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The 19 best books ‘Fast Company’ staffers read during quarantine—and the indie bookstores where you can buy them

Independent bookstores are hurting as shoppers stay online. Pick up one of our staff picks to support bookstores throughout the U.S.

The 19 best books ‘Fast Company’ staffers read during quarantine—and the indie bookstores where you can buy them
[Photo: artenex/iStock]
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Whether you’re diving into an engrossing period drama, reading up on the history of protests or pandemics, or escaping into a fantastical world, chances are you’ve indulged in some reading during the pandemic. Market researcher Rakuten estimates that between March and April of this year, book sales rocketed 777%. That’s great news for authors and publishers, but not so much for bookstores; most consumers are still buying their books from big online retailers such as Amazon. In fact, according to the American Booksellers Association, at least one independent bookstore has closed each week since the pandemic began.

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As the weather gets colder, COVID-19 cases rise, and people opt for spending more time at home, we at Fast Company encourage you to shop local, independent bookstores for all your reading needs. If you don’t have a bookshop in your own neighborhood, we have great news: Online store Bookshop.org supports local bookstores around the country with every purchase. Through their site, you can choose a specific shop that suits your fancy, or make a general purchase, the profits of which will be divided and sent to indie bookstores all over the country. Pretty cool, huh? If you’re looking for suggestions, we’ve gathered some of our favorite quarantine reads below. Happy reading.

[Photo: courtesy The Dial Press]
Dear Edward, by Ann Napolitano
I read this book on maternity leave just before the COVID lockdowns started. It seems like a lifetime ago. The book tells the story of a 12-year-old boy who is the sole survivor of a plane crash. His coming-of-age story is intertwined with the stories of the other passengers on the plane and his struggle with instant fame and debilitating grief. The book examines friendship, family, and how we as a nation deal with unimaginable tragedy.

Buy it from: Nicola’s Books in Ann Arbor, Michigan
My family relocated to Ann Arbor, Michigan, at the end of the summer. I’ve been pleasantly surprised to find that the city has several independent bookstores. Nicola’s has a huge book selection, unique gifts, and a very helpful staff. Additional mentions: I haven’t been yet, but I can’t wait to visit Literati Bookstore, also in Ann Arbor; it won the Publishers Weekly 2019 Bookstore of the Year. When I lived in New York I adored Bluestockings. It’s volunteer-run and collectively owned and specializes in books on feminism, climate, race, and social justice. It also carried my short-lived zine.
—Kate Davis, deputy editor

[Photo: courtesy Gray Wolf Press]
On Immunity: An Inoculation, by Eula Biss
A book for our times, On Immunity delves into the history of immunity in a beautiful, narrative way. Biss is a poet, and her prose makes it easy to latch onto the stories of how we’ve come to understand immunity and tried to wield it in our favor. She also delves into the anti-vaccination movement with intense care, while highlighting its classist and racist foundations.

Buy it from: Three Lives & Company in New York, New York
One of my favorite bookstores in New York is Three Lives & Company. It’s tiny but extremely well-curated. I never leave without buying something.
—Ruth Reader, staff writer

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[Photo: courtesy Random House]
Rodham, by Curtis Sittenfeld
I’m always excited to support a former Fast Company staffer. Rodham, which imagines the former secretary of state’s life if she’d never married Bill, is not Sittenfeld’s finest, but she reminds the reader of how hard life was for professional women in the 80s and 90s—and in some ways, how little progress we’ve made.

Buy it from: Bronx River Books in Scarsdale, New Yorkf
I love living in a town that has an independent bookstore.
—Stephanie Mehta, editor-in-chief

[Photo: courtesy Gray Wolf Press]
In the Dream House: A Memoir, by Carmen Maria Machado
I loved Her Body and Other Parties, so I was excited to read Carmen Maria Machado’s beautiful/terrifying/funny/tragic memoir. I can’t remember the last time I devoured a book so quickly. Machado manages to reinvent the memoir structure in a way that never feels pretentious or forced.

Buy it from: Books Are Magic in Brooklyn, New York
It’s a perfect Brooklyn bookstore. I miss attending live events there.
—Julia Herbst, staff editor

[Photo: courtesy Random House]
When Breath Becomes Air, by Paul Kalanith
It’s been sitting on my shelf since it came out, and I’m just now getting around to reading it. The concept of discovering the meaning of life in the face of certain death feels oddly comforting and definitely relevant.

