It is now day 14 of self-isolation. So far, I’ve taken up yoga, had lots of video coffee breaks, finally took the time to stick all my photographs into albums, took walks, tried to write (which did not work as well as I hoped it would), tried to keep up with uni things, went to work once a week because I still have to, and, of course: read. Just to be clear: I am highly aware of the fact that having leisure time for all these activities is a privilege and I know that these times are strange and scary and very demanding for lots of people, most of all those who keep the world running at this very moment by providing their work in health service, in shops and other places where it’s needed, but also for people who do not have a home to stay in, or have a home in which they are treated badly.
At the beginning of all of this, I would check live tickers all day and work myself up into feeling anxious about anything and everything until I realized there is no use in over-feeding myself with every little scrap of information I could find about the situation. I had to learn to ration my information-intake, and use the remaining time in a mindful way. Of course, that doesn’t always work and that’s okay, too. We don’t have to be productive now, or put pressure on ourselves to finally do everything we’d been wanting to get done for the past three years. It’s okay to just do nothing, and it’s small steps that help when you’re feeling anxious, and for me, one of those steps is one of the simplest there is: Open up a book and read.
For those of you who would like to do the same, I’ve compiled a book guide divided in all kinds of different literary genres, so I hope there’ll be something for everyone. (Those which are originally in German, I’ve read and reviewed in German.) Of course, I’m more than happy to give more personalized book recommendations based on a specific taste, just drop me a line!
If this list inspires you to get some new books and you can afford to, it would be great to support your local bookstore in these weird times. In Frauenfeld, for example, you can conveniently order your books online at Bücherladen Marianne Sax (http://www.saxbooks.ch/) and the books are delivered to your door by bicycle for free!
So, without further ado, this is my book guide for times of social distancing:
For fans of
- The Familiars by Stacey Halls – 17th century, Lancaster, England; The life of Fleetwood Shuttleworth, 17, pregnant and Mistress of Gawthorpe Hall, becomes intertwined with that of young midwife Alice Gray during the famous Pendlewitch Trials. (If you liked The Familiars: The Foundling is Hall’s second book, and just as brilliant.)
- Salt to the Sea by Rutya Sepetis – 1940s, Europe; Four separate story lines are threaded together to show us a kaleidoscope of individual heartbreaks and hopes during WWII, with the big ship Wilhelm Gustloff at the end of the horizon which should bring them all home to where they belong.
- And then there were None by Agatha Christie – 1960s, a remote island, England; This is Agatha Christie at the top of her game, suspenseful, masterful, the archetype of the true British Crime novel; this book will have you guessing until the last page.
- Verbrechen von Ferdinand von Schirach – Eine Sammlung von Kurzgeschichten über Verbrechen, welche von Schirach so oder in ähnlicher Form als Strafverteidiger miterlebt hat. Kein Wort ist zu viel bei ihm, und die Art, wie er die Geschichten erzählt ist so wunderbar mitreissend, weil er die Menschen darin nicht einfach in gut und böse unterteilt.
- A Room of One’s Own by Virginia Woolf – 20th century, Cambridge, England; A not only interesting but beautifully written insight into a woman’s place in society in early 20th century England; it makes you angry and it makes you want to shake awake Virginia Woolf in her grave to show her how far we’ve come from her place of despair.
- Why I’m No Longer Talking to White People About Race by Eddi Reno Lodge – This is not firstly a feminist read but a book on the history of racism in England told by a black woman, who because of her womanhood also talks about intersectional feminism. It’s a difficult read and because of that so very important, in the sense that it’s a reminder for white people to check their privileges and take the time to listen.
- Public library and other stories by Ali Smith – A collection of short stories and meditations on writing, on writers, on all sorts of things, really, written in Ali Smith’s remarkably exact yet wholly fresh and vivid prose.
- The Goldfinch by Donna Tartt – 1980s, New York, USA; 13-year-old Theo survives a bombing at the Met Museum. That day he loses his mother but gains a painting, “The Goldfinch”, which he takes with him on impulse. As we follow Theo’s life, which becomes entwined unchangeably with that painting, we witness his coming of age, his loves and losses and the friends he makes along the way (there probably never was a more endearing fictional character than Hobie).
- Hotel du Lac by Anita Brookner – 1980s, Geneva, Switzerland; A beautiful story about Edith Hope, who has been exiled by her friends into a grand hotel in Geneva right by the lake to sort herself out and put herself back together after a rash decision she has made.
- Atonement by Ian McEwan – 1930s and present day, England; I mean. There’s not much to say about Ian McEwan, every novel of his is brilliant and beautiful and clever, even though the stories often aren’t about very much at all. Atonement is, though. It’s a story about family ties, about love, and shame and remorse. Told by Briony Tallis, a strange 13-year-old girl living on an estate in the English countryside, it is an account of wartime England and of personal tragedy. (If you liked Atonement: On Chesil Beach or The Children Act are two other novels by McEwan I heartily recommend.)
- To Kill a Mockingbird by Harper Lee – 1940s, Alabama, USA; The beautiful depiction of Jean Louise Finch’s quiet countryside Childhood which is disturbed by events unfolding in the village because of a trial surrounding a black man, whose attorney happens to be Atticus Finch, Jean Louise’s Father.
- Pride and Prejudice by Jane Austen – early 19th Century, Hertfordshire, England; A sweeping Romance of the olden times, with countryside balls and courtship, but also with a Jane Austen twist; the origin of one of the most loveable, clever and witty literary heroines to this date: Lizzie Bennett.
- Siddhartha von Hermann Hesse – Dieses Buch lässt sich schlecht beschreiben; eine Anlehnung an Siddhartha Gautama, den historischen Buddha, ist es die Lebensgeschichte des jungen Siddhartha, welcher auszieht um die Erleuchtung und den Sinn des Lebens zu suchen. Eine kurze Geschichte mit grossen Ideen, welche zum Denken anregen.
- The Picture of Dorian Gray by Oscar Wilde – 19th Century, London, England; Not only Wilde’s witticisms and his style of writing make this classic so vastly enjoyable, but also the intriguing story line of a young man corrupted by his own vanity and beauty and the lengths he will go to preserve it.
- Just Kids by Patti Smith – 1960s, New York, USA; I’ve said it already and I will say it again: Patti Smith’s prose is perfect and it makes you feel all the nostalgic and sad and happy feels. This book tells her life story from when she arrived in NYC as a ragtag poet to the heights of her career and introduces us to her great love, Robert Mapplethorne, along the way – I’ve been wanting to re-read it since I first read it.
- LIFE by Keith Richards – 1960s, Absolutely-fucking-everywhere-but-mostly-London, England; If you like rock’n’roll, this book will be the best thing you’ve read for some time. Keith Richards is funny and interesting, and if only half of what he wrote is true, his life was one hell of an adventure.
- The Night Circus by Erin Morgenstern – It’s been a while since I’ve read this one but I remember its sparkling prose and atmospheric setting; a story about a circus which appears out of nowhere, and two star-crossed lovers belonging to the circus who must compete against each other.