Three book covers: Anxious People by Fredrik Backman, Stone Mattress by Margaret Atwood, and Interpreter of Maladies by Jhumpa Lahiri
Reflections from a Summer in Quarantine
Coleen Grissom's Lit Picks

One (at least, if I am that “one”) would like to think that after a summer lived in quarantine, surrounded indoors by two dogs and three cats, and outside by the various wildlife—deer, foxes, skunks, raccoons with their growing families, and, probably present but thankfully unseen, snakes—and with, more often than not, only the TV to talk back to (I close with a preposition just so those former C students of mine will feel somehow justified), one would have plenty to express in one’s reflections of such a weird summer.

I, however, find myself ashamed of most of my quarantine reading and embarrassed to recall for sharing with you only what, to me, seemed hilarious behaviors of the two dogs and three indoor cats who run my life. Have I traveled? Of course not; but, come to think of it, I rarely do except for occasional rejuvenating trips to loll on the Texas beach wondering why my once-flattering swimsuit fits strangely these days.

All this being noted, I still appreciate greatly the opportunity to recommend some items for your leisure reading and send these suggestions along. Most of the short stories you can find online, but you will need to visit a good library to find the novels.

My recommendations for you include:

  • Summer, by Ali Smith. Thank God there are only four seasons; with this, Smith can now move on.
  • Anxious People, by Fredrik Backman. Weird, but funny.
  • Shell Game, by Sara Paretsky. Sure, there’s an unidentified corpse, but we know our fabulous V.I. Warshawski and her dogs will solve the crime.
  • Just One Look, by Harlan Coben. I so hoped it would feature Ronstadt’s version, but involved, instead, a package of photos that contained one the camera owner didn’t take. Fascinating, huh? Basis for a full book? You guess.
  • The Snowdonia Killings, by Simon McCleane. There’s a lot of concern for a veteran police officer about to turn 50. Give me a break.
  • The Abbey, by Chris Culver. One review noted that this book makes “no great demands on the intellect.” That says all that needs to be said.
  • We Begin at the End, by Chris Whitaker. I even led a discussion of this one at the Cordillera Book Club. Some liked it; some didn’t.

The above, pitiful as they are, pretty much sum up the highlights, which are all pretty low, of my quarantine reading. Lucky for you and for me, I also led discussions of some unforgettable short stories, all of which are available online, most published in the greatest of magazines, The New Yorker.

Let me close with warmest good wishes to you and all you love. Because I remain ever hopeful of your lifelong love of learning and intellectual challenge, I’ll list just a few of the classic short stories available online and convince myself that many of you are rushing to read them:

  • “A Jury of Her Peers,” by Susan Glaspell
  • “Why I Live at the P.O.,” by Eudora Welty
  • “The Monkey’s Paw,” by W.W. Jacobs
  • “Where Are You Going, Where Have You Been?” by Joyce Carol Oates
  • “For Esmé—with Love and Squalor,” by J.D. Salinger
  • “Girls, at Play” and “B & B,” by Celeste Ng
  • “Stone Mattress,” by Margaret Atwood
  • “The Embassy of Cambodia,” by Zadie Smith
  • “Interpreter of Maladies,” by Jhumpa Lahiri
  • “You’re Ugly, Too,” by Lorrie Moore
  • “The Things They Carried,” by Tim O’Brien
  • “The Shawl,” by Cynthia Ozick
  • “Brownies,” by ZZ Packer
  • “The Whore’s Child,” by Richard Russo
  • “What We Talk About When We Talk About Love,” by Raymond Carver
  • “Here Come the Maples,” by John Updike

Coleen Grissom, Ph.D., is a professor emerita of English at Trinity University. 

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