Some of you have asked for books you can read during this time of lockdown and the threat of pandemic. Nothing too grim, something that will make you laugh or that will help you escape. So here is a far from exhaustive list, mostly, though not entirely, from my blog. And there is a also a list from Sophie, a reader of this blog.
Do you have any more suggestions? Respond in comments to this article.
To put a smile on your face and maybe warm your heart
Aya of Yop City: written by Marguerite Abouet, drawn by Clément Oubrerie
A graphic novel from Côte d’Ivoire about three young women and their worries about how life is going to work out. Very much of its place but universal in the way that people aren’t that different, no matter where they live.
Hag-Seed: Magaret Atwood
Atwood’s take on Shakespeare’s The Tempest, with an ageing stage actor as Prospero. Delightful.
A Man Called Ove: Fredrick Backman
Backman peels back the layers to reveal the heart behind the grumpy old man. Funny and heartbreaking (so it will bring tears to your eyes, but it is ultimately heart-warming).
The Sellout: Paul Beatty
Hilariously subversive. Me (yes, that’s what he’s called, son of F.U. Me) tries to save his town from disappearing off the map. If that means making schools segregated again, then that’s what he will do.
Rosie is My Relative by Gerald Durrell
Another of my favourites. A man living in London inherits an elephant with a tendency to drink and takes her across the country to find her a home. It starts slowly but is hilarious (especially when Rosie gets drunk in a stately home and goes skittering across the ballroom floor).
Good Omens: Neil Gaiman and Terry Pratchett
No list would be complete without this wonderfully irreverent take on the Apocalypse by the two masters of irreverence. One of my favourite books (review coming soon).
Tales of the Tikongs: Epeli Hau’ofa
Development experts find themselves continually outsmarted by the residents of a Pacific island. A humorous look at development aid to small countries.
The Rosie Project: Graeme Simsion
A brilliant man with a touch of Asperger’s tries to find himself a girlfriend and meets Rosie, who turns his life upside down.
A Parrot in the Pepper Tree: Chris Stewart
The second in Stewart’s account of living on a small farm in Alpujarras in Spain, and my favourite of the three. It made me laugh out loud, but it also brings the place to life.
A Gentleman in Moscow: Amor Towles
Towles’s charming book about a Russian gentleman who is confined to a hotel for 30 years while the country changes around him. Gentle and maybe appropriate for our times?
The Gap of Time: Jeanette Winterson
Winterson’s take on Shakespeare’s A Winter’s Tale. Thoroughly enjoyable.
Cloudstreet: Tim Winton
Winton’s novel about a family in Australia. Humming with life.
I found him funny when I was 13 and his books still make me laugh.
Crime and some twisty plots
The Emperor of Ocean Park: Stephen L. Carter
A complex thriller about the privileged black community in the US. Tal’s father dies seemingly of a heart attack, but was he murdered?
The Case of the Deadly Butter Chicken: Tarquin Hall
I would recommend all four books in this series. Although Hall isn’t Indian, he captures the Delhi lingo perfectly, and the books are delightful. But this one is my favourite—about the scars and secrets that still exist after the partition of India and Pakistan.
Magpie Murders: Anthony Horowitz
A whodunit within a whodunit, the second one a pastiche of Agatha Christie books. Fun
The Blackhouse: Peter May
A whodunit set on the Isle of Lewis in the Outer Hebrides in Scotland. A police officer moves back to the island and gets pulled back into his past.
Where the Crawdads Sing: Delia Owens
A woman grows up on her own in the marshes of North Carolina. The police turn up when a body of a man from the nearby town is found there. But did she kill him?
The Long Way Home: Louise Penny
An Armand Gamache whodunit. Gamache is pulled out of retirement when a friend asks him to help her find her husband. Set in Canada.
Historical crime novels
The Matthew Bartholomew Chronicles: Susanna Gregory
A series of whodunits set in medieval Cambridge, when science was emerging. The protagonist is a Benedictine doctor (not a monk), and through him, Gregory shows the battle between medicine and the old beliefs.
