Given that this pandemic has made it so that many of us are holed up in our abodes, we seem to have an excess of time to kill. Perhaps our first instinct is to reach for our phone, but there’s only so much bandwidth to go around in a particular home. I recommend, then, that we should pick an isolated corner of our houses and cozy it up with blankets, pillows and plush animals galore. Further, we should brew our favorite hot drink – tea, coffee or hot cocoa – and then settle down with a good novel. Ah, but what novels to read?
I’ve always been a firm believer in the fact that certain novels are best read in circumstances which encourage further immersion and identification with the narrative. As such, many of the novel recommendations which I have given reflect our tumultuous reality, though not all books listed here are all doom and gloom.
The list of book recommendations will be divided into classics, written before 1945, and contemporary novels, written after 1945.
- “The Magic Mountain” by Thomas Mann
This novel is quite long, but I think its narrative fits in with the times at the moment. Besides, what better time than now to read a long novel? “The Magic Mountain” tells about a man whose failing health condemns him to a sanatorium. I think, given that there’s been numerous jokes online about how the month of March seems to have lasted years, that the novel’s unique time progression will hold an appeal to readers. The novel is also intentionally ambiguous, particularly in its ending, and I think that sort of ambiguity also reflects our current situation.
- “Blindness” by Jose Saramago
“Blindness” tells the story about the effects an epidemic of blindness has on a community of people. The story delves into aspects of human nature in times of crisis that are in line with the sort of behavior we see today. As a bonus, the story is not quite as gloomy as “The Magic Mountain.”
- “Little Women” by Louisa May Alcott
I think this book is quite a joy to read. And with Greta Gerwig’s recently released film adaptation, it would be a good thing to read “Little Women” and engage in some comparative analysis.
- “The Overstory” by Richard Powers
This novel, written as a series of fables spanning from the time before the Civil War to the 20th century, tells the story of a world that we live in, and which we are inextricable from, but that we nonetheless do not see and do not understand – a world of trees.
- “White Noise” by John DeLillo
A postmodern novel, this book explores the absurdist philosophy and consumerism which so plagued American society in the 20th century. The novel is quite a dadaist ride. The author isn’t making any appeals to change a dystopian American society, but nonetheless the analysis of that which is hectic, confusing and sickly in society may strike a chord with readers, particularly now.
- “The Discomfort of Evening” by Marieke Lucas Rijneveld
This book has not yet been released, but it has been making waves around the world, given that it was shortlisted for the 2020 International Booker Prize. The story is about the grief that a young girl feels in the face of her brother’s death and her subsequent changing desires and views on religion and the inadequacy of her parents as caretakers.
And if you miss the internet too much, remember that reading books doesn’t have to be a solitary affair. Make a virtual book club with your friends and pick a few novels to discuss together.