I am finding it much easier to concentrate on extremely trivial things, such as Fantasy Premier League

Contributor: Ben Esche

Have you read more or less during lockdown, or much the same as usual?

At first more, because of all the extra time freed up by not commuting. Then less once I discovered I could fill that time with work, or pointlessly scrolling through Twitter.

Has lockdown affected your choice of reading material?

I don’t think it has. I’m fairly oblivious to what’s actually going on around me most of the time anyway.

Have you switched from your normal genre? eg started reading poetry, short stories, non fiction, drama?

No change, apart from Twitter, if that’s a genre all its own?

Have you been using reading in a different way – for example for comfort, raising your spirits, escapism, distraction?

Not deliberately, although it does seem to be a way to return to a saner pace and get away from the distraction.

Have you been finding it harder to concentrate during lockdown?

Yes. Or rather, I am finding it much easier to concentrate on extremely trivial things, such as Fantasy Premier League. I could have read War and Peace last week in the time I spent trying to work out whether to bring in Harry Kane for Mohammed Salah.

Have you started books and been unable to finish them?

I’m going to finish them at some point. Probably?

Where do you get inspiration for titles?

Sometimes I buy books by people I hear interviewed on podcasts, or see reviewed in newspapers. I also find that having people with postgraduate degrees in literature for parents can be useful for this purpose. When we were briefly allowed to go shopping in the summer, I returned temporarily to my usual method of wandering aimlessly around a large bookshop until I have accumulated what seems like enough bound paper.

Where are you sourcing your books/audiobooks from?

Usually I look them up on Amazon, then get a terrible attack of guilt and pay £5 more to get exactly the same book 3 days later from a smaller faceless company.

Have you embarked on reading all the books you already own but have never read?


Have you been listening to audiobooks rather than reading? If so, does listening add something to your experience of the book that you wouldn’t get by reading it yourself?

I haven’t. I spend quite a lot of time listening to podcasts now, but not whole audiobooks. One of them is a podcast where people talk about books I haven’t read. Does that count?

Have you been reading books about pandemics? eg The Plague by Albert Camus, Journal of the Plague Year by Daniel Defoe, Love in the Time of Cholera by Gabriel Garcia Marquez, The Roses of Eyam by Don Taylor etc?

The Camus title did come up on an episode of the aforementioned podcast. I expect that’ll be the next book I read by an existentialist-absurdist philosopher… The book I actually did read that most closely fits this question is The Precipice by Toby Ord, which is about all the existential (in another sense) risks faced by humanity. Pandemics made the list, although Toby thinks human-engineered ones are much more likely to bring about the end times than natural ones.

Can you recommend up to 5 books/audiobooks that you have enjoyed during lockdown?

A Bit of a Stretch by Chris Atkins, which is a good way to enjoy yourself while finding out that the UK prison system is actually even more inhumane and catastrophically mismanaged than you might have suspected.

The Precipice by Toby Ord (see above)

Against Elections by David van Reybrouck, on why elections are anti-democratic. 

The Tyranny of Merit by Michael Sandel, on why meritocracy is a bad idea. 

Ulysses by James Joyce (only kidding!)



  1. Ooh yes – I think I have The Tyranny of Merit on my reading pile – I must dig it out. My “to read” pile has really rather got away from me during lockdown as the only thing I can really do to lift my mood is buy books, so I kind of do…

  2. If I may venture into dangerous waters considering your literary parents Mr Esche, I do recommend Warren Peace, a charming adaptation adorned with colourful photos of costumed bunnies. Covers the main points in just 56 pages. I still couldn’t sort out who was who though to be honest.

  3. Ben Esche’s recommendation of The Tyranny of Merit prompted me to read around on the internet, the result of which is that I shall have to get myself a copy. Meritocracy implies that, being self-made and self-sufficient, we can “make it,” if we try hard enough. Apart from the question begged here of what constitutes “making it,” and the very notion (fatally flawed in my view) that we can be “self-made,” it’s clear that the pandemic has raised awareness of the importance to society of people who are perennially undervalued in their pay packets and in terms of esteem. Sandel writes: “This is a moment to begin a debate about the dignity of work.” This triggered a childhood memory of the day I was watching the refuse collectors (“dustbin men”) at work and my father said to me: “They’re the salt of the earth.”

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