Coronavirus lockdown: what we’re reading

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Being stuck inside all day has a lot of downsides but it is a great opportunity to catch up on your reading. Here are some recommendations to help you pass the time

Ifan Barber

Big Little Lies by Lianne Moriarty

It tells the story of a small but wealthy coastal community in Australia that is rocked by a murder. The murder occurs in flash-forwards and drops clues throughout the book at who the victim might be and why. It also tells the story of how the different mothers in the town’s lives intertwine via their children. It’s brilliantly written and well-paced. There’s also a great television adaptation starring Nicole Kidman and Reece Witherspoon.

The Seven Husbands of Evelyn Hugo by Taylor Jenkins Reid

It’s a fascinating fictional first-hand account into life in the golden age of Hollywood with a unique twist. It’s a riveting read that tells a modern story and a period piece alongside one another via a young journalist in modern day interviewing the actress Evelyn Hugo, and then detailing her life and career. Each section of the book is based around one of her loves. A very unique approach to telling a story that’s been told so many times! One of my absolute favourites.

 


Julia Ramrath

The Humans by Matt Haig

There are a lot of things wrong with the human race and Matt Haig isn’t afraid to point that out. As an alien on a mission to stop human’s next ground-breaking, mathematical breakthrough, he reflects on the flaws of a modern world. However, despite his dystopian undertones, Haig is not short on finding beauty in us. In a world of uncertainty and fear, the author proves that there is hope out there to be found. The novel isn’t only beautifully humorous and exciting but also greatly written and surprisingly philosophical.

 


Annika Loebig

Norwegian Wood by Haruki Murakami

In Haruki Murakami’s Norwegian Wood, the protagonist takes us on a journey about love, loss, and sexuality. Toru Watanabe reminisces about lost friends, the romantic relationships he developed, and his time at university during a period where many Japanese students were protesting against the establishment. Just like his other work, this book is drenched in Murakami’s mystery, and explores topics such as suicide and mental health in the most humbling way. As Watanabe deals with his own solitude and often loneliness, this book can serve as a cathartic way to immerse yourself in the protagonist’s head before returning to your own isolation.

 


Samuel Zhang

How the World Works by Noam Chomsky

This book is mind-blowing. It is a great summary of Chomsky’s revolutionary ideas. He argues that the world works for the small number of elites, who attempt to benefit despite the cost to anyone else. Chomsky details the aggressive, militaristic nature of US actions abroad: the US will attempt to crush any regime that tries to take an ‘alternative path’ – one where a nation refuses to be an accessory to the USA’s hegemonic global economy. On the other hand, as long as a country’s leader agrees to allow private companies to buy their land and provides a market for US’ goods, it doesn’t matter what humanitarian crimes they commit.

 


Iona Gibson

Specimen by Irina Koyalyova

What if getting botox affected your personality? What if synthetic meat caused new diseases to spread? What if romance is the key to escaping North Korea? What if?

Irina Kovalyova intelligently intersects her scientific knowledge with a strong and empathetic understanding of human vulnerability in order to answer these questions through the lives of her characters. Each tale has an artistically dystopian tint without dipping too deeply into the realm of science fiction, making all nine short stories a refreshing, thought-provoking step into your own ‘What if?’.

The Hundred-Year-Old Man Who Climbed Out of the Window and Disappeared by Jonas Jonasson

The title says it all.

 


Stella Schmieder

Zero by Marc Elsberg

Zero was actually recommended by my dad when I was 14 years old. I loved reading very cheesy romantic stories and he wanted to introduce me to something more serious and eye opening. It was also the time when I joined social media for the first time. The book underlined the danger of social media and also gave me a first perspective of journalism. It’s a bit like ‘Big Brother is watching you’ but in a deeper and more interesting way.

 


Anna Komitska

Stealing the Mona Lisa by Darian Leader

The book suggests that what made Mona Lisa famous was the fact that it was stolen in 1911. Leader is a psychoanalyst; in his book he discusses art theory and regards the theft as inspiration for his thoughts on why people look at art and what we see – or don’t see – in it. The author discusses the instance in which crowds gathered in the Louvre museum ‘to see the empty space;’ he asks what art stops us from seeing – and suggests it’s a Lacanian nothing.

I found it a very easy and pleasant read with Leader raising lots of pertinent questions regarding human relationship with things lost, the loss of the image, the gaze etc.

A Field Guide to Getting Lost by Rebecca Solnit

At the root of Solnit’s book stands the question of how we know who we are if we’re constantly changing. A favourite chapter of mine addresses the colour blue as a metaphor for becoming lost. The book is a compilation of short essays on getting lost ‘as the beginning of finding your way or another way’; when being ‘in its midst isn’t cause for panic or suffering, of being at home with being lost.’ Often, the scenes she reflects upon are situated in nature. The book is quite soothing to read, it has quite a poetic and philosophical quality to it.

 


Izzie Price

The Salt Path by Raynor Winn

One of the most powerful books about homelessness, nature and perseverance I’ve ever read. Just as Raynor’s husband (Moth) is diagnosed with a terminal illness, Ray and her husband are told they’ve lost their house (a farm in Wales) due to the collapse of their business. Since they have so little time left to each other, they spontaneously decide to walk 630 miles, from Somerset to Dorset, along the coast. This true story of endurance is both heart-breaking and revitalising in equal measure.

