Contributor: David Lowe
When the first lockdown started last March, I had 50 or 60 books waiting to be read, mainly generous gifts from friends and the result of my purchases from charity shops, visits to which have been rather an addiction in recent years. I cannot say that the number of unread titles has reduced in the past 12 months, rather to my surprise. On the contrary, during lockdown I acquired a significant number of new items (including many Virago imprints) from Bookish, the second hand stall on Cambridge market which offered a local home delivery service during lockdown. With bookshops closed, I also added a number of titles to my Kindle.
Reading has been one of my main pleasures during lockdown, and one of the things which has kept me sane, but the amount that I have read over the past twelve months has only been marginally more than in the year before. I don’t have the same capacity to read for extended periods of time that I had when I was younger, and whilst my powers of concentration are good in the morning, I read very little in the evening.
There has been a slight shift in the sort of books I have been reading. When it comes to fiction, I have tended to favour titles which are humorous, which are set in warm, sunny climes, or which have a strong plot line. Just as I try to avoid watching too many news broadcasts, I have very deliberately avoided titles about plague and pandemics, such as the obvious Camus and Defoe. Definitely not for me at the moment.
I have a lot of books about art history on my shelves, chiefly acquired for their illustrations or when visiting exhibitions. Very few of them had I actually sat down and read from cover to cover, but that has changed during lockdown, and I have read several of these titles with great pleasure. It’s partly in response to a vague desire to stretch my mind a little bit, since I am all too aware of the temptation to vegetate at the moment!
Whilst I enjoy listening to audiobooks, for me they aren’t usually a substitute for reading a print copy. Just occasionally I have listened to something over the past twelve months which I wouldn’t actually have picked up (Kidnapped springs to mind), but usually I listened to titles which I have read in print, to refamiliarise myself with the book and perhaps get a new perspective. I especially love novels read by the wonderful Juliet Stevenson. One thing I always avoid are Radio 4 abridged versions of novels. For me it is the whole book or nothing.
Last but very definitely not least: during lockdown I have taken to listening to podcasts about reading, such as Backlisted, and BBC Sounds offerings about reading such as A good read. It is a mystery why I had very rarely listened to these before, for I find them stimulating and absorbing, and have listened to them in quantity. I have found many of the guests’ comments really enlightening. This has led in turn to my compiling lists of titles I would want to read in due course. In some ways this is not helpful…
My five choices are as follows:
The Enchanted April / Elizabeth Von Arnim. I love this book, and in present circumstances it was such a delight to be transported to the warmth and sunshine of Italy.
Call for the Dead / John le Carré. I had always been rather sniffy about this author. How wrong can you be. I thought this, I think his first novel, was extremely well written, and I definitely want to read more.
The Dutch House / Ann Patchett. A favourite author. I have three more titles by her waiting to be read, but I enjoy her books so much that I am pacing myself. I don’t like my pleasures all at once.
The House of Mirth / Edith Wharton. I was bowled over by this book when I read it 20 years ago, and loved it just as much when I reread it last November. It did make me realise how many books I have which I really want to reread. Oh dear.
For Esmé, with Love and Squalor / J.D. Salinger. I enjoyed these nine short stories even more than Catcher in the Rye, which I also read during lockdown. I read very few volumes of short stories, but during lockdown I have come to feel that this is a big mistake.