The READ.LOOK.THINK. List of Best Books to Stockpile.

Primo, 100% infallible novels to lose yourself in during scary times and feel gripped, warm, safe, emotional, human and alive.

Dear friends,

It's a scary time, and many of us might opt to or be forced to spend some time on our own or outside of our routines and without our usual support systems. Equally it's going to be hard to balance our news consumption, the need to keep informed to stay safe versus being flooded with panic-inducing updates.

What I want to do in this very hastily cobbled together edition of READ.LOOK.THINK. is to recommend you my primo, 100% infallible favourite books to lose yourself in and feel gripped, warm, safe, emotional, human and alive.

Slightly oddly I've arranged them by protective mechanism. If you feel calmer in an intellectual headspace, you can choose from COOL. Then there's COZY which are books with a lovely warm vibe, then I have HOT: gripping sagas of love and hate.

I’m sort of racing with this (excuse typos) so I've mainly just lazily cut and pasted the jacket copy. That way you can see what catches your eye, and then just search for it on your favourite site or in store.

Lots of love to you all even if we've never met, wishing you calm in this stressful time

Jessica

X

PS. Don't forget too there's lots and lots to read in the READ.LOOK.THINK. archive.

COOL: intricate, formal, austere, satirical.

The Line of Beauty by Alan Hollinghurst: It is the summer of 1983, and young Nick Guest, an innocent in the matters of politics and money, has moved into an attic room in the Notting Hill home of the Feddens: Gerald, an ambitious new Tory MP, his wealthy wife Rachel, and their children Toby and Catherine. Nick had idolized Toby at Oxford, but in his London life it will be the troubled Catherine who becomes his friend and his uneasy responsibility. Innocent of politics and money, Nick is swept up into the Feddens' world and an era of endless possibility, all the while pursuing his own private obsession with beauty.

The Sense of an Ending by Julian Barnes: Tony Webster and his clique first met Adrian Finn at school. Sex-hungry and book-hungry, they navigated the girl drought of gawky adolescence together, trading in affectations, in-jokes, rumour and wit. Maybe Adrian was a little more serious than the others, certainly more intelligent, but they swore to stay friends forever. Until Adrian's life took a turn into tragedy, and all of them, especially Tony, moved on and did their best to forget.

Netherland by Joseph O'Neill: In early 2006, Chuck Ramkissoon is found dead at the bottom of a New York canal. In London, a Dutch banker named Hans van den Broek hears the news, and remembers his unlikely friendship with Chuck and the off-kilter New York in which it flourished: the New York of 9/11, the powercut and the Iraq war. Those years were difficult for Hans – his English wife Rachel left with their son after the attack, as if that event revealed the cracks and silences in their marriage, and he spent two strange years in New York’s Chelsea Hotel, passing stranger evenings with the eccentric residents. Lost in a country he'd regarded as his new home, Hans sought comfort in a most alien place – the thriving but almost invisible world of New York cricket

The Perfect Spy by John le Carré: Magnus Pym - ranking diplomat, consummate Englishman, loving husband, secret agent - has vanished. Has he defected? Gone to ground? As the hunt for Pym intensifies, the secrets of his life are revealed: the people he has loved and betrayed, the unreliable con-man father who made him, the two mentors who moulded and shaped him, and now wish to claim this perfect spy as their own.

Bridehead Revisted by Evelyn Waugh: The most nostalgic and reflective of Evelyn Waugh's novels, Brideshead Revisited looks back to the golden age before the Second World War. It tells the story of Charles Ryder's infatuation with the Marchmains and the rapidly disappearing world of privilege they inhabit. Enchanted first by Sebastian Flyte at Oxford, then by his doomed Catholic family, in particular his remote sister, Julia, Charles comes finally to recognise his spiritual and social distance from them.

The Hours by Michael Cunningham: In 1920s London, Virginia Woolf is fighting against her rebellious spirit as she attempts to make a start on her new novel. A young wife and mother, broiling in a suburb of 1940s Los Angeles, yearns to escape and read her precious copy of ‘Mrs Dalloway’. And Clarissa Vaughan steps out of her smart Greenwich village apartment in 1990s New York to buy flowers for a party she is hosting for a dying friend. Moving effortlessly across the decades and between England and America, this exquisite novel intertwines the stories of three unforgettable women.

Norwegian Wood by Haruki Murakami: When he hears her favourite Beatles song, Toru Watanabe recalls his first love Naoko, the girlfriend of his best friend Kizuki. Immediately he is transported back almost twenty years to his student days in Tokyo, adrift in a world of uneasy friendships, casual sex, passion, loss and desire - to a time when an impetuous young woman called Midori marches into his life and he has to choose between the future and the past.

What I Loved by Siri Hustvedt: In 1975 art historian Leo Hertzberg discovers an extraordinary painting by an unknown artist in a New York gallery. He buys the work, tracks down its creator, Bill Weschler, and the two men embark on a life-long friendship. This is the story of their intense and troubled relationship, of the women in their lives and their work, of art and hysteria, love and seduction and their sons - born the same year but whose lives take very different paths.

Damage by Josephine Hart: 'Damaged people are dangerous. They know they can survive.' One of the most chilling explorations of physical passion and dark, obsessive love ever written.

