Reading in the Days of COVID
According to @booksandpubIishing, for the first eight months of 2020, adult fiction sales were up 12%. For book lovers, this is a happy number because it means the industry is alive and well in these daft days. But here’s a very sad number.
If you read 50 books a year between the time you are 20 and 80, you will only read 3,000 books in your lifetime. For avid readers, this is enough to send you to the bathroom for antidepressants, or the kitchen for a packet of Tim Tams.
So, with so many books and so little time, what to read? Here are a few personal recommendations to ensure you use your word-gobbling opportunities to the max.
Back in the Day
If you love a bit of history and a murder or two, here’s an author to put on the list. My number one recommendation is the Shardlake series of historical novels by C J Sansom, set from the time of Henry v111 through to the Elizabethan era. Shardlake is a hunchbacked lawyer who is assisted by two doughty assistants Mark Poer and Jack Barak.
A reader can tell when the author knows what they’re talking about, and Sansom is a Scot with a Ph.D. in history and experience as a lawyer. I loved every one of his seven novels in the series, and feel sad that Tombland might be the last we’ll hear of Shardlake.
It’s hard to go past Garry Disher, originally from the Burra region in South Australia, and now, with a PhD in writing no doubt celebrated in a frame on his wall, a resident of regional Victoria.
A prolific writer of crime and children’s books, my favourite series has been the one that tells the story of Paul Hirschhausen, a police officer working in the dusty north of South Australia. Bitter Wash Road is a great place to start.
My favourite stand-alone Disher novel is Her, a book about a girl purchased by a scrap man from her father for nine shillings and sixpence. She joins Wife and Big Girl to form the closest thing to family she has experienced. I thought about this book long after I closed the back cover.
Booker Prize winners
And now for something with serious literary cred.
I aim to read as many of the Booker Prize long list each year as I can. From the last few years, my favourites included the following.
Lincoln in the Bardot by George Saunders (Bloomsbury, 2017)
I suspect this will remain in my top ten books of all time. I return to it in my mind often. It is about many things including Abraham Lincoln’s response to losing his young son Willie. Most of the novel takes place over the course of a single evening, as Lincoln grieves and Willie exists for a time in the bardot – the space between life and rebirth. Saunders won the Booker for this, his first full-length novel.
Lanny by Max Porter (Faber and Faber, 2019)
This is a beautiful, dark fable and a joyous celebration of childhood and family with an unconventional, almost poetic style. I would have awarded this the Booker for 2019, but the judges forgot to ask me.
Night Boat to Tangier by Kevin Barry (Canongate Books, 2019)
Two men sit in a transit lounge, hoping to spot a lost daughter. This is a slow, powerful story that peels back and exposes the layered lives of two reprobates and the people they loved. Well, now there are 14 more books to add to your list if you’ve not met them before. But given my warning about the likely 3,000 book life limit, my advice is to hurry to your favourite (preferably indie) bookstore now.