2021 marked the 20th anniversary of Spokane Is Reading! We did not hosting a community book event again due to the pandemic, but knew we wanted to honor this milestone. We reached out to many of our past authors and asked them what books they had read recently that brought them joy during the pandemic. The list below is the result and it is as varied as the books we’ve selected over the years. Enjoy!
Read one. Read several. Or read them all.
Recommended by Jess Walter (Spokane Is Reading, 2007) who says, “It might be surprising to suggest a book that begins with the horrors of slavery as an uplifting read, but it’s thrilling to watch the hero of this novel escape a West Indian plantation on a hot air balloon and experience a whole wide world of nineteenth century adventures.”
Recommended by Jess Walter (Spokane Is Reading, 2007) who says, “A funny and wholly unexpected novel by the surrealist Carrington, this reissue by the New York Review of Books follows a 90-something-year-old vegetarian whose mystical new hearing aid leads to wild complications.”
Recommended by Mary Roach (Spokane Is Reading, 2011) who says, “I need to set the scene. Ernest Shackleton has spent a year with his crew, first in their ship, frozen into Antarctic ice, and then marooned on an island. Realizing that no one is coming to rescue them, he decides to row 750 miles across storm-blasted polar waters in hopes of reaching an island whaling station he knows is out there. There is this moment when Shackleton, tattered and bedraggled after scaling a cliff to reach the island’s far side, knocks on the door of an old acquaintance. “My name is Ernest Shackleton,” he says quietly, as it is clear the man does not recognize him. The man at the door breaks down, and I did too. Were this a movie, the soundtrack would have swelled superfluously and drowned out the quiet power of that moment. In Lansing’s perfect, plain-spoken telling, it wallops you. Shackleton’s strength and humility, in the context of the ordeal he and his crew have been through, is moving beyond words. Because of him, no one died, and no one gave up hope.”
Recommended by Maria Semple (Spokane Is Reading, 2013) who says, “Whenever I want a carefree, charming and giddy escape, my go-to is Nina Stibbe. Her LOVE, NINA was my gateway drug. MAN AT THE HELM and PARADISE LODGE pack the same sunny fizz.”
Recommended by Karen Russell (Spokane Is Reading, 2014) who says, “Elizabeth McCracken is a legend to me and her latest story collection kept me reading until close to sunrise, shuddering with laughter and continuously rattled by the painful and joyful surprises of Sadie and Jack’s elliptical love story. She is the master of the dismount in a short story, expertly flinging the baton to the reader to ensure that we will be heartbroken, elevated, provoked, consoled, and haunted.”
Recommended by Karen Russell (Spokane Is Reading, 2014) who says, “I fell in love with this novel’s astonishing narrator, Kepler’s mother, an eccentric older woman who cares for cows and plants and children, who possesses a deep and real magic of an entirely different order than the cartoonish evil of which she stands accused. Imagine the testimonies in Stanley Milgram’s “Obedience to Authority” set in a German fairytale woods, where the stakes could not be more blood-red, more terrifyingly real. Imagine a story set in 1620 that speaks directly to your own scalded twenty-first century heart. Reading the capsule summary of this miraculous novel, you might expect a very dire tale. Yet by the magic of Galchen, this brilliant novel is always a joy to read, brimming with her signature humor and intelligence and exquisitely keen attention. Even in her darkest hours, Frau Kepler shows us how to honor life on Earth, even when it fails us.”
Recommended by Anthony Marra (Spokane Is Reading, 2016) who says, “Dear Committee Members by Julie Schumacher is the funniest book I’ve ever read. It’s an epistolary novel about a hapless English professor who finds in the humble recommendation letter a medium for painfully comic personal expression. In a way, it’s the perfect book to read while socially isolating, because—as I discovered myself—it will make you laugh too hard to risk reading in public. As my mom said when she recommended Dear Committee Members to me: “Just trust me. You’ll love it.”
Recommended by Wiley Cash (Spokane Is Reading, 2017) who says, “This should be a hit in a basketball town like Spokane. Coach Thompson covers it all in this book, tracing his career from high school standout to college, the Olympics, and the NBA, all before becoming the legendary coach of Georgetown University. Along the way, Thompson delivers penetrating, thought-provoking commentary on race, history, athletics, politics, and the economy. In the end, it’s clear that the only thing that outshines his love for basketball is the love he had for his players.”
Recommended by Wiley Cash (Spokane Is Reading, 2017) who says, “This is the best book I read in 2020. It’s funny, sad, hopeful, heartbreaking, and, if you’ve been a writer or lover (or waiter or sibling or teacher) very, very true. This is the story of a young woman setting out to write a novel despite the hardships of grief, school debt, and the economics of trying to get by in a blue collar job. I loved every moment of this book.”
Recommended by Amy Stewart (Spokane Is Reading, 2018) who says, “For pure escapism and stress relief, I recommend Anxious People, about a bank robber who didn’t really intend to harm anyone. It’s a warm and comforting book about people overcoming difficult circumstances through the help of strangers. It was a good friend when I was awake in the middle of the night wanting something to read until I could fall asleep again.”
Also recommended by Amy Stewart (Spokane Is Reading, 2018) who says, “Anne Tyler’s 1977 novel Earthly Possessions, is also about a bank robber who didn’t really intend to harm anyone. It’s tender and soft-hearted in unexpected ways. I read this back-to-back with Anxious People this year and found it very interesting to compare and contrast them.”
Recommended by Madeline Miller (Spokane Is Reading, 2019) who says, “There is nothing more joyful than a beautifully told, complex, and yes, transcendent story, and this one shines as one of my favorite books of the past few years. It is a novel about finding a way to move forward even in grief, about appreciating the world’s wonders, about resilience, family, and hope. I loved it, and I hope you will too!”