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Lockdown literature: recommended reading for facing, fleeing or forgetting the virus through fiction

Lockdown Literature by Anne GoodwinWith all but essential workers on lockdown, and our social lives on hold, the time seems ripe for a reading revolution. But this is no holiday; anxiety will skew what and how we read. Some will want to escape to another world where there’s no fear of contagion; others will seek out stories that echo our turbulent times. Others will find solace in nature, in extending our outdoor time through words on the page. Whatever your current inclinations, I hope I have something to tempt you, from my reading of around 140 novels a year. Most of these are reviewed on my blog: clicking on the title will take you there. And if none of these take your fancy, let me know through the comments and I’ll try to suggest something more to your taste.

Novels about confinement and pandemics

Fiction can help us process difficult experiences by engaging with stories which parallel our own. We can vicariously explore our emotions through discovering how the characters cope. We do this effortlessly, unconsciously, and – unlike our own predicament – if it gets too hairy, we can simply close the book.

It’s no surprise that sales have soared recently of Albert Camus’ 1947 novel The Plague (La Peste). More surprising, perhaps, is that at the end of last year I read two novels about the Black Death: did these authors know something the rest of us didn’t?

If you fear going stir crazy to staring at four walls, spare a thought for Oisín Fagan’s characters in Nobber, a darkly entertaining tale of pestilence, madness and land seizure. Debarred from leaving their windowless hovels, the townsfolk languish in darkness and stifling summer heat, along with their moribund relatives and putrefying dead.

A little more sober, perhaps, To Calais in Ordinary Time by James Meek is an impressive, if challenging, linguistic achievement, exploring power, belief, gender, love and misogyny set in cataclysmic times. Revisiting my review a few months on, I’m heartened by the thread of common humanity, as three English cultures, so separate they don’t even speak the same language, find a degree of mutual respect.

Not about sickness, but my go-to novel about confinement, The Anchoress by Robyn Cadwallader provides a fascinating insight into life in a mediaeval English village, with its feudal system on one hand and the power of the church on the other. Yet the novel seems highly contemporary in its themes of religiosity, obsession and interdependency.

While not physically locked in, the central character in Snow, Dog, Foot by Claudio Morandini, translated from the Italian by J Ockenden, is willingly estranged from society. It’s a a beautifully compassionate story of an old man gradually becoming estranged from himself. Whether due to dementia, psychosis or social isolation, the author perfectly encapsulates how his attempts to safeguard his shreds of sanity pitch him deeper into the muddled maelstrom of his mind.

Locked up, not alone, or even with family, but with fifty-seven other international hostages in an unnamed South American country, the characters in Ann Patchett’s multi-award-winning Bel Canto find a sense of community amid the fear and boredom. (No review for this as I read it before I started blogging but I urge you to read it if you haven’t already.)

For some who work in offices, lockdown might feel like freedom in contrast. That’s if we can believe the atmosphere evoked in The Room by Jonas Karlsson, translated from the Swedish by Neil Smith, a marvellous Kafkaesque fable about office politics, diversity and differing versions of reality.

Novels to escape into

Fiction can be a retreat from painful reality by transporting us to worlds different to our own. While we might not have an actual time machine, we can forget our woes when our minds travel to some hypothetical future or back into the past.

Classics can be comforting at such times, especially if we’ve read them before. But if you’re an Austen fan bemoaning the fact that she’ll never launch another bestseller, you might enjoy Janice Hadlow’s The Other Bennet Sister. It begins as a retelling of Pride and Prejudice from a neglected point of view, rehabilitating not only dour Mary but scheming Charlotte Lucas, oleaginous Mr Collins and shadowy Aunt Gardiner. It then moves into its own as Mary is herself transformed into a convincing Austen heroine, both endearing to the reader and suitably flawed.

If Regency England still seems too recent, Lux by Elizabeth Cook takes us right back to New Testament times with – among other themes – a feminist reimagining of the story of Bathsheba, supposed seductress of the psalm-writer, King David.

Fast forward to the twentieth century for Lissa Evans’ Old Baggage. Light as a soufflé, and with touches of humour, it’s a moving tribute to the campaign for women’s suffrage with a credible portrait of a heroic woman whose loyalty to the wrong person ends up hurting herself and those who love her best.

