People like lists. This isn’t a radical thing to say – the rise of Buzzfeed and similar websites have shown that because lists are easy to read, and break information down from long paragraphs into bite sized chunks, people are more likely to read them than a lengthy article. I was going to write my own list for this post – the best and worst books I’ve read in lockdown so far – but, in truth, I struggled to find more than three books I would consider ‘the worst’. With that in mind, and the fact I’m sure we could all use a bit of positivity right now, here instead is my little list of only the best books. I hope you find something on here that takes your fancy! 🙂
If you fancy something different – Girl, Woman, Other by Bernardine Evaristo
This was my first Evaristo book, and it won’t be my last. I believe I’ve said it before on this blog but I’ll say it again – I’ve honestly never read a book like it before. There are twelve different stories here which are interconnected and move back and forth in time. It’s polyphonic, big and bustling, somewhere between poetry and prose. I didn’t think I would enjoy it to be completely honest – books without a clearly defined plot are normally books I shy away from – but the brilliantly realised characters and Evaristo’s wit and wordplay blew me away.
If you fancy something scary – ‘Salem’s Lot by Stephen King
Maybe horror isn’t the best genre to be reading during a global pandemic, and it’s certainly nothing new to see me recommend a book by Stephen King. Besides, choosing a King book in a scary category is hardly groundbreaking, but ‘Salem’s Lot is a beloved classic from his bibliography for a reason. The slow build of suspense, a tightly crafted story, taking a traditional vampire story and cranking it up several notches – what’s not to love? It’s up there with my favourite King books now.
If you fancy some non-fiction – In Order to Live by Yeonmi Park
The story of a young woman’s struggle to survive – and escape from – one of the most repressive regimes in the world today isn’t exactly light reading, but it is inspiring. Having endured unimaginable hardships in the country where she was born, Park’s escape is not the end of the story but the start of a new hellish chapter, as she endures China’s underworld of traffickers and smugglers. This book is not just the story of her physical escape but the escape from the mental prison of her upbringing in a totalitarian regime – “In North Korea, even arithmetic is a propaganda tool. A typical problem would go like this: “If you kill one American bastard and your comrade kills two, how many dead American bastards do you have?” – and it’s both harrowing and uplifting. The fact that Park and I are the same age only helped to drive the horror of what she’s endured home for me.
And finally, if you fancy some prize-winning fiction – The Nickel Boys by Colson Whitehead
Just because a book is prize winning doesn’t mean it’s good – check out my scathing review of Normal People for more on this, and don’t mention that book in my presence unless you want me to rant about it. This is a book that lives up to the hype. As with all the books on this list, The Nickel Boys deals with some dark, and often frightening, themes – and it’s based on the real story of a reform school in Florida to boot. Elwood, a high school senior, is about to start classes at a local college, but ‘for a black boy in the Jim Crow South of the early 1960s, one innocent mistake is enough to destroy the future’. He is sent to a juvenile reformatory which turns out to be more like a prison, if not worse – and his idealism surrounding Dr. King’s notion of loving those who are cruel to you is contrasted with his friend Turner’s skepticism, leading to a decision that… well, I don’t want to spoil anything, but the twist at the end had me tearing up. Tightly plotted and masterfully crafted, The Nickel Boys is well deserving of its praise and its Pulitzer.