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It’s safe to say that lockdown has been no socially distanced walk in the park. It has been a very difficult time for everyone, but it has been an opportunity for reading! The escapism to fictional worlds has never been more appealing. A lot of our SCAN writers have been doing a lot of reading, and we wanted to share some of the best books we read over the lockdown period.
The Other Boleyn Girl by Philipa Gregory
Lockdown has finally given me the chance to read all of the books that have been languishing on my bookshelves for the past few years, so I was able to sink my teeth into some Philippa Gregory. I’ve had The White Queen for literally years, but never found time to read it. I’m so glad that I did because it prompted me to order one of her most popular novels: The Other Boleyn Girl. I’m about a decade late to the party, but The Other Boleyn Girl sucked me in like no other historical fiction ever has. I rooted for Mary all the way through, hoping against all hope that she would be able to escape the twisted court of Henry VIII and the dark influence of her sister, Anne. Gregory brings the Tudors to life like no other, and creates a story so intensely believable that you feel as though it was never fiction, but always a historical fact.
Conversations With Friends by Sally Rooney
Among my bookish friends, Sally Rooney’s name has come up again and again, and after reading Conversations With Friends it’s clear to see why. It’s hard to believe this is her first novel – her style is incredibly assured, slipping seamlessly from the protagonist Frances’ introspective narration to witty conversations between friends and online messenger conversations. In fact, Rooney writes some of her most emotional moments as internet conversations; it’s rare to see online communication portrayed in literature that isn’t entirely cringe-worthy but, as a young writer herself, Rooney captures a tone that feels authentic. This created a sort of grown-up YA novel that was often uncomfortably relatable, making me feel as if I was reading my thoughts on paper. While it occasionally borders on slipping into YA stereotypes (Bobbi as the ‘manic pixie dream girl’ for instance), overall it was a funny, tragic, and detailed look at life as a twenty-something in the modern world.
Expectation by Anna Hope
It is impossible to pick the best book I’ve read in lockdown, but Expectation by Anna Hope is one of my favourites. Unsurprisingly, this book explores expectations: of motherhood, of a successful career, of marriage, of friendship, of love, and examines them through the lens of a friendship between three women. It was an incredible read, heartbreaking at times, hopeful at others, and I loved it. I knew from the first few pages that this was going to be a book I loved. The writing style – descriptive, beautiful prose – is my favourite type of writing, particularly for character-driven novels and it did not disappoint. Anna Hope effortlessly weaves together a present main timeline with chapters in the past, offering a glimpse into the lives of three women and their friendship and the correspondence between past and present. It is very much a character-driven novel, with a focus on character introspection and friendship; it has a frankness about it that is reminiscent of Sally Rooney. It is the perfect book if you enjoy character-driven, slow-paced novels with incredible prose.
Bananas, Beaches and Bases: Making Feminist Sense of International Politics by Cynthia Enloe
Enloe’s Bananas, Beaches and Bases ought to be added to the reading list of all politics students! In stressing the dangers of globalised capitalism, militarism, and gender identity, she captures the complexity of international relations in a way that is not overly academic or alienating to those new to feminist thought. Bananas encourages you to think globally and inclusively, rejecting the Eurocentric masculine mainstream of the discipline. In listening to the feminised and the marginalised, we begin to see that no one is beyond the reach of politics. Despite mainly focusing upon patriarchal injustice, this book remains empowering and strangely hopeful. Each new chapter provides you with an opportunity for self-reflection on your behaviour, shopping habits, ethics, and feminist activity. This is a must-read for any student wishing to improve their feminist ethics and critical thinking.
Lanny by Max Porter
Lanny was another of the best books I read in lockdown, and this year. It is an utterly captivating, strange, and unnerving tale of a young boy growing up in a small town, told from the perspective of the adults around him. It combines mystery with the supernatural and the incredibly mundane, and the disjointed writing style makes it an overall disorientating reading experience–but in the best way! It is told from several perspectives, which change frequently, yet each voice remains distinctive. Max Porter described the same scenes from multiple perspectives, and the discrepancies between their accounts were often hilarious. It has a lyrical and atmospheric writing style, which perfectly complements the air of mystery and intrigue surrounding the novel. I was completely gripped; I couldn’t decide where the novel was going or what the outcome was going to be, and I love that the ending is somewhat open to interpretation. It is a book I will be rereading in the future, and would highly recommend if you enjoy unnerving, mysterious novels.
Go Tell It on the Mountain by James Baldwin
If you’re looking for happy, uplifting reads over lockdown, then I would advise giving Go Tell It on the Mountain a miss, but I haven’t read many stories with the level of emotional intensity that James Baldwin crams in a relatively short novel. The story of John Grimes, a young Black boy growing up in Harlem is semi-autobiographical, and this comes across in the vivid detail that Baldwin puts into the church community of 1930s New York. As well as being a well-written story, the narrative brought me a little closer to comprehending things that are relatively distant from my experience: evangelical religion, slavery, and the experience of a Black person growing up in America against systems designed to push them back down. Much of this novel is focused on religion, and particularly towards the end, I was a little lost in the unfamiliar language, but I would still recommend Go Tell It on the Mountain to everyone, particularly at the present moment.