Now we’re on what feels like lockdown day 951, most of us have begun to get our heads around the fact that we’re going to have a lot more time on our hands for a while. Even those grappling with the ups and downs of home schooling will find moments of quiet during the day and although the temptation to sort out the wardrobes or finally jet wash the garden fence may well take over, it’s important that we indulge ourselves from time to time to avoid getting bogged down by the mundanity of household chores. There’s a reason you haven’t got around to doing them yet and that’s likely because they’re as boring as an evening spent with Spreadsheet Phil.
Anyway, relax, while we’re not about to patronise a la Paltrow and suggest you crack on with that Mandarin course you’ve been meaning to sign up for, or learn to play the bassoon, what we are suggesting is more reading. Not only is there endless scope when it comes to deciding what to read, so even those who don’t necessarily love it will find something they like, the simple act of losing yourself in a book is also good for you and will make you feel happier. An online poll of over 4,000 UK residents taken by the Reading Agency recently revealed that those who regularly read for pleasure reported fewer feelings of stress and depression than non-readers, and stronger feelings of relaxation from reading than from watching television or engaging with technology.
Just to sprinkle a little more science on top of this already pretty persuasive statistic, studies have shown that those who read for pleasure have higher levels of self-esteem and a greater ability to cope with difficult situations such as, hmmm, I dunno, a weird-ass pandemic temporarily restricting our freedom and making loads of people poorly… It’s also associated with better sleeping patterns and adults who read for just 30 minutes a week are 20% more likely to report greater life satisfaction overall.
Sold? Good. We all need a little bit more light relief than normal at the moment, so we’ve taken the liberty of compiling a list of some of the very best reads out there to whet your literary appetite and get you aboard the good ship bookworm.
It is April 1964 and one week before Hitler’s 75th birthday. Xavier March, a detective of the Kriminalpolizei, is called out to investigate the discovery of a dead body in a lake near Berlin’s most prestigious suburb. As March discovers the identity of the body, he uncovers signs of a conspiracy that could go to the very top of the German Reich. And, with the Gestapo just one step behind, March, together with an American journalist, is caught up in a race to discover and reveal the truth – a truth that has already killed, a truth that could topple governments, and a truth that will change history.
A vivid, harrowing, and ultimately hopeful recreation of Lale Sokolov’s experiences as the man who tattooed the arms of thousands of prisoners with what would become one of the most potent symbols of the Holocaust, The Tattooist of Auschwitz is also a testament to the endurance of love and humanity under the darkest possible conditions. A heartbreaking story of the very best of humanity in the very worst of circumstances.
The uplifting true story of a couple who lost everything and embarked on a journey of salvation across the windswept south west coastline, The Salt Path is an honest and life-affirming true story of coming to terms with grief and the healing power of the natural world. An inspirational memoir, ultimately it is a portrayal of ‘home’ and how it can be lost, rebuilt, and rediscovered in the most unexpected ways.
Amid the derelict terraced houses of Manchester’s Hulme, one boy experiences adventures, abuse, crippling poverty and an encounter with The Moors Murderers. A raw, humbling and funny snapshot of seven-year-old Tommy’s brutal young life, he introduces us to his foul-mouthed and chaotic family members and moves us through his daily struggle with poverty and neglect in 1960’s Manchester like it’s the most natural thing in the world. Deeply flawed they may be, but amongst the violence, grinding poverty and distinct lack of hygiene and morality lies a strong sense of loyalty and, above all, survival.
A story of mothers and daughters knitted together by a keenly observant, deeply human narrative, Lucy Barton is recovering from an operation in a New York hospital when she wakes to find her estranged mother sitting by her bed. As they talk, Lucy finds herself recalling her troubled rural childhood and how it was that she eventually arrived in the big city, got married and had children. The unexpected visit leaves her doubting the life she’s made, wondering what is lost and what has yet to be found.
When he was just a few weeks old, Dewey Readmore Books was shoved through the book returns slot of his local library in the sleepy town of Spencer, Iowa. Starving, terrified and bruised after being battered by falling books, Dewey curled up into the arms of the library director, Vicky, a single mother who had escaped a violent husband and was struggling to bring up her little girl alone. Vicky fell in love with the little bundle of fur in her arms and campaigned to allow Dewey to stay and become the library cat; an arrival that transformed the lives and fortunes of an entire town.
Connell and Marianne grow up in the same small town in the west of Ireland, but the similarities end there. In school, Connell is popular and well liked, while Marianne is a loner. But when the two strike up an awkward but electrifying conversation something life-changing begins. Taking us from that first conversation to the years beyond in the company of two people who try to stay apart but find that they can’t, Normal People is a story a story that explores the subtleties of class, the electricity of first love, and the complex entanglements of family and friendship.
A poignant tale of boy meets girl with a twist, Audrey Niffenegger’s debut follows the life of Henry, one of the first people diagnosed with chrono-displacement disorder. Periodically, his genetic clock resets and he finds himself misplaced in time, pulled to moments of emotional gravity in his life both past and future. Depicting the effects of time travel on Henry and Clare’s marriage and their passionate love for each other as the story unfolds from both points of view, the book explores an entirely abnormal ‘normal’ life that’s under constant threat from something neither preventable nor controllable. Intensely moving, sometimes harrowing and often very funny.
Book four: the first of the doorstop-sized tomes we devoured in days, The Goblet of Fire is where it all really starts ramping up in Rowling’s immersive series of magical fantasies. A true coming-of-age story, everyone’s favourite boy wizard starts to become a man staring death in the face for the first time and taking on demons, dragons and danger in the Triwizard Tournament, a pivotal plotline that adds incredible pace and tension to Rowling’s already spellbinding storytelling.
When four classmates (Willem, JB, Malcom and Jude) from a small Massachusetts college move to New York to make their way, they’re broke, adrift, and buoyed only by their friendship and ambition. Over the decades, their relationships deepen and darken, tinged by addiction, success and pride. Yet their greatest challenge, each comes to realise, is Jude himself who by midlife is a terrifyingly talented litigator but an increasingly broken man haunted by what he fears is a degree of trauma that will define his life forever.
On an unlikely backpacking trip, Rhik and his mother find themselves speaking openly for the first time in years. Afterwards, the depression that has weighed down on Rhik begins to loosen its grip for a moment, so he seizes the opportunity: to own it, to understand it, and to find out where it came from. I Never Said I Loved You is the honest and humorous story of how Rhik learned to let go and then keep going; a powerful memoir exploring the light and dark in all of us.
Beth shows that women really can have it all. Ruby lives life by her own rules. And then there’s Lauren, living the dream. But is anyone’s life as perfect as it looks? Beth hasn’t had sex in a year. Ruby feels like she’s failing. Lauren’s happiness is fake news. And it takes just one shocking event to make the truth come tumbling out…