C-19 Reading Diary

The book I enjoyed reading the most last year (Station Eleven) was about a global pandemic. Turned out when I actually experienced a global pandemic, reading suddenly became less enjoyable.

I found it near impossible to read when things got serious in the U.K. The difference between the world in the book and the real world feel too jarring. For a full two and a bit weeks I didn’t read at all, which was very strange for someone who reads for several hours a day. I couldn’t work it out. I’d gone through anxiety as severe as I’d ever had not so long ago and reading was a blessed escape. So why not now?

I gradually realised that this was a different kind of anxiety which had triggered a state of hyper-vigilance. I was on red alert, as if constantly scanning the horizon for signs of danger. This meant I couldn’t focus on a book because my sympathetic nervous system didn’t feel it was safe to switch off.

I’ve managed to adjust enough to the ongoing situation to start reading again. However, I’ve had to experiment with what kind of books work for me at this time.

One Word Kill, Dispel Illusion and Limited Wish (Impossible Times Trilogy) by Mark Lawrence

If you’re a fan of Good Omens or Ready Player One, you’re likely to enjoy this fast and fun sci fi trilogy.  Author Mark Lawrence on GoodReads a long time. He’s an ex research scientist currently living in Bristol. I wondered how having grown up in America, he’d conjure up life as a teenager in suburban London in the late 1980s (which was my life). Aside from a couple of Americanisms, he did a great job. Teenager Nick is dealing with a cancer diagnosis when an unnervingly familiar looking stranger explains that there is a lot more at stake.  It was a rip roaring story of 4 nerdy boys and 1 cool girl trying to save the world. I was reading it as lockdown happened so maybe that’s why I didn’t love the way I might have done otherwise. 3/5

11.22.63 by Stephen King

“Yeah, but what if you went back and killed your own grandfather?”

He stared at me, baffled. “Why the fuck would you do that?”

stephen king

Nothing on my Kindle felt right. Maybe now would be a good time to immerse myself in the Stephen King universe for the first time. I’m not up for his horror novels but was intrigued by the premise of this book: a guy time-travelling back (yes, again) to prevent the assination of JFK. One of the things that has put me off King is that his books are like door-stops. This isn’t as long as some but it did drag. We have to wait for over 300 pages before our protagonist even catches sight of Oswald. I have kept hearing how he’s a great writer but not very good at endings which made me nervous after investing so much time. A bad ending can ruin a book for me. Happily this was tied-up extraordinarily well so I did smile when in the Afterword he mentions that his writer son, Joe Hill, actually gave him a much better ending than the original one he had written. A friend has recommend I read Lisey’s Story by King next so I’l do that. 3.25/5

Mythos: The Greek Myths Retold by Stephen Fry

“Gaia visited her daughter Mnemosyne, who was busy being unpronounceable.”


The world of the Greek mythology populated with larger than life gods and monsters has proved a good place to get lost in.  Some books manage to make these stories full of sex, violence, humour and revenge decidedly dry and academic. It’s no surprise that Stephen Fry completely avoids this. I especially appreciated how he adds various examples of how many of the words we use today are derived from the myths (my favourite being the eternal punishment of Tantalus is where we get the word ‘tantalise’ from). Zeus and Hera are the ultimate dysfunctional couple and their endless dramas involving both mortals and gods, never fail to enthrall to me.  4/5

Grownups by Marian Keyes

“Her outline kept slipping, like a wonky contact lens that wouldn’t sit on the iris…  Intense feelings would surge through her, both good and not-so-good, then her outline would detach again. She was living her life a short distance from herself.”


grown ups

Story aside, this novel was fantastically easy to read which was a relief. I’m normally turned off by family dramas but my love of Marian’s combination of humour and darker themes made me give it a go. To be fair, the first three quarters was a 3 star read for me as breezy as it was. We are following three brothers and their wives, not to mention 7 kids, living in Dublin. We get to know the characters and their various issues (including overspendng and more seriously, bullimia) as they congregate for a number of family trips. I think I prefer to follow one main protagonist in this kind of book so that I feel more invested. Not a lot seems to develop until the 75% mark when it all starts kicking off. I was then riveted by the final quarter which was 5 stars. 3.75/5 overall.

