10 books to read in isolation

Lunch Poems – Frank O’Hara
Writing poetry during your lunch break – fancy that! This book is a good reminder that we can all find art in unexpected places, including our everyday lives.
See also: Ariel – Sylvia Plath

Knulp – Hermann Hesse
Knulp is an eternal vagabond, drifting from town to town, touching the lives of others only briefly. For some, he is a pitiable character, while for others his life symbolises the freedom that they themselves yearn for. There are a number of more popular works written by Hesse, but it is the way in which Knulp manages to explore complex ideas with restraint and subtlety that makes it worthy of attention.
See also: The Glass Bead Game – Hermann Hesse

The Summer Book – Tove Jansson
The Summer Book is about the friendship between an elderly artist and her six-year-old granddaughter who spend a summer together on an island off the coast of Finland. Tove Jansson’s writing is gentle and humane and the novel doesn’t have a plot as such, rather it is observational and describes the season itself and life going on within it. Reserve this book now.

To the Wedding – John Berger
Of all of Berger’s books this is the one that I keep returning to. Offering hope in spite of the tragedy that unpins the story, this book is as radical in form and content as its author was in life. A truly life-affirming novel. See also: A Country Doctor’s Notebook – Mikhail Bulgakov

RisingTideFallingStar – Philip Hoare
The third book in a trilogy. This erudite exploration of the sea mixes myth, memoir, travel writing and literary criticism to create a work that is as boundless and convulsing as its subject. An absolute joy to read. See also: The Waves – Virginia Woolf

Float – Anne Carson
A collection of chapbooks designed to be read in random order. Fragile and delicate, and at times difficult to grasp, Float is a work of startling beauty from one of the world’s most revered poets. See also: A Handbook of Disappointed Fate – Anne Boyer

The Years – Annie Ernaux
Originally published in French in 2008, this English translation by Alison L. Stayer has brought Ernaux a lot of attention by English readers. In The Years, Ernaux manages to produce something both deeply personal and restrained, moving between impressionistic recollection and language that tells with precision, the story of her generation between the years 1941 and 2006. It is a book that has been described as genre defining – an example of experimental non-fiction or auto-fiction – but no matter how you want to describe it, it is destined to be a classic. Reserve this book now.

Patient X : the case-book of Ryūnosuke Akutagawa – David Peace
David Peace’s tenth novel deals with the life of Ryūnosuke Akutagawa, revered Japanese writer and author of Rashoman – who lived through the Taishō period of 1912 to 1926, and witnessed social and political turbulence as well as the devastating 1923 earthquake. Akutagawa is considered one of the great figures in Japanese literature having written over 150 short stories before his self-destruction at age 35. In twelve chapters which read like short stories, Peace gives a haunting portrait of this era through the complex character of its protagonist. Reserve this book now.

Little Boy – Lawrence Ferlinghetti
An epic stream of consciousness prose-poem written by this legendary Beat figure and City Lights bookshop co-founder, during the year of his one hundredth birthday. This is not an ordinary memoir by any stretch of the imagination, but much like life perhaps, it is rewarding if you are willing to slog through it.
See also: Big Sur – Jack Kerouac

Pond – Claire-Louise Bennett
According to Samuel Beckett, ‘the best possible play is one in which there are no actors, only a text’. Claire-Louise Bennett is in agreement and in this impressive debut novella, Bennett eschews notions of solitude and loneliness to give us a meditative reminder of the world outside of human experience. Reserve this book now.

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