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Buy it from: Book Culture in New York, New York
Book Culture on W. 112th Street is my go-to bookstore, and one of the last uptown. I love Three Lives & Company, too. The staff is always delightful, and they’re happy to order whatever they don’t have and let you know when it’s ready to be picked up.
—Christopher Zara, senior staff editor

[Photo: courtesy Bookshop]
The Vanishing Half, by Britt Bennett
The story explores race, identity, circumstance, and the nature of our closest relationships through this tale of two sisters, spanning decades. Bennett’s prose is tactile and immediate, and whether in 1960s Louisiana or 1980s NYC, I was completely along for the ride.

Buy it from: Book Beat in Oak Park, Michigan
At Book Beat, you’ll be literally in the stacks—there are so many books on hand, they’ve started piling them on top of the shelves. So whether you’re looking for an art book, novel, or nonfiction, there’s a lot to find among the shelves.
—Lilly Smith, associate editor

[Photo: courtesy One World]
The Undocumented Americans, by Karla Cornejo Villavicencio
This is such a beautiful, humane look at the lives of undocumented immigrants across the U.S., from day laborers in Staten Island to communities affected by the Flint water crisis and the workers who cleaned up Ground Zero. The book is part memoir and part reportage, and one of the things I found most striking was how much Karla delves into her own struggles with mental health and those of the immigrants she profiles.

Buy it from: Kepler’s Books in Menlo Park, California
My mom and I always frequent this bookshop on my trips home.
—Pavithra Mohan, staff writer

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[Photo: courtesy Puffin]
The War That Saved My Life, by Kimberly Brubaker Bradley
My daughter read this and insisted that my husband and I do the same. We each tore through it in a couple of days. Vivid and indelible story about a girl in England during World War II.

Buy it from: Books Are Magic in Brooklyn, New York
I love their taste, and the layout is great for browsing, the lighting is perfect, and the readings are cool. I miss visiting in person.
—Jill Bernstein, editorial director

[Photo: courtesy Houghton Mifflin Harcourt]
How to Write an Autobiographical Novel: Essays, by Alexander Chee
I finally got around to reading this memoir, and it’s intimate, sincere, and beautifully written. Told through essays that range from Chee’s work with AIDS activists in San Francisco, to his time as a cater waiter in New York, to when he grew a rose garden in his Brooklyn backyard, the book gives you a look at all the complexities that make up a life, and all the experiences that create a writer. Reading it felt like when a friend opens up to you, at times heavy but also engaging, amusing, and always thoughtful. And even though you learn a lot about Chee, there’s also a lot you can take away for yourself.

Buy it from: Cafe con Libros in Brooklyn, New York
Cafe con Libros is small, but it’s big in spirit and in community. It’s a feminist bookstore and coffee shop that hosts multiple book clubs. I love their mission and their name.
—Kristin Toussaint, assistant editor

[Photo: courtesy Abrams Books]
Two-Dimensional Man, by Paul Sahre
Being surrounded by great design and architecture in the city was always a great source of inspiration. Now that I’m confined to my house, I’ve had to find other ways to charge up. In this book, Sahre is incredibly honest in a series of short stories about the ups and downs of being a designer. I especially love his art-school anecdotes; they’re laden with humor that speaks directly to the design community, and they remind me why I got into this industry in the first place. The book gives me new life with each read.

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Buy it from: Word in Jersey City, New Jersey
—Mike Schnaidt, creative director

[Photo: courtesy Bookshop]
The Space Between Worlds, by Micaiah Johnson
I’ve been on a fantasy and sci-fi kick during the pandemic, and this debut novel is by far the most imaginative and enjoyable that I’ve picked up. Set in a futuristic time when scientists have discovered that there are millions of worlds, the book’s main character is a woman who is dead on most worlds adjacent to her own, allowing her to travel between them. It’s a mix between dystopian adventure, identity-swapping love story, and meditation on how the skin you’re born into can determine so much of your life.

Buy it from: Unnameable Books in Brooklyn, New York
I recently moved to Brooklyn, and this adorable little bookstore is just down the street. It has the perfect musty smell, and there’s frequently a line out the door to get in.
—Katharine Schwab, staff editor

[Photo: courtesy Penguin Random House]
Burnt Sugar, by Avni Doshi
I picked up this debut novel from Indian-American author Avni Doshi after it was shortlisted for the Booker Prize. The story, set in Pune, follows a woman’s fragile relationship with a mother (who has dementia) who abandoned and mistreated her as a child. During the pandemic, it’s been nice to read books set abroad—this one made me feel like I had traveled to India.

