Sometimes lockdown feels surreal as a sci-fi novel. So maybe it’s time to forget about the outside world and read a good book? Luckily, with many of the UK and Ireland’s independent bookshops working hard behind the scenes, you can still have books delivered to your home or to the homes of friends and family. (You can even help one bookshop buy and send books to families in need.) But what to read first? To help you answer that question, we reached out to nine experts: owners, managers and booksellers at independent bookshops across the UK and Ireland. Read on for their choices of biographies, murder mysteries, coming-of-age stories, even rhyming picture books for kids.
“The Doll Factory, a former BBC Radio 4 Book of the Week, is a historical suspense story set at the time of the Great Exhibition in London and featuring the pre-Raphaelite brotherhood. It’s described as ‘a tale of love, art and obsession’ and definitely gripped me throughout. This [and Where the Crawdads Sing, below] are two of the best novels I’ve read in the past year — I would definitely recommend them for isolation reading! Both beautifully written and compelling reads by debut novelists, but very different in setting and tone.”
— Mel Griffin, owner of Griffin Books in Penarth (South East Wales). Griffin Books are running a series of online events throughout the shutdown period. To support Griffin Books, you can also purchase gift vouchers for future use.
“An utterly precise novella depicting moments in the lives and loves of a group of loosely connected inhabitants of Buenos Aires. Fate could be likened to a pointillist painting by Seurat, with each dab of colour and each descriptive passage contributing to what is finally a beautifully structured and brilliantly shimmering whole. In these bizarre times, where we can hardly journey much further than our local corner shop, Fate provides a true refuge for readers — a way of travelling, at least in their minds. Like us, publisher Charco Press are Edinburgh-based! We also have a few signed copies in our current stock.”
— Ellen Wilson, general manager of Golden Hare Books in Edinburgh. To support Golden Hare Books, you can also purchase gift vouchers for future use.
“A very revealing and tender depiction of William Shakespeare and his family. The descriptions of everyday domestic life and the inner emotions of the main players are brilliant. It is a book about grief, profound grief, and loss of a loved child, and … when theatres in London are closed because of the plague, has extraordinary parallels to the world today.”
— Cathy Slater, owner of Dulwich Books in London
“This is the incredible story of a young woman born at the end of the 20th century in South Korea that raises questions about the misogyny and institutional oppression in a country where women are still frequently relied upon to work gruelling hours in factories to support their male siblings’ education. Angry, sharp and howling with emotion, this is a searing and original window into life as a young Korean woman. The perfect book to get your teeth stuck into over the coming weeks.”
— Dave Swindells, manager of South Kensington Books in London
“This is a ‘warm hug’ of a novel from a new Irish writer about two friends who are happy to enjoy the quiet things in life — board games, family, and, above all, friendship. Funny and heart-warming, it’s a book about embracing the smaller things in life and seeing the value of what surrounds us.”
— Bob Johnston, owner of the Gutter Bookshop in Dublin. To support the Gutter Bookshop, you can also purchase gift vouchers for future use.
“A classic among classics. Dazzlingly rewarding writing, enduring universal themes plus the best cast of characters.”
— Cathy Slater, owner of Dulwich Books in London
“Andrea Lawlor’s powerful, enlightening and thrilling debut offers a speculative history of early-’90s identity politics during the time of ACT UP and Queer Nation. This book is a sensational, sharp, and hard-hitting bildungsroman whose hero/ine makes their way through a tumultuous landscape of life characterised by loss, music, and intense intimacies. As Paul transforms their body throughout the book, in a series of adventures that takes them from Iowa City to San Francisco, this unforgettable journey through the queer archives of struggle, freedom, and acceptance is both bold and brave.” — Dave Swindells, manager of South Kensington Books in London
“A funny, dark, messy roller coaster of a novel about sex and angst and searching for connection in a post-capitalist society. Broder’s confessional prose contrasts knowing satire on the nothingness of consumerism with temptation of otherworldly myth as escape from it. This book is about compulsion, filling the existential void, and how what we’ve been programmed to search for can also annihilate us.”
— Jo Heygate, manager of Pages of Hackney in London. To support Pages of Hackney, you can also purchase book tokens for future use.
“Where the Crawdads Sing beautifully evokes the nature and landscapes of the North Carolina coast. It tells the story of a young girl having to fend for herself in the coastal marshlands and somehow weaves together a love story, a murder mystery, and a natural history. A real treat!”
— Mel Griffin, owner of Griffin Books in Penarth (South East Wales)
“Parallel Lives is the rare kind of biography that combines psychological insight, historical scope, and an unashamed hunger for gossip. My mother owned the original in hardback, so one might call it an inherited enthusiasm.”
— Hester Styles-Vickery, bookseller at John Sandoe Books in London. To support John Sandoe Books, you can also purchase gift vouchers for future use.
“Unapologetic, raw yet graceful, Lidia Yuknavitch’s memoir weaves in breathless prose a powerful story of self-expression, charting early abuse, addiction, homelessness, self-sabotage, and desire, while coming of age as a writer. All this is underpinned by two constants, the exhilaration/solace of being in water and rage/resilience it takes to be a woman. An extraordinary book.”
— Jo Heygate, manager of Pages of Hackney in London
“Sara Baume is the award-winning Irish writer of novels A Line Made by Walking and Spill Simmer Falter Wither. Handiwork is her first nonfiction book and investigates what it means to be an artist, a creator, in the modern world. As ever, her prose is precise and revealing whilst the book as a whole gives you a wonderful understanding of the importance of creation and self-examination in a world that focuses so heavily on material gain.”
— Bob Johnston, owner of the Gutter Bookshop in Dublin
“I loved this book for its madness and scholarship, its range and precision; its style, humour, and enthusiasm for the bizarre human stories.”
— Johnny de Falbe, bookseller at John Sandoe Books in London
“I’d compare Harris to a classic coming-of-age tale but for infants: Delightful illustrations describe the young hare growing up and learning to be independent for the first time. Harris hops joyfully across pages awash with vibrant watercolour, leaps to the top of great mountains, and races through bee-filled meadows, curious, sometimes afraid, and always wide-eyed, as he discovers about the world around him and the importance of finding his own feet.”
— Ellen Wilson, general Manager of Golden Hare Books in Edinburgh
“Can you imagine having the perfect friend? You can now with an android for your best friend! But what happens when your robot buddy starts developing human feelings? I was fortunate to receive an early proof copy of this book and read through in one sitting after I couldn’t put it down. Engaging, offering plenty to think about, I haven’t read another book quite like it, and it’s sure to be a favourite for classroom discussion. Watch out for some brilliant one-liners too!”
— Helen Tamblyn-Saville, owner of the Barrister in Wonderland Bookshop, Retford (Nottinghamshire). To support the Barrister in Wonderland Bookshop and their local community, you can donate to their unique #PayItForward initiative — your donation will be used to buy and send children’s books to food banks and families who need them most.
“A good picture book is an absolute joy for everyone at bedtime, and The Worst Princess (featuring the mischievous Princess Sue) is beautifully illustrated by Sara Ogilvie. Written in rhyming couplets, Sue is a sad and lonely princess awaiting rescue from her prince. When he finally turns up, feisty Sue realises the traditional role of a princess twisting her curls isn’t for her. I love the feminist take on a princess story with gender role reversal — and it’s so much fun!”
— Helen Tamblyn-Saville, owner of the Barrister in Wonderland Bookshop, Retford (Nottinghamshire)
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