Well, we’re all in it for the long haul now. As of Monday 23 March, the UK is in lockdown, with self-isolation at home mandatory for all citizens unless deemed a ‘critical worker.’ Understandably, this can seem like quite a scary and stressful time, with the prospect of being cooped up at home for weeks on end bringing many anticipatory fears of boredom and loneliness. However, there are many ways we can make the most of this situation. One of which is to finally tackle that looming to-be-read (TBR) pile all of us self-proclaimed bookworms have had stowed in our rooms for far too long. My shelf of unread books has been glaring at me every night before I go to sleep for years now and I’ve decided that quarantine is the perfect opportunity to show it who’s boss.
I’m beginning my isolation with a reread of Philip Pullman’s His Dark Materials, a trilogy woven by a master storyteller for all ages and types of readers. It’s appealing whether you’re a seasoned literary critic who enjoys dissecting Pullman’s controversial theology, or an avid fantasy reader who simply wishes to be whisked away to a world of witches, talking polar bears and spiritual animal companions. The great thing about this series is that a brand-new television adaptation with a stellar cast just recently wrapped up on the BBC. This means you have plenty of content to keep you occupied throughout your self-isolation.
Now may be a perfect time to dip back into old favourites to distract from the current state of the world
Speaking of childhood nostalgia, now may be a perfect time to dip back into old favourites to distract from the current state of the world and reinvigorate the sense of joy and adventure that made us all readers in the first place. Aside from stating that one obvious series we’re all thinking of, allow me to point you in the direction of some of my more obscure childhood favourites.
These include The Edge Chronicles by Paul Stewart and Chris Riddell. It’s a long-running fantasy series about the fictional world of ‘The Edge’: a huge cliff-face filled with magic, monsters and no apparent bottom. The series consists of four trilogies that span a large chunk of the world’s history, so there’s plenty to sink your teeth into, and they are all beautifully illustrated. Another favourite of mine is Michelle Paver’s Chronicles of Ancient Darkness. The series follows Torak and his lovable wolf companion in a magical, yet often surprisingly dark adventure set during the Stone Age.
So as you can tell, I’m a pretty big fan of fantasy books. Seeing as we’re all going to be stuck at home for quite some time, we have no excuses not to have a go at some of the giant tomes that occupy the fantasy section of Waterstones. If you were as disappointed with the Game of Thrones finale as the rest of the world, why not have a go at reading A Song of Ice and Fire to see how the story was intended to be written? Though, be warned about the agonising wait for the next instalment.
All good books, offer a reminder that life can be frightening and extraordinary, but that certainly doesn’t make it any less worth living
Or if you’re looking for a series that’s actually complete, and with a bonus of more TV to watch down the line, have a go at Robert Jordan’s iconic fantasy-epic The Wheel of Time. It spans a whole fourteen novels. Additionally, fantasy author Brian McClellan has recently posted that he will be making several of his books free to access online in order to help those struggling in quarantine. If that doesn’t tell you that this is ample time to read, I don’t know what will.
As much as many of us would like to escape the real world, I know several readers will be looking for things a little more grounded. One of my personal favourite long reads is Wild Swans by Jung Chang, a multi-generational autobiography detailing the lives of one family throughout the turbulence of 20 century China. Similarly, I adore Marjane Satrapi’s graphic novel Persepolis. It tells the story of her life growing up in pre- and post-revolution Iran, a perfect interspersion of humour and drama to keep you glued to the pages.
In times like these I find that I enjoy looking to books recounting the real lives of such strong women; they, and all good books, offer a reminder that life can be frightening and extraordinary, but that certainly doesn’t make it any less worth living.