All cooped up together with your family and bored out of your minds? Why not read about other families?
Little Women by Louisa May Alcott
Published in two volumes in 1868 and 1869, Little Women was loosely inspired by author Louisa May Alcott’s actual sisters. The story follows the lives of the four March sisters (Meg, Jo, Beth, and Amy) from childhood to adulthood.
Set in Massachusetts during the Civil War, the sisters grow up under the watchful eye of their mother, Marmee and get into all sorts of adventures with each other, and their next-door neighbor, Laurie. From sisterly spats, first heartbreaks, understanding your place in the world and how to be good to each other, the book remains a thoughtful paean on love and family.
Buddenbrooks by Thomas Mann, translated by John E. Woods
Written by Thomas Mann at the age of 25, Buddenbrooks is the story of one wealthy northern German family on the precipe of change. This intimate portrayal of 19th-century bourgeoise life draws on Mann’s own family, and what is happening could never have been written by an outsider.
The Buddenbrooks start the novel in a cozy position, but what happens in four generations is a lesson for everyone: make good decisions because it only takes a series of small ones for the towers to come crumbling. Everyday occurrences like births, marriages, divorces, successes, and failures make up the plot and despite their seeming mundanity, Mann’s richness of writing makes for captivating reading.
The Makioka Sisters by Jun’ichirō Tanizaki, translated by Edward G. Seidensticker
The perfect way to describe The Makioka Sisters is “a book where seemingly nothing is happening, but in actuality, everything is happening all at once.”
Set in Osaka, Japan, immediately before World War II, this close look of upper-class Japanese life (a life that is soon due for a change) is very telling for what it doesn’t say: events in Germany, the Philippines, and “Manchuria”, continue on but for the four Makioka sisters (Eldest Tsuruko, meddling Sachiko, unmarried Yukiko, and rebellious Taeko), life continues at a leisurely pace, despite the hastening need of everyone to move on.
East of Eden by John Steinbeck
This sprawling novel is set in California’s Salinas Valley, from a period that spans the American Civil War and the end of WWI.
You may know East of Eden from the 1955 film directed by Elia Kazan starring James Dean, but reading the book is a richer experience, delving deeper into both the Trask family and the Hamilton family (left out of the movie) and their intertwined destinies. This is my favorite book, and when I finished it, I knew I would never read anything like it again.