• Janice Cheon

My Bookshelf: The Summer Quarantine Edition

I think it’s safe to say that COVID has created trends in social media and the news faster than we—or at the very least, I—can catch up. Perhaps this is just betraying my age as a very young millennial, but I have admittedly overwhelmed by the dizzying array of memes, viral foods, and TikTok dances at times. My favorite quarantine trend, however, takes a slower pace: “The Celebrity Bookshelf Detective.” First started by the New York Times, this series combines “investigative journalism”--in reality, sleuthing closer to the skillset needed for “Where’s Waldo”--with your daily dose of quarantine boredom to figure out which books are on the shelves of various celebrities, politicians, and pretty much anyone who uses a bookshelf as a Zoom background to appear more erudite (There is a great Twitter account for this, if you are interested). I am guilty of this aesthetic trick too, having chosen to defend my thesis in front of my Kants, my Hegels, and my Kafkas. However, I quickly realized that not only did my bookcase background fail to magically improve my German, but it only made me acutely aware of all the books I had not yet read.

Hence the summer reading list I made for myself after graduation. As a humanities student, there really is no cessation to reading; it’s my job, after all. I saw this summer as a perfect opportunity to play catch-up and to read some books I would not normally get to during the school year. Yes, a good chunk of the texts I worked through this summer were related to my master’s dissertation and coursework—Theodor Adorno/Max Horkheimer’s Dialectic of Enlightenment, Gilles Deleuze’s Cinema I/II, Friedrich Schiller’s On the Aesthetic Education of Man—all heavy stuff. However, the free time this summer allowed me to explore other books and genres I usually am not able to read during the school year. I rediscovered my love for magic realism and Latin American literature through Gabriel García Márquez’s Love in Time of Cholera (and couldn’t help wonder if and when Love in Time of COVID would come out). I ventured in the nineteenth century after spending at least two years with twentieth century modernist authors.

I also saw books as a way to connect with my friends and loved ones in a slower, less hectic medium. I finally got to the Pushkin prose anthology and the classic romance novel that Leora gifted me (loved Time Traveler’s Wife, by the way). I spent a chill day in June reading my graduation gift, appropriately about the joys of intellectual life, from a friend in my department. I am currently reading (and very much enjoying) Effi Briest, Theodor Fontane’s realist masterpiece, with a close friend and honorary Germanist. Of course, the books themselves have been great. But seeing the inscription in her handwriting every time I opened the book or knowing that he is also reading about Effi’s wedding (sorry, spoiler alert) has also brought joy into my daily summer routine.


Discussing our latest reads, among other things


I joked a couple weeks ago that revisiting Virginia Woolf’s To the Lighthouse was the closest thing to a beach vacation I got this summer. However, the steady increase of syllabi and required reading in preparation for courses in a couple weeks has made me appreciate the time for slower-paced independent reading I’ve had and the ways it has brought me closer to the people that I miss this pandemic summer.

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