For a zany read with laugh-out-loud humour, spend a few pleasant hours with Shona McMonagle, the feisty time-travelling heroine of Olga Wojitas’ debut, Miss Blaine’s Prefect and the Golden Samovar, when she’s invited by the 200-year-old founder of her alma mater to serve as a goodwill ambassador.

I couldn’t find many futuristic novels that aren’t also dystopian, which might not be the best form of escape, but Jaroslav Kalfar’s debut is a marvellously quirky exception. While some novels suffer from the weight of too many stories, Spaceman of Bohemia manages to be much bigger than the sum of its many parts: sci-fi adventure; love story; sociopolitical history of the Czech Republic and homage to Prague; psychodrama of how the actions of one generation shape the next; a meditation on identity, adaption to loss, and what makes us human.


The nature cure

There’s some evidence that engaging with nature can be therapeutic, but that’s small consolation for anyone with no green space accessible at a short distance from home. Fortunately, it seems imagined scenes and scenarios can also be beneficial and we can wander literary landscapes free from social distancing demands. While many will prefer to facilitate vicarious visits through non-fiction if, like me, you’re a fiction freak, there are plenty of places to find your nature fix. But be warned, if there are people present they won’t all smell of roses: the last in my list is probably the most upbeat!

If you like your wild places wild, I strongly recommend Polly Clark’s Tiger in which three disparate characters are united by their respect for the Siberian tiger and, eventually, a particular female who patrols a territory of 500 square miles in one of the harshest environments on earth.

An East Anglian farm in summer 1933, might seem tame by comparison and there are some lovely descriptions of rural life in nature writer Melissa Harrison’s All Among the Barley. But we know from the opening pages that something dreadful is to happen in this sympathetic portrayal of a mind unravelling in the context of a community that is likewise losing its way.

East Anglia is a little too flat for my liking, so let’s lace up our walking boots and head to the Italian Alps. The Eight Mountains by Paolo Cognetti, translated by Simon Carnell and Erica Segre, is a lovely lyrical coming-of-age story about mountains, masculinity and family relationships with unbridgeable gaps.

If you want less sky, join me in the Canadian forest with Sarah Leipciger, author of The Mountain Can Wait, a poignant tale of family and fatherhood and the conflicts between work and home. At the opposite end of the Americas, Nothing but Dust by Sandrine Collette, translated from the French by Alison Anderson, is a startlingly honest account of the harshness of life on the Patagonian steppe and the impact of a mother’s inability to love either herself or her sons.

At this time of year, I’m up with the sun most mornings and can catch the ornithological chorus outside my door. If that’s your kind of thing, you might enjoy Bird Cottage by Eva Meijer, translated from the Dutch by Antoinette Fawcett. It’s a heart-warming – but unsentimental – novel about an inspiring woman: English eccentric, lay scientist, talented musician and ornithologist with the courage to live life on her own terms.

Buying books

Ebooks are probably safer at the moment, but we do have some choice in how we get hold of them, as we do for print.

Your local bookshop might be closed but, if you want it to survive the crisis, do check whether they’re open to email orders which they’ll deliver themselves or send through the mail. Alternatively, there are online retailers who will donate a portion of their profits to your nominated shop: Hive in the UK and Indiebound in the US (I’m not sure if the latter actually sells books – let me know!)

Some of these also supply ebooks, as do small independent publishers. Do support them if you can!

Let’s get social!

Have you read any of these novels? Have I tempted you to try something new? Can you suggest any other books to help us face, flee or forget the pandemic?

Do you know of any initiatives to support independent bookshops and small presses at the moment? If so, spread the word below!

If you want some advice on finding a novel on a particular theme or in a specific location, just ask. If I can’t help you, someone else probably can.

This post comes from Rough Writer Anne Goodwin

Anne Goodwin posts about reading and writing on her blog Annecdotal, with around ten novel reviews a month. A former clinical psychologist, she’s also the author of two novels and a short story collection with small independent press Inspired Quill.


Subscribe to Anne’s newsletter for a free e-book of prize-winning short stories.


Twitter @Annecdotist.



0911141300It’s cold and rainy, and I’d like nothing more than to curl up with a good book in one hand and a cup of coffee in the other. Yet, that space in between things–more formally termed transition–beckons me to do some much needed housekeeping.

My desk is cluttered; my storyboard needs erasing and I have neglected my social blog duties.