Dark Fire: C.J. Sansom
A whodunit set in the time of Henry VIII. Sansom captures the period beautifully—the King and his entourage feel like real people. The protagonist is a hunchback lawyer in the service of Thomas Cromwell. Note: I have also reviewed another of the books in the series here: Tombland.
Twisty / complicated plots
S.: JJ Abrams and Doug Dorst
A three in one book: the book itself is a novel written by VM Straka, then there are footnotes by the translator and in the margins are notes that a couple make to each other. Something to get lost in, with real inserts like a map drawn on a napkin.
The Seven Deaths of Evelyn Hardcastle: Stuart Turton
A truly twisty plot that will blow your mind.
Strange worlds to get lost in
The Book of Chameleons: Jose Eduardo Agualusa
Narrated by a gecko who lives in the house of an albino in Luanda, Angola. The albino makes a living by giving his clients new pasts. Magical.
Jonathan Strange and Mr. Norrell: Susanna Clarke
Set in England in the early 1800s. Magic has disappeared from the land, and two very different men are determined to bring it back. A world you could get lost in.
Kafka on the Shore: Haruki Murakami
Murakami’s strange world of a man who talks to cats, a man who dresses like Johnny Walker of whiskey fame, and strange goings-on.
Firmin: The Adventures of a Metropolitan Lowlife—Sam Savage
The life of a rat who loves to read. Delightful.
Einstein’s Dreams: Alan Lightman
A riff on time—the myriad ways that Einstein would imagine time: flowing, circling in on itself and moving in fits and starts. Beautifully written.
A Book of Silence: Sara Maitland
Maitland, on her search for silence, finds that there are various kinds: the silence of the desert, that of the forest and being on one’s own—each of these has different qualities.
The Night Tiger by Yangsze Choo
In 1930s Malaya (today’s Malaysia), Ren, an 11-year-old houseboy, sets out on a mission: he has to find his late Master’s missing finger in 49 days and bury it, so that his master’s spirit rests in peace.
Meanwhile, Ji Lin, a dressmaker and dancehall girl, is very unwillingly drawn into the search for the severed finger. Let me add that since a village girl might have been slaughtered by a Weretiger, the reader will find all the ingredients to an energetic and fascinating whodunit, in which superstitions and Confucian traditions play a predominant role.
I did enjoy Ms Choo’s novel tremendously and cannot wait to read her second one, the Ghost Bride.
News of the World by Paulette Jiles
In 1870 Texas, the aging Captain Jefferson Kyle Kidd goes from town to town to read the country’s and the world’s news to a paying audience.
A former Searcher and a Civil War hero, he agrees to return a 10-year-old captive to her relatives in San Antonio. Little Johanna, who was abducted by the Kiowas four years earlier, only thinks of herself as a Native, cannot speak her mother tongue anymore, and has no remembrance of her past.
Of course, Captain Kidd and Johanna’s journey will not turn out as it was previously planned, and both travelers will have to live up to some very rough adventures.
This excellent Western had me hooked from the very start, but is nonetheless more than a story of the Far West.
The novel questions the issues of loss, delves into the power of love, to eventually exemplify Kidd and Johanna’s absolute resilience.
When God was a Rabbit by Sarah Winman
This delicate novel is about Elly, her family and brother, Joe.
It is a novel about love, about family ties and about growing up, it is above all the story of a brother, a sister and their secret.
I found this story an exhilarating, elegant and very tender tale, spruced with wit and humour.
The Tenderness of Wolves by Stef Penney
The murder of a French fur trapper in the village of Caulfield, Ontario, is the starting point for a complex yet fascinating plot, set in 19th century Canada.
The narrator starts on a perilous journey into the Canadian wilderness in order to find her son Francis, who went missing on the very same day the trapper was murdered.
Mrs Ross, Francis’ mother, follows her son’s tracks into the wild, fighting for survival in a snow-covered nature that is as brutal as the several characters she will meet.
This novel is not only a murder mystery. It is also a quest, a thriller, and a love story. It is also, so far, my favourite novel for 2020.