Reading may not be the opiate of the masses, but it sure is my anti-anxiety elixir of choice. Whether you're quaking in fear of the dreaded coronavirus (as I was), relieved to be recovering from it (as I am), or worried about the world and feeling restlessly cooped up (as we all are), here are a trio of delightful new books that can transport you to a happier place for hours at a time.
Emma Straub's warm-hearted fourth novel confirms her reign as a patron saint of delayed adolescence. In the somewhat ironically titled All Adults Here, aging without maturing is a common affliction, even among parents: Her amiably dysfunctional characters make it clear that it's possible to grow old without growing up. But fortunately, it's also never too late to play catch-up.
This time around, the Brooklyn author and bookstore owner shifts the action to a fictional Hudson Valley town that's so appealing you'll want to move there. Straub's focus is on 68-year-old Astrid Strick—a widow whose parenting style has prioritized pragmatism over warmth—and her three grown children and their offspring. After witnessing the sudden accidental death of a woman she's disliked for decades, Astrid realizes that life can turn on a dime and she'd better get hers in order pronto. Top on her list is reconnecting with her family and making amends for the mistakes she made as a mother. Oh, and coming clean about the person who's replaced their late father in her affections—a choice that's bound to surprise them.
All Adults Here is somewhat overstuffed with what at times feels like a checklist of hot topics—teens dealing with online pedophiles, shaming, queerness and transexuality; ticking time clocks and sperm bank babies; sex with exes; checked-out parenting—but you'll enjoy the company of this sympathetic clan as Straub works her narrative to a well-earned cheery resolution.
If restaurants and travel are high on the list of things you miss most during lockdown, I heartily recommend Bill Buford's Dirt. This is a writer who gives new meaning to the expression "glutton for punishment." Fourteen years after Heat, which chronicled his immersion in Italian butchery and bitchery, Buford returns with his reportorial blades freshly sharpened in this blazingly entertaining and frequently scalding account of the five years he planted himself in several exacting kitchens in the "rough and entirely unwelcoming" gastronomic city of Lyon, France. His mission: To unearth the secrets of Gallic cuisine—and perhaps trace its roots to Renaissance Italian cooking.