Coronavirus: 5 books that open up new worlds and help you escape lockdown loneliness
Are you anxious about the coronavirus pandemic? Bored out of your wits stuck indoors? We give you a list of books that will entertain and distract as you (impatiently) wait out the lockdown.
More than a third of the world’s population is homebound as governments across the globe take unprecedented measures to quell the spread of coronavirus and flatten the curve.
This means our streets have emptied out, our theatres, malls, parks, and bars see no footfall, and generations of people used to a fast-paced life now have a lot of time on their hands and nowhere to go.
We have helped you along the way in these dark times of staying put at home, keeping healthy, and staving off anxieties. From movies and YouTube videos to diet plans and tips on keeping stress at bay, YS Weekender has you sorted. If you are still restless and perturbed by all that is happening outside your door, we suggest the best balm for the soul: books.
Books, now more than ever, can envelop you in comfort and take your mind off the COVID-19 outbreak, at least for a few hours in a day. This is a form of escapism we happily endorse.
So here are some recommended reads that will whisk you away into worlds and times that are far different from the current one we live in:
1. Cold Comfort Farm by Stella Gibbons
This 1933 cosy classic is exactly what the doctor ordered for 2020. Tuck the present far into the dim recesses of your mind and slip into this early twentieth-century tale of a young socialite plucked from her city life and dropped, quite unceremoniously, into the rural English countryside.
Recently orphaned after her parents’ death, London-bred Flora Poste now has to impose herself upon her distant relatives living and running the Cold Comfort Farm in Sussex. There, she finds things in disarray, and a litter of (extremely entertaining) characters nursing their own hang-ups.
Our heroine does not like to sit around so she takes on the mantle of fixing things… not the farm or the animals, but the people. A hilarious novel, the book is punctuated with Flora’s funny observations, including the scorching, “Nature is all very well in her place, but she must not be allowed to make things untidy.”
Light and witty, this book will bring you a lot of comfort, cold or not.
2. Warbreaker by Brandon Sanderson
As news every day in early 2020 looks more and more surreal, why not escape into a delicious work of fantasy? And from none other than the immensely talented fantasy fiction main man Brandon Sanderson himself.
Warbreaker is set in both Idris—a land of restraint and dullness, where life is hard and colourless (quite literally)—and Hallandren—the lap of luxury, hedonism, vibrancy and magic, where the gods live it up. Gods here are great men and women who returned to earth after some noble sacrifice and now live in great decadence.
Our story follows the lives of two sisters, Vivenna and Siri, who are the daughters of the king of Idris, as they set off for Hallandren. Each sister tumbles into a whole host of adventures, which includes the intriguing magic system of Breath and Colours, mercenaries who are ruthless killers, and gods who have lost their human touch and, instead, plot against each other.
Trippy and imaginative, the book will transplant you to a fantasy world that is filled with magic and adventure and a wonderful set of characters. This is a great primer for fantasy fiction newbies and a beloved one of fans of the genre.
3. Hotel New Hampshire by John Irving
This Dickensian coming-of-age tale by the great John Irving follows the lives of the quirky Berrys—father Win, mother Mary, children Frank, Franny, John, Lilly, and Egg. The family lives in and runs a hotel by converting an abandoned girls’ school in New Hampshire.
The Berrys live a life of laughter and adventure. John, our narrator, is naïve and adores his sister Franny, who is bold and beautiful. A socially awkward Frank bonds with Lilly, who does not grow physically after a point, and little Egg who remains babyish.
Then there is their dog that is hilariously brought back to life after a taxidermy experiment and turns up in the unlikeliest places, scaring people, sometimes even to death. The novel is stuffed to the brim with entertaining characters and situations, be it the show bear and its master, a family overhaul to Vienna where Hotel New Hampshire (version 2) springs up, and its inhabitants of friendly prostitutes and radical Commies.
Central to this 1981 novel is a family that lives, loves, and laughs in the setting of a hotel. We may not live in a hotel, but we are with our families now more than ever and this book comes as a fun reminder of how, above all, our loved ones matter in times of uncertainty.
4. I Capture the Castle by Dodie Smith
We have a theme, looks like: 20th century English classics = cosy comfort. Here is another gem that will give you all the feels. Dodie Smith, the author of the popular children’s novel The Hundred and One Dalmatians, spins a tale of family love and coming-of-age ruminations.
The eccentric Mortmains are living in the ruins of a dilapidated castle, trying to keep up with a genteel lifestyle even as they deal with mounting debts, leaky roofs, and broken stairs.
Narrated by daughter Cassandra, the book is a journal of the teenager, as she observes her family with clear-eyed honesty softened by plenty of love and compassion.
There is her one-hit wonder father, who suffers from writer’s block and sequesters himself in the tower of the castle; the bewitching stepmom Topaz, a beautiful model for artists whose quirks include moon-bathing in the nude; Rose, her sister who is a typical English beauty looking to marry rich; and Thomas, the youngest child. Their lives forever change when the Cottons, a wealthy American family, become their landlords.
Pick up this fun book to escape into the mind of an English girl as she takes clever note of everything around her in an almost dreamy setting of 1930s England. This will also be a relatable read as the central theme is a family within a confined space, something we are all too familiar with in the current situation.
5. Station Eleven by Emily St John Mandel
We have saved the best for last. Station Eleven is a masterpiece. A slow-burn post-apocalyptic novel, it is set in the time after civilisation collapsed following a swine flu pandemic, and a scattered population tries to find its bearings.
Set 20 years after Year Zero, the year a flu wiped out most of the world’s population, we follow a motley crew of characters—a travelling group of actors and musicians called the Travelling Symphony. They come across people both good and bad, as individuals and groups are left to fend for themselves in a world ravaged by disease.
A beautiful novel written with much restraint and subtlety, it is a meditation on human nature when things go basic and life as we know it comes to an abrupt end.
Our world is definitely not ending but this book shows how it is important to come together as a race in turbulent times. Between its pages are many lessons to be learnt set in an immersive, imaginative plot.
(Edited by Teja Lele Desai)