15 Books that Help you Survive a Lockdown
“May you live in interesting times.”
It is the English translation of a supposed ancient Chinese curse. It appears to be a blessing whilebeing its opposite. While no Chinese equivalent has been found for it, we all know how interesting our time has been since December 2019. While we wait for the lockdown to be over and return to some semblance of normalcy, people have turned to the arts (singing, books, music, etc.) to find some kind of solace.
Almost every book-focused website or blog has a list of books to read during the lockdown. Some of them appear to suggest that you read about plagues at a time like this. You can, but it’s not fun. Here is a list of books that you can get lost in without wondering about what’s happening outside. Some people called it being escapist. Maybe that’s true. All of us could do with a little bit of escapism from reality. As the poet, T.S. Eliot said, “Humankind cannot bear very much reality.”
Of course, you definitely should not step out of the house to buy books.(At the time of writing this, the lockdown is still on.) Please wait for the government advisory on when to do that. You can make your list of books from this and other lists as well. If you have somehow missed reading these books, now is the time. You can read eBooks in the interim. There are so many eBooks available on leading online bookstores.
This list includes books that are exciting to read anytime, but especially so now. Also, the list is not Eurocentric and aims to be representative of literature around the world.
In no particular order, here is a list of books that might make your lockdown life more bearable and perhaps help you survive it as well.
1. One Hundred Years of Solitude
Author: Gabriel GarcíaMárquez Genre: Fiction/Magical Realism
In a land far away in Colombia in the town of Macondo, lives Buendía family. Who hasn’t heard of this landmark novel? It’s the story of the Buendía family across several generations. It’s also about the fabled town of Macondo. You should read this, lockdown or not, because it shows what one writer can do when he is at the top of his powers. It shows how to tackle adversity. Almost every Buendía faces a unique adversity that feels strange and weird and yet life goes on. You can get lost in 448 pages of the story taking you away from the present. But mostly you should read it because nothing quite like it was written before or since.
2. From Heaven Lake: Travels through Sinkiang and Tibet
Author: Vikram Seth Genre: Travel literature
Every day we read about how the travel industry is the hardest hit at present. But there is a way to travel without a visa, passport, or booking tickets. You can still travel through books. Travelogues should be required reading during this time. Can you think of a place you want to go but can’t? Pick up a travelogue to that place, and you can literally take off without the hassle of traveling!
Understandably, no one wants to go to China at present. However, this travelogue was written in 1990 during a time when China was not on everyone’s minds. People did not know about China so much. It was an exotic place. One year after the Berlin Wall fell, Seth sets off with a grant from Stanford University, where he was pursuing his Ph.D. to spend two years studying at Nanjing University. When returning, he doesn’t take a flight out of Xian or Chengdu as he could have. He takes a road trip hitchhiking from Nanjing to Tibet, Nepal, to finally India. He is a student. The time is the 80s. Seth speaks Chinese so well that he had to pretend not to speak it to get help. You should read it because it is about traveling during a time gone by. And because it is a travelogue that doesn’t talk only about the beauty of the place but also is a raw account of frozen toes and hungry stomachs.
3. The No. 1 Ladies’ Detective Agency Series
Author: Alexander Macall Smith Genre: Detective Fiction/Crime Fiction
Are you wondering how a fictionaldetective from Botswana, MmaPrecious Ramotswe can help you while in lockdown?Well, she can take you with her to her home on Zebra Drive where her life as the sole female detective of her town is peppered with characters that make you laugh, cry, and everything in between. With twenty novels in this series, you have enough to go around. These easy to read, bright (also literally, this is Africa), and tender paced books will soothe you. The crimes itself might be minor but the repercussions of the crime affect everyone in this small community. The stories are gentle and leave an impact long after you have closed the book. Some of the secondary characters like the assistant, Mma Grace Makutsi, and her friend and owner ofTlokweng Road Speedy Motors,Mr. J.L.B. Matekoni and others are so delightful that reading this series is a trip like no other. Read because you like detective fiction.
