What to read in quarantine

Daily life has ground to a halt, and finally, we have the time to read again. Whether you’ve already burnt through your reading list and are in need of some extra suggestions, or you haven’t picked up a novel in years, Vanessa Wheeler, our Student Voice Project Administrator, has compiled a list of quarantine-themed books to make you feel a bit less alone...

Henry David Thoreau, Walden (1854)

‘I love to be alone. I never found the companion that was so companionable as solitude.’ 

The transcendentalist philosopher, Henry David Thoreau, was self-isolating long before Covid-19. In this deeply reflective memoir, he abandons the hustle and bustle of American life and builds himself a cabin in the woods by Walden Pond, where he lives alone for over two years. By rejecting society and materialism for solitude and simple living, he forms a deep bond with nature, the animals, and for the first time in his life: himself.

 

Olivia Laing, The Lonely City (2016)

‘What matters is kindness; what matters is solidarity. What matters is staying alert, staying open, because if we know anything from what has gone before us, it is that the time for feeling will not last.’ 

When Olivia Laing moved to New York City, she found herself to be achingly alone in a metropolis populated by millions of people. Moved by the juxtaposition of her situation, she explores the social disconnect of artists who also inhabited the city, such as Edward Hopper, Andy Warhol, Henry Darger and David Wojnarowicz. She weaves the biography of these artists and an analysis of their works ‘exploring themes such as queerness, grief and mental illness’ with her own reality, and discovers that being lonely isn’t such a lonely experience after all.

 

Chidera Eggerue, What a Time to Be Alone (2018)

‘Even if you’re alone, you’re still in the best company.’

Peckham’s own Chidera Eggerue (aka The Slumflower) makes the case for singledom and self-love in this short-but-sweet self-help book. She shares the wisdom she’s acquired from years of putting up with bad boyfriends and flaky friends, glued together with uplifting affirmations and Igbo proverbs. Eggerue asserts that we ought to be incredibly selective with who we spend our precious time and energy on, and breaks down the stigma associated with choosing to focus on ourselves.

 

Xavier de Maistre, A Journey Around My Room (1794)

‘I confess that I do indeed revel in these sweet moments, and prolong as far as I can the pleasure it gives me to meditate in the comfortable warmth of my bed.’ 

After Xavier de Maistre fled to Turin to escape the French Revolution, he was placed under house arrest in his bedroom for 42 days for losing a duel. He decided to write a witty parody about the ‘voyage’ he took around his room, devoting an entire chapter in praise of the comfort of his bed. Xaviera’s novel is proof that sometimes sheer boredom ‘or perhaps cabin fever’ can produce entertaining literature in troubling times.

 

Gabriel Garc­a Marquez, Love in the Time of Cholera (1985)

‘It was the year they fell into devastating love. Neither one could do anything except think about the other, dream about the other, and wait for letters with the same impatience they felt when they answered them.’ 

Marquez’s novel presents a classic tale of forbidden love, but with a twist. Set in Colombia’s Caribbean coast during a cholera epidemic, Florentino and Fermina are forbidden from dating and have to spend fifty years apart. Florentino suffers from lovesickness, which presents with the exact same symptoms of cholera and drives the character to madness. This elicits the question: is true love always worth waiting for?

 

That one book you’ve always been meaning to read

Is it Don Quixote? Les Miserables? A Thousand and One Nights? If you have that one gargantuan novel sat on your shelf that you’ve always been meaning to read, but have never had the time... It looks like you are out of excuses. Open the first page and commit to just ten minutes a day, and by the time lockdown is lifted, you might have made it far enough that you can at least pretend that you’ve read it.

 

Where to Obtain Books (without leaving the house or using Amazon)

  • Verso Books radical independent publisher currently giving away FREE EBOOKS!
  • Archipelago Books translated literature nonprofit also currently giving away FREE EBOOKS!
  • Hive allows readers to purchase from their local bookshop online.
  • The Book People currently having a massive closing down sale.
  • Waterstones offers a student discount.
  • Blackwells, Foyles and World of Books free UK delivery.
  • Wordery free worldwide delivery.
  • Project Gutenberg free public domain ebooks.
  • LibriVox free public domain audiobooks.
  • Goldsmiths Library and Senate House Library if you need a book that you can’t find or access online, you can fill in an Inter Library Loan Request and the librarians might just work their magic.
  • Libby if you are signed up to your local library, you will be able to read ebooks and listen to audiobooks using this app.
  • Directly from your local bookshop - check their website or social media posts to see if they are still able to deliver.