Are You ‘Sheltering in Place?’ Here’s What to Read

Supporting authors, independent bookstores, and your mental health? That’s a win-win-win.

While news about the COVID-19 pandemic flooded our social media and took over our small talk, book releases got bulldozed over by news of the ongoing crisis. There’s still a way you can support authors and local independent bookstores while on lockdown though, and that’s by reading. (Or, ordering a book with the intent to read. It’s okay. We get it! You’re busy.)

But seriously — reading can be great for your mental health, something not to be ignored while everyone contemplates the impacts of loneliness while sheltering in place. Check out our reading guide, order a few books from an SF indie bookstore to support the local arts community and a bunch of authors, and start reading to make the lockdown a bit more bearable. That’s a win-win-win situation.

New Waves by Kevin Nguyen

We’ve already reviewed this book in our pre-pandemic days (see our Jan, 23 issue). It feels like forever ago, so here’s a quick rundown in case you forgot: New Waves takes on racism in the tech industry through the eyes of Margo and Lucas, who are tired of being coded as an angry Black woman and an unseen Asian American, respectively. But things take a twist when Margo dies, and Lucas starts spiraling, grasping onto bits of Margo’s previous life for an answer. New Waves is funny, devastating, and smart, talking about race in a relatively new world of tech with frankness.

Uncanny Valley by Anna Wiener 

Sometimes Uncanny Valley peers into my soul with its spot-on critiques of Silicon Valley. It’s Wiener’s memoir of when she was a millennial working for a start-up in San Francisco, and it’s filled with some quietly snarky insights into tech culture. For instance: “Both roommates claimed they wanted to live independently but couldn’t abandon the rent control. With a combined household income that easily topped four hundred thousand dollars — not including the product manager’s stock — we were not people for whom rent control was intended, but there we were.” If that inconspicuous quote left you reeling with its deadly accuracy, then this is the book for you.  

Children of the Land by Marcelo Hernandez Castillo

Hernandez Castillo is already one of California’s best poets, and his new memoir, Children of the Land, promises to be incredible. This book tracks Hernandez Castillo’s memories of temporary stress-induced blindness, crossing the U.S.-Mexican border, and living as an undocumented immigrant in California. Like many authors, Hernandez Castillo’s readings had to be canceled because of the pandemic, so if you send a copy of his book to him with a self-addressed, stamped envelope, you’ll get a signed version back.

Barn 8 by Deb Olin Unferth

Heist books are so damn fun. If you’ve never experienced the thrill of being at the edge of your seat, flipping pages faster and faster until you run dangerously close to getting a paper cut, you’re missing out. Barn 8 is a story about the American egg industry and two auditors’ attempts to steal a million chickens. It’s political, funny, and the perfect fiction if you’re interested in the behemoth that is American agriculture, poultry, and produce. 

Deceit and Other Possibilities by Vanessa Hua

You might have seen Vanessa Hua’s byline from her San Francisco Chronicle column, but did you know that she’s also a prolific fiction writer too? These short stories are about a manipulative “prophet” who wants his own brush with stardom, selfish men and the women they don’t deserve, and a hopeful Stanford prospective pushed to the edge. Somewhat inspired by real-life events, they’re a testament to Hua’s own curiosity about the strange things that happen in our world that eventually disappear from the news — only to be resurfaced in fiction.

Black Widow: A Sad-Funny Journey Through Grief for People Who Normally Avoid Books with Words Like “Journey” in the Title by Leslie Gray Streeter

If this book title isn’t already a knockout to you, then I don’t know what to say. But in all seriousness, humor is necessary to survive grief, and Leslie Gray Streeter imbues her memoir of losing her husband with just that. A love story that contemplates death, race, and single motherhood, Streeter’s book is not something to gloss over.

For younger readers:

Just Like Me by Vanessa Brantley-Newton

This picture book is for all the girls who’ve ever felt out of place, and all the girls who know exactly who they are. It’s a collection of poetry accompanied with beautifully illustrated scenes that validate the wide spectrum of emotions and experiences. It acknowledges that we are all always growing: “I am a canvas / Being painted on / By the words of my family / Friends / And community.”

Rebelwing by Andrea Tang

For YA lovers, this book has it all: a brave (and reluctant) heroine, romance, and a cybernetic dragon. Prudence is just a prep school kid living in a dystopian Washington, D.C. when a dragon named Rebelwing “imprints” on her. Soon, she becomes the only person who can fly Rebelwing — and possibly, the only person who can save the country.

Grace Li covers arts, culture, and food for SF Weekly. You can reach her at gli@sfweekly.com.

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