4. Journey to the River Sea
Author: Eva Ibbotson Genre: Young Adult Fiction
You don’t have to read this book just because Barack Obama bought it for his daughters. You should read it because it has all the elements of a good story. A young good-hearted and orphaned protagonist Maia issent off to stay with her relatives in Manaus, Brazil. Maia looks forward to her Brazilian adventures but she finds her relatives, the Carters, to be obnoxious, spoilt, and closed to the wonders of nature despite living right in its heart. Through her tutor Miss Minton, Clovis, a child actor from a traveling troupe, and another orphan, an heir of a wealthy British aristocrat, Maia discovers the colorful, majestic, dangerous, and ultimately liberating world of the Amazon.
5. If on a Winter’sNight, a Traveler
Author: Italo Calvino Genre: Fiction
The book is most famous for using the second-person point of view (“you”). It might be a bit challenging if you are expecting a run-of-the-mill story. In ten chapters, the narrative is about you, the reader, who reads a book called If on a Winer’s Night, a Traveler, and what happens next. Each chapter is the first chapter of a novel. So ten potential novels are hiding inside this book. Also, each chapter takes action forward, but you are interrupted as soon as it gets interesting. But something even more interesting happens, the next chapter starts. So on and on, it goes. Calvino plays games with your mind in this book. If you like literary games where you have to work out many details, this is an excellent lockdown read for you.
6. Reading Lolita in Tehran: A Memoir in Books
Author: AzarNafisi Genre: Memoir
This is a memoir devoted to readers and those who love books. Nafisiis a professor of English literature at the University of Tehran (1978-1981) during the revolution in Iran. The revolutionaries impose one restriction after another on women such as wear the burkha/parda, don’t wear makeup, don’t walk alone, stop working, and,strangely, stop wearing pink socks. As the world outside starts to shrink, Nafisi invites seven of her promising students to her home to discuss classics of English literature as part of a book club. So they read Nabokov’s Lolita, Jane Austen’s Pride and Prejudice, Henry James’s Washington Square and Diasy Miller, and interpret them in the light of their own experiences. Read because these women who are isolated because of external circumstances (like us) show how to survive restrictions.
7. Norwegian Wood
Author: Haruki Murakami Genre: Fiction
Haruki Murakami’s very popular book, Norwegian Wood, will take you to 1960s Japan. It’s aboutthe pleasure and plain of growing up. The protagonist Toru Watanabe listens to the Beatles song Norwegian Woodduring a flight and is taken back to his college years. He relives his memories of meeting the distant and mysterious Naoko while studying at university. The loss of Toru’s friend and Naoko’s boyfriend Kizukibrings them close. Together with Midori, a classmate, this makes an unlikely triangle. The narration is the real star of the book. Read because you like to savor writing that lays bare the inscrutability of the human heart.
8. Girl with the Pearl Earring
Author: Tracy Chevalier Genre: Historical Fiction
Johannes Vermeer’s famous painting Girl with the Pearl Earring in this book. She creates the entire world of 17th century Delft, Netherlands. Narrated by the protagonist herself, you see her life as a maid for the Vermeer family. Through her eyes, you understand the city of Delft, the strict class system, and the clash between Protestants and Catholics. Through the staging of the painting itself, you understand why Vermeer was called the master of light because of its sophisticated use in his paintings. Read because the book recreates the circumstances of painting through the subject’s eyes, which is a rare point of view.
9. Purple Hibiscus
Author: ChimamandaNgoziAdichie Genre: Fiction
Purple Hibiscus is not a comfort read. It will challenge you. It is a story of 15-year-old Kambili and her brother, Jaja, who live with their parents, Beatrice and Eugene Achike. Eugene is a very strict parent. The two children live in perpetual fear. For some time, they move in with their aunt, Aunt Ifeoma. She introduces them to the astounding beauty of life, literature, love, and freedom. Then they have to go back. What happens when you have tasted the beauty of life? Adichie does not provide easy answers. Read this book if you like reading fiction that shakes you up.
