Reading in tough times: the books that got me through 2020

It’s been a recurring theme on my blog over the last 9 months: how reading has been a genuine lifeline for getting through sad, worrying and uncertain times. When things are at their worst, sometimes it’s a question of simply getting through a day, an afternoon, an hour – never mind coping for the long haul. We all know 2021 hasn’t got off to the most joyful of starts, so I thought I’d bring a little ray of reading sunshine with a rundown of some of the books that got me through 2020. To be fair, there wasn’t a single book I read that didn’t contribute to my sense of wellbeing, but I’ve gone through my reading log and picked out some titles that have, in my eyes, a particular uplifting quality to them. If you’re after something to raise your spirits on a cold, dark winter’s day then maybe you’d like to try one of these!

The Girl with the Louding Voice by Abi Dare

It might seem a bit of a strange inclusion this one as it’s not an easy read by any means, addressing as it does themes of forced marriage, domestic abuse, violence and oppression. However, while reading it I was taken aback at what could, bizarrely, be described as the almost fairytale-like quality of the story; Adunni, the girl of the title, fights to overcome the most horrendous of circumstances with a fortitude that is both inspiring and almost unimaginable given the extreme nature of the obstacles she faces. If you want a tale of triumph over adversity this will not disappoint.

This is Happiness by Niall Williams

Like the previous choice, there is certainly an element of sadness to this novel, albeit of a more gentle variety; lost love, uncertainty around your place in the world and deep regret for the things we leave undone and unsaid as the years catch up with us. Yet the overwhelming sensation here is one of calmness and a quiet optimism that things will turn out as they’re meant to. It almost feels like a novel-length meditation, with prose so beautiful it catches your breath, and you’ll close the last page with a feeling of having been very deeply moved.

The Pickwick Papers by Charles Dickens

I started this back in February last year and finally finished it around Christmas, which has got to be some sort of record! My excuse (and I’m sticking to it!) is that it’s the kind of book that lends itself to being read in small chunks due to its episodic format, and I actually really enjoyed reading it in that way, coming back to it a couple of chapters at a time when I was in need of a burst of humour without needing to get embroiled in a must-read-on-and-see-what-happens kind of linear storyline. Despite its age, the comedy is as fresh as ever and it’s simply a huge amount of fun.

Murder at the Grand Raj Palace by Vaseem Khan

I absolutely adore this series of detective novels (if you’ve never tried them, you can read my review of the first in the series here). The Indian setting is alive with sound, smell and colour, and transports you to a world very far away from this one, which is what we all need sometimes. But the ace in the pack is without doubt the addition of Detective Chopra’s unorthodox sidekick, domesticated baby elephant Ganesha – and if you can read a novel featuring a baby elephant without feeling completely cheered then I don’t know what else to suggest!

A Cheesemonger’s History of the British Isles by Ned Palmer

I going with a non-fiction title to finish off my list of uplifting books, and it’s the kind of history book I love: quirky social history written by an author who clearly has a life-affirming passion for his unusual subject. I do happen to be an enormous fan of cheese in all its forms, but if you’re thinking this is too niche for you and only of interest to the extreme cheese-nerds out there then think again. The beauty of the book is that it encompasses yes, the history of cheesemaking of course, but also works as a more general social history, autobiography and travelogue. It was Ned Palmer’s infectious enthusiasm however that really earned the book its place on my list; you feel like you’re being gently ushered into a fan club you didn’t know you wanted to join.

I really hope you enjoyed my list of reading for tough times, and of course if you have any of your own suggestions I’d love to hear them! Thanks for reading x

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