If we’re going to look at it positively, and really, what’s the point if we don’t, it was quite nice to have a bit of time to read in the comfort of my own home.
Reports from friends, colleagues and whanau have indicated we were feeling distracted, lacking the concentration required to apply oneself to the printed word. I for one found myself only capable of scrolling and obsessively listening to the news in the first few weeks.
Of course, I persevered! And I found the books that suited lockdown life perfectly. If a novel didn’t grab me after a couple of chapters, or continue to hold my attention through the frequent dingings of my phone, I put it down, quarantined it to the ‘not now, thank you’ pile.
I tried Colum McCann’s Apeirogon: too deep and dark, although such beautiful writing. I tried Ockham finalist Halibut on the Moon by David Vann: way, way too dark, the stifling intimacy of a successfully drawn depressive not for the here and now.
So what worked for me? And what could lead us back into the world of joyful, absorbed reading?
I found some books that thoroughly entertained and charmed me. They got me through the pick it up, sigh and toss it away moments and kept me anchored to myself, re-trained my brain to focus and reconnect with my inner life.
Come Again by Robert Webb is fabulous! Kate is in her forties, recently widowed, absolutely, suicidally devasted and a complete stinky mess. She’s just been sacked from her job where she is a genius level IT techie for a company that cleans up the internet reputations of the rich and famous (she doesn’t feel good about it). She has a newsworthy, explosive, evidential time bomb on a pen drive, intending to drop it to the media and then off herself.
But … Siri fails to wake her from her alcoholic fug in time and when she does wake she’s back in 1992, just starting at the University of York and might just have the chance to save the love of her life. Quantum physics, Russian baddies, a kick ass heroine and a beautiful love story. Robert Webb is a brilliant comedian who provoked many snort out louds from this reader.
I read a children’s book because, when all else fails, find a brilliantly conceived tale of bravery and mischief and all will be well. Hattie by Frida Nilsson fit this bill perfectly.
Hattie is a six-year-old Swedish girl who can’t wait to start school. She lives outside the middle of nowhere and needs other children to play with. She’s soexcited about it that when she actually gets there she is terrified and can barely squeeze her name out when the teacher asks her. Fortunately, Linda feels the same and they are soon best buddies.
Hattie is a good old-fashioned handful of a kid. Her teacher is clearly exhausted by her stunts and her parents are bit worn down by their lovable but off the wall progeny. The naughtiness is not deliberately horrible – Hattie just forgets that they locked Ellen in the shed because she was being a naughty horse; if the school dinner lady hadn’t forced Linda to eat the blood pudding they wouldn’t have put water in the Christmas tree fairy lights.
These are all delightfully awful things to do that would have modern children diagnosed with some disorder or other, but are deliciously anarchic to the average young reader. I laughed and got back in touch with my love of anarchic, bonkers humour. It was great.
Excitingly, I discovered a new investigator! For lovers of crime fiction, you can’t go much further than Steve Cavanagh’s books featuring Eddie Flynn, a fabulous defence lawyer with a somewhat tortured past of his own (of course; we love our wounded heroes).
In TH1RT3EN, we have Eddie’s testimony, and, in a wonderfully creepy and terrifying parallel narrative, the viewpoint of a juror on the trial who is actually the serial killer. How cool, in a murdery way, is that?
So, faith restored, I have boldly marched back into my bookshops armed with new recommendations and a fresh sense of purpose. Books are a kind of medicine. Can’t settle, or feeling distracted? I have the antidote.