I’ve not been very good at reading recently. By recently, I mean for years. I think things probably changed when I finished my English degree – three years of burning through a book a week – and the thought of reading began to hold a heavy weight of effort behind it. Picking up a book can sometimes feel like something I don’t have time for. You can’t dip in and out, flicking your attention to your phone, the TV or a conversation as you go, only absorbing tidbits of the story. You have to commit to books wholeheartedly. Not just for ten minutes either, if you want to give a chapter its complete and deserving run.
There have been exceptions to my reading funk, though. Holidays, for one. Plonk me on a sun lounger and I could be there all day, peeling away only to cool down in the pool before returning my nose to the pages once more. The other place you’d most likely find me engrossed in a book is the train, if I was lucky enough to have secured a seat. But at home, for some reason, it doesn’t tend to happen. I don’t sit down with a book at the weekend, or thumb through a chapter before bed (hello, this is time for mindless Netflix binges) and so the stories I’m eager to dive into, and I promise I am eager, end up gathering dust.
Now my reading routine, like every other routine, has been turned on its head and I’ve been able to just pick up a book because there’s simply been nothing else to do. I’ve spent hours reading in my room or the garden, giving my eyes a much-needed break from the screen and getting completely absorbed in fiction again. I’ve liked it so much, its given me the itch to do my own creative writing again – but that’s another post.
Here are the books I’ve read in lockdown, with a little spiel as to what I liked about them (don’t worry, I’m not about to go all English Literature student on you).
A Little Life by Hanya Yanagihara
This book will break your heart. If you don’t want that, don’t read it. I don’t think there are any alternative take-homes of this one, the subject matter is such that nobody is immune to being shattered by this story. A Little Life follows a group of four friends living in New York, one of which, the protagonist, is the victim of horrific abuse. But it’s not the toe-curling flashbacks into his past that will get you, it’s the emotional scars that taint his present-day relationships and his self-worth. Yanagihara develops these characters in such a rich way that I felt so besotted with Jude by the end – that’s what you get from a 720-page novel. If you’re wondering why I’ve only got through three books so far, this mammoth is the reason.
Where the Crawdads Sing by Delia Owens
Onto something a little lighter, this next book is something you’ve probably seen on Instagram as so many people seemed to be talking about it in the spring. Where the Crawdads Sing is set on the North Carolina coast in the 1960s and follows the story of a girl named Kya who grew up self-sufficiently by the water after her family disbanded. She’s known by the local residents as the “Marsh Girl” and is seen as someone to be avoided – to everybody except a boy named Tate. This is a love story between people and place, as well as a murder mystery, and I liked how both elements were perfectly balanced in the plot. It’s the ending that seems to have divided people’s opinion on this novel, and while I can see why people may not have liked it I personally did – it sent chills through me, which I think makes it pretty effective!
Olive Kitteridge by Elizabeth Strout
I love short story books, which is why I think I like the format of Olive Kitteridge so much. Each chapter flits between different households in Maine that are all connected to Olive, a tough-as-old-boots schoolteacher whose life hasn’t quite gone the way she’d hoped. It’s the little insights into human behaviour that the author gets so right in this book; it feels really charming and warming in some places and hopelessly sad in others, peppered with dry humour to bring you back round. If you’re more one for beautiful writing and pockets of loveliness than a beginning-middle-end narrative then this is one I think you’ll enjoy.
I love adding new books to my to-read list, so please let me know what books you’ve been burying your faces into recently.