Back in last March, after being sent home from university and stuck in a lockdown with no clue how things would pan out over the next few months, I was left with a lot of empty time. As a huge lover of reading throughout my childhood and a student on a literature course, the value of a good book was not new to me, yet, I turned to reading with a renewed sense of reliance. Amongst the instability of the world around us, picking up a book as a form of escapism became an essential day to day activity, something I seemed to have lost during A Levels and my first year of university. Although never intentional, the business of general life and university made me fall out of my reading habits, and while I love doing a literature degree, regretfully, reading for pleasure too began to feel like something I didn’t feel I had time for amongst the pages and pages of degree readings.
In light of this, I’ve turned back to reading during the past year and considering the benefits that I’ve gained from it, I’m determined to carry this habit into 2021. No matter how big or small, and though it can be hard to do amongst university work, I do think there is great value to be found in reading something out of choice. Even then, I think there is an important lesson to be learned here that not every day is easy at the moment, and we should all congratulate ourselves for any small progress – now is definitely not the time for measuring productivity. I believe that creativity in any form is invaluable at the moment, and that taking time out each day to be creative or to do something we enjoy can be a great way of maintaining balance. I find that reading a small amount can help add some structure to my day, and calm any anxious thoughts about the state of the world by affording me another place to escape into entirely. Books can also serve as a powerful form of connection during these times when everything feels so disconnected, be that through community reading apps such as ‘Goodreads’ or a simple conversation with someone about a recent read. Below, I’ve listed some of my favourite reads from 2020, in the hopes that picking up one of these books will help someone as much as it has helped me. In these ‘unprecedented times’ (and I know we all hate that phrase by now), I think we can all appreciate even more so hiding from the world amongst the pages of a good book.
- ‘The Shadow of the Wind’ by Carlos Ruiz Zafón
After picking this book up during lockdown one last year, I can safely say that this book has become one of my all time favourites. Translated from Spanish, Zafón’s prose builds an enchanting and mysterious Barcelona, where Daniel Sempere is taken by his father to the ‘Cemetery of Forgotten Books’, a place where books are preserved and saved from destruction. For lovers of books or even just a great mystery, this book is the perfect escape into a tale which questions authorship and the importance of reading books, and I’m envious of anyone who gets to read it for the first time.
- ‘The Secret History’ by Donna Tartt
Another one for mystery lovers, Tartt’s writing is absorbing in its detailed creation of atmosphere and narrative – so much so that I struggled to put this book down. Revolving around a group of six classics students at Hampden College, the novel’s dark academic themes and classical influences help create a compelling murder mystery. I don’t think I’ve ever felt as captivated by a fictional world and its characters before, and this book still lingers on my mind regularly.
- ‘Americanah’ by Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie
‘Americanah’ tells the story of Ifemelu, and her immigration from Nigeria to the United States for university. The story follows multiple threads and time periods of her life, tracing her love story with Obinze and the challenges which their relationship suffers over the years due to being separated in two different countries. Adichie’s story is a powerful exploration of identity and race, a novel which offers insight into the nature of cultural relations and representation in a post-9/11 America; ideas hugely important for us all to educate ourselves about.
- ‘La Belle Sauvage’ by Philip Pullman
A fan of Pullman’s ‘His Dark Materials’ series as a child, I was excited yet also wary of his announcement of his follow up trilogy ‘The Book of Dust’. The first installment of ‘The Book of Dust’ and set before Pullman’s original trilogy, ‘La Belle Sauvage’ may be read prior to the other books, depicting the life of eleven-year-old Malcolm Polstead and his journey down the River Thames to save baby Lyra, sought after by the Magisterium – a powerful government body. ‘La Belle Sauvage’ is hard to summarise given the intricacy of the storytelling, yet I implore everyone to read this book and be immersed into Pullman’s fictional world forevermore.
2020 has been a tough year for small businesses and while ordering off of Amazon is tempting, it’s worth checking out independent booksellers. Using online sites for independent bookstores to support your lockdown book buys (guilty) is a great way to support their businesses until the day we can all be back in their bookstore once more. You can check to see if your favourite independent bookseller has their own website, or there are also many other great initiatives to consider when making your purchases. Here are some great sites to order from:
Founded only last year, ‘Bookshop.org’ is a site for independent bookstores. The site splits proceeds amongst many independent bookstores, and while a great alternative to Amazon, it may be worth considering buying directly from local bookshops themselves if that is an option for you.
‘Hive.co.uk’ is a site which gives proceeds back to independent bookstores, also giving you the opportunity to choose independent booksellers within your area to support.
‘A Box of Stories’ is a new initiative which supports books which may not necessarily have made it to the media’s top ‘bestsellers’ lists, providing four books with a new lease of life through every box bought. This site also provides a subscription service, the perfect opportunity to receive titles each month to keep you busy during lockdown while also supporting the 83% of fiction which does not receive as much attention as the rest.
‘Books that Matter’ is an online subscription service that aims to prioritise female voices and ‘to enlighten, educate and empower’. Purchasing this box is not only a great way to make sure your reading includes female authorship, but also to support small businesses given each box also includes gifts sourced from female independent creators and businesses.