I’ve got to tell you guys that a more optimistic (to be read: in denial) side of me wanted to be a fountain of creativity and productivity and all the other -ivities that lots of lifestyle blogs and influencers are telling us we should be during this weird time. Weird is a bit of an understatement – I’ll go with surreal. Anyway, all of that turned out to be miles off from even the shores of reality.
Sometimes we just need to take things very, very slowly. You haven’t written 2,000 words of your debut novel? That’s okay. Haven’t felt inspired to paint a masterpiece? That’s fine. Not learning a new skill to make you hot shit at work? No worries. Sometimes it’s an achievement just to get up and fight through the day again. Sometimes having a shower and changing out of pyjamas and into your favourite booty-accentuating leggings is all you need to do to be “productive”, whatever that means anymore. Please can we give ourselves permission to NOT be renaissance men and women in the middle of a rather scary pandemic. Thanks.
Now that that’s covered, let’s look one of the ways we can deal with staying home more: reading. I’ve found comfort and, when I can’t bring myself to write, a kind of creative nourishment in books recently. Even more so than usual as a bookworm. So with that in mind, here’s a little lockdown reading list to help you escape for a few hours, no matter where in the world you are.
Mythos by Stephen Fry
This lovely retelling of the Greek myths brings together two of my favourite things on this Earth: Stephen Fry and mythology. Oh, and a stunning book cover. I can’t tell you guys how much of a comfort I found this book to be – it feels like he’s reading me bedtime stories. You can hear his razor-sharp wit and the gentle cadence of his voice come through the page – a testament to his skill as a writer, I think.
Right, enough about my clear crush on Stephen. More about the book. The narrative itself does a fantastic job of weaving together all the (kind of incesty) threads of Greek myth we’ve picked up from popular culture, creating one big, beautiful tapestry for us all to appreciate and learn about.
Normal People by Sally Rooney
This bestseller is actually on my to-read list, but the simple fact that it’s just come out as a TV series (in the UK, at least) makes this a perfect lockdown read.
I’m very here for something emotionally devastating, which apparently this is. Can we please make ’emotionally devastating’ into its own genre? I’ve got suggestions: On Chesil Beach, The Memory Police, et al.
Before the Coffee Gets Cold by Toshikazu Kawaguchi
I’ve written a full review of Before the Coffee Gets Cold, and I loved it so much I had to mention it again here. It’s so delicately written and explores the ripple effect a single action in a single relationship can have masterfully. Genre-wise, I’d put it somewhere in the realm of magical realism. There may be time travel and a grouchy ghost, but it is primarily a story about relationships, and an exploration of that ‘what if?’ feeling we get when, in taking one course of action, we close off all other routes into the future.
Dr Jekyll and Mister Hyde by Robert Louis Stevenson
I was very late to the literary game reading this, but I loved it when I finally got into it this year. Escape into the smokey world of 19th century London, and get better acquainted with one of the best-known characters in popular culture: Dr Jekyll – or Mr Hyde. He answers to both these days.
Even if you’re already familiar with what happens in the book, more or less, the way this is written will have you in a fever to get to the next page, and the next, and the next. One of the reasons I loved this gothic novella so much is the sheer depth of the themes it explores. From the duality of mankind to the nature of good and evil, the struggles of addiction, society versus the primal within us all – and probably a whole lot more I’m yet to discover on my next reading.
Emma by Jane Austen
Reading books from a different time, culture, or genre than the one you’re accustomed to feels like a good way to escape for a bit, don’t you think? Emma is one of Austen’s most popular and best-loved novels, and was recently turned into another film adaptation starring Anya Taylor-Joy as Emma Woodhoose.
Emma is a bit of a nosey know-it-all who fancies herself a bit of a matchmaker. We all know someone like this, even today, I’m sure. Anyway, she’s got a good heart really, but through the course of the narrative we see her mature (to be read: eat a slice of humble pie) thanks to a series of match-making blunders and her own stubborn determination that she’ll never fall in love or marry. She’s far too clever for that. The drama of it all, you guys.
The Murder of Roger Ackroyd by Agatha Christie
Ah, Agatha. Your tales of detective fiction are like a comfy, oversized bean-bag I can sink into after a long day, preferably with a glass of red wine. The Murder of Roger Ackroyd isn’t the first novel she wrote in her Poirot series, but it is the first work of hers I read during my BA. It’s an easy but very satisfying read, where Hercule Poirot entertains but also gets down to the bottom of a gruesome murder. Best bit about this novel? Very interesting use of the narrator. I’ll say no more.
So there you have it, ladies and gentlemen. Five books for you to crack open in lockdown. I hope, as you’re reading this, that you’re keeping safe and well, and that you’re staying an actual 2 metres away from everyone when you’re out and about. Seriously, lockdown has taught me that very few people actually know what 2 metres looks like. Ugh.
If you have any other recommendations, please pop them in the comments!