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Books Editorial

rsz_1rsz_milkman.jpg Books To Survive A Virus

If you’ve got time on your hands to do a bit of reading, then let Steve Long guide you towards some good stuff.

Currently Coronavirus is temporarily changing our daily lives but after it’s over so much may be changed for good, and possibly not for the better. The UK may not look the same. Our personal lives may not be the same. Our public lives may not bear any resemblance to what they are today. Our high streets may be unrecognisable. Our jobs and leisure activities may be markedly different. Which is currently why imagining a future and conjuring familiar pictures of holidays, work, or family life may just seem impossible. It’s not surprising that people feel scared, isolated, and lonely. However, there are ways to alleviate these feelings. Reading, for instance, may be a way to reconnect to the familiar, to the droll, to the profound or even as a way to fall onto a peaceful isle of mindfulness safe from the surrounding viral storm. Here are the books to get you through the next few months (in no particular order):

Close to the Knives - David Wojnarowicz (first publ. in the UK by Serpent’s Tail – current edition publ. by Canongate)

David Wojnarowicz’s memoir from 1991 seethes with so much anger it practically jumps out of your hand, calling out and condemning the powerful men who left a generation of people to suffer and die because of their stance on HIV and AIDS. It’s also a deeply personal memoir about the power of friendship and the haunting memory of friends no longer alive. You feel Wojnarowicz would argue that although Coronavirus is being dealt with (how well a question for another time) there are other forgotten questions about issues like Grenfell and Windrush that continue to remain unanswered by politicians under the guise of ‘dealing with the current crisis’. The final words in this marvellous book: “We rise to greet the state, to confront the state. Smell the flowers while you can.”

Will and Testament - Vigdis Hjorth (publ. by Verso)

A disputed will re-ignites memories of sexual and physical abuse and why a family has suppressed the truth for decades, but the main character refuses to be defined by what she has suffered and fights for the truth to be acknowledged, “I had to give up thinking that Mum and Dad would ever understand me…they would rather see me dead than acknowledge my truth, they would sacrifice me for their honour. This is war…I had to become a warrior.” Surprisingly uplifting (full of great lines) with a world view that will currently help us all.

Ducks, Newburyport - Lucy Ellman (publ. by Galley Beggar Press)

The hypnotic thoughts of a housewife from Ohio who picks apart contemporary America one stitch at a time and, “tries to bridge the gaps between reality and the torrent of meaningless info that is the United States of America.” A beautiful novel that can’t fail to get you through months of lockdown when Netflix and the latest bingeworthy box set has lost its flavour and only a spell of reading will do. 

Milkman - Anna Burns (publ. by Faber)

A society in the grip of sectarianism. A character who reads as she walks to float above the chaos and danger on the streets around her - but sticks out for that very reason - and attracts the attentions of a shadowy paramilitary gunman. Can she navigate her way through societal and personal divides and remain her own person? In no way comparable to our current situation. Or is it? One of the great books of the last few years.

Endland - Tim Etchells (publ. by And Other Stories)

Brexitania as nightmare, or England as currently lived by those who’ve slipped off the radar? A disturbing and beguiling horror show of short stories and riffs linked by the author’s mordant wit and screwed up country view. As Tim Etchells witheringly puts it, “Whether or not these stories bear any relation to life as it is actually lived in Endland (sic) is not my problem and good riddance to all those who prefer to read about truly good, lucky and nice people – you won’t like this crap at all”. As if the lyrical concerns of Sleaford Mods were turned into a book and then kicked into a festering chemical toilet.

Red or Dead - David Peace (publ. by Faber)

By resurrecting and celebrating the life and football times of Bill Shankly, Peace suggests that Shankly’s kind of socialist work-ethic bred success and created in Liverpool FC a communal spirit that transcended the selfishness of the times that inevitably led to the rise of Margaret Thatcher. A communal spirit, I hasten to add, much needed in 2020.

Books for your lockdown larder – to read, to lend, to re-read, to lend again:

Girl, Woman, Other - Bernadine Evaristo (publ. by Penguin)

Booker Prize Winner 2019 and, as one critic said, “A breath-taking symphony of black women’s voices” that gets to the heart of what affects us in these times. Couldn’t agree more. Brilliant.

Normal People - Sally Rooney (publ. by Faber)

A deceptively deep page turner that’s both moving and mysterious. A book that has dragged me back more than once to re-read. A modern classic.

My Struggle series - Karl Ove Knausgaard (publ. by Vintage)

Seven books totalling, yes, three thousand six hundred pages, which you’ll either love or hate. If the former, you’ll be gratefully distracted for weeks/months depending on your average reading speed. Literary Marmite anyone?

Lost Children Archive - Valeria Luiselli (publ. by 4th Estate)

A road trip like no other as a family takes a final journey together to bear witness to the lost children of Central America and Mexico gathering on the Mexican border. A mould-breaking new classic.