First things first: Of course it’s important to think about the election. It’s important to educate yourself on the issues, and most of all, it’s important to vote. There are many articles here on Vox that will help keep you informed and motivated.
But also, oh my God, this election is so stressful.
So here is a break from the anxiety you may be feeling. I’ve compiled a list of books you can dive into over the next few days when you need to stop thinking about the election for a while.
The criteria: They have to be compulsively readable. They have to be good and plotty — meditative character studies are all well and good, but I never find them quite distracting enough at times when I really need to be distracted. Most importantly, they can’t have an overtly political element. There are few books that will get you turning pages as quickly as The Hunger Games, but you do not want to be thinking about the possibility of living in an actual dystopia when the election is less than a week away.
Now let’s get to it, shall we?
Mysteries are always a good diversion because of their puzzle box plots. Have you ever read Josephine Tey? She was a golden age mystery writer who wrote from the 1920s into the ’50s, and she is immensely comforting. Her detectives are always bluff, no-nonsense types who solve the case through highly unscientific generalizations about appearances (people with slate-blue eyes are always oversexed, according to one of them), and who always make sure to pause for a proper English tea no matter how pressing a case might be. Miss Pym Disposes is a good entry point.
There is also, of course, Agatha Christie, who’s famous for crafting beautiful, bloodless, intricate stories. Start with And Then There Were None, or maybe Murder on the Orient Express. Or if you want some more modern mysteries, try Tana French and her gorgeous, mind-bending Dublin Murder Squad series. French’s books are loosely connected, but you don’t have to read them in order. Her latest, The Trespasser, is a good introduction to her work, and once you’re done with it you can check out our take here at Vox.
For sheer weirdness, you won’t do better than Catherynne Valente. Valente always writes with a kind of stylized, rococo voice, but her register shifts from book to book — sometimes from chapter to chapter — and half the fun of reading her work is trying to guess which register she’ll give you next. Her Fairyland series for children, which begins with The Girl Who Circumnavigated Fairyland in a Ship of Her Own Making, has the voice of one of those elaborate Victorian fairy tales, like Oscar Wilde in “Selfish Giant” mode. And her adult sci-fi novel, Radiance, goes from fairy tale to Gothic horror to noir to documentary without a single false step.
Have you ever read Diana Wynne Jones? She’s one of the great fantasy writers of the 20th century, and all of her books are complex and multi-layered and very, very beautiful. We talked a little about her book Fire and Hemlock earlier this week, but you probably want to start with Howl’s Moving Castle, which is Jones’s warmest and most inviting work. You might have seen the Miyazaki movie of the same title, so keep in mind that the book is very different: It’s extremely British in flavor, where the movie feels Japanese, and the movie’s anti-war element isn’t there at all.
A good Neil Gaiman book will keep you distracted through most things. You could start with American Gods, a weird and shaggy and delightful apocalyptic road trip novel that’s being adapted into a TV show next year. Or you could start with Neverwhere, which takes place in the London Tube system and is peopled with all kinds of charismatic fairy tale characters.
Sometimes you just need pure froth to take your mind off whatever is bothering you — but well-crafted froth. Don’t worry, I got you.
Do you want to read about a Britney Spears analogue who retires from professional singing to solve murders? Of course you do, which is why Meg Cabot gave us the Heather Wells Mysteries.
Or perhaps you’re in the kind of mood where you just want to hang out with women who are really pulled together and badass. (I myself am often in this mood.) In that case, you might read Hester Browne’s Little Lady Agency, about a woman who monetizes the emotional labor most women are asked to do for free and wears a fabulous blonde wig to do it in.
Finally, Dorothy Whipple wrote bourgeois British domestic novels in the mid-20th century, and she is a delight. Start with High Wages, in which a small-town shop girl opens her own shop and rises to glory, and then go from there.
With any luck, any or all of these books will help get you through the next few days. Happy reading!