"Lest Innocent Blood Be Shed: The Story of the Village of Le Chambon and How Goodness Happened There" by Philip P. Hallie — "This remarkable book fits in the means-a-lot-to-me category. It was first published in 1978 and has stayed with me for decades. It chronicles the activities in a French village during the Second World War. It tells story of the residents of Le Chambon, who made the courageous decision to shelter and save not only their own Jewish residents from the Nazis, but any who came seeking help. It reminds me that mercy and goodness are traits we all share, and that they are most needed in the darkest of times."

Susan Kietzman, Mystic (author of five novels including "It Started in June" and "Every Other Wednesday)

"The Art of Fielding" by Chad Hardwick — "I typically shy away from long books – I'd much rather read two 300-page novels than one 600-page slog – but I loved this one. On the surface, it's a book about baseball at a small, obscure college in Michigan. But it's really a story filled with the universal themes we want to read about: love, family, sacrifice, friendship, and hope. You will root for the Harpooners, even if you don't like baseball. You will champion the need for love, even if it's different from the love you know. And you will wish you had a friend like Mike Schwartz."

"Plain Song" and "Our Souls at Night" by Kent Haruf — "I love all his novels but these two (respectively) come in first and second. His stories take place in and around a fictional town called Holt in Colorado. Haruf, who passed away several years ago, wrote simple and graceful prose packed with emotion. His characters are people like us, trying to get through the day, when something happens that not only changes their routine but also challenges their world view."

"Nothing to See Here" by Kevin Wilson, "Such a Fun Age" by Kiley Reid, and "An American Marriage" by Tayari Jones — "These are novels I've read and enjoyed lately that are a breeze to get through."



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