Desk and storyboard can be cleansed with the same cloth. Before I begin drafting the new novel, I need to cleanly cut the threads from writing the last. Publication, promotion–those are next steps outside the realm of writing. It’s like project management of multiple projects at different phases.

Those good books I want to curl up with include ones by people I know, writers I follow because I like their style, or sense of wonder, of the world, of humor. My list  includes multiple genres and books written by the Congress of Rough Writers and those who engage between blogs I read:

  1. Dead Flies and Sherry Trifle by Geoff Le Pard (UK and US versions)
  2. On Hearing of My Mother’s Death Six Years After It Happened: A Daughter’s Memoir of Mental Illness by Lori Schafer (pre-order)
  3. The Adventures of Alex and Angelo: The Mystery of the Missing Iguana by Ruchira Khanna (Kindle version which I’ve read to my grandnephews)
  4. Unbound by Georgia Bell (US version)
  5. This Girl Climbs Trees by Ellen Mulholland (US version)

Lately, I have a growing interest in YA because my recent queries for my first yet-unrepresented novel, Miracle of Ducks, clearly shows that agents and publishers are looking for YA and Middle School books. It makes sense if you look at the over-saturated book market because education pushes literacy and literacy drives book sales in those genres.

Over saturation is a term I know well. As a former marketer of a natural food store in the Twin Cities, I faced an over-saturated grocery market year after year. It taught me to have product that customers value, an engaging brand and relationships that create synergy.

Carrot Ranch is a place to build a dynamic literary community of writers and readers. We practice craft, read each other’s writing and discuss process and ideas. It’s an open-ended place that fosters friendly collaboration without any obligations. Writers are free to post fiction, link to blogs and join (or not) the conversations.

You might not think that collaboration among writers is important to your career or aspirations as an author, but consider others who say that it has value:

  1. Writing coach, Daphne Gray Grant, writes about the Surprising Value in Collaboration on her blog. Among her reasons (generating ideas, finding good reads and sharing editing duties) she concludes that: “Life is about collaboration. And writing is about life. They’re inextricably linked.”
  2. The Gallup Strengths Center reports: “A key component to strengths success is knowing the talents of those around you and how they factor into your own talents.” Writers can grow and learn from other writers.
  3. After contributing to a campaign to raise funds for NaNoWriMo’s Young Writers Program, I received this inspiring message from Grant Faulkner, Executive Director: “The gift of writing shouldn’t be closed within one; it should foster a spirit of benevolent connection…”

Recently, Sarah Brentyn, Rough Writer and Chief Navigator of the newly-minted WP blog Lemon Shark, nominated me for #authoryes on Twitter. It recognizes and honors the supportive relationship between authors and bloggers. Again, this harkens to friendly collaboration. It was a pleasant validation that a supportive environment matters.

Collaboration can take on more, of course–we have talented writers, a growing pool of 99-word flash and the ability to make it into something more. We could collaborate on an annual Rough Writer anthology, create a fun workbook for other writing groups or launch a digital magazine. Really, it’s as expansive as the ideas, vision and participation of the group.

And like #authoryes and collaborative inspirations beyond shared craft and process, blog awards circulate in a hand-shake way to meet others and show respect. The blog-o-sphere is kind of like one big party with multiple rooms and sometimes we try to find our way to the right room by saying, “Hey, I like your place, what places do you like?”

Receiving the award baton is a flush of “aw, shucks, thanks” followed by a moment of “oh, darn, what do I do now?” Bloggers I greatly admire have recently clipped the ties that oblige with thought-provoking (and even funny) posts on these awards and other time-distractions for writers. Paula Reed Nancarrow addresses, Blogligations: Breaking the Blog Award Chain and offers 10 Ways to Just Say No to Blog Awards. Memoirist, Lisa Reiter, posts about putting more blank space back into her schedule by reducing her time online in Ask a Busy Woman.

Collaboration is time I’m willing to give. #MondayBlogs is a great way to share, meet and greet, and build platform. I also use it to promote the Rough Writers as my gift to the collaborators willing to write flash, discuss in the comments and RT. Beyond the Rough Writers, I actually read all the posts that I RT on Mondays, and like Lisa Reiter advises, it’s a way to focus on an “admin day” online. That way I stay up on my favorite blogs, pass around the flash and feel connected in a constructive way that feeds my own writing goals.

