Whilst I like to consider myself an open-minded, liberal lass, I have always struggled to completely trust people who don’t read for pleasure. (I also struggle to have faith in anyone who doesn’t like chocolate straight from the fridge, but that’s another story). I tell myself that recognising this prejudice at least means I am self-aware, but I know I shouldn’t be so judgemental. Like an evangelical preacher shouting from a milk crate at Speaker’s Corner (am I the only one who has always wanted to do that?) I believe in the power of literary escapism to help every single one of us manage our mental health and frankly I can’t seem to shut up about it. As such, I’d like to share with you my three most recent reads
and explain how they have helped me through the toughest of lockdown times.
I never normally read science fiction novels, but The Dispossessed by Ursula Le Guin came highly recommended. Shevek is a physicist from the planet Anares who travels to neighbouring Urras in a ground-breaking mission to share knowledge and bring the two communities closer together. Despite this sounding like some far-fetched fantasy, in fact this plot provides the vehicle for incredibly powerful political and socialist commentary. Shevek’s home planet is an anarchistsettlement based on the principles of communism (the ultimate insult anyone can be given is to be called a “propertarian”) whilst Urras is a capitalist, consumer-driven society not a million miles from the western world we currently live in. The use of this genre allows Le Guin to cleverly deconstruct and powerfully critique both political frameworks, highlighting the joys and flaws of both, without the dry, often dull narrative of a textbook. This book combined an engaging storyline and well-developed characters
with the valuable sense I actually learnt something too. I thoroughly recommend it.
For a complete change, I then moved on to The Psychopath Test by Jon Ronson, a non-fiction exploration of what it means to be a psychopath. I cannot emphasise enough how utterly fascinating this is – from meeting with business leaders who are ruthless in ways that seem chillingly abnormal to spending time with someone incarcerated in Broadmoor because they feigned insanity, this gripped me from beginning to end. I have never read anything by Ronson before and was thoroughly engaged by his indepth but accessible style of writing, so much so I have already ordered another of his books. This text also taught me how stupid I am – turns out I have spent years confusing L Ron Hubbard the founder of Scientology with Ron Howard the movie director – so apparently Apollo 13 wasn’t religious propaganda after all. Who knew?!
Finally, I have just completed The Jetsetters by Amanda Eyre Ward, a cheap download I thought I might as well try for 99p. Charlotte Perkins is a 70 year old American widow, mourning the loss of her bestfriend and feeling that life may have passed her by. When she wins the cruise of a lifetime around the Mediterranean, she invites her 3 adult children, all of whom bring more than just physical baggage. Cord is gay and an alcoholic; Lee is a failing actress struggling to survive; Reagan’s seemingly picture-perfect marriage is falling apart. This book cleverly explores the paradoxical, often dysfunctional relationships that every family has, alongside how natural yet challenging it can be to keep secrets from those who love you instinctively. I polished this off in a very short period of time and really enjoyed it. It also really made me really want to go on a cruise and it is a testament to the level of escapism The Jetsetters provided that it was some hours after concluding the final page that I remembered that now might not be the best time for holidaying.
I know I am very lucky to have such a cheap and accessible passion in these days of physical containment and will continue to shout loudly on the joys of reading to anyone who will listen. Admittedly my audience is currently limited to my immediate neighbours – and given the number of empty booze bottles in my recycling bin they will probably chalk my ravings up to alcohol – but even one conversion to the world of books would be worth the judgement. I shall channel my inner Ron Howard. I mean, L Ron Hubbard. Oops.