As the entire country locked down this Spring for 12 weeks, people left, right and centre were turning to new hobbies, or picking up old ones that had been long abandoned for work, socialising and all the other ways we usually spend our time. For us readers, this meant that we were finally able to charge through our reading lists, without the weight of FOMO or the lingering guilt of knowing that we should be doing housework, homework, or some other boring but necessary task instead.
We had to read. There were so many hours in the day to fill, and there are only so many times you can do a Zoom quiz before you begin to lose your mind. So books it was. From historical fiction to cookery books, thrillers to romances, there were books in abundance to be read, especially for us lot at the Barn. We have been building up tottering piles of titles for months, picking them out of the endless supply of books that come through our doors each day and taking them home to be added to our selection of TBRs on our bookshelves.
By the time we all returned to work, we'd managed to make proper progress on these piles, and had plenty of new books to wax lyrical about with one another. There's nothing quite like talking books with a fellow book lover.
We figured it'd be nice to share these books with you, too. We found booksellers in every nook and cranny around the building and pestered them for their favourite lockdown reads, and here's what they shared:
The Studio Ghibli version of this movie has remained one of my favourites for years, so I was nervous to read the book once I discovered it existed but I found an amazing and quirky fantasy novel filled with rich characters and a gorgeous setting. It's gone right up on my list of favourite books.
I haven't been a fan of romance since I was an angsty teen reading supernatural young adult fiction (guilty of having had a Twilight phase), so I took a risk with this one, but as a fan of Greek Mythology I wanted to give it a go. What I found was possibly the most beautiful book I have ever read, about love and acceptance and sacrifice, set during a time of great heroes and monsters from myth. It has been a very long time since I have sat and read a book in one sitting, but I couldn't put it down until the very last page, crying over this wonderful book.
The start of lockdown and working from home gave me the perfect opportunity to get into some true crime podcasts, and with it came an interest in the Jack the Ripper case. This book gives such an interesting take, as it focuses not just on the mystery of who the killer was, but on the victims themselves and the true human lives that were involved in such heinous acts. A highly recommended non-fiction read.
Next up on my reading list: The Ballad of Songbirds and Snakes by Suzanne Collins and Wicked by Gregory Maguire.
This book was such an easy read! It's about four women who invent time travel in 1967 (amazing concept, right?!). Now it's 2018 and there is a mysterious death and time travel definitely plays a part in it. The story intertwines characters' lives throughout the novel, and the chapters are short so it's something you'll be able to read quickly if you haven't read anything for a while.
This is one of my best reads for 2020. I loved the original Hunger Games series, so jumped on this as soon as it came out. We follow the story of a young President Snow and see a very different side to him. This book is well-paced and keeps you on your toes! We already know that Snow became President, but the story of how is definitely a story worth of being told. If you get a chance to read this, please do!
The latest book in the Noughts and Crosses series. This was another great edition to a great series - it follows Tobey Durbridge and Callie Rose several years after the love of Sephy and Callum. Tobey has been framed for murder and he turns to his old friend, Callie Rose. Two young kids are kidnapped, and other things are unearthed as the story progresses. The ending of this novel is such a cliffhanger, I can't wait for the next one to come out.
Next up on my list: The Red Queen by Victoria Aveyard.
This one was a compelling read, filled with wonderful images and luscious scenes of Paris in the '50s and '20s, with rich and vibrant characters. Well written and brilliant escapism.
This poetry collection is a brilliant one to read in the garden on a bright day. It's inventive and gentle and celebrates the wonder in the every day and in nature-- definitely a good post-lockdown read.
Next up on my list: Love in a Fallen City by Eileen Chang.
Based on the enchantress Circe from Greek mythology, the writing and the story of this novel is really captivating and it features a strong, complex heroine. Definitely recommend for those interested in mythology.
This took me about two days to read, it was super addicting! It's a fantasy story based around Fae and the world building is really great. The characters are all unique in their own ways and the dynamic between all of them makes for such an interesting read.
Next up on my list: The Girl of Ink and Stars by Kiran Millwood Hargrave.
I reread this during lockdown. It's an old copy which my mum gave me to read when I was about 16 and I've always refused to part with it, but not read it again since 1986! I loved it just as much this time as when I was a teenager. It's fiercely feminist and political, and has moments of great humour and deep sadness. She paints beautiful word pictures and I feel like I can see exactly what she's imagining for the hero Jill, and the struggles she comes up against. I've just posted it back to my mum to reread, and she's excited to get it back!
Next up on my list: Orlando by Virginia Woolf.
Both Lauren B and myself love strong poetry and this was a recommendation from her. I'd never actually read a memoir before, but this was brilliant; sharp, raucous, extremely funny while being very sad too, and written with such a finely honed poetic ear that it packed all the literary and emotional punch of a tightly packed poem.
I've been meaning to read Atwood for ages, so I had a bit of a feast with these titles. Alias Grace was a gradual, hypnotic submersion into the mind of Grace, where clues are built upon clues, and nothing is clear until the end of the book. The historical details are quietly and gradually layered too, building a detailed historical atmosphere which beautifully pervades the whole story.
A dense spiritual book on Buddhist thinking. I've read it before, but this time I am recording it for a friend at her request. If you want an understanding of life and death which makes sense theoretically and spiritually as well as practically, read this. You will never look at life the same way afterwards.
Next up on my list: Oryx and Crake by Margaret Atwood.
Anything by this author is well worth a read. The characters really drew me in and I had to keep reading, well after bedtime! This series is Science Fiction, but it's mainly about humans trying to do right by each other.
I stumbled across this by accident and I'm absolutely loving it. It's adventurous and very emotional.
Next up on my list: Schooner to the Southern Oceans by Gordon Cook.
This was published at the end of James' life. He describes his favourite books and maintains his dry wit despite everything.
This book contains three stories, all different but each a little uncomfortable to read as they could have been written about current events.
This novel is a snapshot of one event during the Spanish Civil War. It's written with Hemingway's classic brevity, but without losing any of the drama or picture painting needed for the story.
Next up on my list: A People Betrayed, The Spanish Holocaust and The Last Days of the Spanish Republic by Paul Preston.
Another one of my lockdown reads was Meg Wolitzer's The Female Persuasion. I thought that I'd known what this book was, but I couldn't have been more wrong. A novel, yes, but also an insightful and honest look at feminism and it's constantly changing attitudes. Greer, our main character, meets legendary activist Faye, and it changes the entire trajectory of her life.
This collection of essays is a must-read for any art lover, or in fact just anyone. Bringing art history to its readers in a digestible, humorous, honest way, and highlighting a lifelong love of Art and Artists. My personal favourite is the Degas essay - it has me looking at his paintings in an entirely different way.
This one was a reread, having read it for the first time a few years ago. However, I'd forgotten all of its twists and turns so it was just as enjoyable an experience as the first time. One of those novels that's impossible to put down, although it tells its story with a steady pace, weaving in pieces of information that leave you desperately trying to solve the case before the story reaches it's climax.
Next up on my list: The Diary of Frida Kahlo: An Intimate Self-Portrait.
So there you have it - a veritable smorgasbord of titles from all the little corners of our business. Tell us, what did you read during lockdown? Did you manage to take a good chunk out of your TBR pile? Or did you find reading difficult during the endless waking hours? Share with us your recommendations, your stories, your lockdown literature highs and lows.