Around the world, people are trying to make the most of their time while stuck in home isolation. Without commuting, traffic, in-person socialising and other outdoor activities, you may find you have more time for a hobby that often gets pushed to the wayside — reading.
If you’ve ever thought the words, “I wish I had more time to read,” you’ve come to the right place. (You can also scroll down for free resources available during the lockdown period. We’ll keep updating that list).
Check out TNM’s selection of books of various genres, lengths and styles to dive back into your reading habit.
Books you’ve always wanted to read but haven’t had the time
Let’s be very honest. You haven’t read The Lord of the Rings, have you? Although you pretend that you have to keep up the geek image you’ve carefully built over the years. You’ve used Google and some judicious buzzword-dropping to keep up the image. Now’s your chance. Read it. It’s not the world’s best literary attempt but it’s not bad.
Keeping with the fantasy theme, maybe it’s time you read the A Song of Ice and Fire series, or as its more popularly known A Game of Thrones. There are five books out now and author George RR Martin says he’s using the quarantine period to try and (finally) finish the storied saga.
Or maybe it’s time to dive into all 1,349 pages of Vikram Seth’s A Suitable Boy. Once you get past the size and weight of the book, it’s a captivating story about family, marriage and communal strife in post-independent India.
Or imagine if you could come out of the other side of this quarantine and say you read Leo Tolstoy’s War and Peace, the classic Russian masterpiece set in 1869? Sounds tempting, doesn’t it?
Would you like to be part of a bizarre cult - a cult whose only requirement is you read a particular book in one full sitting, without abandoning it? Then James Joyce’s Ulysses is the book for you. Every year, fans of the book celebrate Bloomsday - the day the events of the story happen - on June 16. While June 16 may be far away from now, why not begin on Ulysses now and see how far you get? (This writer has barely begun attempting this ritual. For a lighter Joyce, why not try Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man?)
If you want to read dystopian fiction
The Handmaid’s Tale by Margaret Atwood depicts a United States of America that’s been overtaken by a quasi-Christian regime. It follows the story of Offred and the subjugation faced by women, and their subsequent resistance against the oppressive power.
If you want to immerse yourself further into the coronavirus pandemic, check out Emily St. John Mandel’s novel Station Eleven, which follows a theatre troupe after a pandemic known as the “Georgia Flu” wipes out most of the world’s population.
Ling Ma’s Severance also looks at a world in which a fictional fever has destroyed humanity. It follows a woman, who is one of the few survivors to escape the pandemic.
Fahrenheit 451 is a classic example of dystopian fiction by Ray Bradbury. It explores the historical censorship of books and literature through burnings in a society where books have been outlawed.
If you want to think about anything but the pandemic
PG Wodehouse and Anita Desai are your go-to authors here.
Now, PG Wodehouse, or Plum, has been written about and is perhaps a bit of an old rehash (although why should that stop us from delighting in his little world encased in bubble wrap and sunlight?), so let’s look at Anita Desai, in particular her collection of short stories Games At Twilight. The titular story is of a band of young kids and the games they play. It, and the 10 other stories such as Pineapple Cake that appear in the book are, if we can say so, just what the doctor ordered to get your mind off heavier things.
But soft! Let us think about Plum a bit more. The world of carefree young men, strong and independent women, glaring aunts, and that ever present solver of puzzles and love’s many knots that PG Wodehouse created - perhaps a world that only exists as an antithesis to the world an Englishman of his era saw, but one that allows us, every day, to escape the press of daily routine and go to where pigs win competitions, clubs allow young men to throw bread and cake at each other, and for a while, forget that we are in the midst of a global pandemic. If this is something you’d like to try (and who wouldn’t), may we suggest you start with Sam The Sudden, then proceed to Jeeves and the Feudal Spirit, saunter on to Something Fresh, stop a moment at Psmith and the City, and end at Aunts Aren’t Gentlemen.
The first book of the popular Neapolitan series, My Brilliant Friend by Elena Ferrante is a coming-of-age story about two childhood friends in 1950s Naples. The books have an ardent fan following and have sold millions of copies around the world. Once you finish that one, try the next three books in the series and if you still want more, it’s been adapted into a TV series for HBO.
Aristotle and Dante Discover the Secrets of the Universe is a lovely story about two Mexican-American teenage boys covering themes like friendship, sexuality and family.
