We asked our volunteers here at Read Around Bath what they were reading to help them through the months (and months and months!) of lockdown. And what a wonderful variety of books they came up with!
Here’s a flavour.
A challenging year saw me turning instinctively towards books that offered solace in art or history (sometimes both). I loved Hisham Matar’s A Month in Siena, particularly the idea that someone can attempt to heal their misery through looking at paintings. Though it was galling to realise that Matar had visited the National Gallery daily to gaze at Sienese paintings and try to deal with the loss of his father, when we could hardly leave our house without a mundane purpose. As per the title he then spends a month alone immersing himself in the life and culture of that city, allowing it to heal him and accept some painful truths. I really, really wanted to be there in Siena and not in my own front room in Bath.
Escaping into history led me to Charlotte Higgins’ Under Another Sky – Journeys in Roman Britain, part travelogue round Roman sites and part a debate about how we remember history and how faithfully we record it (or not!) As we were/are living through an unforgettable phase in our own history it served to remind how accounts can vary and the truth not always told (which we hardly need reminded of!)
When I found it hard to concentrate on the above, I discovered Fiona Valpy whose light reads were an absolute joy. She really tells a good story and keeps the reader engrossed. Guilty pleasures have included The Skylark, The Beekeepers Promise and my favourite (set in Paris) The Dressmaker’s Gift.
I’ve read some fantastic books in the last year and struggle to recommend any particular one. However, The Mission House by Cerys Davies is a little gem.
An elderly man displaced from the familiarity and security of middle-class England finds himself in Ooty Southern India and develops a new life…of sorts! Worth a read.
My reading has been mainly Rod Campbell`s Dear Zoo and a wonderful series of books that, alongside the story, play sections of music from opera and ballet, so we have read and danced to the Nutcracker and The Carnival of the Animals. My grandson of 15 months loves these.
Personally, I have enjoyed the Midnight Library by Matt Haig. What a great way to embrace the past and see the endless possibilities that life holds. Fantasy is not my usual reading, but I really enjoyed this book and gave it to many families and friends for Christmas.
I’ve been dipping in and out of various crime series – Agatha Christie and I’ve re-read the whole Peter Diamond Series by Peter Lovesey (various murders set at different locations and events around Bath, as the latest – The Finisher was released this year. I’ve also been dipping in and out of various non-fiction books, mostly history – the world in 1913 by Charles Emmerson and the history of Alms Houses (including statistics which are intriguing) as I’ve recently brought a house that is part of the Work House complex. The crime fiction because it is charming, reassuring and the Peter Diamond Series is entertaining, the history because I’ve always had an interest in history – but not necessarily a particular period, I seem to prefer the social history.
I would like to recommend ‘Pranesi’ by Susanna Clarke, a book that was voted Book of the Year by several publications. As it’s so difficult to sum up, I’ll quote from the review by the Financial Times:
“Haunting, tantalising, enigmatic, profound … A precisely and beautifully imagined fictional world … This magnificent novel leaves us wondering if we are perhaps still living in Plato’s cave, mistaking shadows for the real thing, failing to see the immeasurable beauty and infinite kindness within our reach”.Financial Times
I find location of great interest and in the past have always tried to read a book set where we holiday. This year it was Yorkshire and the Lake District and JR Ellis and Rebecca Tope respectively. Both sets of books definitely fit in the easy reading category, but I did love being able to wander the streets of Harrogate, Whitby, Windermere and Ambleside with an additional story playing in my mind. Unfortunately, or not, they all involve murder. There was some concern amongst my family at my collection of ‘comfort crime’ as it became known, especially when a mix of geographical areas (with a literary drop in on Shetland included) was amassed on the holiday cottage coffee table. I’m not sure if it meant everyone behaved better…
And the one book I would recommend this year is Hamnet by Maggie O’Farrell. It was on my to-read list for a while, but I didn’t feel in the right place to pick it up. My hand was forced by it being chosen as a book group read and, my goodness, what a wonderful, engulfing story that you feel you know but are being told anew. From the first descriptions of the silence of the house the language is both powerful and lyrical. It was one of those books that I didn’t want to finish and then wanted to start again.
Looking for other book groups in Bath?