Any parallel universe is possible within the pages of a novel, a memoir and, indeed, from my perspective, a cookbook (or several) too. I have faith that the ‘To Be Read’ (TBR) list will never diminish. I live to indulge my inner bookworm and often wonder what will be the last book I ever read, and, will I finish it?
Self-isolation can be a comfortable perch when combined with a book or many piles of books. This has been so not just in the new wave of safe social distancing but during times of the regular trials and tribulations that life regularly chucks at us all. Taking yourself somewhere else has always been a ubiquitous reality for readers.
To crudely snowclone Austen: “It is a truth universally acknowledged that a woman in possession of a good TBR pile must be in want of some me time”.
I don’t have a list of favourite books. I read all the time. I have a shifting view of recent highlights… and lowlights. I list and review my reads on the Goodreads app. I love nothing more than a great crime series. I embrace a good literary read. A highbrow read, a lowbrow read, chick lit, belles-lettres — they are all subjective classifications to me, defined by perceived market forces, bookshop shelving and prescribed book cover design. I am also rather partial to doorstopper fiction of the “strong men and the women who love them” variety, and a good cookbook offers endless magic and inspiration.
My list grows ever longer as I read reviews, listen to podcasts, features on the radio, friends’ recommendations, book group choices etc. Here are five books from the TBR pile:
1. Olive Again by Elizabeth Strout
I adore Elizabeth Strout’s books and have been waiting for this latest book to come down in price. At last, that day has come.
2. Save Me The Plums by Ruth Reichl
Reichl is a US restaurant critic with food in her bones. I have read her memoirs and this volume encompasses her tenure as Editor in Chief at Epicure magazine. A foodie tale with recipes. What could be better?
3. The Lantern Men by Elly Griffiths
Number twelve in the Ruth Galloway series. Archaeologist turned detective, she works with the police to uncover crimes past and present. It is on my horizon but still too expensive, so for now it is high on the virtual list.
4. The Flight Portfolio by Julie Orringer
I am still reeling from reading The Invisible Bridge some years ago, capturing the Hungarian Jewish experience during 1930s and 1940s. Orringer writes beautifully right from the heart of her protagonists and takes those characters into very dark places. This novel is about artists and writers fleeing occupied France.
5. Please To The Table by Anya von Bremzen
Having read Von Bremzen’s memoir of her Soviet life then émigré years in Mastering the Art of Soviet Cooking, I became intrigued by a cuisine I barely recognised. This is a Russian Cookbook – recipes and writings from the Baltic to Uzbekistan. What I loved about the memoir was references to the communist cookbook which was the state recipe collection, The Book of Tasty & Healthy Food. Each edition changed dependent upon the political climate. Jewish recipes were published, only to be deleted in the next edition. Likewise the ethnic food of the far reaches of Soviet control, also came and went with the leaders.
Reading together whilst apart
Whilst I am happy launching myself from one read to the next, it has not been long for my book groups to manage the #stayhome issue. I belong to two different book groups. One now meets in the Houseparty app, the other with Zoom. I am so loving that we are coming up with (and able to find) solutions for our own particular predilections. So Unsheltered by Barbara Kingsolver and Down Among the Gods by Kate Thompson will have their day!
I feel happier at the thought of ageing and future potential mobility issues now I know we have the technology to attend book group wherever, whenever.
We should all wallow in the written form
I have always rather cherished the notion of curating a virtual reading clinic. For whatever
reason, people might not know what is out there – which titles or even genres appeal to
them. Maybe this is my moment to open the doors on social enterprise and spoon feed
those looking to indulge the wonderful reading habit. I have been reading since I was three,
so have fifty-seven years of bookworm experience to share. Apply here!
Words by Wendy Greenberg
This article was originally published as part of The Indiependent’s May 2020 charity magazine, which raised money for the British Lung Foundation. Find out more here.