So back to housecleaning. Some fabulous bloggers have gifted me the award baton and I’m going to use this space to dust off my belated gratitude. And I’m going to clip those ties that oblige. I’ve already rambled long enough and I’m not going to answer any questions and risk rambling even more. I’m going to take huge liberties with all rules.

I’m going to tell you why I think the nominators are tops in my world, link to the original award posts and forgo the upload space for icons. You’ll find plenty of links to bloggers that inspire me within this post, and I’ll continue to RT them on Twitter. This is my way to sweep the room clean so I can move on (with these awesome bloggers) to pending writing things, give a nod to collaboration and be as supportive as I can within the spirit of these awards.


Anne Goodwin and Geoff Le Pard spare me the expense of subscribing to The New Yorker. Seriously. Anne is by far the best book reviewer I follow because she studies modern literary fiction as a writer so she addresses process issues, as much as topic and readability. Geoff is my UK travel agent and his eclectic writing style extends from his blog into his book; far more entertaining than anything The New Yorker could print and less pretentious. Both illicit great discussions on their blogs, and with their recent publishing success, I’m far more inspired by any award they could bestow.

Lisa Reiter has touched me deeply with the Spreading Butterfly Light Award. It reflects my vision to spread light through writing into truth. More so than this award, Lisa has fostered that vision by creating a supportive environment for memoir-writing. Through her blog Sharing the Story, I’ve met other amazing memorists who are also Rough Writers: Irene Waters and Sherri Matthews. I think of these three writers, their blogs and writing and I see a field of butterflies.

Along with a clever post on tennis, Sherri Matthews lent me a suitcase of awards from her Summerhouse. I know that one day I will share a glass of Prosecco with her and see the “view.” We have too many uncanny coincidences to not be fated to meet in person. We will have so much to talk about (we already do!) and that day will be the best award from the Summerhouse.

Georgia Bell and Ellen Mulholland pop over to the Ranch on occasion and get feisty or climb trees, delighting us with their sleek 99-words. These Rough Writers are savvy in the book industry, well-published and fun on the page. They both have classy blogs and a spirited sense of humor. I may one day ask for YA advice and their experience will be reward enough, but chuffed (the good definition) to be included in their awards.

Technically, Ellen recognized Elmira Pond, and so has Gina Stoneheart, another published author with a light-spreading, thought-provoking, anti-bullying blog. In fact, she has a new blog and it looks fabulous! Both bloggers paid recognition to Elmira Pond Spotter, my country-living, bear-fearing, horse-celebrating, bird-nerding online journal. I had aspirations to make it into “something” because of this recognition, but it works best to just let me wander the pond, so I’ll post my gratitude here and say thanks for checking on my birds.

Norah Colvin, has an educational calling. Anne Goodwin wrote in her award post that Norah is the teacher we wished we had. Norah is my teacher, nonetheless. She’s so passionate about education and such an advocate for children, I always learn something from her posts. As a Rough Writer, Norah shows great imagination in both the creativity of her responses as well as how she ties fiction into her mission. She’s also the nicest blogger I’ve ever met on the page.

For the Love of  blogger, Amber Prince, offers a refreshing look at falling in love with fiction. I remember feeling that way–enthralled and unsure, wanting time and having no time. When I follow my favorite bloggers and realize that they still have families at home, children to chase, spouses to pay attention to, I marvel that they blog at all. Let alone have time to bestow awards. But read Amber’s post–she handles it succinctly, yet with grace. That she finds time to be a Rough Writer is the best award.

Roz and Patty Write one lovely blog. They surprised me on Twitter with an award, but I’m more fascinated by their collaborative writing. They make writing collaboration look fun and inviting. Thank you Roz and Patty! I invite you to co-write a 99-word flash fiction sometime in the future.

Looking over my list of bloggers to whom I’m grateful for the recognition, I feel a bit sheepish that I took so long to say thanks. But you can also see how much effort would go into crafting individual posts, answering questions, promoting rules and finding yet more bloggers to bequeath the award baton. The house is officially clean (I’m working on the desk) and the baton stops here.

Moving forward, I’d love to hear your ideas for collaboration. Blog hops, book tours, guest posts and other meaningful ways to connect are always welcome. But before my schedule gets busy again, I’m going to take time for that cuppa and finish my good reads.

Remember–the best way to recognize a blogger you follow and who is an author is to buy his or her book and offer a review (Good Reads, Amazon or on your blog).