Books in the Time of Coronavirus

So. Lockdown.

Here in the UK we’ve only been in lockdown for less than a week – though, as a socially awkward introvert, as soon as everything started to close, I went into defacto isolation anyway. Although I’m technically a keyworker (railway), my beautiful part-time contract plus a block of annual leave booked months ago means I’ve not been at work since last Tuesday, and I’m not due back in until at least a week tomorrow.

You’d think, as someone with a Goodreads challenge powering along faster than the trains I dispatch, I’d be On It during this lockdown. Nearly three weeks off work, stuck in the house? Pass me a cup of coffee and a blanket and let’s get reading!

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…or so you might think.

Yeah, I missed out one slight inconvenience to the whole ‘read all day, read all night’ lockdown plan. Namely, Ted. One small, marauding three-year-old can provide a surprising amount of chaos when locked in the house for days on end. Yesterday alone he broke the washing machine door, weed all over his own pants and trousers, and got 50p wedged into a toy toaster. You’d think by the age of three a child might be able to spend some time happily playing alone… not this one. Not unless I want to find the living room slowly smouldering while Ted dances half naked on top of the dresser, singing ‘You’re Welcome’.

Not exactly the most conducive environment for reading.

I know a lot of you are in the same boat, if not worse. I mean, at least Ted’s only three. And there’s only one of him. I don’t have to worry about home-schooling him, trying to teach fronted adverbials (whatever those are) while wearing a screaming newborn in a sling and yelling at a teenager to get off the Playstation and do some physics homework. Those of you in that situation – I applaud you.

Plus, as well as the whole issue of time and space, there’s a mental block, too. These are scary times. If you’re anything like me, no matter how chilled out you appear to be, or are trying to be, there’s a bit of your brain that just won’t shut up. I’m pretty good at keeping it quiet (until my usual 3am insomnia o’clock, at least, when terrifying virus-based scenarios decide to run through my head; delightful) but it still means I can hardly concentrate on anything for more than a couple of minutes. Especially new things – information just isn’t sticking.

Everyone needs an escape, though. And no matter what noise the tiny terror is making, I’ve had the Kindle app on my phone, all ready for those snatched moments when I can read a few chapters and, however briefly, slip into another world.

I’ll be doing a proper March reading round-up soon, so I’m not going into too much detail on the new books I’m reading (well, attempting to read). But here are my Top Tips for Lockdown Books!

Keep It Light

The world is dark and full of terrors enough already. We don’t know what each day is going to bring; it’s nice not to have to panic about what’s happening to characters you’ve fallen in love with too. I’m not saying there shouldn’t be conflict and drama, just no mortal peril, please. Preferably the kind of books that make you laugh, the more the better.

I always moan on about how I hate the term ‘chick-lit’, but this is one place where that kind of book absolutely shines. Light, romantic comedies with a happy ending. And, if you want to go more in depth about them, I can absolutely recommend the Sentimental Garbage podcast, which analyses ‘chick-lit’ and reminds the world why it’s actually brilliant.

Examples: The Flat Share – Beth O’Leary; Oh My God, What a Complete Aisling – Emer McLysaght and Sarah Breen; This Charming Man – Marian Keyes

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(n.b I’ve included This Charming Man in this category even with the rather heavy subject matter; however it is also one of the funniest books I’ve ever read, just Lola’s narrative voice secures that – roll with it and you won’t regret it, though fair warning that you may also cry)

Young Adult

I know I’m supposed to be a grown-up woman of thirty, but I can still often be found skulking around the Young Adult section in Waterstones (well, I could, back when it was open and I could leave the house, but shush). Although young adult books can and do cover some pretty hard-hitting topics, like ‘chick-lit’ they are usually written in a chatty, friendly register that is incredibly easy to dip in and out of when your concentration is shot to shit. I also usually find that the plots are easy to follow and character-driven, despite not scrimping on richly developed worlds and detail.

Examples: American Royals – Katharine McGee; Simon vs the Homo Sapiens Agenda – Becky Albertalli; Fangirl – Rainbow Rowell

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Escape to Another World

I feel like I need to say this in big letters: NO DYSTOPIAS. Not outright ones, anyway. We don’t need to see what the world could like like after an apocalypse. Not that this is the apocalypse, but those of us with active imaginations could take things… a little too far. I’m usually a huge fan of apocalyptic stories, either while said apocalypse is happening or in the fallout stage, but at the moment? No.

I’d say science fiction and fantasy novels in general could be an excellent shout, though, particularly modern ones. Heavy, hefty, Tolkien-esque prose is definitely a bit much for me at the moment; I’d keep zoning out three paragraphs in.

Examples: The Long Way to a Small, Angry Planet – Becky Chambers; Magician – Raymond E Feist

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Diaries and Letters

I love a good epistolary novel, and right now, they are absolutely perfect for my terrible attention span. It’s so easy to dip in and out of a book when it’s written in short, manageable chapters, either fully or partially in letters or even emails.

Examples: Attachments – Rainbow Rowell; Sofia Khan Is Not Obliged – Aiysha Malik; Why Mummy Drinks – Gill Sims

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Audiobook Biographies

I’ve never really been a big fan of audiobooks – I always want to speed ahead faster than the person can read, and I find it a bit too easy to get lost. However, my one exception to that rule is biographies, specifically biographies read by the person whose biography it is (I’d say ‘the person who wrote it’ but let’s face it, most celebrities and the like play a bit fast and loose with that definition). And, of course, it can be beautifully soothing to have someone read you a story (and you can put headphones in and listen while your child is watching Toy Story for the 300th time in a week).

As an extra added bonus, I’m going to include feminist biographies here – at the moment, it’s quite nice to get a bit angry and worked up about things that aren’t related to viruses and impending doom.

Examples: How To Be A Woman – Caitlin Moran; Paddle Your Own Canoe – Nick Offerman; The Other Mother – Jen Brister

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Hopefully this has been a bit of a help to those of you who, like me, are dying to escape the real world for a little bit but really and truly cannot be arsed with the Instagram-esque vows to read ‘the book you’ve always meant to read’. We are not the kind of people who are about to start War and Peace. We might as well accept it and get stuck in to something fun.

I feel like I shouldn’t finish this post without pointing out that my own book, The Bean Jar, is on Amazon now. I wanted to make it as cheap as possible while all this virus drama is going down, but I’ve done a promotion too recently for Amazon to let me do another one. So it’s currently £1.99, which is the cheapest it’ll let me do.

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