This article was kindly written by our friends at Bradford Literature Festival.
Here at Bradford Literature Festival, we strongly believe in the power of books to help us through these strange times, so we’ve put together some top picks to distract, entertain and inspire while you’re self-isolating. We’ve divided them up into ten genres so you can pick and choose as the Coronavirus rollercoaster rides on, and you can join our Bradford Light Book Club Facebook group if you want to read along and discuss our monthly picks from the safety of your own home!
Table of Contents
Keeping the kids entertained
Whether or not schools are closed, it’s fair to assume that trampoline parks and soft play centres are going to be out of bounds for the foreseeable future, but children’s books are packed full of possibilities for reading, performing and inspiring craft sessions.
For the very young ones, you can’t go wrong with Roger Hargreaves‘ enduringly popular Mr Men & Little Miss books, and you can turn them into a full day’s activities by creating your own characters and writing and illustrating your own adventures!
Julia Donaldson is this generation’s Roald Dahl. From The Gruffalo to Stick Man, Donaldson’s irresistible tales are perfect home theatre production fodder.
For slightly older children, crank your dramatic performance up a notch with B.J. Novak‘s The Book with No Pictures, guaranteed to cause hilarity and offer a showcase for your comic timing; whilst the aforementioned Roald Dahl‘s gruesome cautionary tales are as entertaining today as they ever were.
Whether you want to encourage your teenagers off the internet or if you’re an adult who’s partial to a little Young Adult fiction (nothing wrong with that!), we’ve got some great picks for you.
Jennifer Niven‘s All the Bright Places is, on the surface, a romantic teen drama, but underneath it’s a poignant study of teenage depression, despair and the hope that comes with building genuine connections. Plus it’s just been adapted for Netflix so once you’re done reading you can watch Violet and Finch come to life on the screen.
Recently featured in our LGBT History Month picks on Twitter, Dean Atta‘s The Black Flamingo is a coming-of-age tale told in verse. Gay, mixed race teenager Michael has always struggled to fit in, but when he discovers the Drag Society, he finally begins to learn who he is. Great for LGBT teens or anyone who loves the art of drag!
Meera Syal’s Anita and Me isn’t strictly a young adult novel, but this coming-of-age tale has enough vintage appeal for today’s referential teenagers and tells the story of a young British-Punjabi girl growing up in 1960s Tollington, caught between the traditions of her family and the excitement of the swinging sixties.
Escape into some fantastical worlds
We wouldn’t blame you if you wanted to escape into a fantasy world at the moment, so here are three of the most escapist adventures we can think of.
If you want a classic tale of good vs evil, J.R.R. Tolkien‘s Lord of the Rings trilogy is still one of the best. Packed full of complex colourful characters and lush descriptions of rolling landscapes (The Shire is a dead ringer for West Yorkshire), Frodo, Gandalf and co will make you believe there’s no battle that can’t be won.
Stephenie Meyer‘s Twilight saga is a modern fantasy classic and a compelling love story built around a vampire lore for the modern age. Best of all, they’re easy to read and real page turners, so are a great start for anyone who’s been out of the reading habit for a while.
Another saga sure to get you hanging on every written word is Philip Pullman‘s His Dark Materials series. The first book to be picked for our Bradford Light Book Club, Northern Lights is a gateway into a magical world of talking bears, animal familiars and parallel universes that draws you in with its perfect prose and endearingly flawed heroine, Lyra.
For true crime addicts
Whatever your views on the genre, true crime is increasingly popular with readers of all ages, so we’ve pulled out some fascinating takes on some of the world’s most notorious crimes.
Hallie Rubenhold‘s The Five is a must-read for all Jack the Ripper enthusiasts – and even more so for those who’ve always found the obsession with London’s most famous serial killer to be slightly unsavoury. Rubenhold has used public records and the social history of Victorian Britain to build a picture of the five women killed by Jack the Ripper, humanising them and exposing the misogyny of these most mythologised crimes.
Yorkshire’s most infamous killer, Peter Sutcliffe, is the subject of Michael Bilton‘s Wicked Beyond Belief: The Hunt for the Yorkshire Ripper. For 14 years, Sutcliffe terrorised the women of West Yorkshire and beyond, and this in depth examination of the police investigation reveals how tantalisingly close detectives came to catching the serial killer again and again before his eventual, almost accidental, capture.
For a case so dramatic you couldn’t make it up, pick up Michelle McNamara‘s I’ll Be Gone in the Dark. This account of the Golden State Killer’s reign of terror, with fifty sexual assaults and ten brutal murders, was published posthumously a mere few weeks before the alleged perpetrator was finally caught three decades on. As the trial looms, there’s no better time to delve into this nightmarish case.
Classics are classics for a reason
If it’s a tried and tested classic you’re after, you should look no further than Yorkshire’s very own Brontë Sisters. Whether it’s Emily’s Wuthering Heights, Charlotte’s Jane Eyre or Anne’s The Tenant of Wildfell Hall, the trio’s writings offer an insight into the lives of Victorian women and are surprisingly modern in their depictions of troubled relationships. Like Coronation Street but with bonnets.
George Orwell‘s Nineteen Eighty-Four may seem more like fact than fiction at times, but it’s nonetheless a compelling portrayal of a dystopian Britain operating under a totalitarian state. Orwell’s novel is the origin of Big Brother, Room 101 and thought crime and serves as a warning against the power of fake news and doublespeak.
