What’s on your Quarantine Reading List?

It’s Week 2 of working from home and Day 3 of the City’s complete shutdown. So I wanted to check in. How are you doing?

Thank you to everyone who has been reaching out to our international visitors and sharing their stories with me. As someone who lives alone, your outreach has been especially meaningful to me, and I look forward to sharing more stories with you all.

We’re all looking for positivity at this frightening time. And one of the bright spots for me has been listening to my friends and family (and indeed complete strangers) share the creative ways they are coping with their isolation. Whether it’s online dance classes or virtual concerts, I am constantly amazed by people’s adaptability, resilience and demand for person-to-person connection. It gives me hope.

I am a reader. In particular, I am a fiction reader. I have always loved the way that reading stories about people gives me insight into different perspectives and connects me to people, places and cultures I might otherwise never have known.

When I first started at Citizen Diplomacy, I began to look for books based in or written by authors from our Sister Cities. It’s not always easy. There are some terrible books out there, and I’m still looking for some modern fiction in English based in Tianjin.

While many of us are at home and thinking about our friends around the world who are likewise suffering through this global crisis, I thought I’d share a few of the Sister City books I’ve read.

If you’ve read any of these and either love them or hate them, please drop me a line.

I also know many of you Citizen Diplomats are voracious readers, so please send me your recommendations. Help me build a really great Sister City reading list. And if we do find that elusive Tianjin book, perhaps we can all read it together!

Where possible, the links below go to Headhouse Books, a local bookstore that is still shipping books during the shutdown. Our partner, the Free Library of Philadelphia, also has a great selection that can be downloaded onto your Kindle or other device. Support local businesses, everyone!

I look forward to hearing from you all. Please stay safe and stay connected. We will get through this together.

Take care,


P.S. If fiction is not your thing, take a read of our new Impact Report. It’s full of true stories of the work you are doing to promote Philadelphia as a global, welcoming city and to build a more peaceful and prosperous world. Diplomacy is the long game, and we are in this together. I’d love to hear what you think!

A Select Sister City Reading List (kind of)

China The Three Body Problem – Cixin Liu

I have struggled to find modern fiction related to Tianjin. But in my search, I stumbled across Cixin Liu, one of China’s most popular science fiction writers and the first Asian writer to win the Hugo Award. Liu writes “hard” science fiction, so the technological discussions can be heavy. But I loved thinking about the possibility of alien life and the future of humanity from a non-Western perspective. And it doesn’t hurt that it’s a favorite of Obama’s too!

Italy Death in Florence – Marco Vichi

I’ll admit I picked this up because it reminded me of Death in Venice and I was imagining a whole series of crime novels based in our Sister Cities. I’m also a sucker for detective series, as my shelves of Nesbø and Mankell will attest. While the story is cliched and sometimes gory, the book inspired me to read more about the 1966 flood of the Arno, and I loved the descriptions of Florence in the 1960s.

If you don’t like detective novels, try My Brilliant Friend by Elena Ferrante. Set in Naples, not Florence, it’s a wonderful story spanning sixty years of friendship, and it’s a four-volume series, so now is the perfect time to start. It’s also been televised on HBO – a great way to practise your Italian.

Japan What I Talk About When I Talk About Running – Haruki Murakami

I love Haruki Murakami’s books, though, oddly, it didn’t stick in my head that he grew up near Kobe until after I started working for Citizen Diplomacy and was looking for Sister City books to read. I’d happily recommend any of his books, but since I’m running a lot more these days, this seemed apt. It’s a book that makes me want to run!

Murakami also wrote After the Quake, a book of short stories about the impact of the 1995 Kobe earthquake on the Japanese psyche. It’s heartbreaking, but also optimistic. Murakami writes about “people who dream and wait for the night to end, who long for the light so they can hold the ones they love.” If that’s too close to home right now, try his short essay, “A Walk to Kobe.”

Germany Happy Birthday, Turk! – Jakub Arjouni

Another private eye series in the style of Raymond Chandler! Set in Frankfurt, where Arjouni was born, what makes these books special is how Arjouni reinvents the noir genre and uses his Turkish-born P.I. to critique race, immigration and integration issues in Europe.

I have also been recommending Look Who’s Back by Timur Vermes to anyone who asks. The book imagines the return of Hitler in modern day Berlin and is creepy, disturbing (and hilarious) satire on the cult of personality in today’s media. If you liked Paul Beatty’s The Sellout, then you will enjoy this.

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