Possession by AS Byatt: An exhilarating novel of wit and romance, at once a literary detective novel and a triumphant love story. It is the tale of a pair of young scholars investigating the lives of two Victorian poets. Following a trail of letters, journals and poems they uncover a web of passion, deceit and tragedy, and their quest becomes a battle against time.

Any Adam Dalgliesh novel by PD James. Start with Original Sin and see if you like it, then start back at the start with Cover Her Face.

COZY: calming warm hugs.

Love, Nina: Despatches from Family Life by Nina Stibbe: perfect humour set in real life literary London.

Any and all Liane Moriarty but the best is The Husband's Secret.

All of the Elizabeth Peters 'Amelia Peabody' series of detectives novels, where Amelia is a suffragette (clap emoji) spinster (clap emoji) archaeologist (clap emoji!!!!).

The Cazalet Chronicles by Elizabeth Jane Howard: read in order from the beginning, you will cry buckets.

Pursuit of Love and Love in a Cold Climate by Nancy Mitford: just read them.

Not Working by Lisa Owens: nice to be in the head of the main character, a gentle, clever, comic weirdo.

HOT: relationships, love and hate.

The Corrections and Freedom by Jonathan Franzen. You may think you don't like him, but make sure you've made your own assessment before you write him off. Top quality darkly funny sagas of family and love.

The Marriage Plot by Jeffrey Euginedes: It's the early 1980s. In American colleges, the wised-up kids are inhaling Derrida and listening to Talking Heads. But Madeleine Hanna, dutiful English major, is writing her senior thesis on Jane Austen and George Eliot, purveyors of the marriage plot that lies at the heart of the greatest English novels. As Madeleine studies the age-old motivations of the human heart, real life, in the form of two very different guys, intervenes---the charismatic and intense Leonard Bankhead, and her old friend the mystically inclined Mitchell Grammaticus. As all three of them face life in the real world they will have to reevaluate everything they have learned.

The Art of Fielding by Chad Harbach: Henry Skrimshander, newly arrived at college, shy and out of his depth, has a talent for baseball that borders on genius. But sometimes it seems that his only friend is big Mike Schwartz – who champions the talents of others, at the expense of his own. And Owen, Henry’s clever, charismatic, gay roommate, who has a secret that could put his brilliant college career in jeopardy. Pella, the 23-year-old daughter of the college president, has returned home after a failed marriage, determined to get her life in order. Only to find her father, a confirmed bachelor, has fallen desperately in love himself. Then, one fateful day, Henry makes a mistake – misthrows a ball. And everything changes…

The Emperor's Children by Claire Messud: In Manhattan, just after the century’s turn, three thirty-year-old friends, Danielle, Marina and Julius, are seeking their fortunes. But the arrival of Marina’s young cousin Bootie – fresh from the provinces and keen, too, to make his mark – forces them to confront their own desires and expectations. The Emperor’s Children is a sweeping portrait of one of the most fascinating cities in the world, and a haunting illustration of how the events of a single day can change everything, for ever.

The Post-Birthday World by Lionel Shriver: It all hinges on one kiss. Whether Irina McGovern does or does not lean in to a specific pair of lips in London will determine whether she stays with her disciplined, intellectual partner Lawrence or runs off with Ramsey, a hard-living snooker player. Using a parallel universe structure, we follow Irina's life as it unfolds under the influence of two drastically different men.

American Wife by Curtis Sittenfeld: On one of the most important days of her husband's presidency, Alice Blackwell considers the strange and unlikely path that has led them to the White House, and that has landed an ordinary girl from a small town into the most public of roles. Weaving race, class, wealth and fate into a brilliant literary reimagining of the life of a reserved woman not unlike Laura Bush, American Wife is a remarkable novel that lays bare the pressures and contradictions of a marriage exposed in the global spotlight. (American Wife is my favourite but any Curtis Sittenfeld will delight.)

The Interestings by Meg Wolitzer: On a warm summer night in 1974, six teenagers play at being cool. They smoke pot, drink vodka, share their dreams and vow always to be interesting. Decades later, aspiring actress Jules has resigned herself to a more practical occupation; Cathy has stopped dancing; Jonah has laid down his guitar and Goodman has disappeared. Only Ethan and Ash, now married, have remained true to their adolescent dreams and have become shockingly successful too. As the group’s fortunes tilt precipitously, their friendships are put under the ultimate strain.

Americanah by Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie: Ifemelu and Obinze are young and in love when they depart military-ruled Nigeria for the West... Fifteen years later, they reunite in a newly democratic Nigeria, and reignite their passion—for each other and for their homeland.

Also hugely recommended:

  • Astonish Me by Maggie Shipstead: captivating ballet novel.

  • The Secret History: In an elite college in Vermont, a group of classics students dabble in murder.

  • The Time Traveller's Wife by Audrey Niffenegger: I just remember this making me SOB.

  • Life After Life by Kate Atkinson: Follows Ursula Todd as she lives through the turbulent events of the last century again and again.

  • Ensemble casts of women during changing times: The Group and The Company She Keeps by Mary McCarthy, Big Women by Fay Weldon.

  • By Nicci French, The Memory Game, The Safe House, Killing Me Softly, Beneath the Skin and The Red Room are all perfect thrillers with main characters like love spending time with (and who can all cook).