On a far more twee note, Enid Blyton‘s Malory Towers books will take you back to a time of midnight feasts and jolly hockey sticks as a group of boarding school girls get up to all sorts of japes on the Cornish coast. If it all gets a bit too old fashioned, there is a brand new collection of stories, New Class at Malory Towers, which brings the series into the 21st century.
Get some supernatural chills
If your idea of relaxing is scaring yourself silly, you’ve probably already read these, but if you’re yet to discover the benefits of a good horror than these three novels are great starting points.
You probably think you know the story of the world’s most famous vampire already, but if you haven’t read Bram Stoker‘s Dracula then you’re missing out on a superbly crafted gothic novel that combines real history, Eastern European folklore and Victorian romance into one genre-defining legend.
Stephen King is the (no pun intended) king of modern horror and The Shining is arguably his scariest novel. It follows a family who, aptly enough, are caretaking in an isolated hotel during the off season. They slowly come to realise that they’re sharing the sprawling building with a host of malevolent spirits who are intent on adding the Torrance family to their numbers.
If it’s a classic ghost story you’re after, Henry James‘ horror novella The Turn of the Screw will do the trick. It’s got all the basic ghost story ingredients – strange children, a dark family secret and a naive governess determined to discover the truth.
If the self-isolation rolls on…
If public spaces are out of bounds for longer than anticipated, here are some meaty book series to get obsessed with that will take you well into the summer.
There’s a reason why J.K. Rowling‘s Harry Potter series is one of the biggest publishing success stories of all time, and it’s all down to the combination of loveable heroes, detestable villains and a massive serving of magic. Rowling’s series may have originally been intended for children, but there’s more than enough here to delight and captivate even the most mature adult.
Anne Rice‘s Interview with the Vampire made her a household name, but did you know there’s an entire series of books that continues the blood-sucking adventures of Lestat, Louis and friends? Rice’s best-selling Vampire Chronicles will take you on a journey from Ancient Egypt right down into the pits of hell and beyond, and best of all she’s still adding to their number now!
If you want something a little more light-hearted (and we wouldn’t blame you), join the members of the Bradford Light Book Club as we read Armistead Maupin‘s outrageously entertaining Tales of the City, the first in a series of nine stories following the adventures of a young woman in 1970s San Francisco. If you like it (and we think you will), then you can keep yourself entertained by diving into the next eight books.
Self-isolation might be a great time to start working on your own memoir, but if you’re not sure where to start, check out these three very different biographies for inspiration.
Michelle Obama‘s Becoming is a warm and frank insight into the USA’s former First Lady, in which she shares details of her early life, how she came to meet her husband and how post-White House life is shaping up. You can’t help but be inspired by Obama’s compelling and empowering story.
For something far less sensible, pick up Elton John‘s Me. In this funny and touching memoir, the rock n’ roll icon is remarkably candid about his difficult childhood, hedonistic past and changing his ways for love and fatherhood. Your memoir might not be this outrageous but it’ll inspire you not to hold back!
Have you ever wanted to know more about the man behind the blazer, Alan Partridge? I, Partridge is a hilarious account of the life of Norwich’s most famous son and is peppered with anecdotes about times when Alan had the last laugh. Best enjoyed as an audiobook narrated, in character, by Steve Coogan, this autobiography takes the Partridge-verse to another level.
Great contemporary fiction
Sometimes the new releases section of the book shop can be a bit overwhelming, so we’ve picked out three great books from the last decade that you may have missed but which are well worth seeking out.
Chigozie Obioma‘s The Fishermen was shortlisted for the Man Booker Prize in 2015 and deserves to be far better known. Set in Nigeria and greatly inspired by African storytelling tradition, The Fishermen follows four brothers who set out to defy their father by fishing in a forbidden river, setting in motion an eerie prophecy that one of the brothers will kill another. Funny, terrifying and poignant, Obioma’s debut is a great example of modern African literature.
Feminist fiction goes radical in Sarai Walker‘s Dietland. Imagining a near future where feminist activists move to take down the oppressive diet industry, heroine Plum Kettle finds herself at the forefront of the fight against patriarchy, misogyny and rape culture.
Emily M. Danforth‘s The Miseducation of Cameron Post is a coming-of-age story about a girl who is sent away to a gay conversion camp when her family discover her same-sex relationship. Whilst at the camp, she finds solidarity with the other troubled teens and they work together to resist the conversion therapy.
Not for the faint hearted
If you’re the kind of person who has been preparing for a zombie apocalypse for as long as you can remember, these unsettling tales of uncanny happenings and impending Armageddon might amuse rather than terrify you.
John Ajvide Lindqvist‘s Handling the Undead imagines a freak meteorological event that causes the bodies of everyone who has died in the past few weeks to be reanimated, leaving families and the government with the problem of what to do with these not-quite-alive individuals. Nightmarish in the extreme.
Definitely not for those experiencing Coronavirus anxiety is Joe Hill‘s The Firemen. When a biological weapon is released into America, a virus that causes spontaneous combustion starts to pick off the population one by one. As the state imposes draconian measures to cope, a group of survivors unite to resist detention and certain death.
On a slightly lighter but no less apocalyptic note, John Niven‘s The Second Coming is a wildly imaginative take on the return of Jesus Christ to Earth. Sent back to reignite faith in an increasingly secular world, Jesus returns as a Kurt Cobain-esque rock star who takes to an America’s Got Talent-style reality show to spread the gospel, with truly disastrous results.