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Learn something new or maybe just lose yourself in another world for a few refreshing hours

Nicole Clausing, Matt Bean, Hugh Garvey, and Jasmin Perez  – March 19, 2020 | Updated March 24, 2020

The real world is a little strange right now. Most of us—including Sunset editors—are cooped up at home, and spending more time than we should reading anxiety-provoking stories on our screens. Take a little mental break by escaping into the world of a good book. Here are our top recommendations for this uncertain time.

Travel

Remember when we could travel? We’ll all start exploring again soon, but until then, we’re in strict armchair mode. Here are a couple of worlds to visit virtually. 

Blue Highways, by William Least Heat-Moon

This 1982 travelogue is a classic in the road-trip genre. Like a great destination, it warrants revisiting. Even as some aspects of the book slip into quaint antiquity (the name itself, for instance comes from the old atlas tradition of depicting small rural highways in blue ink), others remain timely. We always have traveled to re-center ourselves after upheaval (job loss and relationship woes, in Least Heat-Moon’s case), and we will again someday. Plus, Least Heat-Moon, who traveled in a 1975 Ford Econoline, was #Vanlife decades before that was a thing. —NC

Blue Highways, $12 from Amazon
   

The Man Behind the Maps, by James Niehues

There’s a reason ski trail maps have a consistency of style—it’s because most of them have been hand-painted by the same man, noted ski artist James Niehues. Here about 200 of his distinctive maps have been collected in this handsome coffee table book and treated like the works of art they are. Until we can all get back on the actual slopes, this tome can take us their in our imaginations. —MB

The Man Behind the Maps, $105 from Amazon
   

Memoir

We love forgetting about our own lives by living someone else’s for a bit. Here are two good ones for our times.

Can’t Hurt Me, by David Goggins

This former Navy Seal’s story makes for a heartrending and ultimately uplifting memoir that can serve as a manual for surviving and thriving in trying times. It follows Goggins’ path from a childhood of unbearable abuse and discrimination to his eventual success as a highly decorated service member and record-breaking endurance athlete. Each chapter ends with practical prompts readers can incorporate into their daily routines and employ as tools for mental and physical betterment. —HG

Can’t Hurt Me, $9 from Amazon
   

Little Panic, by Amanda Stern

This is written by a woman who is one of the funniest people I’ve ever met and who has really been through a lot. She suffered from a panic disorder starting in early childhood and her parents didn’t handle it well. She finally was diagnosed in her twenties and has learned to live (and thrive) since. The memoir kind of gave me anxiety reading it but it’s also really funny and hopeful. —JP

Little Panic, $12 from Amazon
   

History

Covid-19 feels like an unprecedented event, and in its specifics, it is. But the world has seen (and recovered from) pandemics before. Here are a few well-written histories that deal with them.

The Great Influenza: The Story of the Deadliest Pandemic in History, by John M. Barry

Okay, this isn’t an escape; this is a deep dive right into the scary topic of the Spanish Flu pandemic of 1918. It’s a story of lessons learned, some of which are serving us 100 years later, and also of missed opportunities for containment; there are lessons there, too. Spoiler: Even with the relatively benighted state of medical science during WWI, the Spanish Flu pandemic eventually passed. This will, too. —NC

The Great Influenza, $19 from Amazon
   

Viruses, A Very Short Introduction, by Dorothy H. Crawford

Want to know what we’re up against? This book on viral medicine written for the non-medical professional details the history of several epidemics that we’ve been luck enough to have mostly escaped in the United States, including Ebola and Zika. This sounds dry, but it’s not, as its written by an author who specializes in popular science. It also sounds depressing, but it’s not that, either, as it offers hope for the future based on lessons learned over the last 100 years. —NC

Viruses, A Very Short Introduction, $11 from Amazon
   

Novel

Nothing can take you out of your own world more effectively than the alternate universe of a well-crafted novel. Here is a fine pair, one so old it’s hyper-relevant again, and another not quite even published that we’re looking forward to.

The Decameron, by Giovanni Boccaccio

This book, about a group of people holed up outside an urban center to avoid contracting a disease, feels like its subject matter was ripped from the headlines. And it was when it was written–in 1353, when the disease in question was the Black Death. The refugees pass the time by telling stories, 100 in total, and these fun, escapist tales form the bulk of the novel. Maybe you had to read some or all of it in school and it felt like a chore; give it another look now. The stories are funny and clever, and a few are a little naughty, as well. A 2013 English-language edition feels fresh and easier to read than earlier editions you may have done battle with. —NC

The Decameron, $16 from Amazon
   

The Roxy Letters, by Mary Pauline Lowry 

Texas Millennial Roxy is, like a lot of twenty-somethings, a little bit of a mess. But when one Lululemon too many pops up in her hometown, Roxy realizes it may be up to her to keep Austin weird, and suddenly her life has focus. We follow the action through the sometimes poignant, often hysterical letters Roxy writes to her ex-boyfriend (who still lives with her). It’s a fun read that makes you laugh and brings back to life the flailing years of early adulthood that so many of us went through. This won’t be released until April 7, but you can pre-order it now. —NC

Dear Girls, $19 from Amazon
   

Strange Planet, by Nathan W. Pyle

These days, it does seem like a strange planet indeed. How would it look to an alien trying to make sense of our weird rituals and customs? That’s more or less the premise of this book, full of the instantly recognizable artwork of Nathan W. Pyle. (You may not know the name, but you’ve seen his cartoons all over your Facebook and Instagram feeds.) This first volume in what promises to be a Strange Planet series came out last November and contains new and previously seen cartoons. There’s a sequel coming out this summer, and we recommend it, but we sincerely hope we’re all outside getting reacquainted with our own strange planet by then. —NC

Strange Planet, $9 from Amazon
   
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