/ Lockdown Reading! Essential recommendations
As of time of writing, the postal service is still operational and Amazon still deliver. A lot of us are going to have a lot of time on our hands to get a lot of reading done.
On my to-read pile at the moment:
- The Secret History, Donna Tartt
- American Rust, Phillip Meyers
- The Mirror and the Light, Hilary Mantel
- The Making of the British Landscape, Nicholas Crane
- The Anarchy: The Relentless Rise of the East India Company, William Dalrymple
- The Bond, Simon McCartney
- Into the Silence, Wade Davis
Things I read recently that I would recommend:
- Underworld, Don DeLillo
- The Goldfinch, Donna Tartt
- Oryx and Crake, Margaret Atwood
- The Villain, Jim Perin
- The Power Broker, Robert A. Caro [if you’re remotely interested in politics, order his 4 volume biography of Lyndon Johnson immediately, and never look back]
And here’s a link to a list i offer to my undergraduates who are looking to expand their reading beyond narrow course confines:
Reading is a gift, and one we can make unusually good use of in the months to come.
Please post your own suggestions below!
I posted on another thread this one.... Shogun James Clavell. A huge tome which delivers from page 1. Perfect for a long spell in doors, I read it trekking in Nepal and didn't regret the weight of it once ;-)
If you want `doorsteppers' that you can get lost in I'd recommend Neal Stephenson, especially "Cryptonomicon", "Anathem", "Reamde", "Seveneves" & "Fall; or, Dodge in Hell". The breadth of ideas about the modern (or future) world in the latter three is just extraordinary.
Yes, I loved Shogun! I thought Tai-Pan was also excellent.
Cryptonomicon is high on my list for the next order. I loved Seveneves, though it seems to divide opinion. Found it hard to get on with Snowcrash (bit too much of a Gibson-meets-Pychon rip off for me) but it was his first novel and consensus is much of his output is really high class.
Similarly, whilst I tend not to get on with China Miéville, I read The City and The City last year and it blew my socks off.
I should have said originally:
Everything by Zadie Smith. The woman is a phenomenon. Every novel is different, and every novel is exceptionally good.
Thank you. That reading list for your students is excellent.
Might I add;
'Life and Fate' , Vasily Grossman and 'Breakout at Stalingrad', Heinrich Gerlach. From opposite sides but the characters and their motivation are so similar it could make you weep at the pity of it. (Both authors were at Stalingrad, both books were suppressed by the Soviet Government)
Also 'Making Sense of the Troubles' David McKittrick and David McVea.
My original list also should absolutely have contained Educated by Tara Westover.
I actually knew here a tiny bit when we were doing our PhDs at Cambridge - but had absolutely no idea about her story. Can't recommend this book enough.
> - The Anarchy: The Relentless Rise of the East India Company, William Dalrymple
Sadly, I found this to be a massive disappointment. It's less about the EIC and mostly about the warring factions in India in the 17th, 18th and early 19th centuries. It stops just at the point where I hoped it would start getting interesting.
> - Into the Silence, Wade Davis
Whereas this is a magnificent piece of work. Try if you can to get/see The Epic of Everest, which is a splendid visual accompaniment.
For further reading, one could do a lot worse than the compete works of Dickens, or as many of them as could be managed at one go. Similarly, the works of Zola.
I've been working through some climbing/ mountaineering books the past wee while:
The Games that Climbers Play (K. Wilson) - Contains some classics but also some absoloute drivel. It's also massive so could keep you occupied for ages
The Mammoth Book of Mountain Accidents (H. Macinnes) - Worth a read, again contains some classics but also gets a bit samey after a while.
The Philosophy of Risk (J. Connor) - Enjoyable, would recommend.
Cairngorm John (J. Allen) - The first few chapters are a bit of work to get through, but after that its an enjoyable, witty recountment of the Cairngorm Mountain Rescue teams history and some noteable events. Does tend to jump forwards and backwards in time, but generally easy to follow.
Tides (N. Bullock) - I really enjoyed this, but wish I had read Echoes first (only due to enjoying Tides so much I need to go and read it now!)
Vertical Pleasure: The Secret Life of a Taxman (M. Fowler) - Again, I really enjoyed this. Very humerous. I've got (or rather - my dad has) another Fowler book that I'll be picking up shortly.
On my to read list at the moment:
One Mans Mountains (T. Patey), The Ogre (D. Scott), The Villian (J. Perrin), Into Thin Air (J. Krauker), Unknown Pleasures & Psychovertical (A. Kirkpatrick)
I read Hard Times last year and found it an utter drag. Dickens is not for me!
