People are eagerly sharing tips on how to “travel without leaving home.” What about accepting where we are? Is travel about finding the “exotic” or is it a way of seeing the world?
As Jonathan Franzen reminds us, “The first lesson reading teaches is how to be alone.”
Here are a few books to help you uncover the magic of living in the present.
Xavier de Maistre spent six weeks exploring his room in A Journey Round My Room and was excited enough about the journey to write a sequel.
Moshfegh’s book is a reminder that some people dream of staying at home for a year. You, too, can have a photographer deliver you pizza.
Your house is probably not as grand as Bryson’s old parsonage, but you can still use your studio apartment as a jumping off point to explore the history of the world. At Home explains how we ended up with the type of houses, and lives, that we have.
Consider the Fork: A History of How We Cook and Eat, Bee Wilson
While you’re waiting for your sourdough to bake, you can learn the history of food. Wilson’s Consider the Fork is one of many delightful books on the history of the foods we take for granted, like Salt, Cod, Butter, and An Edible History of Humanity.
You don’t need to go anywhere to experience nature. Blechman’s book shares the story of his own neighborhood wanderings and answers some of those questions I’ve wondered idly about these birds that are so common it’s easy to stop paying attention.
If you can’t get enough of birds, there’s also Crow Planet: Essential Wisdom from the Urban Wilderness. and The Urban Bestiary: Encountering the Everyday Wild, both by Lyanda Lynn Haupt.
If you’re eager to know what the world will be like after social distancing is no longer necessary, close the tab on those speculative Medium articles and pick up Guns, Germs, and Steel.
If you need a little perspective on your time stuck at home, Woodfox’s memoir of forty years in solitary confinement is the answer.
This is a good time to pick up Diary of a Young Girl, especially if you haven’t read it since primary school, or the more recent Zlata’s Diary. The War Within uses diaries to tell the story of the siege of Leningrad. There are countless diaries and memoirs from people living under siege, during wartime, in prison, and in hiding — many of which are available as ebooks.
If you’re feeling inspired to write your own memoirs, I’m a huge fan of Mary Karr’s book on the topic.
Local history books
Perhaps you’re in the city you’ve lived in forever or waiting out the end of the world in your childhood bedroom. It’s so easy to know more about cities we’ve visited for a week than our own hometown. Your local library probably has online resources and a reading list for you to explore the ground under your feet (and the local historic places you can walk to while maintaining distancing requirements).
If you’re feeling concerned about borders being closed, Prisoners of Geography can provide solace that borders change, open, and close.
If you want to embrace the pandemic apocalypse, Peter Heller’s dystopian novel is what you’re looking for. While there’s plenty of action (and by “action” I mean violence) there’s also a lot of meditation on life.
Laura Spinney’s Pale Rider tells the obsessively researched history of the Spanish flu in a way that’s both global and personal. While other histories of the 1918 pandemic provide dramatic stories about doctors and researchers determining the cause and history of the virus, Spinney focuses on the story of how that virus has changed the course of world history and our lives today.