Is everyone reading? Supposedly, everyone has a lot of time to read now; though, in my case at least, my brain is a little fidgety and it's hard to focus. Books I open are acquiring some sinister subtext, just like everything else. So, hey. Let's escape.

Into joy and love and romance, into humor and diversion and hope. Remember the movie "Sullivan's Travels"? The brilliant Preston Sturges film taught Joel McCrea that laughter and humor and storytelling can save our emotional lives.

So what will help you escape? Will it be a new-to-you treasure? One of those maybe-laters stacked on your TBR that turns out to be fantastic?

Or maybe — an old favorite. Knowing how a book ends is somehow very comforting these days.

Go back and rediscover "The Age Of Innocence" or my Wharton favorite, "The Custom of the Country"). Or "Rebecca." I'm deep into Herman Wouk's "The Winds of War" again. You could admit you never read Wilkie Collins' "The Woman in White," and do that now. And wouldn't it be great to read all of Agatha Christie and Dorothy Sayers and Raymond Chandler again? Or, oh, all the Harry Potters.

So many possibilities! Or maybe try one of my favorites:

"Bridget Jones's Diary" by Helen Fielding (Penguin)

Remember how much fun this was when you first read it in 1996? It's still fun. Bridget is a singleton (remember?) on the hunt for respect and self-respect and true love. And weight loss. It's clever and touching and laugh-out-loud funny.

"A Talent for Murder" by Andrew Wilson" (Washington Square Press)

Where did Agatha Christie really go in those weeks she was mysteriously missing? And what was she doing? The incredibly clever Wilson mixes fact and fiction and imagination and speculation — using puzzle pieces from real life to weave a tantalizing theory of how Dame Agatha might have spent those fascinatingly puzzling days.

"Winter's Tale" by Mark Helprin (Mariner Books)

A mesmerizing combination of love and time travel and timeshifting, of ice and cold and a mythical New York at the turn of two centuries. One of my favorite books of all time. What's it about, you ask? Well, the plot is ... well, I have no idea. Decide for yourself. But Helprin's Hardesty Marotta and the Wooola-Woola boys and a flying horse and the sleighs speeding across the ice-covered Lake of the Coheeires and Peter Lake and the opulent Oyster Bar in the 1890s ... ah.

"Pride and Prejudice and Other Flavors" by Sonali Dev (William Morrow)

"It is a truth universally acknowledged that only in an overachieving Indian American family can a genius daughter be considered a black sheep." You don't have to have read the original P and P to be drawn into this sweetly spellbinding look into a clash of cultures and motives and tradition, and the longing for a place to call home. Timely and contemporary. With lots of yummy food.

"Bonfire of the Vanities" by Tom Wolfe (Picador)

Still gaspingly original, and more so when it was published in 1987. Big money and extravagance and glittering New York, and dark feral New York, and there's a scene under an overpass that haunts me to this day. You know what the title is — a reference to Savonarola's order in 1497 Florence to burn what the authorities considered sinful: cosmetics, books, mirrors and art. There are vanities of all kinds in this huge and sprawling novel, with Wolfe's incredible and groundbreaking voice.

"The Stand" by Stephen King (Anchor)

A risky call, I know, but ... it's such a terrific, immersive story. I met Stephen King at an event a year or two ago and confessed to him that in 1978, I had called in sick to work (now it can be told) because I was so riveted by "The Stand" that I could not stop reading it. (Sorry, WSB-TV. It was my only sick day in three years.) I used to think of it every time someone coughed on the subway. Now I think of it all the time. But no one tells a tale like King, and this thoughtful and super-engaging story of the country dividing into warring moral factions after a population-obliterating plague was full of insight and moral lessons back then — and wow, even more so now. Unmissable, prescient, essential, amazing. And King agreed that it was fine for me to call in sick.

"The Martian" by Andy Weir (Broadway Books)

One of the best first lines of all time. But hey, being stuck alone on Mars and trying to figure out how to get home is not only riveting, but gives us a tiny bit of perspective. Plus, it's fun to feel smart, and Andy Weir's cool science (and his character's use of it) is reassuring and rewarding.

"The Overdue Life" of Amy Byler by Kelly Harms (Lake Union) | "The Storied Life of A.J. Fikry" by Gabrielle Zevin (Algonquin Books) | "The Coincidence of Coconut Cake" by Amy Reichert (Gallery Books)

All three of these are touching and lovely, about unlikely, relatable, thoughtful, loving characters and their unfolding lives. Each allows us to be someone else for a while, to make someone else's decisions, and laugh and maybe cry a little, and remember how valuable each life can be.

"Where'd You Go, Bernadette?" by Maria Semple (Back Bay Books)

Intricate and innovative and absolutely hilarious — and again, touching. A tale of mothers and daughters and the search for what we desire. With Semple's brilliant touch, the enigmatic Bernadette disappears from her upscale Seattle life — but where'd she go? And why? It's quirky — everyone will tell you that. And innovative, with an array of texts, emails, messages, news releases, and every other method of communication. This patchwork of pieces is stitched together into a groundbreaking novel that not only is unpredictable, but defies our expectations.

In other genres? "Dune" by Frank Herbert. Robert Heinlein's "Stranger in a Strange Land." Remember when those were new to you, and life-changing? Talk about taking you away. Robert Pirsig's "Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance" changed my life in college, and maybe it'll do so again.

Stay safe, everyone. And it's always safe inside a book.


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