City of Girls by Elizabeth Gilbert

“…at some point in a woman’s life, she just gets tired of being ashamed all the time. After that, she is free to become whoever she truly is.”

Now we’re talking. This was a fizzy cocktail of a historical fiction and it went down easy. I can’t think of much Id rather read about right now than wonderfully shameless showgirls in 1940s New York City. Nineteen year-old Vivian Morris moves into her aunt’s rundown theatre in Midtown. In very short order, she loses her naivete and is kicking up her heels at The Stork Club by night and sewing costumes by day.  We follow her misadventures with a fabulous cast of colourful characters which are all vividly rendered and hugely enjoyable. Despite making a near catastrophic mistake Vivian learns that learns you can be a good person even if society doesn’t deem you ‘a good girl’.  Fairly short chapters helped to prevent me feeling overwhelmed (which ihas been my main issue). Its structure of a single 450+ page letter rather bugged me but not enough to spoil it for me. 4.25/5

city of girls

Have you struggled to concentrate on reading during this time or have books become a valued distraction? Do you have any light novels to recommend?


Filed under Book Review

24 responses to “C-19 Reading Diary

  1. I’ve been struggling to read for quite some time now. No focus. But I did finally finish a book by an author I enjoy and read a romance novella. So, at least some reading for me.
    No recommendations though.
    I do like the Mythos you mentioned, sounds very interesting.


    • It’s much harder to concentrate these days. Lighter stories and shorter chapters make it easier but still, I can’t read for long stretches like I used to.
      Mythos is great.


      • Suzy Q

        I also went through a period this spring when I couldn’t read anything longer than a Twitter post. In the last couple of weeks that’s changed! Yay! I’m reading Erik Larson’s new book, The Splendid and the Vile: A Saga of Churchill, Family and Defiance During the Blitz. All of Larson’s books read like fiction; they’re hard to put down. This is not a happy subject but it helps to know ahead of time how it all turned out…unlike our current situation.


        • Thanks for telling me about Larson’s books. It is a talent to make non-fiction read like fiction.
          Yes, certainty is something greatly lacking at the moment.


  2. Life seems weirder than fiction at the moment!


  3. matty1649

    I can’t seem to concentrate on reading. i did however read both the Stephen Fry books about mythology. Very entertaing. Also the Marian keyes book. I enjoyed Circe and Song of Achilles.
    At the moment I’m trying to read books that don’t tax the brain too much. I’m reading the second part of a trilogy about the Deverill family by Santa Montefiore.


    • Exactly. I’ve had to ditch the books I might normally be reading and find things that don’t require too much effort. Who knows how much longer this will go on for. I understand it’s called ‘mood reading’.


  4. Tara C

    Not reading much here either, about all I can tolerate is travel stories and diaries. Short chapters are a blessing.


  5. Hey Tara,
    OOOOH! Stephen Fry! I’m going to buy it for Jin, who adores him.
    Having dredged through the shiny pages of DUNE. I’m going to buy it on Kindle and read it again.
    Now I’m back on a series that might have been read 15 times already. The Belgariad! It’s taking me about 3 days to read each book and I’m on the third. LOVING being back in this world, it feels like home.
    Portia xx

    Liked by 1 person

  6. Lady Jane Grey

    Strangely enough I wasn‘t able to read properly during the lock-down either ! I couldn‘t concentrate, was distraught most of the time… Annoying, really.
    You know already I enjoyed City of Girls a lot 😌 – and I really like the quote you used as a header for your review of it.
    Thanks for the teaser for the Stephen Fry one, it sounds like a perfectly witty book, I just put it on my „to read“ list.
    I‘m at the beginning of The Chiffon Trenches by Andre Leon Talley – the memoires of Anna Wintour‘s ex-colleague at Vogue. It‘s already clear : I wouldn‘t want her for a boss…
    Take care, dear T. !


