This year the summer reading stack developed a dystopian counterpart: the lockdown reading stack. Just like the summer stacks, lists proliferated all over social media. They were balanced between serious and escapist, and were ultimately idealistic, but often suffered from the hard realities of things like the desire to sleep and, say, the anxiety that comes from living through a pandemic.
We had lofty goals at Guardian Australia, too. Not all of us reached them.
News, news, news
I’m three-quarters of the way through Malcolm Turnbull’s tome which is a rollicking read if you like political stuff. Other than that it’s just been news, news, news. But the very best thing I read wasn’t a book but a long read in the Atlantic by Anne Applebaum – a quite extraordinary piece about the “collaboration” of the Republican right with the Donald Trump experiment. Scary, revealing, but also totally makes sense of what is happening “over there”. – David Munk, Guardian Australia deputy editor
War and … struggle
This ought to give you some sense of the goals I had for myself during lockdown and my abject failure to meet them: I read 130 of the 1,270 pages in my copy of War and Peace. That’s it. I did not even make it to a battle scene.
I finished a book at the very start of lockdown – James Bradley’s excellent Ghost Species – but in hindsight it was the last-ditch effort of someone staggering to the finish line at the end of a hard race. I did not read a whole book start to finish until restrictions started easing two weeks ago. Thank you to David Carr’s The Night of the Gun for being compelling enough to drag me back into the world of literature. – Stephanie Convery, deputy culture editor
Does TikTok count?
I was planning to read Little Women (so I could in good conscience watch the movie), check out Eggshell Skull by Bri Lee, and finally get round to reading the three Quarterly Essays propping up my home office monitor. Instead I watched approximately 200 hours of TikToks and sat through multiple hour-long videos about drama in the YouTube beauty guru community.
Besides news articles and work-related reports the closest I got to reading was listening to some of Malcolm Turnbull’s audiobook and devouring a 5,000-word e-pamphlet I downloaded about the ENFJ Myers Briggs personality type. (I share this personality with Oprah Winfrey and Pope John Paul II. Apparently.) – Matilda Boseley, breaking news reporter
When the lockdown started, I felt like what I needed was to get lost in another time and place. I wanted to read something totally removed from our current context, like Jane Austen, or something epic and absorbing, like Hilary Mantel’s Wolf Hall trilogy, to take me away from everything that was happening IRL. Instead I ended up watching a bunch of Jane Austen film adaptations and the BBC mini-series of Wolf Hall.
My actual reading list ended up being, well, short. Sally Rooney’s Conversations With Friends did nothing but make me yearn for the vapid pleasures of our before-pandemic social lives (remember gossip!?) and after about 150 pages of what I found to be overly florid and weirdly ethereal prose in Ocean Vuong’s On Earth We Are Briefly Gorgeous I felt like I was going to have a panic attack. – Michael McGowan, reporter
Still can’t do gossip
Over the course of isolation, I thought what I needed was escapist gossip. I started reading Chiffon Trenches. I started reading Meet Me in the Bathroom. I started reading The Last Playboy: the High Life of Porfirio Rubirosa. I finished none of them. Then I picked up The Ballad of Songbirds and Snakes and didn’t put it down until I was done. It turns out what I actually needed was a dystopian YA deep-dive into how privileged young men turn into monsters. Is it a Hunger Games? Yes. Is it for teenagers? Kind of. Is it escapist? Not really. It’s happening around us all the time. – Alyx Gorman, lifestyle editor
Sorry again, Hilary Mantel
I have been unexpectedly struggling with Hilary Mantel’s third book in the Wolf Hall series to which I was so looking forward. I find I cannot lose myself in the deliciously precise prose as previously because I cannot right now maintain the attention to simply float among the cadence and vivid evocations and still absorb the narrative. So I’ve put it aside for now and am devouring space opera science fiction instead from some of my favourite modern authors. – Viv Smythe, digital community team
Actually, all I read was literature
The first few weeks of lockdown I was unable to focus on anything beyond alternatively feverishly scanning news sites and going through my yearly expenses over and over. When the initial anxiety settled and something resembling a routine emerged, I began to appreciate all the extra free time I had with no commute, no sport to ferry my children to and, well, basically no social life to speak of.
What then followed was a few glorious weekends of reading The Overstory by Richard Powers, sometimes looking up at the beautiful big gum tree outside our house, rereading Philip Pullman’s His Dark Materials, and making my way through not one, but three Ann Patchett novels back to back. Escaping from the news cycle into fiction was truly the only thing that kept me sane during “these strange and uncertain times”. – Svetlana Stankovic, acting opinion editor
Did you achieve your reading goals during lockdown? Tell us in the comments