Buy it from: Greenlight Bookstore in Brooklyn, New York
The best part of this bookstore is that it’s open late. Pre-pandemic, I liked to run out, get a chocolate bar from the bodega, and pick up a book from there on the way home.
—Yaz Gagne, assistant editor

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[Photo: courtesy The New Press]
The New Jim Crow, by Michelle Alexander
I’d had this on my list for years and finally dug in this summer. It feels like such a foundational read for understanding how our legal and criminal justice systems truly were built on white supremacy and led to the inequality and horror that exists today. I wanted to sear Alexander’s stats and examples into my brain so I could have instant recall any time someone tries to make an argument that white privilege is a myth or racism is a thing of the past.

Buy it from: Semicolon Bookstore in Chicago, Illinois
It has an amazing initiative called Clear the Shelves, which lets Chicago public-school students come pick out books for free. I’ve only bought from them online, but I’m excited to check it out in person next time I’m there.
—Aimee Rawlins, senior staff writer

[Photo: courtesy Simon & Schuster]
Reaganland, by Rick Perlstein
The fourth book in Perlstein’s epic chronicle of the rise of the right in the United States, Reaganland covers 1976-1980. The book dramatically renders how the forces of reaction outflank what had appeared to be progressive consensus around everything from women’s equality to abortion to gay rights. There’s also a running chunk on the rise of the “Boardroom Jacobins,” a corporate reaction to what had again been a collective belief in businesses embracing corporate social responsibility. There’s also a running lesson on how media elites get it wrong again and again in the moment. It can be a bit depressing given how things have played out the last 40 years, but in the way Perlstein explains the stitching together of a coalition of various right-wing discontents, one could see a similar embrace of the tactics to form a counterreaction.

Buy it from: Community Bookstore in Brooklyn, New York
—David Lidsky, deputy editor

[Photo: courtesy Nightboat Books]
Surge, by Etel Adnan
In her mid-nineties, Lebanese poet Etel Adnan is all too aware of the stage of life that she’s in. Surge is a collection of meditations and short poems in constant movement through time and memory, friends dead and dying, and landscapes once visited.

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Buy it from: Books Are Magic in Brooklyn, New York
I’m not sure I can say anything new about Books Are Magic that my colleagues haven’t said already. I’ve always loved browsing through their perfectly curated selection and speaking with their knowledgeable staff about my next move. They’re always happy to put in an order for something they don’t have in the store.
—Samir Abady, photo editor

[Photo: courtesy Bookshop]
Still Here, by Amy Stuart
The third book in a mystery trilogy by one of my closest friends was a Canadian best-seller and got picked up by Cobie Smulders’s Lark Productions in August.

Buy it from: Bookmark in Charlottetown, Prince Edward Island
It embodies the best of any small-town indie book shop, acting as a community hub, but also just a great place to get lost in a book for a bit.
—Jeff Beer, staff editor

The Levee, by Sohrab Hura
Photographed along the lower Mississippi by Hura, who works and lives primarily in India, the book is an honest collection of portraits and landscapes of the photographer’s reaction to his surroundings (photographed in 2016). Built around themes of longing and connection and not a strictly narrative body of work, the book allows for a reinterpretation/examination of American life at the time.

Buy it from: Dashwood Books in New York, New York
It’s not every day that one finds a bookstore dedicated to both old and contemporary photobooks by photographers around the world, but Dashwood is it. With selections priced low and high, Dashwood’s curation is vast but spot-on. It’s easy to get lost browsing through hard-to-find gems.
—Samir Abady, photo editor

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[Photo: courtesy Plume]
Wine. All the Time, by Marissa A. Ross
I’ve wanted to learn more about wine for a really long time. I figured quarantine was as good a time as any to take the time to properly taste the wine I was consuming! Marissa is great because she’s full of very un-snooty lessons for the non-connoisseur. This book is perfect for people who are looking for enough knowledge not to be intimidated at their local wine shop.

Buy it from: Greenlight Bookstore in Brooklyn, New York
Greenlight is my local neighborhood bookstore in Fort Green, Brooklyn. It was always nice to pop in when out for walks or coming back from a restaurant.
—April Mokwa, managing editor

[Photo: courtesy Bookshop]
The Voyage of the Narwhal, by Andrea Barrett
At first I thought this would just be another adventure tale, but then I realized the real theme was more about the drive to colonize territories and Indigenous people. As I was reading it, George Floyd’s murder and the Black Lives Matter protests happened, and it seemed to eerily parallel what was going on in the country—the subjugation of a group of people based on racist beliefs.

Buy it from: Word Up Community Bookshop in New York, New York
—Avery Miles, podcast producer

And if this list isn’t enough, here are 61 more suggestions.