When author Stephen King was asked ‘what is your idea of perfect happiness?’ for Vanity Fair’s Proust questionnaire, he responded with “time to read.” Now, during the Covid-19 lockdown, this is a luxury afforded to many of us. Start at Virginia Woolf’s A Room of One’s Own and don’t look back.
To help us make our selections, Dulwich Books owner Cathy Slater has prepared a lockdown reading list specially for the Southwark News.
After a career in publishing, working as rights director for Murdoch Books, Cathy started working at the independent Dulwich bookstore four years ago before buying it and taking it over.
“I was approaching 60 and needed something new,” Cathy said. “Indie book shops have been having a hard time but that sector was beginning to upturn. We had two good Christmases across the UK.”
While book shops are now officially closed all over the world, Dulwich Books, which has been serving the local community for over 30 years, is still taking orders and delivering books to customers.
“All the government suggestions for soothing lockdown activities are cooking, gardening and reading,” Cathy said. “This is a great time for reading.”
The bookseller talks us through her top picks:
My Year of Rest and Relaxation by Otessa Moshfegh is a must for our lockdown times. Two other appropriate titles to read are The Plague by Albert Camus and Journal of the Plague Year by Daniel Defoe.
If future dystopias are your thing, I recommend Fahrenheit 451 by Ray Bradbury, which depicts a post-literate future society where books are banned, and On the Beach by Nevil Shute.
Just published in paperback, I loved Machines Like Me by Ian McEwan, a world where robots have developed beyond our imagining with chilling consequences; this brilliant book raises profound questions on ethics and what it means to be human.
Also Brave New World by Aldous Huxley, The Road by Cormac McCarthy, and The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Universe, which celebrates its 42nd anniversary this year. The answer to everything!
After all these unsettling books we will probably be in need of some humour and light relief. Diary of A Somebody by Brian Bilston is part fiction, part poetry, part diary and completely delightful. Also I regularly recommend Love in a Cold Climate by Nancy Mitford, and I Feel Bad about my Neck by Nora Ephron, plus any of P.G. Wodehouse’s hilarious books, especially the ones set in Blandings Castie.
With all this time on our hands, now is the time to read a classic, ideally a nice big fat one: War and Peace perhaps or Dickens’ David Copperfield. James Joyce’s Ulysses or one of my personal favourite books of all time: Middlemarch by George Eliot.
I would like to include a memoir, and what better than Life Class, the selected memoirs of literary legend Diana Athill, who died at 92. This is a dazzling and inspiring account of an extraordinary woman at the heart of publishing.
Immersive and beautiful nature writing will bring great solace in these lockdown times, and there are some fantastic books out there: Reservoir 13 by John McGregor, Lanny by Max Porter, H is for Hawk by Helen Macdonald, Waterlog by Roger Deakin, and The Outrun by Amy Liptrot. And Robert Macfarlane’s wonderful, profound and incomparable Underland, where he journeys deep into the earth, and raises questions of man’s relationship with, and impact on, nature. The paperback is due to be published in May; I was so looking forward to seeing this in the bookshop and being picked up by our customers.
Finally, a classic children’s book, The Secret Garden by Frances Hodgson Burnett, is the enduring story of a young girl’s empathy for a sick, housebound boy. Its themes of friendship, helping the vulnerable, hope, joy and the life-affirming power of nature are all especially relevant today.
You can order books from Dulwich Books’ website: https://dulwichbooks.co.uk. Phone: 020 8670 1920. Email: Hello@dulwichbooks.co.uk