Lockdown is easing for most of you lucky people. But there are a lot of people that are still in a position where they are in local lockdown or too much at risk to be able to go out still. So for those people, and people that just fancy getting back into reading in this ‘new-normal’ here’s my lockdown reading list.
To give you a bit of background on me and my ‘reading qualifications’, if you will. I am in the high risk category so I’ve been shielding and have been inside since March. So I’ve been using the time to get a bit of reading done. I won’t lie, the reading habit was really helped by the fact that in the last 18 months I’ve had a lot of surgery and when you’re in recovery pretty much all you can be bothered to do is read and listen to audiobooks. I should say at the outset that I’m wildly dyslexic, so pretty much all the books on this list are available as audiobooks. I don’t think we can go into all the books that I’ve read during lockdown/surgery recovery, as it’s a list of around 350 (I really don’t have much of a life so I try to live other people’s lives by reading about them). But I will try and give you a few options in a variety of genres.
I reckon everyone could do with a bit of escapism at the moment, so dystopian/plague based sci fi will be avoided like, well like the plague, I suppose. Hopefully there will be something in here for everyone. So shall we get started?
- The Count of Monte Cristo by Alexander Dumas – so this was one of the most ‘I’ve finally got time to tackle this at last’ picks on this list. The audiobook is 52 hours long, so it’s a bit of a mission, but it’s well worth it. It’s full of intrigue, pacier and more exciting than every James Bond put together. Well worth a read
- Homage to Catalonia by George Orwell – So yes everyone knows Animal Farm and 1984. However it seems that most people haven’t read this absolute gem. It’s also one of the main primary sources used for a number of university history programs that include the Spanish civil war, so if you fancy knowing a bit more about that period of history. Then this is for you.
- The Third Policeman by Flann O’Brien – This is pretty much my favourite book, I think certainly that I’ve read since childhood. Oh I suppose I should say this was a re-read rather than a fresh lockdown read. But the more people I can introduce to the amazingly mad and hilarious mind of Flann O’Brien the better. I think it’s bizarre that he’s not read more widely outside of Ireland, he has so much to say and teach everyone I think he should be taught more in British universities and schools, but alas…
- Treasure Island by Robert Louis Stephenson – I’ve always loved this book. So much so that I had completely memorised for most of my primary school years from the audiobook I got of it, which was a great way to blag my primary school teacher into not realising I was really dylexic. Everyone knows it’s the definition of a classic, for me at least.
- Frankenstein By Mary Shelley – This is just incredible. What can I say that’s not been said already? Just read it I beg you. Theres a lot more depth to it than all the adaptations would have you believe. Oh also Shelley wrote this when she was 18! At 18 I had failed my A-levels and was sleeping in until 4pm everyday. The highlight of my 18th year was that I got a job at my local pub just because I hung around there long enough. Mary Shelley is a hero!
- Viper’s Daughter by Michelle Paver – So this is a children’s book, but it is the first book that Michelle Paver has written which is part of The Chronicles of Ancient Darkness series for about 10 years. I adore all of them. They were my favourite books as a child. I urge you to read them all, and everything that Paver has written. There is nothing that she has written that is anything other than spectacular.
- The Watchmaker of Filigree Street by Natasha Pulley – I don’t quite know where this book fits – is it Alternate universe, historical fiction, sci fi? Well I suppose it’s all of those. This is an absolute gem of a book and I couldn’t stop reading it but didn’t want it to end. Thank goodness the sequel has just come out!
- The Book Thief by Markus Zusak – I adore this masterpiece of historical fiction, it’s wonderful, like discovering an alleyway of bookshops that you weave in and out along with the plot. Oh also be ready for a good cry.
- The Chronicles of St Mary’s by Jodi Taylor – light, easy reading, wonderfully funny and quirkily British. Think Hitchhikers Guide to the Galaxy with Historians. – Time Travel done right
- The Picture of Dorian Grey by Oscar Wilde – I couldn’t not put this in here somewhere. I think that Wilde makes music with words is incredible. He’s a genius and needs to be read more.
Crime and Thrillers
- The Night Manager by John le Carre – This is my personal favourite of his books. I think if you’re after espionage then le Carre is your man. The Smiley series is fabulous too of course, but this for me is him at his best.
