I’ve been inspired by the lists of books to read in self-isolation (or shelf-isolation) – some great suggestions in the Financial Times, the Guardian has a list of stylish reads to keep your spirits up and bookstores are selling more ‘bucket-list novels’ . Here are my top 10.
- The Glass Hotel by Emily St John Mandel : Station 11 is on point – a wonderful novel set in the aftermath of a pandemic. But this is Emily St John Mandel’s new release about a woman disappearing from a container ship and a Madoff-esque Ponzi scheme and is up next in my reading pile – I can’t wait. Her writing is warm and she creates characters you care about. It’s the sort of page-turning read we need now.
- Baba Dunja’s Last Love by Alina Bronsky translated by Tim Mohr – a small gem about a town in quarantine, told with dark humour. The characters sparkle – especially Baba Dunja, an old woman who has moved back to her home town (Chernobyl). Themes of ageing and isolation – also the importance of community and one’s sense of home. Small books are perfect if you’re struggling to concentrate.
- The Summer Book by Tove Jansson translated by Thomas Teal – A Scandinavian modern classic, this is a meditative novel set on an island in Finland. Jansson evokes the natural world with imagination and wit, and covers ageing, nature and philosophy with a light touch. The relationship between Sophia and her grandmother is charming. I recommend anything by this author – a favourite.
- Tyll by Daniel Kehlmann translated by Ross Benjamin – A rich, imaginative novel set in the 30 Years’ War with Tyll, a prankster from German folklore, and figures from history. Tyll is a survivor whose tricks undercut the hypocrisy of the other characters. I love the humour, sense of place and originality. Masterful writing, this is a great escape from reality.
- There Was Still Love by Favel Parrett – I adored this beautiful story of two children and their grandparents, set in Prague and Melbourne. The prose is clear and simple but conveys much about exile, family and the impact of the iron curtain. Wonderful characters and a pleasure to read. This warm, humane book is perfect for these times.
- A Month in Siena by Hisham Matar – this is an exquisite small book, perfect isolation reading. I loved being in Siena with Hisham Matar. Every page has a beautiful thought to reflect on but it’s also easy company with great art and new friends. He’s such a lucid writer. I enjoyed The Return but found this even more moving. Highly recommended.
- Shooting Stars by Stefan Zweig translated by Anthea Bell – superb. Zweig’s writing is so comforting. Travel through time with these ten moments in history. I recommend anything by Zweig.
- The Happiness Project by Gretchen Rubin – suggested by Amanda Hayes and I loved this too! As Amanda says, ‘this is a good time for us to work on our interior landscape and spend time focussing on what personal happiness means. Practical, well-researched and meaningful’.
- The Lonely City: Adventures in the Art of Being Alone by Olivia Laing – suggested by Annie Waters and on my TBR, after I read and loved Crudo and A Trip to Echo Spring. Annie says: ‘a beautiful blend of memoir, art history and cultural commentary on our age of loneliness’. I can’t wait to read this.
- The Andy Warhol Diaries edited by Pat Hackett – magnificent. Join Andy Warhol in 1070s and 80s New York. Dip in and out or read it like a novel. It’s inspiring and fun to go behind the scenes with his famous friends, but also moving as we get to know Andy Warhol – a fascinating character. I can’t describe how good this is.
Also a great go-to for comfort and escape reading: crime. I couldn’t narrow this down to one or two so I’ll do a separate list of my favourite crime novels.
What are you reading, watching or listening to during the lockdown?