I'll declare my interest, the author is a friend and one time climbing partner, but I would recommend 'The Trail' by James Ellson. Evokes Nepal and rainy Manchester very well.
Good call - I've read some of those, could well be time to look out for the others..
Jesus, that's going to be a cheerful read if you're temporarily housebound and feeling like the apocolypse is getting underway! ;-)
I'd add the Quicksilver trilogy to your list, three big fat books that should keep anyone going for a fair while. The start is very slow but if it seems too slow it's worth sticking with until the swash-buckling adventures of Jack "Half-Cocked" Shaftoe kick in properly.
> I loved Seveneves, though it seems to divide opinion.
It divided my opinion - I much preferred the first half - wasn't so keen after it skipped forward a few centuries to the post-apocalyptic world.
> Similarly, whilst I tend not to get on with China Miéville, I read The City and The City last year and it blew my socks off.
I've never read it, might have to give it a go. Did you see the 4-part TV adaptation? (BBC again but not currently on the iPlayer.) I really enjoyed it, but will have been blissfully unaware if it was a travesty of course..
Much as I enjoyed the first two volumes of the Hilary Mantel trilogy, I find it a bit frustrating that they picked up two Man Bookers, while only one of Will Self's ambitious and magnificent Umbrella/Shark/Phone even made the shortlist. I'd like to encourage people to give them a go. The trilogy is a much more difficult read than Mantel, but ultimately I think much more satisfying and important. There's a never a huge amount of love for literary modernism on UKC, but the fact that you mention Pynchon and include Wallace and DeLillo on your reading list gives me hope!
I read a lot of non-fiction, but when the real world is getting just a little too real, I find fiction provides a more immersive escape. So, with a slant towards the weightier and unashamedly escapist...
The border trilogy- Cormac McCarthy
Blood Meridian- Cormac McCarthy
The Claudius trilogy- Robert Graves
The Son- Philip Meyer
The Aubrey & Maturin series- Patrick OBrian (OK, individually they're brief, but there are 22 in the series and every one of them is gold)
The First Law trilogy- Joe Abercrombie
Best Served Cold- Joe Abercrombie
The Culture series- Iain M Banks
The Traitor Son cycle- Miles Cameron
The Left Hand of God trilogy- Paul Hoffman
The Broken Empire trilogy- Mark Lawrence
London Fields- Martin Amis (I know everyone else says Money is better)
Also by Robert Graves, Goodbye to all that!
> Also by Robert Graves, Goodbye to all that!
Definitely, but I did say that I was sticking with fiction!
I like the novels of John Grisham.
It’s perhaps a little too close to home right now, but Emily St John Mandel’s Station Eleven is a superb exploration of a lethal pandemic and its aftermath. Frightening yet uplifting.
I'd rather knockdown Swindon.
However, I'll add The English Patient to your reading list - still wonderful even if you've seen the film
Just remembered a great SF series - Dave Hutchinson’s Europe in Autumn and its successors. Near future fiction after the breakup of the EU but with a twist. Rather funny actually.
Chronicles of Lymond, Dorothy Dunnett
If it's door stoppers you're after, the Steven Erikson's 'The Malazan book of the Fallen' series should keep you going for a while.
1Q84; Haruki Murakami. The critics didn't like it but it is my favourite Murakami novel by far.
+1 for the Border Trilogy and also +1 for The Son (which I rate as one of the best things I’ve read in the past decade, actually).
> +1 for the Border Trilogy and also +1 for The Son (which I rate as one of the best things I’ve read in the past decade, actually).
What about Blood Meridian? It's possibly my favourite book, certainly top three.
I read Blood Meridian after I read an essay by David Foster Wallace where he raved about it, but I never really “got” it. Guess I could try again.
Just read, A boy and his dog at the end of the world, by C.A. Fletcher. May prove useful if all this stuff goes shit shaped.
I'll be looking up a few of those. Ta
Currently reading D J Taylor's biography of George Orwell.
Underworld and The Goldfinch are squarely in the "Just f*cking get on with it!" genre of American writing.
Ha yes, I can see why they would annoy people for precisely that. I just embraced them though, and ended up loving the Goldfinch in particular for its ponderousness. It enabled me to really feel like I believed in the characters despite the absurdity of much of the plot seen more objectively. Underworld was definitely a bit more of a slog - one of those where my feelings were basically “this is a great piece of literature and I’m glad I’ve read it...but next I’m reading a sci fi thriller for some relaxation”!
PS I also realty loved Infinite Jest, so I guess I have a high tolerance for this genre...
> Underworld and The Goldfinch are squarely in the "Just f*cking get on with it!" genre of American writing.