Ray and Moth are tested in every conceivable way; they are exposed to the harshest of elements, they have virtually no money for food, and they carry everything they own on their backs the whole way, sleeping outdoors every night. They are often judged by others – especially when they say they’re homeless – but they come through everything, despite the considerable odds stacked against them. A great one to turn to for anyone needing a bit of inspiration and motivation during this bizarre, unprecedented time.

 


Natalia Zmarzlik

Call Me by Your Name by André Aciman

It is a novel written in 2007 that has been turned into a successful movie a decade later.
The main thread of the book is a beautiful and tragic (in a way) love story of a young boy and a young man who happened to spent summer in Italy together. The Italian province from 1980’s and its charming scenery plays the role of a background to the process  of discovering and then understanding their sexuality, something a lot of young people in present times can relate to.

Call Me by Your Name is a book that will make you laugh, make you feel like dancing, that will make you feel nostalgic, and that will make you cry. It really is a brilliantly written emotional roller-coaster.

I highly recommend reading the book while listening to the soundtrack from the movie- it is a great way to intensify the emotions you feel while reading.

The Help by Kathryn Stockett

A story of black household help in 1960’s Mississippi is told from the perspective of three women – two maids and one girl raised by a maid, who decided that enough is enough and that something needs to change. It is a story about racism and about how white families treat their black employees, who already were not equal to them in the eyes of law.

It is uplifting to see a group of strong women fighting for their rights decades before girl power became trendy. All the obstacles they had to overcome in their everyday life, judging eyes of the public and even the law being against them did not stop these brave ladies from undertaking a risky project.

This book was a big lesson of solidarity to me, and at the same time reading this story made me appreciate the world I live in even more.

 


Sylphia Basak

All the Light We Cannot See by Anthony Doerr

This book weaves together the stories of two very different people, Marie-Laure and Werner Pfennig, as their lives cause them to intersect during World War II in a Nazi occupied village in France. Doerr paints a beautiful picture with words and uses all five senses to describe the world of his characters. And despite the great tragedies of their past and present, Marie-Laure and Werner find ways to give each other hope for the future. Their story of friendship during a time of great fear and loss is one that can remind us of all the ways people can take care of each other in dark times.

My Year of Rest and Relaxation by Ottesa Moshefgh

This long train of thought is the authors’ look at the harsh reality of her life at the time, and the consequences of not dealing with one’s trauma. Technically nothing happens, but every sentence feels action packed and the way Moshefgh describes her life at this time makes the book impossible to put down. It is unglamorous and raw and for people who are currently isolating themselves, there might just be parts of Moshefgh’s story that you find yourself relating to more than you’d like to admit.

 


Ellen Lund-Petersen

The Snowden Files by Luke Harding

Everyone knows of Edward Snowden, but how many have actually taken the time to understand the extent to which he was willing to go to ensure that these surveillance actions would no longer take place?

Particularly in these times, the ongoing issue of how private your data really is is growing. There has been a rise not only in hacking brought on by hackers specialising in social engineering to gain access to money and sensitive data from people in distress, but also in apps released by the government to track citizens. In times of crisis, drastic measures are taken, and time will tell how much of an impact they will have on our life post-corona.

In the meantime, this book takes you back to the roots of whistleblowing on governments obtaining private data from its citizens unlawfully. It gives you an insight into what considerations the journalists had to have when going ahead with the story as well as the ones that Edward Snowden had.

 


Ana Rosário

Into the Wild by Jon Krakauer

The book tells the real story of Chris McCandless, who leaves his comfortable life behind and follows the road in an adventure to Alaska, where he eventually meets his demise. The story is told by a journalistic account of Krakauer, who not only deeply researched McCandless’s life but also threaded his path and spoke to those that already knew Chris or met him along the way. Despite being non-fiction and journalistic in its nature, Krakauer managed to write it in a narrative and literary way and also connects Chris’ story with one episode of his own life. I fell in love with this book when I was 15 years old. Not only it inspired me in the type of journalistic language that I wanted to write, but also taught me that there are so much more to us, our lives and the world than just ourselves.

 


Hanna Modder

Happy Ever After by Paul Dolan

Whenever I open Instagram these days, I see carefully curated feeds on #lockdownlife. With all the time on hand, it seems like everyone now feels a calling to be better than ever before – almost as if there was a penalty for everybody who didn’t use the unexpected freedom to the max. Being confronted with all these seemingly perfect lives when I sit in my pyjamas all day is, frankly, quite stressful.

So I went back to Happy Ever After, a book that, in essence, wants you to be good enough instead of perfect. The author, a psychology professor at LSE, vividly illustrates how (almost) every one of us is caught in social narratives that can keep us from living a happy life. And whilst reading it is uncomfortable at times, especially when you recognise yourself in some of the examples, it always leaves me with one message:

It is important to reflect on life and curate its components. But first, rule out the outside expectations.

 


Simon Hinde

Station Eleven by Emily St John Mandel

This novel deals with a catastrophic flu epidemic that kills 90 per cent of the global population. Centred in Toronto, it tells the story of social collapse and, some twenty years later, how a group of actors and musicians travel from settlement to settlement performing the works of Shakespeare. Despite its gloomy topic, it is moving and beautifully written, revealing unexpected connections between a group of characters and showing the importance of art, even at a time when people are struggling to survive.

 


Featured image by Giulia van Pelt via Flickr