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Image: Alicia Fernandes / Penguin

It's no exaggeration to say that reading has been a lifeline for many throughout the Covid-19 pandemic. With the world on pause, many of us found ourselves reading more than ever. Some of us sought comfort in childhood favourites. Others discovered new authors, quickly devouring their entire backlists. Many gravitated towards doorstopper classics, finally striking that 1,000-page epic from the to-be-read pile. But no matter what we were reading, the experience was the same; books provided us with solace, escapism, wisdom and joy in a time when this was otherwise in short supply.

We asked our readers on social media if there was a particular book that stood out to them from this period. Here’s what they said...

Les Misérables by Victor Hugo (1862)

We said: Set in early nineteenth-century France, Victor Hugo's sweeping tale of injustice, heroism and love will have you feeling all of the emotions – and, at 1,328 pages, it can keep you solidly entertained for a whole lockdown.

You said: A book that I have always wanted to read but never thought I would have the time. As Hugo writes, ‘Even the darkest night will end and the sun will rise’.

@IKayWritesI 

The Midnight Library by Matt Haig (2020)

We said: Is there anything better than a book about a library? An instant New York Times bestseller, the latest from the author of Reasons to Stay Alive is a magical, uplifting tale of regret, hope and second chances. 

You said: Made me realise there’s no point thinking about the what ifs. Grab life by the horns and give it a good shake if it's not making you happy.

@Hannahlou_27  

Matilda by Roald Dahl (1988)

We said: Matilda is the perfect adventure for bookish children - and adults -everywhere. It follows a precocious five-year-old with magical abilities, who quietly seeks revenge on all the grown-ups that have wronged her…

You said: I’ve been returning to my childhood favourites. Choosing one is like choosing a favourite sibling, but I've always had a soft spot for Matilda (or any books about books and book lovers).

@biblioknight

A Gentleman in Moscow by Amor Towles (2016)

We said: Amor Towles’ charming historical saga has never felt more relatable; A Gentleman in Moscow follows Count Alexander Rostov, a Russian aristocrat sentenced to house arrest indefinitely during a particularly tumultuous period of history. Surprisingly funny and uplifting.   

You said: It has everything: tenderness, hope, justice, wit, history... loved it.

@ElwoodPruitt 

Watermelon by Marian Keyes (1995)

We said: One of the most successful Irish authors of all time, Marian Keyes’ fiction tackles serious topics with incredible wit and humour. You can’t help but want to be friends with her protagonists; the perfect tonic to an often-overwhelming news cycle.

You said: There's something very comforting about her characters that makes you forget about what's happening outside for a little while.

@holapamola  

Miss Benson's Beetle by Rachel Joyce (2020)

We said: Rachel Joyce’s latest novel is the perfect slice of escapism. An unlikely duo adventure to the other side of the world to search for a beetle that may or may not exist; a heart-warming story of female friendship and courage.

You said: It made me laugh out loud on days when laughter was a remote likelihood.

@GoodbyeGirls_   

A History of Pictures by David Hockney and Martin Gayford (2016)

We said: David Hockney and art critic Martin Gayford explore the relationship between photography, painting and drawing in this gorgeously unique book. 

You said: A History of Pictures was pretty uplifting and made me put things into perspective, while remembering there was a world outside my house.

@kcicero   

The Boy, The Mole, The Fox and The Horse by Charlie Mackesy (2019)

We said: Charlie Mackesy’s sweet illustrations about kindness and love dominated social media throughout lockdown. Published in 2019, his book captured the hearts of millions, and invites you into the beautifully-illustrated world of four unlikely friends. 

You said: This gorgeous book has been such a comfort. Massive thanks to Charlie Mackesy.

@hayleylynda23

Siddhartha by Hermann Hesse (1922)

We said: Set in India, Siddhartha is the story of one young man's search for spiritual enlightenment after meeting the Buddha. Integrating Eastern and Western traditions, it's a wise and moving tale for troubled times.

You said: An oldie but a goodie 🖤

@withlove_isla 

The Salt Path by Raynor Winn (2018)

We said: Explore the windswept beauty of the South West coastline from the comfort of your own sofa with Raynor Winn’s life-affirming nature memoir, The Salt Path. Perfect for anyone who rediscovered the healing power of the outside world during the pandemic.

You said: It is a travel book but much more, a book of amazing endurance and love.

Marion O on Facebook

The Seven Sisters by Lucinda Riley (2014)

We said: If you’re looking to get stuck into an epic book series, Lucinda Riley’s Seven Sisters has it all; love, loss, mythology, and a crumbling, sun-drenched mansion in Brazil.

You said: Easy reading. I lost myself completely in each book and was so disappointed when each ended. Now looking forward to the final book in the series, due out next month, I believe.

Gayda J on Facebook

East of Eden by John Steinbeck (1952)

We said: The ambitious novel was considered by Steinbeck to be his magnum opus. Following the intertwined destinies of two families in California's Salinas Valley, it’s a powerful, often brutal exploration of love and identity.

You said: It became one of my favourite books of all time.

Kenya A on Facebook

War and Peace by Leo Tolstoy (1869)

We said: Tolstoy’s epic tale of Russian life experienced an unexpected boost in sales during the first lockdown – rising by a staggering 69% year-on-year. A nuanced, absorbing exploration of love, conflict, free will and fate, there's a reason this novel regularly tops must-read lists the world over...

You said: Finally had the time and attention to read War and Peace. Was a month’s adventure in Moscow surroundings!

@Satu_Rooma 

The Secret Diaries of Miss Anne Lister (2010)

We said: Queer icon Anne Lister became a household name after the BBC drama Gentleman Jack premiered in 2019. Written in code in the 19th century, her diaries detail her innermost thoughts on everything from sex, menstruation and money to relationships, politics and society.

You said: Reading Anne Lister’s diaries early in the pandemic helped. The minutiae of the day-to-day, the books she was reading, her studies, her interests, the women she was seeing, her aspirations—it helped to slow the days down for me and give them more of a rhythm.

@GirlSwagger101 

Regeneration by Pat Barker (1991)

We said: The first novel in Pat Barker’s Booker Prize-winning Regeneration Trilogy is a moving portrayal of the First World War and its legacy of human trauma. An unforgettable read.

You said: It helped me get through my reader’s block. I couldn’t get through a book to save my life during lockdown 1 and it broke the seal once again for me!

@thebooksjar

Olive, Again by Elizabeth Strout (2019)

We said: No-one writes about family, community and the nuances of human relationships better than Pulitzer Prize-winning author Elizabeth Strout.

You said: I finally had time to read everything by Elizabeth Strout.

Lucia J on Facebook

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