The Goldfinch I quite enjoyed, although a very long way short of The Secret History. Underworld has defeated me on a number of occasions, usually at about the 50 page mark.
For those recommending Neal Stephenson, it always seems to me that they start with terrific invention and energy, but he doesn't seem to know how to bring his books to a satisfactory close without going on at great length, rather losing their way as they proceed.
Page 50?! You haven’t even finished the baseball prologue?!
After page 300 the numbers seem to start going backwards.
For any SF/ Fantasy fans:
I recently finished N.K Jemisin's Broken Earth trilogy starting with 'The Fifth Season'. Great writing, pacing and characters and absolutely amazing fantasy worldbuilding. It was great to find a fantasy series that doesn't just feel like reheated Tolkien and is very different from the almost ubiquitous Medieval European setting. It's dark though and might be a bit too depressing for the Coronapocalypse. On the other hand it'd be great if you wanted to convince yourself to stay away from other humans. For climbers there is loads of cool geology stuff too.
I also still really rate The Expanse series by "James SA Corey". More amazing worldbuilding, this time in the science fiction genre. Unlike most sci-fi it doesn't look for ways to ignore the implications of space travel. There are eight books now and while some are better than others they're all great and well worth reading. The (excellent) Amazon series does improve some plot elements from the books but also doesn't translate some of the characters as well as it could. You can also read ahead a lot further than the TV series currently goes in a universe which keeps expanding and getting crazier.
For something considerably softer and lighter on the Sci-Fi side I recently enjoyed Becky Chambers' 'A long way to an angry planet' and 'A closed and common orbit'. These certainly aren't weighty space operas and are very focussed on the relationships between the generally chilled and likeable human and alien characters. They're probably a good bet for anyone feeling the clouds of doom pressing in. There are lots of chilled and likeable aliens but these are imaginatively created non-humanoids with interesting cultures, not just angry Spartan analogues with forehead wrinkles.
Really enjoyed the Broken Earth trilogy. Read the first two of the Expanse books and enjoyed the first series of the TV adaptation but got stuck on the second series and never made it to the third book.
The series improves after the second season, particularly the pacing. The books go up and down in terms of quality. The third book wasn't my favourite but it is where things start to get weird.
What bugged me most about the adaptation was that they made the central crew much more angsty with each other. Because every TV spaceship crew needs to be dysfunctional, y'know like Firefly or Farscape or whatever.
I recently also read Banks' Consider Phlebas and was wondering whether this created the 'crew of assholes' trope. Another one with some truly alien aliens, amazing worldbuilding and cool set pieces. But also some confusingly written sequences, odd pacing, deliberately unlikeable characters (one of the only likeable ones is actually a climber) and some disgusting scenes which make me question the authors sanity.
I have Use of Weapons on the shelf but based on Consider Phlebas I'm not sure whether to start it...
Another on the Err...Maybe... list from me is The Mote in God's Eye. A weird one that feels like it was written by two authors (obviously it was). A first contact story with a some great harder sci-fi elements mixed with more imaginative than usual application of more magical sci-fi tropes. However it is grindingly slow in places and all the human characters & society are completely uninteresting. It also feels like its trying to make a point and shoehorning its world and story around this, breaking plausibility in the process. Sort of like a right wing Dr Who.
> I have Use of Weapons on the shelf but based on Consider Phlebas I'm not sure whether to start it...
I liked Consider Phlebas, but I loved Use of Weapons. The hero/anti hero is one of my favourite sci-fi characters.
> Page 50?! You haven’t even finished the baseball prologue?!
No. Is there a point to it?
I couldn’t get past the first few pages of Consider Phlebas but the Banks I would recommend is Excession. That one really is worth a read.
The baseball recurs throughout the subsequent “story”. There is no “point” in any more traditional sense but DeLillo like Pynchon was playing about with the limits of what the novel as a writing form can consist of (or what people thought the limits were until David Foster Wallace came along).
I followed up Underworld, with Moby-Dick
I have not yet read The Goldfinch even though I am in that subset "people who really enjoyed The Little Friend".
However, I am also in the even smaller subset "people who managed to see the film of The Goldfinch during its incredibly brief cinema release window" and I thought it was a fantastic film; I can't compare it to the book so I don't know how closely it relates, but it was a bit of a masterclass in storytelling via cinema. The structure of it etc. It was way better than I expected, and way better than "The Critics" said.
> There is no “point” in any more traditional sense but DeLillo like Pynchon was playing about with the limits of what the novel as a writing form can consist of (or what people thought the limits were until David Foster Wallace came along).