- The Poirot series by Agatha Christie – Is there anything better to curl up with than an Agatha Christie? I adore Poirot, he’s one of the most fun characters. It’s the epitomy of cosy crime. It’s a must. The ABC Murders is wonderful, if you want a favourite of mine.
- The Sherlock Holmes collection by Sir Arthur Conan-Doyle – can you really do a piece on crime & thrillers and not mention the original consulting detective? The Redheaded League is my favourite of the short stories. Stephen Fry reading the complete collection is in my opinion the best way to consume it.
- Dominion by C J Sansom – one of the best alternate history espionage novels I’ve read. Really worth a go.
- The Vinyl Detective Mysteries by Andrew Cartmel – This series is really fun. It’s great because not only do you get a mystery you also get a lot of music nerdiness, so for readers of Joyzine it’s pretty perfect.
- Lord of the Rings by JRR Tolkien – This is the best piece of epic fantasy writing ever in my opinion. If you like fantasy, or want to like fantasy then you should start with this. The annoying thing is Tolkien is indirectly responsible for allowing George RR Martin to be a public figure, and that’s a grave crime in my book.
- The Cemetery of Forgotten Books series by Carlos Ruiz Zafon – This is a bit of a genre-bending series but I think it sort of spans Gothic, mystery and fantasy. The world built by Zafon feels more real to me than the one we live in. I found it incredibly comforting to be with those characters and in that world I was left with a hole in my literary life when I finished the series. I cannot recommend it enough
- The Book of Dust by Philip Pullman – I have a weird relationship with Pullman’s writing. I think he has wonderful ideas and his worlds are great, but I really can’t get on with how preachy his books are. That said I’m 26 so I grew up reading the His Dark Materials series, so it was inevitable that I was going to pick these up, and honestly I think I prefer them to the original trilogy.
- Dracula by Bram Stoker – this is a classic that I think that everyone should read. Of course everyone knows the story and probably thinks of Christopher Lee immediately that anyone brings up the book. But I urge you to read the book, it’s wonderful and draws from a lot of Irish mythology which I find really entertaining.
- The Odyssey by Homer – Okay so I have a bias here, having done a classics degree (which has been of no use at all). But I have read The Odyssey a lot and I went back to it in lockdown for the first time in years, it’s a lot of fun. There’s some pretty mad stuff in there but I think that makes it all the more fun. Really it is worth a go, especially if you’re reading my copy with all the silly notes all over it.
- John Agard – His poetry is the one thing that I studied at school that I loved and still adore. I saw him perform live about 11 years ago and it feels like yesterday, that’s the power of the man. If you’re around my age (26) you’ll probably have studied him for GCSE too, and I urge you to go back and have another look, now the hell of school days have passed.
- Kae Tempest – Kae Tempest is in the vanguard of the movement of performance poets at the very cutting edge of the art form. I have loved their work for many years now. A love that is shared by my 81 year old Granny, which I think proves that they have a pretty universal appeal.
- Langston Hughes – a huge part of the civil rights movement, he was mates with Thurgood Marshall and Nina Simone, among others. Here’s Ms Simone singing one of his poems, and if he’s good enough for her then he’s good enough for me. I love this because it also illustrates why I love poetry so much. It’s the most musical way of expressing yourself without being a musician.
- Stevie Smith – Smith’s one of those poets that I really wish that I had discovered many years ago, because the way that she explains and sees the world is something that I find incredibly comforting and enlightening. I think she is my favourite lockdown find.
- Patrick Kavanagh – I reckon the thing you’ll be most familiar with of Kavanagh’s work is the huge success that Luke Kelly of The Dubliners had with Raglan Road. His poetry is incredibly insightful and moving. His depiction of the world and its worries are still very relevant today.
- An Absolutely Remarkable Thing by Hank Green – This is the first novel from the brother of author John Green. Together they are vlogbrothers and the minds behind Vidcon and DFTBA Records; as such I believe that there is no one better placed to write a book that explores the effects of social media on society. It is also a really gripping mystery which is great.
- The Martian by Andy Weir – this is the classic stranded in a place alone and the battle to survive. A classic story but this is a really gripping telling of it. The protagonist is really likeable and down to earth (no pun intended).
