With social distancing, self-isolation, a ‘stay home’ policy and unprecedented numbers of people working from home to help slow the spread of coronavirus, how we spend our leisure time is changing. Some of us will make the house pristine, dusting nooks and crannies no duster has previously dusted. Others will finally get around to weeding the garden, or rediscover a love of playing computer games. Couples may agree on a TV series to binge-watch. For readers, they can finally crack through even more titles, or get around to the literary classics or thick tomes that they’ve been putting off for far too long.
Reading has many benefits and has been proven to help reduce stress and boost wellbeing.
So, to help book-loving Brits find their next read, Tom Walker, Publishing Director at The Folio Society, who, for over 70 years, has been publishing beautifully illustrated editions of the world’s greatest fiction books as well as thoroughly picture-researched non-fiction books, has pulled together his top 10 picks of books to read whilst in self-isolation. Which one stands out for you?
10. The Tenant of Wildfell Hall
Being stuck at home and only allowed out to go to the shops seems a good time to read about feminism, and this is arguably the first feminist novel. Wildly surprising in its modern sensibility, Brontë rages against a society that held women shackled to men and the home. See our review.
9. The Little Prince
I can’t help thinking of how the Little prince would respond to our world right now. An enigmatic, compassionate but sad creature of the stars, I sometimes imagine the weight of his judgement on us all for the job we’re doing of keeping our little planet safe. See our review.
8. The World Turned Upside Down
The English Civil War of the 1640s shook the nation to its core, and in the process out scattered a legion of radical ideas and philosophies which have formed the national identity ever since. One wonders how our current upheaval will reshape us.
What an opportunity, if you never have, to read this bulking leviathan of a novel. From the first pages in Nantucket, where Ishmael befriends trusty Queequeg, Melville loops his crazed tale of ambition and revenge, culminating in scenes of terror on the high seas.
6. His Dark Materials
Pullman might be the purest storyteller of our times, and His Dark Materials is his masterpiece: a truly addictive adventure story which leads us into other worlds.
5. Handmaid’s Tale
Turning to Margaret Atwood in times of trouble is always a good decision. Prophetic or not she is wise and compassionate, and laces those qualities with a killer wit. See our review.
If all else fails, pick up a Maigret. With plots as light as a feather and a stripped-down style, Simenon’s thrillers are beautifully evocative of the underground tensions of a mid-century Paris.
It’s always a good time to re-read Austen, to get lost in that luscious prose and arch wit. Persuasion is her last-completed, and perhaps her most mature novel, and a joy to revisit.
2. I am Legend
In the current circumstances this is not a book for the faint-hearted: Matheson’s vision of a post pandemic future doesn’t contain many people, and even fewer who are not zombie-vampires, but there is a glimmer of hope at its end… See our review.
1. Dr Zhivago
What better time to re-engage with this great Russian epic? The recent translation by Boris Pasternak’s nephew returns the lyricism and colour to this beautiful novel of love, war and the Russian soul.
Mirror & The Light
My eleventh choice is not yet available as a Folio Society edition, but I do hope that it will be one day. This is my current quarantine reading. A nine-hundred-page masterwork of astonishing delicacy and intelligence which draws one back through the eyes of Cromwell to a Tudor London infested with plague and political instability.
See more great books at The Folio Society.