2020 has been the worst and if you’re anything like me, you’d do anything to escape, even if it's just for a short while. And as we enter into a second national lockdown, the perfect form of escapism and self care I have found is fiction. Reading a good book that has absolutely nothing to do with the dreaded c-word or the sense impending doom and anxiety that comes with living in the midst of a global pandemic for almost a year now really is the best thing to do. Here are three of my recommendations for when you just need to make it all stop for a little while.
- The Song of Achilles by Madeleine Miller
This devastatingly beautiful novel follows Patroclus, a young Greek prince who has just been exiled by his father to the court of Peleus. There, he will meet and fall in love with Achilles, a dashing young hero destined for greatness. In this retelling of Homer’s epic poem The Iliad, Miller’s remarkably beautiful prose manages to instantly transport the reader back to the ancient world and absorb her into the mind of Patroclus. If you’re at all familiar with The Iliad, then you know it is a tragic story, so make sure you have a box of tissues at the ready when reading it. But it is a captivating and heart-wrenchingly romantic tale that will undoubtedly make you forget, at least for a few hours, the reality that surrounds you. This book is a must-read for everyone and trust me when I say it will stay with you for a long time after you’ve finished it. (If you’re hungry for some more of Madeleine Miller’s masterful writing and attaching characters, be sure to read Circe after!)
- War and Peace by Leo Tolstoy
There has never been a more opportune time to pick up this beast of a book than when you’re literally stuck inside with nothing better to do. No but seriously, War and Peace is regarded as one of the greatest novels of all time for good reasons. The epic tale follows the lives of Pierre Bezukhov, Andrei Bolkonski and Natasha Rostova, amongst many others, in St Petersburg at the time of the Napoleonic wars. It’s got everything you could ever want from a novel; love, hatred, betrayal, death, family, scandal, and of course, war and peace. At its core, Tolstoy’s epic is about people. It’s about people growing, people loving, people losing hope and then finding it again, it’s about second chances and finding purpose in life, and about what makes us human and what bonds us all as a group of individuals. It is a profoundly emotional and thought provoking piece of art that will undoubtedly make you question your life and your place in other people’s lives. There’s also plenty of descriptions of snowy Russia, which is perfect for those Winter vibes.
- Sweetbitter by Stephanie Danler
Okay so granted, a big old Russian epic may not be for everyone and if you’re in the mood for something a little more recent, you could try Sweetbitter by Stephanie Danler. Set in New York City in 2006, the book follows Tessa, a 22 year-old college graduate who just moved to the big apple from Ohio. There, she gets a job as a back waitress in a chic restaurant and what follows is the story of her big city coming-of-age. She is very quickly educated in all things champagne and cocaine, dive bars and fine dining rooms, and love and lust. The book is a chaotic and glitzy coming-of-age story of our main character who makes all the mistakes but inevitably learns from them and grows into herself as a young woman. It’s a fun, fast-pace book that will most certainly take you out of this nightmare of a year we are going through.
I hope this helps, and remember to take time for yourself during these difficult times. Also, if you can support your local bookstores, please do so! Local and independent bookstores are going through tough times along with the rest of us and they deserve your money way more than Jeff Bezos does!