We all learned new things about ourselves and dove deeply into new hobbies during the pandemic, like making bread or getting really impressive shoulder muscles. For me, I discovered that my peak solo activity of all time is “listening to an audiobook while doing a jigsaw puzzle.” When life itself feels emotionally overwhelming or otherwise unstable, I turn to puzzles as, I suppose, some kind of problem I can solve with my hands, a way to put all the pieces of something together, if I can’t manage to do so with all the pieces of myself. But when you pair that experience with the experience of listening to a great book??? I have unlocked a new level of intellectual heaven, suitable year round under any emotional or physical or national circumstances. There is nothing I can recommend more highly than this specific activity.
Here are some ideas for jigsaw puzzles you could do while listening to a book!
Plain Bad Heroines, by emily m danforth
danforth’s Victorian sapphic horror-comedy-romance begins with cursed New England girl’s boarding school Brookhants and its rich, tortured history, linking it to a contemporary narrative in which lesbian it girl Harper Harper (who I had no choice but to envision as Kristen Stewart) is starring opposite a B-list actress and former child star in a film shooting on the Brookhants grounds. There’s a million other threads in there too, you’ll see. “Plain Bad Heroines is a book that will raise the hairs on the back of your neck, even as it surprises you with the occasional sweetness, and renews your appreciation for masterful story-telling,” wrote Lindsay in her review.
Either/Or, by Elif Batuman
Queer author Elif Batuman’s novel is set in the mid-nineties, following Selin, the young Harvard student we met in Batuman’s The Idiot, attempting to make ssense of the summer she spent working in the Hungarian countryside while pursuing her elusive crush, Ivan, while also seeking answers to bigger questions, about how to “live a life as interesting as a novel—a life worthy of becoming a novel—without becoming a crazy abandoned woman oneself?” Elif’s writing is a treasure, she’s just so smart and incisive I want to read everything she has ever said.
Last Night at the Telegraph Club, by Malinda Lo
Set in 1950s, queer legend Malinda Lo’s Last Night at the Telegraph Club is the story of Lily Hu, a teenage daughter of Chinese immigrants exploring her sexuality and the lesbian scene of San Francisco during a time when Red Scare paranoia is turning Chinatown upside down and threatening her father’s citizenship. “As Lily becomes more comfortable in her own skin, Zeller’s narration becomes bolder and more confident,” writes LitHub. “Be forewarned, this audiobook will break your heart—and mend it.”
Mostly Dead Things, by Kristen Arnett
Jessa, a lesbian in her thirties tortured by her past and slogging hazily through her present, is keeping her father’s taxidermy shop afloat after his suicide while her Mom loses it in her own way and her brother Milo’s wife — who Jessa was also in love with — walks out on all of them. Then Lucinda, a mysterious gallery owner, comes to town to shake it all up. It’s a story about family and grief and loss and beasts and sweat and most of all, Florida. In her story about Mostly Dead Things, Molly wrote that the title “is a nod to the taxidermy, sure, but it’s also a perspective on the human heart and how it perseveres, even in the most hostile environments.”
The Seven Husband of Evelyn Hugo, by Taylor Jenkins Reid
The title and the the author’s heterosexuality had me certain for the many years it roamed bestseller lists that this could not possibly be a queer book, despite it showing up in that section of my Libby app. But indeed it is and wow did I love it. The story of reclusive aging Hollywood movie star Evelyn Hugo’s life — as it is relayed to Monique, a young writer in New York City who has no real grasp on why Evelyn’s chosen her as her biographer — is told through her seven public relationships, her marriages to a series of men. But those marriages are not the whole story of Evelyn’s romantic life IF YOU KNOW WHAT I MEAN.
Our Wives Under the Sea, by Julia Armfield
This is the story of two wives. One went off on a deep-sea submarine mission and came back mixed up, and the other is grappling with the enormity of that gradual, painful wreckage. “Armfield has written a novel so chock-full of stunning sentences that that urge to scream needled its way into me throughout my first and second reads of the book,” writes Kayla.
Ace of Spades, by Faridah Àbíké-Íyímídé
Ace of Spades is a “heart-racing horror mystery thriller” about Devon Richards and Chiamaka Adebayo, two of the only Black students at an extremely white elite private academy whose exceptional roads towards academic success feel suddenly threatened after their promotions to senior class prefect lead to both students becoming the target of anonymous text messages that reveal private information and secrets about Chiamaka and Devon to the entire student body. It’s a gripping story and I couldn’t put it down.
Tomorrow and Tomorrow and Tomorrow, by Gabrielle Zevin
read by jennifer kim and julian cihi
This is one of the best books I have ever read in my entire little life! Spanning thirty years, starting with precocious wildly bright kids collaborating at Harvard who eventually become very successful video game designers with a whole company in Venice Beach, this novel “examines the multifarious nature of identity, disability, failure, the redemptive possibilities in play, and above all, our need to connect: to be loved and to love.”
Family Meal, by Bryan Washington
“What I love about reading Washington’s fiction is that I can always taste it,” writes Kayla of Family Meal. “The food, sure. But so much else, too. Summer nighttime air, sweat, spit. He writes bodies and queer sex and place so well… As with all of Washington’s work, violence and tenderness sit simultaneously in the pages. Gay ghosts, good food, queer sex — the novel checks so many boxes for me.”