Whether you’re quarantined, self-isolating, or practicing responsible social distancing by staying at home, you’re probably looking for a good read. With many libraries closing (and even if your library is open, you’re not going there, right?), we’re all going to be reading a lot of ebooks in the coming weeks. But in the midst of the COVID-19 crisis, with more people checking out ebooks (the New York Public library has already seen an uptick in digital checkouts and introduced borrowing limits), it’s going to get harder to read the book you want exactly when you want it.
Luckily, there are lots of wonderful books out there that are unlikely to have long waitlists—older books, under-the-radar books, and books of which libraries have lots of copies. I dug around on Libby and came up with 20 fabulous feel-good books that are likely to be digitally available now, or very soon. (Though obviously I can’t guarantee that all of these titles will not have a waitlist at your library.)
Here’s the criteria I used to make the list: As of this writing, every book listed is available through my library (I have access to 8 Massachusetts library networks) and available through at least three of five of the biggest library networks in the country. I checked New York, Los Angeles, Chicago, Houston, and Miami-Dade. In many of the cases where the book isn’t available through one of these systems, the wait time is only two weeks. So there’s a high likelihood that at least some of these books will be instantly available—or available soon—at your library.
The Traveling Cat Chronicles by Hiro Arikawa
Even if you’re not a cat person, you’ll be hard pressed not to be charmed and delighted by this book. Seeking a home for his cat, Satoru sets off a journey to visit the people who have touched him throughout his life. Told partly from the POV of Nana the cat, this heartwarming, tender, and often silly story is a reminder of the importance of human connection (even across distance). Plus, Nana the cat is a hilarious and observant narrator.
The Sleepwalker’s Guide to Dancing by Mira Jacob
Spanning decades and continents, this engaging novel delves into the histories and secrets of one Indian American family. When Amina’s father begins hallucinating and talking to dead relatives, she leaves her photography career in Seattle and heads home to New Mexico. What follows is a family saga the slowly unfurls over the course of the book. Full of deeply relatable characters, it’s a story that’s both heartbreaking and hopeful.
No One Can Pronounce My Name by Rakesh Satyal
This is one of the most warm and generous novels I’ve read in recent years. It centers around two people in a small community of Indian Americans outside Cleveland. Harit is a lonely middle-aged man living with is mother. Ranjana is a woman whose only son has just left for college; she decides to start writing paranormal romance novels to occupy herself. Their lives interweave in surprising ways; the way friendship is portrayed here is a delight.
Yo! by Julia Alvarez
This novel follows Yolanda, a Dominican American woman, as she stumbles through all the messes life throws at her. Each chapter is told from the POV of a different person in Yolanda’s life; the result is a fast-moving and engrossing kaleidoscope of one woman’s journey to figure out how to live as a writer, a woman, and an immigrant.
Adult Science Fiction & Fantasy
Space Opera by Catherynne M. Valente
You’ve got to be prepared for the truly bizarre and a whole lot of camp—but if you are, this book is utter perfection. An intergalactic singing competition/reality show to determine whether or not a species should count as sentient. A washed up glam rocker. A dizzying catalogue of truly creative aliens. A love letter to music and science fiction. This is optimistic, escapist space camp at the top of its game.
Sorcerer to the Crown by Zen Cho
Set in an alternate Regency England full of magic and magicians, Zaharias, a freed slave and Sorcerer Royal of the Unnatural Philosophers, travels into Fairyland to solve the mystery of why England’s magic seems to be dying. This is a great adventure story with a diverse cast. It’s fun and surprising and messes with conventions.
Jonathan Strange and Mr. Norrell by Susanna Clarke
Maybe now is finally the time to dive into this 1006 page fantasy epic about two rival magicians in magical 1800s England. This book has a mesmerizing quality. It’s a world that’s easy to sink into; you’ll be surprised at how quickly the novel moves along despite its length.
Dawn by Octavia Butler
Octavia Butler is not known for cheerful books. But even though this novel takes place hundreds of years after a catastrophic atomic war, with humanity on the brink of extinction, it’s really a book about people working together and building families. Plus the aliens are just so cool. It’s impossible not to love them.
Once & Future by Amy Rose Capetta & Cori McCarthy
Do you need a queer retelling of King Arthur in space? Of course you do. This book has everything: a super diverse cast of queer characters, a little romance, a lot of friendship and family making, a group of teenagers fighting against an evil corporation, great world-building, jokes. And the sequel is coming out in April!
