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‘It was so gripping I read it in two sittings’: 11 books to pull you out of a reading rut

Posted on Apr 28, 2021

Hot Water Music by Charles Bukowski

‘Reading about the hope in others’ hopeless lives kept me going’
Bukowski’s often seedy stories are a wonderful break from normality. I don’t know how I’d have got through lockdown without them. Being sheltered this past year for medical reasons was one of the loneliest times of my life. I don’t have a family nearby; I’m gay and on my own. My friends were the baristas, pub landlords and restaurant owners of my area. Most of them are gone. There were times when I didn’t think I would make it, but then I’d read a story by Bukowski about the hope in the hopeless lives of other people, and it kept me going. Gary Comenas, 65, writer, London

‘I absolutely adored reading from her disdainful perspective.’ Photograph: Publicity image

Notes on a Scandal by Zoë Heller

‘It reignited my love for books’
I picked it up primarily, I confess, because of its beautiful cover; it was part of the Penguin Ink collection, and features an illustration from a wonderful tattoo artist. It tells the story of an affair between a fortysomething art teacher and her 15-year-old student, from the perspective of Barbara, a bitter veteran teacher at the same school. I absolutely adored reading from her disdainful perspective. While not a typical thriller, it was a thrilling read and reignited my love for books. Kirsty, 23, bartender and recent geography graduate, Manchester

The Sense of an Ending by Julian Barnes

‘I finished it in a weekend’
After I finished my English degree, it took me five years to finish a book for pleasure again. I had depression and anxiety, and couldn’t concentrate; I would only read a line before all the words seemed to run together. One day, I picked up The Sense of an Ending. It’s a short book, which helped, but more than anything I was invested in the characters and their stories. I finished it in a weekend, which was proof I could still enjoy books. Sinéad Hanrahan, 33, librarian, Ireland

‘It was so gripping that I read it in two sittings.’

Auē by Becky Manawatu

‘It pulled me out of the pandemic reading slump’
The story is told from the first-person perspectives of nine-year-old Arama and 17-year-old Taukiri, whose parents have died. But through the third-person narration of Jade, with help from a ghost, we come to understand the bigger story, one of gangs, violence and, perhaps, history bound to repeat itself. It was so gripping that I read it in two sittings. Rachel J Fenton, 45, charity shop worker and writer, Aotearoa (New Zealand)

The Crow Road by Iain Banks

‘Now I read almost every night’
I hadn’t read for pleasure in years, although I was an avid reader as a child. I had simply stopped making time to read for myself. A friend gave me their copy of The Crow Road, and I devoured it. I hadn’t read anything like it before; the use of language and the classic mystery running through. I felt like the characters were my peers. Now I read almost every night. Emily Venables, 34, photography lecturer, Isle of Wight

Hamnet by Maggie O’Farrell

‘The characters are fantastic.’

‘The first book in ages to pull me in’
I have been reading quite a bit during lockdown, but have found it hard to focus. Hamnet is the first book in ages to pull me in whenever I have a few minutes. The characters are fantastic, along with the bold descriptions of really difficult subjects, such as domestic violence, family tensions, childbirth and death. It is set in the 1500s, but never feels out of reach. Ruth Bone, 42, environmental sector worker, Andover

White Teeth by Zadie Smith

‘It’s been the best aspect of lockdown by far’
Last year was a whirlwind for me, as I was helping out with Imperial College London’s Covid response team. But I did manage to get through White Teeth. What I loved about the book was its focus on the immigrant experience in Britain. Samad is initially so buoyed up by the opportunity of Britain, but becomes progressively bitter about the everyday reality. I finished this in about a week last June, and have kept up the pace since. It’s been the best aspect of lockdown by far. Josh D’Aeth, 26, PhD student in infectious disease epidemiology, London

Le Freak: An Upside Down Story of Family, Disco, and Destiny by Nile Rodgers

‘It’s funny, moving and eloquent.’

‘It gave me back something I’d lost’
After we adopted our child, my reading time was lost. My nightly routine was the battle of the bedtime, which could take hours. After many long nights waiting in my daughter’s room for her to go to sleep, I downloaded the Kindle app and started reading. I’ve always loved Nile Rodgers’ music, so I chose his autobiography. It’s funny, moving and eloquent. It saved my sanity in so many ways, and gave me back something I’d lost. I felt like a much nicer person as I could now face those evening vigils without resentment. Emma Gedge, 56, works in information compliance, Norwich

Homeland Elegies and others by Ayad Akhtar

‘I could finish one in a day while dreaming I was in a theatre’
When the pandemic began, I wrestled with whether I should reread a classic or try something new. Since my academic work pertains to how the world changed after 9/11, I decided to try something old and new: Ayad Akhtar’s Homeland Elegies, which traverses time from young Trump to 9/11 to President Trump. I then bought three of his plays about capitalism: Disgraced, The Invisible Hand, and Junk. It was the plays that got me back into reading voraciously; I could finish one in a day while dreaming I was in a theatre, sitting in an audience, watching real actors, in a world changed again. Christopher Michaelson, 52, ethics professor, Minnesota

Pride and Prejudice by Jane Austen

‘I laughed, cried, tutted – and reread the whole thing in two days.’

‘It reminded me of reading when I was a kid’
I often go through phases of not having read for long stretches, followed by bouts of panic and shame. This was until I came across a copy of Pride and Prejudice. I laughed, cried, tutted, and reread the whole thing in two days. It reminded me of when I was a kid reading classics and feeling like I’d become part of a secret grownups’ club. I’m now gobbling through novels again, which is a relief. Emily Dominey, 24, master’s student, Edinburgh

Exciting Times by Naoise Dolan

‘Whatever I’m reading has to be engaging and immediate’
With current teaching demands, whatever I’m reading has to be engaging and immediate – like Exciting Times by Naoise Dolan. Now, you may be expecting “page-turners” – an appalling phrase – to be nominated, and I admit this is not a plot-driven novel. But the real joy was its humour. And I don’t mean smug, intellectual comedy. I mean actual jokes. On every page. It reminded me that reading can be fun as well as worthy self-improvement. Paula Stones, 39, English teacher, London