Books if you want to ease your anxiety
An author one would like to see back in print is Nevil Shute. He writes these simple no-nonsense human stories. There are no major plot twists or thrillers, but just regular people doing their very best and handling situations as and when they happen. Of his many stories, two that are highly recommended are:
A Town Like Alice tells the story of a young woman who inherits a lot of money, and wants to help build a town in the Australian outback. How she does it, and the troubles she undergoes, is the story. Characteristic Nevil Shute touches in the way the narration moves from one part to another, from one person to another.
Pied Piper is about an old man who finds himself in charge of a bunch of young kids in northern France at the height of World War 2, and has to rescue them to safety in England. The journey, the challenges, and that one moral dilemma he faces make the story one of the best studies of human nature, and of the war too.
Memoirs by fascinating people
When celebrity chef and TV host Anthony Bourdain died in 2018, long-time fans of his work looked back on his 2000 memoir, Kitchen Confidential, to remember and celebrate his life. For anyone interested in the culinary world, it’s a riveting look at the inner (often hazardous) workings of restaurants.
Audiobook bonus pick: Mindy Kaling voices her own two books Is Everyone Hanging Out Without Me? and Why Not Me? in her wonderful, hilarious and charming style. They’re great comedic memoirs that offer a look into Kaling’s life, made even better when she’s voicing her own words.
Books that you can read in a day (short books basically)
This domestic thriller comes from the seriously underrated Celia Fremlin whose books are full of insightful observations about marriage, motherhood and society. In The Hours Before Dawn, Louise thinks she's losing her mind, what with the incessant crying, squabbling and repetitive questioning of her three children. But is that why she finds their new tenant suspicious? Or can she trust her own instincts after all?
JD Salinger’s Franny and Zooey focuses on the two youngest members of the genius Glass family - Franny and Zooey. While Franny is obsessed with 'incessant prayer', a concept she discovers in an obscure book, Zooey acts like he doesn't care but is struggling to come to terms with their older brother Seymour's suicide a few years ago. Funny, incisive and profound all at once, this is a lesser known book from the author of the wildly popular The Catcher in the Rye.
A haunting tale about a woman in South Korea who gives up meat and faces the wrath of her family, The Vegetarian by Han King is only 183 pages but it’s the kind of novel that sinks beneath your skin.
Books about animals (in honour of pets that have kept us company during isolation)
In The Friend by Sigrid Nunez, a woman loses her close friend to suicide and ends up adopting her friend’s dog, a Great Dane named Apollo. It’s a book on dealing with grief and mourning, but also the unwavering companionship of four-legged friends.
A memoir by Helen Macdonald, H is for Hawk follows a year in the author’s life as she trains a goshawk named Mabel, while coping with the death of her father.
Books your girlfriend/boyfriend/partner says you HAVE to read but you (wrongly) think you’ve outgrown them
Harry Potter - All seven of them. Now’s the time.
Roald Dahl. We’d recommend them all, but if we had to choose, go with Boy: Tales of Childhood, Danny, the Champion of the World, The Witches and Matilda.
Resources if you’re looking for free books
Juggernaut Books has announced that its app will be made free during the lockdown period.
As we go on curfew tomorrow, Juggernaut is going to make their app free for you. Because nothing can help you learn and grow, stay calm and stress-free like reading. #ReadInstead https://t.co/Klivx7o7Iu pic.twitter.com/SLph75iLqH— Juggernaut Books (@juggernautbooks) March 21, 2020
Journalist Sreenivasan Jain tweeted that former attorney general KK Venugopal has made his collection of antiquarian books available for public access at this website: http://www.kkvlibrary.com/
Got this message from a lawyer friend:— Sreenivasan Jain (@SreenivasanJain) March 25, 2020
K.K.Venugopal the Attorney General has built up a robust antiquarian books collection, dating from the 17th century. He has digitally scanned the whole lot and it's available for public access.https://t.co/BuDQj2BuKQ
Karnataka Digital Public Library has also made its e-books available to the public free of cost. Go to www.karnatakadigitalpubliclibrary.org, login or register, and once you are approved by the admin, you will be able to access the collection.
If you like your books to have lots of pictures, and tell a simple tale, Amar Chitra Katha and Tinkle have put their entire collection up for free download till 31st March.