As the country, and indeed parts of the world, come to a standstill, there was perhaps never a better time to catch up on some reading. And if you are in the mood for books that will last long enough to see you through to the end of this lockdown, well, we have some options for there. The following five books are rich not just in page count but also in terms of compelling content. Go ahead and lose yourself in them, even as we wait for the world to come back to normal:
The Stand by Stephen King
Perhaps THE book for those who want to read about a world brought to its knees by a virus. The Stand is considered by many to be Stephen King’s magnum opus. At over a thousand pages, it is a massive book and will keep you riveted for several days. Mind you, we would advise a little caution before reading it because King is the lord and master of the horror genre. The Stand describes what happens after a strain of influenza that was being developed as a secret weapon leaks out
into the public. Millions die, as there is no cure. The ones who survive then end up battling for what’s left in a world with no legal system, no government, no order, whatsoever. As the world seems to spiral towards an end, those trying to survive end up taking on those (still) trying to manipulate the situation and gain power. A terrifying book. Not least because so many will be able to identity with the empty roads, the panic, the heroic attempts to help, and of course, a disease with no cure that lurks in the air.
The Rise and Fall of the Third Reich by William L Shirer
The problem with books about history is that they tend to be a little on the dull side. Which is what makes William L Shirer’s Rise and Fall of the Third Reich so different. As its name indicates, the book covers the rise and fall of Nazi Germany from the end of the First World War to the end of the Second one. Shirer was a journalist based in Germany for most of this period and this is why his narration of the events of that period make for such compelling reading – his words are not those of a historian but of a story teller.
The result is perhaps the most important mainstream history book ever written. Characters like Goebbels, Himmler, Goering and of course, Adolf Hitler himself spring to life. And you see the impact they had on everyday life in Germany, and how they rose to power, even as the world surprisingly turned a blind eye to their dark side. Yes, they were defeated but they left behind a trail of needless destruction. This is compulsory reading for just about every person. Do not get intimidated by the size of the book – the writing is so good that the pages will just fly!
The Better Angels of our Nature by Steven Pinker
Are we actually living in the worst of times? Some would say we are given the damage to the environment, the fact that millions still live in abject poverty and of course, look at how parts of the world have been locked down to try and contain a virus. Well, Steven Pinker disagrees. In this exhaustively researched book, he brings out evidence that suggests that our lives are actually perhaps better than ever before. Be it the treatment of women or children or the levels of violence, Pinker serves up truckloads of data proving that while our current world might not be perfect, it is a huge step forward from the past. Some might find it a little too optimistic given the current scenario, but then, optimism in the darkest times is not a bad thing.
Especially when supported by such comprehensive research. It might seem a little overwhelming and heavy at times, but a book definitely worth reading. Even if you disagree with it.
The Count of Monte Cristo by Alexandre Dumas
If you love classic literature, you have a wealth of long woks to choose from, such as Les Miserables by Victor Hugo and of course, War and Peace by Leo Tolstoy. We are however going to recommend this swashbuckling adventure by Alexandre Dumas which comfortably spans more than a thousand pages. Our reason for backing it against others? Well, because it tells us that you can always beat the odds.
And the odds could not have been stacked higher for Edmund Dantes, a young sailor who is imprisoned for several years on a trumped up charge. He loses his love, his family, and everything he held dear. And when he finally gets out, he embarks on an extensive campaign of revenge against those who had ruined his life. It is perhaps the ultimate tale of revenge in literature and in best Dumas tradition (he wrote The Three Musketeers as well, remember?), it is told with verve and incredibly fluid prose. It is a long book but you will never want it to end. And when it does, it will leave you with two words that we need most today: “wait” and “hope.”
The Bartimaeus Trilogy by Jonathan Stroud
All right, so this is not a single book, but it is nevertheless a single story told over three books. And they are magnificent, some would say that in sheer quality and depth, they are actually even better than the Harry Potter series. A fantasy series set in London, it is full of magic and djinnis and very clever humour. The story follows the fortunes of John Mandrake who discovers a very powerful djinni called Bartimaeus and what transpires after that. Although the series is full of clever humour,
the world it portrays is a dark one with the wizards oppressing the common folk. Of course, there are people rebelling against the wizards, and there is a dark force that wants to take over everything. In the middle of all this are the ambitious John
Mandrake, who is torn between doing what’s right or simply getting all the power he can, and the djinni Bartimaeus who is high on ability, low on modesty (“I have spoken to Solomon!”) and extra high on sarcasm. The result is a heady cocktail of magic, action and humour. A fantasy series that does not get the credit it deserves. The trilogy comprises (in reading order) The Amulet of Samarkand, The Golem’s Eye and finally, Ptolemy’s Gate.
(Note: If you are wondering where you can get these books, well, while bookstores might be shut e-books thankfully remain an option. You can read them on tablets, computers and phones even while waiting for the real bookstores to open. It takes some getting used to, but is fun once you get the hang of it. A good source for e-books is Amazon’s Kindle store. And if you are looking for out of copyright books, go ahead to Project Gutenberg, which has thousands of classics in digital format. There are plenty of options out there. Go ahead, read!)