- The Bone Season series By Samatha Shannon – This series is a bit tricky to describe, part steampunk, part AU, part rebellion novel. But it’s very very gripping and keeps you hooked from start to finish. I read the whole series in three days.
- HitchHiker’s Guide to the Galaxy by Douglas Adams – If you don’t know about Hitchhikers, then congratulation you are the exception that proves the rule. If you’ve also not seen Stars Wars I’m going to assume you’re a Tibetian monk that has decided to give up the Monk lifestyle and move to Britain, in which case: Welcome, things are going to Hell in a hand cart. But on the upside you’ll have a lot of reading material after finishing this. In all seriousness this is the most British apocalypse and beyond series ever. It’s also one of the funniest things I’ve ever read. But thats the genius of Douglas Adams for you, he is much missed by so many.
- Good Omens by Terry Pratchett and Neil Gaiman – I think this is another one that fits in the ‘comedy overly cosy’ scifi like hitchikers. Interestingly I’m not usually a fan of Pratchett or Gaiman, but this does really tickle me. Forgive my general lack of serious sci fi. I really adore things like neuromancer, Dune and Shikasta. But given that we’re all living through a dystopian plague novel I thought I’d keep it light. This is perfect for that, never have I laughed so much at a novel about the end of the world.
- The Silk Roads by Peter Frankopan – this is really interesting take on a span of history that has shaped modern society. The writing style is in depth and yet very readable.
- Istanbul by Bettany Hughes – This book is honestly wonderful. Istanbul is at the epicentre of history and is the meeting place between Europe and Asia, and therefore a number of cultures converge there. Hughes makes the turbulent and somewhat confusing 3 cities within a city very entertaining and easy to follow.
- The Shadow of the Sword by Tom Holland – This is Holland at his best, I adore all his work, he actually made Herodotus readable which is quite a feat. This is his history of the ancient Middle East, which I find absolutely fascinating. It’s a really easy read (compared to a lot of history books) Holland really bring the narrative to the fore.
- The Templars by Dan Jones – I think this is one of those things that’s a huge amount of fun. I really like Dan Jones, whether he is presenting or writing. This is great because it proves that the history of The Templars is really interesting and you don’t have to make stuff up like The Da Vinci Code did. This period of history has always been a major interest of mine.
- Black and British, a Forgotten History by David Olsuoga – Olsuoga is one of those people that is a genius and you know he’s a genius, but he has that rare and special skill of making you feel incredibly clever too. This book is vitally important at the moment. It’s about time that the white-washing of history starts to be undone. Olsuoga’s work is leading the way there.
- 89 by Amy Lawrence – Okay so I’m an arsenal fan and this book tells the story of one of Arsenal’s greatest seasons, Lawrence’s book on the Invincibles season is also a masterpiece and is well worth a read. I would say that Amy Lawrence is the journalist writing about the game that most gets what it is to be a fan. She has such unique insight into all areas of the game. This is a beautiful book, yes it’s a book about football and it’s honestly stunning, it made me tear up on multiple occasions.
- The Art of Captaincy by Mike Brearley – Brearley is widely regarded to be the best man-manager that has ever played cricket, this is his guide to leadership. He uses his extensive cricketing experience and the medical and psychological knowledge that he has gained in his career as a psychoanalysist. It’s incredibly interesting, and gives insight into leadership of all kinds. But for the cricket lover it’s a must.
- Inverting the Pyramid by Jonathan Wilson – This book is the most complete and in depth exploration of football tactics down the years that I’ve read, it’s the perfect read for a stats nerd, think Moneyball for football. All of Wilson’s books are wonderful, but this is a great place to start.
- The Ball is Round by David Goldblatt – This is the first half of his history of football, along with The Age of Football. These are both lengthy reads. But if you like football and what a really detail history of the game these books are sublime.
- Fear & Loathing in La Liga by Sid Lowe – Sid Lowe is one of the foremost journalists currently covering Spanish football in English. This is a really gripping history of the rivalry between Barcelona and Real Madrid. It’s fascinating how politics plays a prominent role in the rivalry but how that role has been narrativised by both clubs and in this book Lowe throws some light on the truth.
Article by Will Reynolds
Header image: “Piles of books” by ollily is licensed under CC BY-NC 2.0