I'm a huge fan of Wallace, but there's no way he could have written Infinite Jest (1996) without the boundary breaking of Pynchon in V (1963), The Crying of Lot 49 (1966) and the magisterial Gravity's Rainbow (1972). That's when the limits really get redefined.
I didn't even realise there was a film of The Goldfinch. I might watch it so I can find out if anything happens in the end, or is it just 4.5hrs of furniture restoration?
To be serious and add to the list above:
- Anathem - Neal Stephenson: Amazing world building and atmosphere, set in a society long post-apocalypse where scientific learning is kept from society in gigantic monasteries to prevent technology ending the world (again).
- Game of Thrones - George R R Martin: Remember why they made the TV series in the first place. Great use of unreliable narrators and foreshadowing right through from the first.
- Black Leopard Red Wolf - Marlon James: James wrote this as a LotR fan longing for a black fantastical story as Tolkein longed for an English saga. Vicious, hallucinatory but great storytelling. Discovered by reading up on James after A Brief History of Seven Killings (see below).
- The Master and Margarita - Sergei Bulgakov: Satan and his giant pistol-toting cat wreak havoc on 1920s communist Moscow. Just great fun from start to finish.
- A Brief History of Seven Killings - Marlon James: Imagined story behind the real-life attempted assassination of Bob Marley in Kingston, 1976. Like GoT, James uses 1st person narrative from chapter to chapter and uses the unreliable narrator to create the paranoia and confusion that surrounded Kingston at the time. Characters range from common gangsters and bosses, to CIA agents, music journalists and even a dead English aristocrat killed by slaves. Harrowing at times, but the writing skips along and all the characters are believable with their own distinct voices. Best book I've read in a couple of years.
At 38 years old I decided it was time I started collecting comics! Subscriptions so far:
- Killadelphia - Gritty cop procedrural... with vampires!
- Hellblazer: John Constantine - Alcoholic, sarcastic demon hunter amongst London street gangs
- Something Is Killing The Children - Think of IT but with more blood and samurai swords
I don't disagree, but I do think DFW takes it up another notch in IJ
Interesting, as it did indeed get panned. But in the last few years I do increasingly find myself at odd with the "critics", so it can go on the lockdown cinema list.
And taking loads of drugs!!!
Thought that was just another solid lockdown recommendation for a second there. In fact...
If you haven't read Pynchon's Against the Day, you should put it on your list: it's a magnum opus that could well take you through to vaccination single-handed.
Yes, A Brief History of 7 Kilings is superb. Definitely I'll check out this other one, sounds great.
The postie just left a second-hand copy on the doorstep. It's about the same size as the doorstep, should last a while. Ta for the tip.
> Interesting, as it did indeed get panned.
To be fair I did not really read many reviews but I skimmed some that seemed to be representative of consensus and it seemed that a main bugbear was that the two central characters were basically privileged white Western male arseholes. Which presumably would be a criticism of the novel too?!
Well in the book one of them is Ukrainian, but yeah I guess and yeah that is kind of the point!
Grossman’s “Stalingrad”, the prequel to “Life and Fate” has finally been published in English. Every bit as good!
Paul Auster's 4321. Very long and immersive. Wake up to it, make a coffee and read it in bed every morning for an hour or two. Baby boomers should love Archie Fergusons four different lives.From the 1950's to the present.
Mountaineering in Scotland by W H Murray. Wonderful book, written under proper lockdown conditions. I find the last few paragraphs of "Crowberry Gully in Winter", his last climb before going off to war, very moving.
I just remembered: The First Fifteen Lives of Harry August - Claire North
Really original, smart, and very page-turning. Highly recommend.
> Mountaineering in Scotland by W H Murray. Wonderful book, written under proper lockdown conditions. I find the last few paragraphs of "Crowberry Gully in Winter", his last climb before going off to war, very moving.
Couldn't agree more. I find the ending of "The First Ascent of Parallel Buttress" similarly moving. I can't think of any writer who better captures the spiritual intensity one sometimes gets lucky enough to experience in high and remote places. If I ever get sufficiently organised to get my own collection of climbing poems published I shall pinch this beautiful line of Murray's as an epigraph: "Time spent in failing to fathom a blue sky is never spent in vain."
I'm not sure if you can get a copy during the lockdown but Prinaka - a day sketching in Dhaka is a delightful short story. Some of you might know Rob as he used to guide a few years ago. This story is his interaction with a young lass who guides him through Dhaka one day. Lovely drawings and a truly wonderful girl who gives you hope for humanity.
Disclaimer, I know Rob.
In response to scenes of weekend crowds on Snowdon and other Welsh mountains, and the announcement of a nationwide lockdown, National Park Authorities in Snowdonia and the Brecon Beacons have today closed access points and...