The writing prompts for the past two days of NaPoWriMo sent me into some sort of nostalgia fever dream, and I lost a whole afternoon to thoughts of the mixtapes I used to record on actual cassette tapes, the slow, careful process of cuing up a song on your dual cassette deck, the search for those short, sweet songs to fill the last few inches of tape, the labor involved in handwritten track lists. The love, the unbearable tenderness we infused into our homemade compilations. The emotions we projected on to them. The hopes they carried.
Now is the time where I tell you I wrote a poem about coffee. Or a poem about mixtapes. Or both. But I just … couldn’t. I am full of ennui and what I would call existential despair if we didn’t all know it’s actually social distancing despair. I firmly believe we all should be staying home, potentially for much longer than we anticipate, but I am also concerned that I may never see my family (and my sister’s kids in particular) again. I am concerned about not being able to work. I am concerned about my favorite chefs and bartenders and servers and restaurant managers not being able to work. I am concerned about not being able to go to the library. Still, we’re inside. We need to stay inside. So I decided the poems I wrote today should also turn inward. I decided to use the horoscopes Chani Nicholas did for my sign (Taurus) in February, March, and April as source texts, and I turned these into three erasure poems.
Today I listened to the new Fiona Apple album, which my social networks have been literally raving about, while I wrote. I just don’t know how I feel about it yet. It could be that I just can’t move out of the 90s right now. I can’t forget seeing Fiona Apple at The Boathouse in Norfolk, Virginia during the Tidal tour.
A former Wheelock student reached out to me on Facebook and asked me to recommend some books to her. She told me she felt sad about the state of the world and wanted something lighthearted and funny. She didn’t want to have to think too much about what she read. She wanted something comforting. So, I compiled a list of eleven comfort reads that should appeal to emerging adult and adult readers. (Eleven feels like a comforting number.) I grouped them by categories: novels that take place in the afterlife, romantic comedies that involve some type of mystery, and first books from a cozy mystery series.
Life After Life
Reading books about dead people during a global pandemic might seem like a bad move, but the concept of an afterlife comforts me. I have always been drawn to stories that take place in the life after life — narratives that involve the dead needing jobs, forming relationships, and learning how to gently extricate themselves from their pasts. These stories give me hope and allow me to view my own life through a less critical lens.
I Woke Up Dead at the Mall by Judy Sheehan — After her unexpected murder, sixteen-year-old Sarah wakes up in the afterlife, which just happens to take place in the Mall of America. Sarah eventually begins to adjust to her life after life among other murdered teenagers, and even meets a cute boy, but she still desperately wants to solve her own murder and save her father from a similar fate. Will her newfound ability to haunt the living be enough to foil her murderer’s plans? Is it possible to have a meaningful romantic relationship after death? Read this funny, heartwarming book to find out.
Elsewhere by Gabrielle Zevin — After a tragic accident, fifteen-year-old Liz wakes up dead in Elsewhere, a place with all the comforts of Earth where you can reunite with the loved ones who died before you, including relatives you never met when you were alive. Life in Elsewhere resembles actual life so closely that Liz ends up finding a job (and a boy!) she loves even though she stills feel bitter about missing out on getting her driver’s license or going to prom. But once she realizes that everyone in Elsewhere ages backwards and then travels elsewhere, she begins to wonder if she will ever be ready to leave. A gentle, charming book about grief and loss.
The Ghost Bride by Yangsze Choo — Li Lan comes from a prominent, and bankrupt, family. She has a chance to help support her parents by becoming a ghost bride, but after a tense visit with her future in-laws, she finds herself being haunted by both her dead fiance and the handsome new heir to his family’s fortune. Li Lan soon realizes that she is in grave danger, and in order to free herself from these ghostly entanglements, she travels through the Chinese afterlife, working as a domestic servant, evading demons, and consorting with a handsome, if reckless, guardian spirit. An intriguing supernatural romance that recently became a Netflix series.
I feel like the name I gave this category says it all. I will only add that all these books end happily. (Also, all the protagonists are alive. Bonus!)
Good Riddance by Elinor Lipman — Daphne wants to make sense of her life, so she embarks on a decluttering project and decides to throw away the high school yearbook she inherited from her mother. But when an irritating and eccentric filmmaker plucks the yearbook from the trash and uncovers a mystery inside, Daphne suddenly realizes how little she knows about her parents. She enlists her handsome “friends with benefits” neighbor to help her uncover the truth before it ends up in an unauthorized documentary. An endearing and tender romantic dramedy.
