Now is the perfect time to take refuge in the bookshelf. Anxious? Frustrated? Happy? Lonely? There’s a book for that. This is my love letter to literature. By Emma Irving.
I’ve always loved reading. Actually, that’s an understatement. Growing up as an only child (my sister was born when I was 9; a “happy accident”, my father called her), books were an escape, a refuge, a world of possibility. They were friends, sometimes even family. They were intertwined with who I am.
But lockdown has shown me an even deeper, more enduring love of books. Confined to a small space, bereft of friends and family, I’ve explored deserts, oceans, mountains, anguish, love, frustration, heartbreak. I’ve lived in other worlds, and reconsidered our own.
So here is my list of books for lockdown. I’ve ordered them by emotion, rather than theme or genre, because books are like food: you can have a craving for something one day that you don’t want at all the rest of the year. It’s not definitive at all – these are just the books I have read and loved over the past year or so – and I’d love to hear your suggestions too!
FOR WHEN YOU FEEL YOU NEED CHEERING UP, BUT DON’T HAVE MUCH TIME
Try Gavin Maxwell’s A Ring of Bright Water. In 1957, after travelling in southern Iraq, Maxwell returned home to the West Highlands of Scotland with an otter cub called Mijbil. Written within thew sound of the sea, in a remote cottage where they set up home together, this story captures the extraordinary seascape and wildlife of a place Maxwell called Camusfearna. You can read it in a day, but the joyous descriptions last a lifetime.
FOR WHEN YOU WANT TO WORK OUT WHAT THE HELL IS GOING ON NOWADAYS
Matthew D’Ancona’s Post-Truth: The New War on Truth and How to Fight Back is an incisive, witty, punchy take on the origins of the post-truth world, and what to do about it. It’ll make you want to muster the troops and fight tooth and nail for truth. Good lockdown material indeed.
FOR WHEN YOU WANT TO GET LOST IN ANOTHER WORLD
I know I’m late to the party, but I recently came across Salman Rushdie’s Penguin collection of essays called Home, and his beautiful, funny writing led me to Midnight’s Children. If there’s ever a time to dive deep into a story of Indian independence, shot through with magic realism, this is it.
FOR WHEN YOU ARE ANGRY AT THE WORLD
Guardian columnist George Monbiot is a brilliant writer and an even more brilliant activist. I have raced through Feral, his book about rewilding, and How did we get into this mess?, which is about politics, equality and nature, in the past couple of months. He gives lyrical voice to the anger felt by so many, backed up with an investigative journalist’s attention to detail.
WHEN YOU’RE IN THE MOOD FOR SOMETHING CEREBRAL
Try Rachel Cusk’s Outline. There’s no conventional narrative arc – instead there are stories within stores. You may not feel you really know any of the characters, let alone root for them.
But it doesn’t matter – every single word is earned, precise, magnetic. It’s disorientating and funny and weird. Give it a go.
We’re thinking of hosting a book club every few weeks over instagram. Is that something you’d be interested in? What would you want it to look like?