Culture / Entertainment

What to Read Right Now — The Books 5 Serious Texans are Devouring During These Uncertain Times

Feeling Bookish

BY // 06.08.20

While preferring to stay mostly at home during the coronavirus pandemic, we’ve overdosed on Outlander, had a big taste of Succession, rejected Tiger King after two creepy episodes. We have embraced jigsaw puzzles, now into our third — or is it our fourth? — 1,000-piece challenge after having completed two 500-piece puzzles. And then there is the eternal entertainment of books.

We read late at night as a brief interlude from the miseries of the day, police brutality, criminal looting, those dying from COVID-19, those who can’t buy groceries or pay their rent. This is not to ignore their plight but to take a moment to subconsciously reorganize our thoughts in order to do good and do better the following day.

As we consider what to read in order to bring us wisdom, escape and simple entertainment, PaperCity reached out to five serious and avid Texas readers to find out whose pages they are turning in the time of COVID-19.

Mimi Swartz

Center for Houston’s Future dinner
Pulitzer Prize winning author Lawrence Wright is interviewed by Mimi Swartz, author and an executive editor at Texas Monthly, at the Center for Houston’s Future dinner in 2018.

” I’ve started Fake Like Me, a murder mystery about the art world for fun, and NOT for fun John Barry’s book on the flu epidemic, The Great Influenza,” says Swartz, Texas Monthly executive editor and author.It’s good but I actually recommend Lawrence Wright’s The End of October for those who want an informative flu book that is also a page turner.”

Chef Robert del Grande

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The Annie Café & Bar and Turner’s Executive Chef Robert del Grande (Photo by Johnny Than)

“I am drawn to books on science and the philosophy of science, remnants of my past. [Chef Robert received his BS in Chemistry and Biology from the University of San Francisco and then his PhD in Biochemistry from the University of California at Riverside]. Boltzmann’s Atom by David Lindley is a nice history of thermodynamics and entropy. In the end, cooking is a thermodynamic art. And entropy — that’s how a virus can disrupt the world.

Sleep of Memory by Patrick Modiano, he is a talented non-linear storyteller, his treatment of time and the vagaries of memory is intriguing. . . Nocturnes  by Kazuo Ishiguro, this is five short stories based on music, which is another favorite topic of mine. Kazuo is a great writer. . . Men Without Women  by Haruki Murakami. Another great writer, Haruki provides insight into relationships. I also like his book, Colorless Tsukuru Tazaki, which is what led me to this one.

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Jason Fertitta

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Jason Fertitta & Courtney Hill Fertitta

The president/partner of Americana Partners, Fertitta says, “I read mostly the Financial Times and Wall Street Journal.  I did read an amazing book called I Love Capitalism by Ken Langone (Home Depot co-founder).  I actually bought a copy for all of our employees and made it a required read for everyone at Americana Partners.”

Kelli Cohen Fein

Pediatric radiologist and adjunct faculty member at UTHealth’s McGovern Center for Humanities and Ethics Dr. Kelli Cohen Fein.

Ninth Street Women: Lee Krasner, Elaine de Kooning, Grace Hartigan, Joan Mitchell, and Helen Frankenthaler: Five Painters and the Movement That Changed Modern Art by Mary Gabriel:

“A formidable book about the Fab 5 — brilliant women of New York’s post-war art scene who revolutionized 20th Century Modern Art in America. Gorgeously written and meticulously researched by a raconteur par excellence!  The reader feels vibrantly engaged with these women, their stories, their artistic expression and their challenge for recognition.  Illuminating and inspired.”

The Rest is Noise: Listening to the Twentieth Century by Alex Ross:

“This mammoth book is a gift given to me by a friend (the wife of my piano teacher) in an effort to help broaden my appreciation of the complex classical music and other musical genres of the 20th century. A dense journey through the history, politics and musical analysis of 20th century music. This book is a life-enhancing experience. A must-read for classical music lovers. Brush up on your music theory before starting the book. Extracurricular  music listening activities encouraged after each chapter. An excellent, deep dive while in quarantine which will enrich your listening to and hearing of music of every genre for the rest of your life.”

Charlatans, Pandemic, and Genesis, all three by Robin Cook:

“Captivating, terrifying medical thrillers based on real science and medical issues of our times – riveting. Engrossing and provocative, the marvels and potentially dark facets o medicine and science revealed.”

Cohen Fein also recommends timely reading of The Great Influenza: The Story of the Deadliest Plague in History by John M. Barry and The Ghost Map: The Story of London’s Most Terrifying Epidemic – and How It Changed Science, Cities and the Modern World by Steven Johnson.

Clifford Pugh


Freelance writer and former founding editor of CultureMap, Pugh began his personal Book a Week challenge as he and his husband vacationed in Greece last summer. He is currently reading book Number 52.

“For that grand finale, he emails, “I chose The End of October by Austin writer and Pulitzer Prize winner Lawrence Wright. It’s a fictionalized version of a pandemic that sweeps the world. It’s just been published, amazing that he started work on it in 2017 and it’s so eerily prescient. I admit that reading about a pandemic during a pandemic seems odd, but I devoured another pandemic book, Station Eleven by Emily St. John Mandel, and found it hugely entertaining and even a little hopeful.

“Pandemic aside, I enjoyed Andre Leon Talley’s memoir, The Chiffon Trenches, where he dishes on how shabbily Anna Wintour and Karl Lagerfeld treated him. It’s a really sad, but honest, account of how vapid the fashion world can be and captures an era we’ll likely never see again.

“And I loved The Corrections by Jonathan Franz. It’s an opus about a Midwestern family where nobody really gets along but the mother insists that everyone get together for one last Christmas. It’s exceptionally well-written and is the kind of book you can get lost in. It caused a big hubbub when it came out nearly 20 years ago because he disparaged Oprah Winfrey after she picked the book for her hugely successful Oprah’s Book Club, so she ‘unpicked’ it.”

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