It may seem trite two months into lockdown to comment on the strange and uncertain times we are living in. We’ve become so accustomed to our new normal, a routine that oscillates between scrolling through Twitter for hours on end to scouring Netflix for the latest binge-worthy offering. This lockdown has, however, given us the chance to read more than we would previously have been able to. People are increasingly seeking the comfort of alternative worlds provided through the pages of books; online sales at Waterstones skyrocketed by 400% in the week preceding the government enforced lockdown. If, however, like many people, you are stuck in a reading rut, here are some books that are perfect to quell those quarantine blues.

Heartburn – Nora Ephron

Being confined within close proximity to our kitchens seems to have ignited everyone’s inner chef. Chances are your Instagram feeds are awash with pictures of golden banana breads and painstakingly nursed sourdough starters. Many people, myself included, are finding comfort in whiling away hours over laborious and intricate recipes in the hope of creating something, well, good enough to eat. Nora Ephron’s hilarious and bittersweet roman a clef Heartburn is the perfect read to satiate those with a culinary appetite. It follows the romantic mishaps of heavily pregnant cookery writer Rachel after she discovers her husband is in love with another woman. As she tries to navigate her way through heartbreak, betrayal and uncertainty, food becomes a source of comfort and familiarity. Every painful memory of her husband is interwoven with recipes that nurture and sooth, and serves as a timely reminder as to why we find solace in food in times of uncertainty. Perfect to devour in one sitting alongside copious slices of freshly baked banana bread.     

Girl, Woman, Other – Bernadine Evaristo

Bernadine Evaristo’s stunning Booker prize winner is one of the most beautifully written books I’ve read this year. Traversing the lives of twelve very different woman of varying generations, race, and socio-economic backgrounds, Girl, Woman, Other provides an often absent portrayal of the hybridity of British womanhood. All the stories are interconnected through a range of relationships, from parenthood and friendship to online interactions through social media. Whilst each character wrestles with the universal challenges of being a woman in a man’s world, these narratives are placed within the unique parameter of individual circumstances, providing every voice with the platform to tell their own distinct stories. Women’s experiences are multi-dimensional and should be depicted as such. Evaristo’s prose melts into poetry through the absence of punctuation and capitalisation, creating a fluid narrative that ebbs and flows with the experiences of each woman. Girl, Woman, Other is a wonderfully kaleidoscopic narrative will leave you pondering the ways in which we listen to and appreciate women’s stories.

Supper Club – Lara Williams

Another culinary offering, Williams debut novel is a darkly witty and acerbic exploration of female empowerment through the consumption of food. It tells the story of twenty-nine-year-old Roberta who, having used cooking as a solace through university and adulthood, decides to start a supper club to help women who feel overlooked in society’s cavernous pit of expectation. They gorge on food acquired through supermarket dustbins and dance, sing and scream their way through raucous dinner parties. The novel is a caustic, extravagant and wholly original look at asserting space in a hostile and patriarchal world, refiguring the traditional trope of domesticity that has come to symbolise a woman’s relationship with food. Whilst the Sally Rooney comparison may seem hackneyed, William’s voice has the same astute social commentary and perceptiveness that will resonate with so many young women. Much like Ephron’s novel, this joyful ode to food reminds us why we seek culinary comforts in troubling times.

Grand Union – Zadie Smith

This current climate has brought with it a monumental disruption to our concentration. Whether its work or study, or even pleasurable hobbies like painting or reading, trying to cajole our mind into focusing on anything longer than a few minutes feels like an impossible task. Our attention span is functioning at a fraction of what we are used to and sustained focus feels like a distant memory. If, like for so many others, tackling a weighty novel seems unthinkable at the moment, short stories are the perfect alternative. Fiction queen Zadie Smith’s debut collection has everything you’d expect from the powerhouse of twenty-first century writing. Featuring previously unpublished stories as well as pieces from The New Yorker, Grand Union contains a wealth of genres and voices to devour, from environmental dystopia to more traditional tales of love and heartbreak. Richly packed with humour and filled with Smith’s characteristic sharpness, this collection will provide you with little snippets of escapism that are perfect to dip in and out of. A welcome alternative to the anxiety inducing soundbites of news we are exposed to on a daily basis.

Notes to Self – Emilie Pine

Wonderfully anecdotal, and completely accessible, Emilie Pine’s essay collection will strike a chord with everyone who has ever felt uncomfortable in the skin they’re in. She writes openly and honestly on everything from the shame engrained with the female body, including the taboos that surround menstruation and bleeding, to the early childhood pain of her parents’ separation. Pine writes with such an effortless affability that it almost feels as if we are having a long and heartfelt chat with a close friend over a cup of tea. While anecdotes of finding her alcoholic father in a run-down hospital in Greece have a distinctly personal pathos, the warmth of her writing creates a universality which serves as a timely reminder that we are never alone in times of struggle.