Exeter, Devon UK • Apr 22, 2024 • VOL XII

Exeter, Devon UK • [date-today] • VOL XII
Home Arts & Lit What the Writers are Reading

What the Writers are Reading

Rhian Hutchings gives us the low-down on the perfect quarantine reading material
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What the Writers are Reading

Image: StockSnap

Rhian Hutchings gives us the low-down on the perfect quarantine reading material

There has been an increasing and rather alarming threat to cultural outlets during the current crisis. Due to restrictions we are unable to seek escapism outside the confines of our homes, which has in some cases, resulted in the rise of reading. Books undoubtedly provide solace and can often be a safety blanket during the most unsettling times. Whether it be the ability to exist in a fictional sphere for an afternoon, immersed in the intricate lives of a character or the opportunity to be enlightened by non-fiction, this form of transportation solely requires a comfortable spot to sit and the imagination.

Highly acclaimed authors have been sharing their reading recommendations, the books that allow them the space to breathe. Maggie O’Farrell gave an incredibly uplifting talk on her new novel ‘Hamnet’ for the Hay on Wye Festival from the comfort of her own living room.

Books undoubtedly provide solace and can often be a safety blanket during the most unsettling times

As an admirer of her work, my ears pricked up when the chair of the talk asked her about the books keeping her entertained during lockdown. She told us, the virtual audience, that she has been reading the poetry of Mary Oliver, seeking comfort in the relationship between words and the natural world. O’Farrell has also been reading Jane Gardam’s novel ‘Old Filth’, a novel exploring the humanity in the tale of an estimable lawyer. When asked in a BBC interview about her isolation reading habits, she refers to the short stories of Amy Bloom. Shorter fiction seems to be a recurring theme as she relays her lockdown reading list.

This resonates with the ever-changing times when perhaps a short burst of escapism provides the remedy needed without the overwhelming prospect of a long novel or trilogy. Her exploration of the natural world echoes with the experiences of many who turn to nature as a confidant or even an explanation as to the tragedies unfolding around us.

Image: @bernadineevaristowriter

The author of the award-winning novel ‘Girl, Woman, Other’ Bernadine Evaristo was another contributor to the BBC interview giving some of her lockdown reading recommendations. Evaristo recommended ‘Their Eyes were watching God’ by Zora Neale Hurston, a novel that brought one of the first depictions of the experience of a black woman to global literature.

Many readers and writers have seemingly used this excess time to delve into more international fiction; to learn and appreciate the experiences of others through literature. Personally, I have attempted to curate a reading list that explores different and powerful experiences, multi-faceted stories and differing perspectives.

Another recommendation by Bernadine Evaristo that allows a reader to do just that was ‘Rainbow Milk’ by Paul Mendez. This debut novel has been praised for its originality and urgent relevance. Despite our physical horizons being considerably limited, books can take us further than ever thought possible both in distance and human experience.

Matt Haig however, another author giving his recommendations in the interview, admitted that he found historical fiction “very comforting”. Connecting with the past can be a way to rationalise an ever-changing present. As is famously written in the ‘The Go-Between’ by L P Hartley, ‘the past is a foreign country, they do things differently there”.

Perhaps all we need is an escape to a different place, whether that be someone else’s lived experience, the natural world or past worlds left behind by time. There seems to be one thing in common with most of these celebrated authors: the reliance on an escape from the contradictory ever-changing stillness of lockdown can unfailingly be found in a book.

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