Even the most avid readers sometimes find themselves in a slump where no book feels quite right. Especially in times of uncertainty, it can be challenging to find a book capable of getting you to put down your phone and stop doomscrolling.
If you’re in a slump right now, grab one (or more) of these books and see if it can help you get back on track.
Winter Counts, David Heska Wanbli Weiden
There’s nothing like a fast-paced, twisty thriller to keep you turning pages, even when you should be doing chores, working, or sleeping. David Heska Wanbli Weiden’s Winter Counts, a literary thriller set on a Native American reservation, is the perfect choice for readers looking to escape a slump. It focuses on Virgil Wounded Horse, an enforcer on the Rosebud Indian Reservation in South Dakota. When legal authorities fail to act, Virgil takes justice into his own hands. After his nephew overdoses on heroin, Virgil sets out to discover how drugs are getting on the reservation and how to stop their trade. Winter Counts combines an unusual setting, unforgettable characters, and a propulsive plot with a deft exploration of criminal justice issues on reservations.
A Princess in Theory, Alyssa Cole
Falling in love with a series is a great way to break out of a reading slump because it takes the choice out of deciding what to read next. The Reluctant Royals series by Alyssa Cole is a fabulous option, filled with charming characters, royal antics, and swoon-worthy diverse love stories. In the first book in the series, A Princess in Theory, scientist and former foster child Naledi keeps receiving spam emails claiming she’s betrothed to an African prince. She ignores them until the prince shows up at her office in New York, sparking a whirlwind romance. It’s a joyful, smile-inducing book, as are the two novels and two novellas that follow it. As a bonus, Cole’s Runaway Royals series takes place in the same universe, giving readers even more books to binge.
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Five Tuesdays in Winter, Lily King
Short-story collections are a sure-fire way to start reading again. They give readers the chance to finish a story and gain a sense of accomplishment in just a few pages. Lily King‘s November 2021 short-story collection Five Tuesdays in Winter has something for everyone—a love story, a sci-fi story, a coming-of-age story—all written with King’s signature empathy and wit. The final tale in the collection, a magical realist work satirizing sexism in the publishing industry, is a standout, but each of the stories are excellent.
The Cadaver King and The Country Dentist, Radley Balko and Tucker Carrington
The Cadaver King and The Country Dentist is equal parts enraging and engrossing, a mixture that is sure to keep you turning pages. The writers—veteran criminal justice journalist Radley Balko and founding director of the Mississippi Innocence Project Tucker Carrington—carefully document the way Mississippi’s death investigation system, a relic of the Jim Crow era, keeps innocent people in jail. They focus on Dr. Steven Hayne, a medical examiner who conducted hundreds of autopsies each year, and Dr. Michael West, a self-proclaimed “forensic dentist.” Both men provided misleading, if not outright fraudulent, testimony at countless trials, causing innocent Mississippians, often from poor and underserved communities, to be imprisoned while letting murderers and rapists go free. True crime fans, in particular, won’t want to miss this one.
Sounds Like Titanic, Jessica Chiccehitto Hindman
Sounds Like Titanic is one of those books that’s impossible to put down because you’ll keep thinking, “How is this real?” In it, Jessica Chiccehitto Hindman recounts her time “playing” the violin in a fake orchestra. During each performance, Hindman and her colleagues would pretend to play their instruments, while a recording of music that, yes, sounded suspiciously like the soundtrack to Titanic, blared through the speakers. It’s an absurd, fascinating coming-of-age memoir that explores the nature of truth (or truthiness) in post-9/11 America. It’s one of my favorite books of the last five years.
Several People Are Typing, Calvin Kasulke
Calvin Kasulke wrote Several People Are Typing, a droll satire of virtual work, entirely in Slack messages between coworkers at a New York public relations firm. The form, combined with the book’s humor, makes it a fast read, ideal for jump-starting a reading streak. The premise of Several People Are Typing is admittedly bizarre: Gerald, a mid-level employee, accidentally uploads his consciousness to the instant messaging platform. Gerald asks his coworker Pradeep to help him escape—and to check in on his soulless body still sitting in his empty apartment. It’s a tricky plot to pull off, but Kasulke nails it. Several People Are Typing is funny, timely consideration of how we connect in a digital world.
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These Precious Days, Ann Patchett
Essay collections offer the same benefits as a short-story collection: the opportunity to start and finish a full narrative in a single sitting. These Precious Days, which Ann Patchett wrote during the coronavirus pandemic, features engaging, thoughtful essays on topics ranging from Snoopy as a literary influence to the role her three fathers played in her life. The title essay focuses on Patchett’s friendship with Sooki Raphael, Tom Hanks’ personal assistant, who spent the early months of quarantine in Patchett’s Nashville home while receiving experimental cancer treatment. It’s a beautiful, moving piece about life, death, and friendship.
Like a Sister, Kellye Garrett
The first line of Kellye Garrett’s Like a Sister sets the tone for the rest of the novel: “I found out my sister was back in New York from Instagram. I found out she’d died from the New York Daily News.” The book’s narrator, Lena Scott, is estranged from her half-sister, reality star Desiree, and the hip-hop mogul father they share, and she’s convinced the official story of her sister’s death—an overdose—is wrong. So, Lena scours her sister’s Instagram feed looking for clues, finding a wide chasm between Desiree’s public image and real life. While the plot has its fair share of twists and turns, Lena’s voice makes the novel shine. She alternates between interrogating suspects in her “Super Black Woman Cape,” and making funny observations about music, reality TV, and more. Lena’s wit plus a packed plot will grab and hold your attention.
Sheets, Brenna Thummler
Sheets is a moving middle-grade graphic novel that can be read in a single evening, making it a great choice for ending a slump. Brenna Thummler writes about Marjorie Glatt, a 13-year-old grieving her mom’s death. In between attending school and caring for her younger brother and dad, Marjorie works to keep the family’s laundromat open, a task that becomes even more complicated when a young ghost begins haunting the business. Sheets is one of those magical books that kids and adults can enjoy. The art is lovely; the story poignant.
Read More: The 10 Best Fiction Books of 2021
Self Care, Leigh Stein
Self Care is a juicy and delicious satire of a goop-esque wellness startup that tricks readers into thinking about how we behave online. Leigh Stein, who drew on her background running a 40,000-member Facebook group for women writers, focuses on the three women behind Richual, “the most inclusive online community platform for women to cultivate the practice of self-care and change the world by changing ourselves.” The once-promising company’s future is endangered after the COO tweets a threat against Ivanka Trump, and one of its top funders is accused of sexual harassment. Self Care is both a lot of fun to read and an incisive commentary on #girlboss feminism and influencer culture.
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