Books to read in Lockdown 2021

As we dig deep to get though another lockdown, there are plenty of great books to read now and until spring.


What makes a good short story? I teach creative writing at Camden’s Working Men’s College and love Chekhov so first on my 2021 reading list is A Swim in a Pond in the Rain (Bloomsbury) by George Saunders, the Booker-winning author of Lincoln in the Bardo. This is a must read for fans of short fiction. Saunders guides us through the art of seven classic Russian short stories by Chekhov, Turgenev, Tolstoy and Gogol.

Last October, Max Porter read his award-winning novel, Grief Is The Thing With Feathers, at a fundraising event at the Union Chapel and helped secure the future of the historic Highbury institution as well as helping the Margins Project, a homeless support charity. Faber has published Porter’s latest book, The Death of Francis Bacon, to rapturous applause. The great painter lies on his deathbed. In seven written pictures, Porter composes the explosive final workings of the artist’s mind.

I loved Courttia Newland’s contributions to Steve McQueen’s Small Axe series and I’m looking forward to reading his speculative fiction, A River Called Time (Canongate), set in an alternate world where slavery and colonialism never happened. Newland’s novel explores social inequality, love, loyalty and the search for truth.

Mrs Death Misses Death (Canongate) is the darkly comic debut novel by poet Salena Godden. Wolf Willeford, a troubled young writer, meets Death – a black, working-class woman. Enthralled by her stories, Wolf begins to write Mrs Death’s memoirs. Their friendship grows into an unexpected affirmation of hope, resilience and love.


How to Change Everything (Penguin) by Naomi Klein and Rebecca Stefoff is billed as “the most authoritative book yet about climate change for teenagers”. They offer a powerful portrait of why and how the planet is changing, and suggest ways to make the world a safer and better place.

Light Perpetual (Faber), the latest novel from Francis Spufford (award-winning author of Golden Hill) sounds intriguing. Spufford imagines the future lives of five people killed by a German rocket in November 1944.

In Snakes and Ladders: The great British social mobility myth (Chatto) Selina Todd examines different experiences of social mobility - upwards and down. Drawing on hundreds of personal stories, she shows how a powerful elite on the top rungs have clung to their perch and prevented others ascending. She also looks at the unsung heroes who created more room at the top - among them adult educators, feminists and trade unionists.



Fans of Kazuo Ishiguro will be looking forward to his latest dystopian novel, 
Klara and the Sun (Faber). Klara, an Artificial Friend with outstanding observational qualities, is waiting for a customer to buy her. When it looks as though her circumstances may change for ever, Klara is warned not to invest too much in the promises of humans.

We need human connections more than ever but, according to Robin Dunbar, we can have meaningful relationships with only 150 people. In his latest book, Friends (Little, Brown), the anthropologist and evolutionary psychologist looks at how different types of friendship and family relationships intersect, the complex psychological and behavioural mechanisms that underpin friendships and the business of making and keeping friends.

Double Blind (Harvill Secker) by Edward St Aubyn (author of the Patrick Melrose books), follows three friends over one tumultuous year and explores themes of inheritance, determinism and freedom and the headlong pursuit of knowledge – for pleasure, revelation, money, sanity, or survival.


Fiona Mozley’s novel Hot Stew (John Murray) is set in Soho, the only part of London that never sleeps. But the area is changing. Precious and Tabitha’s home is under threat; its billionaire-owner Agatha wants to kick the women out to build expensive restaurants and luxury flats. But the women won’t go quietly. Soho is their turf and they are ready for a fight.

Finally, poetry fans can look forward to Martina Evans’ latest collection, American Mules, published in April by Carcanet. Evans writes about the radiography units of hospitals; a London densely populated by both human and animal characters; and Burnfort, County Cork, with its bars and gossip and childhood complications. 

While bookshops are closed, avoid Amazon and buy from or


 Originally published by Camden New Journal