Contributor: Heather Relf
If only I had time to read…..How many times have I said this? Well, as a result of lockdown, I now have plenty of time on my hands. At the beginning of the first lockdown, the enforced “free” time was a novelty – a frenzy of decorating, crafting, music – even baking, filled my days. My grand plan to work my way through the pile of accumulated unread books and untouched classics was top of my cultural to do list. However, as the weeks have worn on, the continued uncertainty and wide-ranging social changes have had a huge impact on my ability to concentrate – even dampening my motivation to pick up a book. Without a doubt, I have read far fewer books than I could ever have predicted or imagined. Several wonderful novels have been started but remain unfinished – and my pile is still relatively untouched!
So, what have I been reading and why? Reading has been an important means of escape and distraction. Factual reports or articles of shared interest have been digested in the form of brief online commentaries, or the ‘i’ newspaper – quality but undemanding in length! Comfort reading has played its part. In much the same way I’ve craved childhood comfort foods, such as jelly and Angel Delight, I have revisited some children’s classics, much-loved poetry and novels that could be described as “heartwarming” without being laced with saccharin-powered optimism! Nostalgic for happier, more secure times? Comfort reading for me has also embraced good “page turners”, such as British crime novels. (Rankin, Griffiths, Galbraith, May, Booth) The plot of a good thriller has been total escapism, carrying me along with the unfolding events and demanding little from me, generally secure in the knowledge that there will be a satisfying resolution! I’m unable to deal with classics, gritty realism, dystopian novels or contemporary social themes (my usual diet) and I’m glad I read The Testaments and Girl, Woman, Other just before lockdown! Having said that, I did come across a 2005 book by Peter May entitled ‘Lockdown’! Unnervingly resonant but with a preposterous ending! To be brutally honest, at the moment, I can only attempt fairly short novels (unless it’s a crime novel!) and could not pick up one of my older Penguin classics that has a dense type face!
One of the most positive things that has aided my struggling access to books has been my introduction to Audible, thanks to a dear friend! I am hooked! As a lover of storytelling, live performance and radio all my life, this has been an absolute godsend. Audio books have enabled me to access a wide and varied range of literature that my impaired concentration and feeble mental state would otherwise not have allowed! I have been completely drawn into the performance and the way in which this has enhanced my experience of the novel. I have discovered new elements in books that are well known to me and it has also inspired me to read some of the books I have listened to.
Further inspiration has been our WI book discussion group on Zoom – not a traditional book group, where the same book is read by all- but a forum for sharing and discussing books, poetry, articles etc. that have been enjoyed by members. In addition, it has been comforting to share our collective views on the way in which the current climate has impacted on our reading habits and experiences. Along with reviews online and in print, these recommendations have been most helpful.
Eleanor Oliphant is Completely Fine – Honeyman
Anything is Possible – Strout
Lethal White – Galbraith
Big Sky – Atkinson
A Song for the Dark Times – Rankin