10. The BartimaeusSeries
Author: Jonathan Stroud Genre: Young Adult/Fantasy
Here’s your light-hearted book. This one is a comfort read because it is a trilogy about alternate history, fantasy, and magic. In this alternate universe, magic is an accepted reality, and most magicians are in power. The trilogy follows the teenage magician Nathaniel, the genie Bartimaeus, and the rebel Kitty’s adventures through the three books of TheAmulet of Samarkand, The Golem’s Eye, and Ptolemy’s Gate. These books are politically complex and fun at the same time. Bartimaeus is an amazing character. Watch out for his entertaining footnotes! Read because you like fantasy novels that make you think.
11. The Brief Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao
Author: JunotDíaz Genre: Fiction
Once in a while, you will come across a book that will make a profound impact on you. It is one of them. Moving between the Dominican Republic (DR) and the United States, the story is about an overweight, lovesick teenager called Oscar Wao, his sister Beli, and the narrator Yunior. It is also the story of Oscar’s grandfather, Abelard Luis Cabral, the troubledhistory of the island republic, and a curse that follows the Cabral family. With flashes of the supernatural and speckled with Spanglish, Díaz creates a whole other world that isstrange and familiar at the same time. Read because you’d like to open your reading horizons during the lockdown.
12. The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society
Author: Annie Barrows and Mary Ann Shaffer Genre: Historical Fiction
This book combines history, romance, and reading. With a beautiful setting and unforgettable characters, it is an absolute delight to read. Set during the Second World War, the story follows Juliet Ashton, a writer, and columnist. She is astounded to discover a literary society called the Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society on the island of Guernsey. Intrigued by the letters of Dawsey Adams, one of the members of the society, Juliet decides to visit the island and the society to write about it. Soon she discovers a secret. Tangled with her professional visit to the island is her growing feelings away from her fiancé and toward Adams. It is written as a series of letters. This heart-warming epistolary novel explores human relationships and the power of words. Read because you like to read books about reading and stories about the Second World War.
Author: KiranNagarkar Genre: Fiction/ Indian Literature
Set in 15th century Mewar and Chittor in Rajasthan, this novel narrates the story of the princess and saint, Meerabai, through the eyes of her husband, Maharaja Kumar. The story is fast-paced, blending historical facts, folk stories, imagination, and a historically marginal character. It reads like a contemporary story of a medieval prince. The story of the love that Maharaja Kumar has for Meerabai is punctuated with palace intrigue, statesmanship, governance, and war. The tome at 624 pages reads partly as a thriller and partly as a thesis on medieval Rajasthan. It has been called the Indian Wolf Hall. Read because you enjoy reading history and historical thrillers.
14. The Anna Karenina Fix: Life Lessons from Russian Literature
Author: VivGroskop Genre: Essays
Some readers have suggested that the lockdown is a good time to read Russian novels because they are so long. Since usually, it is difficult to find time to read them. That is a great idea! On the other hand, if you want a funny, entertaining review of all the major Russian novels, then this is your book. VivGroskop tells you all about them in her quirky way. Her point of view is personal, but her interpretation of the lessons from Russian literature is universal. She covers one Russian author per chapter. She starts with Leo Tolstoy, Boris Pasternak, Anna Akhmatova, and goes on to Ivan Turgenev, Alexander Pushkin, Fyodor Dostoevsky, Anton Chekhov, Alexander Solzhenitsyn, and then wraps up with Mikhail Bulgakov, and Nikolai Gogol. Read because life is short, and VivGroskop makes Russian novels seem funny.
15. The Time Traveler’s Wife
Author: Audrey Niffeneggar Genre: Science Fiction
Here is a super fun read that combines romance and sci-fi. It’s the story of the librarian, Henry DeTamble, who suffers from a Chrono Displacement Disorder. That means he can, from the age of 5 time travel anywhere. Usually, he time travels to emotionally significant times in the past. The triggers could be stress or flashing lights. When he arrives at a different time, he needs to steal clothes and break locks to survive. Henry loves Claire Abshire. Their unconventional love story spans over several incompatible ages. Yet they manage to make it work. Niffenegger explores themes like love, loss, and free will. Read because you like reading unconventional stories.
As with all lists, this, too, is a very subjective list. Your lockdown books might mirror this list or not. But if even one book from this list lights up your lockdown and gives you hope, this list is successful. Go on, plunge into the books now.