Coleen on What To Read During Self-Isolation

Though it should, it does not dismay me that former students have been e-mailing me to say they are reading (or, for a very, very few) re-reading Defoe’s A JOURNAL OF THE PLAGUE YEAR or Camus’ THE PLAGUE. I have grown accustomed to students making unusual choices. Nevertheless, others have asked me for reading suggestions as they self-isolate and realize that one can only watch so much daytime TV. The bookworm that I have been for so many decades simply leaps at this opportunity. My biggest challenge is to avoid simply listing the texts I once assigned to those students but feared they never got around to reading.

Loving to organize stuff, let me put reading recommendations in categories.


Anything by David Sedaris, Carl Hiaasen, as well as, if you dare, Kevin Wilson’s really mind blowing, NOTHING TO SEE HERE


Try Michael Connelly, James Lee Burke, Laura Lippman, James Patterson, John Sanford*, Laura Lippman, Jeffrey Deaver, Attica Locke (with her, you also get some great east Texas scenery) (*Sanford’s “prey” series will give you plenty to worry about beyond pandemics.)


Toews’ A COMPLICATED KINDNESSWOMEN TALKING, and ALL MY PUNY SORROWS – She’s not the greatest* Canadian novelist, but she engages the reader by her insights, her wit, and her clear, crisp prose. 

Ng’s EVERYTHING I NEVER TOLD YOU – I am leaving off her earlier bestseller since a version will be in theaters soon, but this one is an interesting mystery as well as a recognizable tale of the challenges of family life. 

Erdrich’s THE NIGHT WATCHMAN shows again her depth of compassion for the Native American and her exacting prose style. 

Kushner’s THE MARS ROOM is set in a women’s prison, so, it may drive some of you to change your evil ways and become more law abiding. 

Orange’s THERE, THERE – Most of us know little of the Native American experience, and he helps us expand our knowledge in a capivating story. 

Strout’s OLIVE AGAIN – Anyone who loved Strout’s earlier masterpiece will rejoice, be sad, be happy to catch up with her fascinating protagonist, and, like me, will eagerly await seeing Frances McDormand portray her again in another version. 

Patchett’s THE DUTCH HOUSE – Another of her engrossing stories of family dealing with “life its own self” and facing more challenges than we east Texans can shake a stick at. (Always wondered what these clichés meant, didn’t you?.) 

Powers’ THE OVERSTORY – I feel quite sure this is the fiction I read this past year that most impressed and engaged me, but I don’t think I can explain my reasons. You must just trust me and give this masterpiece your undivided attention. Let me just say, “It’s about trees.” 

And, of course, really focus on the dystopian literature of the great Canadian, *Margaret Atwood – ORYX & CRAKE, THE YEAR OF THE FLOOD, and MADDADDAM. “Speculative” fiction as she calls it – but combining all her many literary skills and genius. 

When you aren’t reading, try not to touch your face, do wash your hands, and be as loving to one another as you possibly can.  

Coleen Grissom is Professor of English emeritus at Trinity University and the author of The World According to Coleen and A Novel Approach to Life