What Thoreau’s ‘Walden’ can tell us about social distancing and focusing on life’s essentials
What to read while staying home, from author Ann Patchett
Judy Woodruff: And at a time when most of us are spending more time at home, a lot more time, we thought we'd offer some suggestions for how to fill it.
Starting tonight, we have advice.
And it begins with Jeffrey Brown and some books you might enjoy.
It's part of our ongoing arts and culture series, Canvas.
Jeffrey Brown: One way of coping, taking comfort or making sense of the world during difficult moments is through reading.
To help us with recommendations, I'm joined by Ann Patchett, one of our nation's leading authors. Her most recent book is "The Dutch House." She's also the co-owner of Parnassus Books in Nashville.
Ann, nice to see you. Thanks so much for doing this for us.
What is reading doing for us now?
Ann Patchett: Well, there are all sorts of things pouring in. And my heart is really going out to writers who have books coming out right now who should be on book tour, and their book tours have been canceled.
So there are a lot of books that I just don't want people to miss.
And I would start off with Louise Erdrich's wonderful, wonderful book "The Night Watchman." This is my very favorite of her books. It's a novel based on her grandfather's story about helping Native American people hold onto their land.
Lily King's "Writers and Lovers" is -- it's wonderful and calming and romantic.
Jeffrey Brown: That's two fiction books, right?
Ann Patchett: So, in nonfiction, if you want something that's just going to make you laugh your head off, go for R. Eric Thomas' here for it. It's a book of essays. He writes for "Elle," writes a lot of political things, but these are just really laugh-out-loud funny.
If you want something more serious, but surprisingly not too heavy, "The Story of More" by Hope Jahren, which is a book about climate change that is calm and kind of lays it out in a way that makes us feel more manageable.
I think, if you feel overwhelmed by the idea of sitting down with a grownup novel, it's a great time to look at some fiction and nonfiction for younger readers.
Kate DiCamillo novels are the best. My very favorite is "The Magician's Elephant." She, of course, wrote "Because of Winn-Dixie."
But you can have a full experience with a novel and be finished with it in an hour-and-a-half or two hours.
Jeffrey Brown: And you're proposing a book like that for all of us, right?
Ann Patchett: If your kids are reading Kate DiCamillo, and you're reading it, too, you're going to love it as much as your kids are.
Another book in that category is called "Stamped." And "Stamped" is Jason Reynolds working with Ibram Kendi. And it's a retelling of Ibram Kendi's book, which was "Stamped From the Beginning," which came out in 2016, won the National Book Award.
This is a young adult version. And, of course, Jason Reynolds ask one of our greatest young adult writers. He wrote "Long Way Down," which is a book that I love. Anyway, he is terrific.
If you want...
Jeffrey Brown: How about the classics you and I talked about, if people really want to actually take the time and sink their teeth into something?
Ann Patchett: OK, so "War and Peace," right?
It sounds almost like a joke...
Jeffrey Brown: Right.
Ann Patchett: ... except the brilliant novelist Yiyun Li has started a "War and Peace" book club online.
So it's at A Public Space. You read 12 pages a day of "War and Peace" in a whole community of readers. And the next thing you know, you have read the book and the pandemic is over and you have read "War and Peace," which is terrific.
Another thing that would be really fun to do, if you have some time, read "David Copperfield." Maybe you read it in high school, maybe you never read it at all. It's my very favorite Dickens, but read it with "The Goldfinch" by Donna Tartt, and see all the parallels between Dickens and Donna Tartt. So that would be two great classic exercises.
Jeffrey Brown: What's flying off the shelves at Parnassus and maybe other bookstores? Cookbooks.
Ann Patchett: Cookbooks. I mean, it makes perfect sense. Right? We're all stuck at home. We want to cook.
So, Melissa Clark, "Dinner in French" is a cookbook that I love. Melissa Clark does a lot of recipes for The New York Times.
Also, there's a new book by Rose Levy Beranbaum called "Rose's Baking Basics." And I have been using her books forever. So if you want to pull out the flour and the sugar and the measuring cups and get down to some serious baking, highly recommend "Rose's Baking Basics." That's hard to say fast.
Jeffrey Brown: So, Ann, before we go, you're a small business owner yourself, right? The importance of this moment for supporting local businesses?
Ann Patchett: It's really true.
We at Parnassus, we're not open to the public, but we're still fulfilling online orders. We have curbside delivery. Lots and lots of small businesses are doing that. So, if you want a book, take a minute. Find out what your local independent store, where they are, who they are, if they're open and selling books, and take the trouble to order your books from your local independent bookstore.
We want to make sure that the small businesses in our community also survive this time.
Jeffrey Brown: All right, great advice, wonderful recommendations.
Ann Patchett, thank you very much.
Ann Patchett: Thanks, Jeff.
Judy Woodruff: That's wonderful. I have written everything down. I plan to get them all read in the next week.