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Stephen King said, “Books are a uniquely portable magic.” That statement is due no doubt to the ability of the written word to transport readers up and out of and beyond their current circumstances, current places, current moments in history. Even in the best of times, books engage our minds, invite us into the lives of others and offer a kind of escapism from our daily realities. But now, at a time when many people are days and days into self-isolation at home as a result of a global pandemic, books’ unique gifts are more essential than ever.  

In an effort to support local authors and the independent bookstores that carry their work, and to help you get through social distancing in the days ahead, ArtsATL has compiled a list of books we think would make great picks for your #PandemicBookClub.

This is the second of two parts, featuring fiction and nonfiction. For part one, with kids books and poetry, go here.


The Magnetic Girl by Jessica Handler

Atlanta author Jessica Handler has crafted a magical, haunting, based-on-a-true-story tale set in rural North Georgia about a young girl coming into her own power. Hers is a book that offers “a unique portrait of a forgotten period in history, seen through the story of one young woman’s power over her family, her community and ultimately, herself.” Buy it from A Cappella Books.

The Last Widow by Karin Slaughter

Celebrated Georgia crime writer Karin Slaughter’s latest book is eerily prescient — a timely thriller set around the kidnapping of a scientist at the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, and a bombing in the Emory University neighborhood, complete with far-right extremists. In a previous interview with ArtsATL, Slaughter said, “We get something in these books that seldom happens. The bad guy’s punished. There’s a sense that good has defeated bad.” A balm for these times, no doubt. Buy it from Eagle Eye Books

Mystery writer Karin Slaughter

Karin Slaughter says she’s fascinated by taking readers behind the scenes at places like the CDC. (Photo by Marc Brester)

Wild Milk by Sabrina Orah Mark

Author and poet Sabrina Orah Mark’s Wild Milk was described by small press publisher Dorothy Project as “Borscht Belt meets Leonora Carrington; it’s like Donald Barthelme meets Pony Head; it’s like the Brothers Grimm meet Beckett in his swim trunks at the beach. In other words, this remarkable collection of stories is unlike anything else you’ve read.” Mark offers up a completely new take on the idea of the fairy tale, redrawing myths and magics in a way that makes them ideal reading for these surreal times. Order via IndieBound.

Brass by Xhenet Aliu

Brass is Georgia author Xhenet Aliu’s look at the complicated relationship between a mother and daughter, and the complicated realities of the American Dream. Winner of the Georgia Author of the Year Award for First Novel, Brass uses parallel narratives to tell the beautiful, painful, harrowing tale of women who are “bright and tough as the metal itself,” and explores what we’ve come to know as “quintessentially American” realities. Buy it from Charis Books and More

The City We Became by N.K Jemisin. N.K. Jemisin is the first author in history to receive three consecutive Hugo Awards and is one of the most celebrated science-fiction writers of a generation. With The City We Became, it’s easy to see why. At a time when we’re seeing the true fighting spirit of New Yorkers, The City We Became is, according to NPR, “a love letter, a celebration and an expression of hope and belief that a city and its people can and will stand up to darkness, will stand up to fear and will, when called to, stand up for each other.” Buy it from Charis Books and More.


A Lillian Smith Reader

Lillian Smith (1897–1966) was a writer, civil rights activist and chronicler of the American South from Clayton, Georgia. She wrote the controversial 1944 novel Strange Fruit, about interracial romance, and the editor of a literary journal with her longtime companion, Paula Snelling. This collection from the University of Georgia Press brings together Smith’s “short stories, lectures, essays, op-ed pieces, interviews and excerpts from her fiction and nonfiction,” creating a comprehensive look at her progressive legacy. Buy it from A Cappella Books.

Georgia writer and social activist Lillian Smith. (Courtesy Hargrett Rare Book and Manuscript Library)

The Cooking Gene: A Journey Through African-American Culinary History in the Old South by Michael W. Twitty 

Renowned food historian Michael W. Twitty takes readers down a road of cultural identity and culinary memory in this memoir, a 2018 winner James Beard Award winner for best food writing and book of the year, that uses food as a device to trace Twitty’s ancestry from “Africa to America and slavery to freedom.” It is a true celebration of food as legacy. Buy it from Eagle Eye Books

Tell Me a Story: My Life with Pat Conroy by Cassandra King Conroy.

Pat Conroy was one of the South’s most celebrated and complicated literary figures, but this memoir offers a different view of the writer so many felt like they knew from his work. King Conroy shares intimate portraits of her life with Conroy, inviting readers into a true literary love story. A compelling writer in her own right, King Conroy has crafted a beautiful, hopeful narrative all her own, even in the shadow of grief, in the shadow of the loss of the iconoclast himself. Buy it from A Cappella Books.

The Undocumented Americans by Karla Cornejo Villavicencio

Karla Cornejo Villavicencio was one of the first undocumented immigrants to graduate from Harvard. In her book, The Undocumented Americans, she powerfully and effectively invites readers into the lived experiences of other undocumented men and women like her, sharing their stories — and her own — in a way that looks “beyond the flashpoints of the border or the activism of the DREAMers.” Instead, “she finds the singular, effervescent characters across the nation often reduced in the media to political pawns or nameless laborers” and brings them brilliantly to life. Buy it from Charis Books and More

A Culinary History of Atlanta by Akila Sankar McConnell

For people lamenting the temporary closures of their favorite Atlanta restaurants, cafes and eateries, there’s Akila Sankar McConnell’s A Culinary History of Atlanta. McConnell is the founder of Atlanta Food Walks, and her book is a kind of well-researched love letter to Atlanta’s gastronomic past — “from its Native American agricultural roots to the South’s first international culinary scene.” It also provides histories of such dishes as Brunswick stew, peach pie and hoecakes, and notable spots like Mary Mac’s Tearoom and the Buford Highway Farmers Market. An ideal pick for a self-isolating Atlanta foodie. Buy it via IndieBound


In times like these, when we are separated by necessity, ArtsATL is needed more than ever. Please consider a donation so we can continue to highlight Atlanta’s creative community during this unprecedented time.

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