    • Ha! That memoir sounds great.
      I thoroughly enjoyed City of Girls. It was the perfect time to read it. Just what I needed. Hope you get your reading mojo back soon, dear M. It’s tough.


  7. ElizaC

    My husband and I have been listening to audio books in the evening. The Agatha Raisin series, a fun mystery written by MC Beaton and read by Penelope Keith, has a zillion books and is amusing enough to focus on without demanding too much deep thought or seriousness. Every now and then, things I’m watching on netflix or hulu will simply become permeated with loss (people sitting at a bar, walking down a crowded street etc.) and then it is time for crossword puzzles.


    • I think this is a really good time for audio books. I normally struggle with them because my mind wanders but choosing something fun and easy to follow is perfect.


  8. bonkersvanessa

    I am impressed you did as much reading as you did despite not being in the mood lately! That Marian Keyes book was featured on Woman’s Hour recently, including the quote you selected, which I love. Am quite tempted to give it a whirl, especially if it gets better by the end.

    I read all the Greek myths in school – can’t remember what book we had but they were easy to follow and enjoy – and they have stayed with me all my life, especially The Myth of Sisyphus (examples of that abound in daily life) and poor old Tantalus of course. When decluttering I am invariably reminded of the Augean Stables. 😉

    I have never tried a Stephen King, though I know someone who reads nothing else.


    • Hi V
      I’m starting to wonder if you’re either a Stephen King person or you’re not.
      I’d wait for the Marian Keyes book to come out in paperback.
      Wish I’d studied the Greek Myths in school. At least I’ve got to know them in later life. It’s surprising how many references to them you hear in everyday life.


  9. Interesting. It might be at least a partial explanation why I stopped reading in the recent years: too much stress, and reading doesn’t help with it.

    These days (and I’m not talking just about the last couple of months) I rarely do something not work-related on its own. I watch streaming tv shows while eating, ironing, shopping on Internet or even writing for my blog. Reading doesn’t mix well with other activities – and I don’t feel like I have enough time to spare on reading alone. It is a perception, I realize that I could find time if I wanted to. But I don’t, and I don’t want to force myself to do that: I keep telling myself that over the course of the first 30 years of my life I read more books than most regular people do in their lifetime, so I probably got all the “moral growth” from reading that I could, and as an entertainment, reading is not more virtuous than watching TV, so I almost stopped feeling guilty about not reading.


    • You shouldn’t feel guilty at all. I can’t bear it when people are morally superior because they read a lot or read a certain kind of book. For example, someone who only reads non-fiction and is snobbish about fiction readers. It’s all nonsense. Reading is not working with your lifestyle these days and that’s fine. It’s not good for multi-tasking! I do feel some pressure over the types of books I read though so do get it, as much as I tell myself not to think that way.

      Liked by 1 person

  10. Hayley

    Hi Tara I foolishly started the mirror and the light for lockdown which was not a good choice when stress levels ramped up.
    After reading this I wanted lighter books and read Mrs Miniver which i highly recommend its intelligent but light writing. I am currently reading the Night Circus and I’m sure you’ve read it but it’s fabulous very enchanting. I definitely want to read City of Girls now and I have Mythos as an audio book, will bump it up the list. Best wishes Hayley


    • Hi Hayley,
      Enchanting is the word for The Night Circus. It’s the most atmospheric book I’ve read and has great descriptions of aromas. Lighter, escapist books are the best thing right now.


  11. Mariann

    I read Station Eleven years ago after my brother recommended it. Ive never been the same on a plane since and this March had to fly back quick and all I could think about was that damn book. She has a new one out, my brother and I were both, ah no hard pass.


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