The Girl From Everywhere by Heidi Heilig
Nix grew up on her father’s time-traveling ship: as long as he’s got a map, he can visit any time or place, real or imagined. But time travel gets messy, especially when you start messing with your own timeline. This book combines historical fantasy and piratical adventures into something even better. Nix is a fantastic, complex heroine, and all the supporting characters—the crew of the ship—are just phenomenal.
The Summer of Jordi Perez by Amy Spalding
Abby is a fat fashion-obsessed 17-year-old who lands a summer internship at one of her favorite local boutiques. That’s where she meets Jordi, her fellow intern; soon, they’re falling for each other. This book is queer summer romance at its best. It’s lighthearted and fun, there’s a lot of body love, and the side plot where Abby works her way through all the burger shops in L.A. looking for the best burger is perfect.
Not Your Sidekick by C.B. Lee
Though set in a dystopian future, this is an upbeat, fast-paced novel that centers a bisexual teenage girl who gets caught up in the drama of the superheroes in town (including her parents). I love the way Lee plays with the idea of villains and heroes in this book. But the real star of the show is Jess’s friend group—a diverse group of queer and trans teens who show up for one another.
Treasure by Rebekah Weatherspoon
College student Alexis isn’t expecting much from her sister’s bachelorette party at a local strip club, until she discovers she’s sharing a class with one of the strippers she met at the party. Trisha is juggling college and her job at the club, which doesn’t leave her much time for dating. This is a low-angst, super sex worker/sex positive romance starring two deeply relatable characters you’ll be rooting for from the first page.
Her Every Wish by Courtney Milan
This second-chance historical romance novella staring a woman supporting her sick mother and a man who has spent his whole life dealing with the world’s racist, classist opinions about his life and family. It’s witty and smart and feminist and queer around the edges. The MCs are both learn a lot from each other as they figure out how to trust each other. It’s a one-sitting delight.
Can’t Escape Love by Alyssa Cole
This is the geek-centered romance novel you’ve been waiting for. Regina runs a website for nerds who are often shut out of traditional fandom space. Gus builds escape rooms and live-streams puzzles. They meet online, and things escalate IRL. There’s fantastic disability rep (Regina is a wheelchair and Gus is autistic), and all the nerd-centric banter you could ever wish for.
Band Sinister by KJ Charles
KJ Charles usually writes romances that involve murder, but that is not the case here. This one is full on hilarity. It’s the queer historical romcom of my dreams. There are tropes all over the place. There is banter. There is a crotchety old aunt and a forced-proximity-in-a-manor-house situation. There is even sugar beet farming! Also, this is one of the most poignant depictions of queer family in historical romance I’ve ever read.
All Creatures Great and Small by James Herriot
As far as soothing books go, this one always tops my list. James Herriot ages well; his stories of tending to the animals of the Yorkshire Dales are timeless. From birthing calves in the frigid winters to caring for the most spoiled dog in England, these stories are as funny and heartwarming as they were when this book was first published almost 50 years ago.
Dear Fahrenheit 451 by Annie Spence
Missing your usual visits to the library? Pick up this book instead. Librarian Annie Spence writes charming, thoughtful, funny letters to the books she has known, loved and argued with over the course of her career in the library. There are love letters, breakup notes and thank you letters, all of them endearing, insightful, or straight-up snarky.
Wild by Cheryl Strayed
At age 22, having just lost her mother and ended her marriage, Cheryl Strayed decided to do a solo hike of the Pacific Crest Trail. This is a memoir about grief and self-discovery, but it somehow manages to be serious without being too heavy. Strayed’s voice is so warm and her anecdotes about life on trail swing from hair-raising to hilarious. It’s one of those nonfiction books so compelling and well-crafted that it reads like a novel.
Rain: A Natural and Cultural History by Cynthia Barnett
Looking for a distracting deep dive? This book is compulsively readable; rain, it turns out, is not even a little bit boring. Barnett dives into cultural, environmental, meteorological, and political history as it relates to rain. It’s full of all sorts of fascinating tidbits, from the history of raincoats to the history of a tiny town in India famous for its manufacture of rain-scented perfume.
Looking for more great ebooks available now? Check out this list of 2o of the best books on Hoopla right now. I bet some of these under-the-radar books from 2019 (and 2018) will have short waiting lists, as well. And Nikki made a great list of where to find free books online that might come in handy right now also.