In the time of social distancing and a pandemic taking over our our world, it really does feel like we are living in a dystopia. For those of us working from home, shorter commute time means we suddenly have a lot of free time on our hands – and with no gyms, malls, movie theatres or restaurants to go to – it’s time to revert to the one form of entertainment that will always be there for you no matter what and through it all – books!

So here are the 10 books I recommend you read to keep you company during this crisis. (Disclaimer: I have always loved dystopian fiction and there are  a few I recommend in this list. I have also recommended a few non-fiction books which I loved.)

  1. Exhalation, Ted Chiang

If you are in the mood for some science fiction then look no further than Ted Chiang’s collection of science fiction stories “Exhalation.” Here, we find out about time travel, prisms which enable us to talk to our parallel selves in multiple universes, devices which record and store our every move thereby altering the way humans perceive memories of themselves. These stories will raise questions you haven’t ever thought of before and leave you mind-boggled, and mind-blown. 

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2 Forest of Enchantments by Chitra Banerjee Divakaruni

A great comfort read is Chitra Banerjee Divakaruni’s Forest of Enchantments. It is the Sitayana- the story of the Ramayana from Sita’s perspective. It’s a nuanced and rich feminist retelling through which readers can attain a different perspective on the beloved hero and heroine of this epic fantasy and on some of the problematic areas of the Ramayana, such as Ram’s treatment of Sita. This is a book that will sweep you up and into its fantastic world. 

  1. Beautiful Thing by Sonia Faleiro

This book offers another insight into the imagination of some of India’s overlooked women, but through reportage.  We are taken into the world of Mumbai’s bar dancers, their relationships, desires, struggles. We understand their hopes and dreams, their inner worlds. Leila, the main character of the book, stayed with me days after I put the book down. The book reads like fiction and is one of the best works of creative non-fiction I have read. 

  1. Early Indians by Tony Joseph.

Early Indians is another non-fiction book which I highly recommend. If you like Sapiens and if you are a history buff, you should pick up this book for it begins right at the beginning- pre-history. Why do we Indians look the way we do? Where did our people migrate from? Packed with research and interesting facts, the book can keep you absorbed for days. It will open up a whole new section of information in your brain, and you can follow up your reading with even more reading and research- the learning is endless. And rest assured, pre-history is also endlessly fascinating. 

  1. Ice Candy Man by Bapsi Sidhwa

And what better way to learn about history than through fiction? I have always been interested in Partition and Ice Candy Man by Bapsi Sidhwa is one of the greatest partition stories there is. It follows the story of a young girl whose world is shaken because of the event. It’s beautifully told, evoking the mood and life of India before and after partition. And after you read it, you can watch the movie version of the book, made by Deepa Mehta. 

  1. Station Eleven by Emily St John Mandel

It’s on my reading list because it’s feeding into my paranoia about the virus, and it’s also a classic. 

Well, the pandemic has won. Civilisation has collapsed.And a group of actors roam through what remains. The books shifts back and forth between the pre-flu era and Year twenty after the collapse. If you really want your fix of Corona Virus literature, look no further. 

  1. The Circle by Dave Eggers

Here’s another book which is eerily prescient and will fulfil your craving for dystopian fiction: The Circle. It’s also now a movie with none other than Tom Hanks, but I recommend reading the book first. The book is much better than the movie. And it’s about what happens when privacy is no longer considered a right, and everyone is expected to show everything to the world. It’s social media on steroids. If you like Black Mirror, you will like this. Like Station Eleven, this was written a long time ago. I wonder what these writers feel knowing their predictions for society are actually coming true!

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  1. The Dreamers by Karen Thompson Walker

This book is about what happens when a sleepy town in California is taken over by a disease which causes people to fall asleep! How does one contain it? How does one care for the sick without falling asleep oneself. Who is immune? And why is this happening? 

  1. My Brilliant Friend by Elena Ferrante

I love books about relationships and this sumptuous read does not disappoint. A beautiful and intense story- this is a must read. It talks about the nature of female friendship, our expectations from it and the power dynamics between friends. It’s also set in southern Italy, so you can imagine yourself there. And if you like this book, there are two more in the series. Enough good literature to keep you occupied for days. 

  1. Milk Teeth by Amrita Mahale

Friendship and love is also the theme of this Bombay novel. Set in Matunga in the 90s, the story follows the friendship between Ira and Kartik, childhood friends with their own secrets. Their story plays out even as the city changes. Do they end up together? Well, it’s complicated. I couldn’t put this book down and read it in one go.

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