Attachments by Rainbow Rowell — Beth and her bestie Jennifer know that someone’s monitoring their work email but refuse to let that knowledge inhibit their conversations. In the meantime, Lincoln (the someone monitoring workplace communications) has been reading their intimate exchanges and starts to fall for Beth. But how can he start a relationship with her without revealing all her knows about her personal life? Lincoln’s dilemma makes for a highly entertaining romantic read.
I Believe in a Thing Called Love by Maurene Goo — Desi Lee knows magic isn’t real but also remembers a time from her childhood when she performed magic. Ever since the death of her mother, Desi has believed she can achieve any goal through unwavering willpower and sheer physical effort. She’s become a top soccer player, a nearly perfect student, a student government leader, a community volunteer, a dutiful daughter, and a loyal friend all in service of her primary goal: acceptance at Stanford University and a brilliant career as a doctor. Desi’s only failures revolve around flirting with boys, but at the beginning of her senior year, she discovers the perfect system to help her land artsy, angsty transfer student Luca — The K-Drama Steps to True Love. Finally embracing her Appa’s passion for the romantically melodramatic genre, Desi begins her quest for a boyfriend. An exceptional contemporary romance that might inspire you to start watching K-dramas.
American Panda by Gloria Chao — This debut novel from MIT alum Gloria Chao (a dentist turned novelist) follows 17-year-old Taiwanese-American Mei, who has learned not to risk disappointing her traditional parents, through her first year at MIT. Mei fully intends to honor the dreams her parents have for her by becoming a successful doctor and marrying the right sort of Taiwanese boy, but once she moves onto campus, she finds it hard to ignore her true feelings about medicine, her future, her family relationships, her inscrutable roommate, and the completely inappropriate, completely adorable Japanese-American boy she meets. A lovely coming of age story set in historical Cambridge, Massachusetts.
Where You’d Go, Bernadette by Maria Semple — For years Bernadette has been living as a virtual shut-in, focused exclusively on renovating the house she lives in with her husband and daughter. But, after agreeing to a family vacation to Antartica, she finds herself unable to cope with the challenges in her life — a botched PTA fundraiser, an aggressive neighbor, a notorious professional rival, a history of depression. One day Bernadette disappears, and her family must wade through the emails, invoices, and school memos she left behind in order to find her. A book about anxiety and fear that will make you laugh out loud. No one seemed to pay much attention to the film adaptation (available on Hulu), but I really enjoyed it.
We call certain types of mysteries cozy for a reason. Their plots may involve murder, blackmail, or kidnapping, but their stories contain hot cups of tea, Instagram-worthy meals, and romantic flirtations. Written in soothing, straightforward language, cozy mysteries offer respite from the challenges of our daily lives.
Aunt Dimity’s Death by Nancy Atherton — This extremely cozy, slightly supernatural mystery series begins when Lori Shepherd inherits a cottage in a quaint English village from Aunt Dimity, a close friend of her mother’s. Lori lives in America, makes very little money at a job she hates, and needs to solve a mystery in order to secure her inheritance, which comes with an adorable stuffed rabbit, a magical journal, and a handsome young lawyer in addition to the cottage. Aunt Dimity mysteries are the very definition of heart warming, and every story comes with a recipe. You can view the complete list of Aunt Dimity books here.
The Secret Adversary by Agatha Christie — Over the course of her career, Agatha Christie wrote five books about Tommy and Tuppence, two emerging adults in search of work after the Great War. They initially form a professional partnership, launching a business called The Young Adventurers, and their work frequently puts them in danger as it often involves spycraft and murder. Later on in the series, Tommy and Tuppence marry and have children, but they never abandon their adventerous ways. The Secret Adversary is the first book in this comforting and romantic mystery series. You can view the complete list of Tommy and Tuppence mysteries here. There is also a cute Tommy and Tuppence miniseries from the 80s, and a more controversial adaptation from 2015.
Death by Dumplingby Vivien Chien — Lana Lee never imagined she would be working at her parent’s restaurant after college, but after impulsively quitting her job and recovering from an intense break-up, she finds herself waiting tables at the Ho-Lee Noodle House. Death by Dumpling is the first book in this series. A restaurant regular dies after eating take-out that Lana delivers, and she decides to conduct her own investigation in order to protect her family’s reputation. In this book, Lana reveals her talent for solving mysteries and starts a relationship with a handsome red-headed police detective. You can see the complete list of the Noodle Shop mysteries on Vivien Chien’s website.