A reflection on the past year as our Apocalypse-aversary approaches, mapping out my favourite Quarantine Reads, and imagining what the world will be like moving forward.
In just a handful of days, it will have been an entire year since, for many of us here in the UK, our lives turned upside down. As March approaches, I find myself feeling more reflective, and more appreciative, of the year we’ve shared.
For me, March holds more than one anniversary. It marks a year since I lost my beloved Nan. She’d been in hospital since the turn of the new year, and I remember so clearly telling her of everything that was happening outside the four walls of her hospital room. I visited every day I could, telling her stories of the apocalyptic atmosphere outside, but she had little reason to actually believe me. This was before the time of face-masks; back when hand sanitiser wasn’t an ever-present item in my bag, I could still hold Nan’s hand, and I was planning to head off to work at Glastonbury again in a couple of weeks.
I remember thinking that Nan’s death, on the 12th of March 2020, marked the day the world fell apart — and not just for me. A week or so later, my family and I gathered around the television and watched our Prime Minister announce the very first national lockdown. I remember that strange buzzy thrill of living through history — it seemed, despite everything, that this year might hold more for us than just sadness and loss. It was, after all, the first time I’d be moving back home after living independently for over six years. It was an opportunity to reconnect, to slow down, to pay attention.
There’s a certain sense of solidarity when things like this happen. I’ve heard many people call it ‘wartime spirit’, though it feels strange to use that term when it’s an invisible war we’re fighting. The collective grief is much the same, though. There’s not a single one of us that can say we haven’t known someone who’s lost someone, or lost someone ourselves.
One form of escapism for me throughout all of our lockdowns has been reading. Here’s a list of some of the books that swept me away the most over the last year (and a little bit about them, in case you want to be swept away yourself). We’re starting from August 2020 onwards, because those first few months of lockdown were pretty much just spent binge-watching Netflix and trudging through manuscript edits. I think I forgot how to read altogether.
This is how you lose the time war by Amal El-Mohtar and Max Gladstone
This was one of the first books I read in 2020, and it’s one that will stick with me for a long time. It tells the tale of two women, Red and Blue; enemies travelling through time to kill one another. Anyone who’s a fan of ‘enemies to lovers’ in fiction will adore this book. Told through their letters to each other as their relationship develops across different timelines and universes, This is how you lose the time war is short and beautiful and moving. I will come back to this one again and again.
The Midnight Library by Matt Haig
The Midnight Library is one of those life-affirming reads that you find yourself recommending to people months after you’ve read it. It follows the story of a young woman who attempts to take her own life, but finds herself hanging between life and death in a library. There, each book she reads will show her a path she didn’t take, an alternate universe for every decision that might have changed the way her life panned out.
It sounds dark to begin with, I know, but The Midnight Library is beautifully paced and the plot feels a lot lighter than the initial concept. It will make you think about life and death and everything in between, and is definitely a book that leaves you feeling very deeply moved.
The Haunting of Hill House by Shirley Jackson
Alright, anyone who knows me well knows that I’ve watched the Netflix show of the same name too many times to count, and when the release of The Haunting of Bly Manor was announced in October, I thought I’d get myself in the spooky spirit and finally read this horror classic. Although a little slow to start (if heavy description isn’t really your thing), I can then confirm that this is one of the scariest books — if not the scariest book I’ve ever read. The terrifying, dramatic, stomach-dropping moments are truly nothing in comparison to the quiet ghostly horror we find scattered throughout. This is an absolutely classic ghost-story; extra points if you stay up late to read this in the dead of night.
Watch Over Me by Nina Lacour
Sticking with the ghost story vibe, this new release from Nina Lacour is absolutely haunting. It focuses on family and new, fragile relationships and the beautiful, cold seaside setting makes everything feel ominous and grey. The vibes of this book are impeccable and there are so many twists and turns in this modern day ghost story — you need to put aside a weekend for this one and curl up, uninterrupted, with a hot drink and a load of candles.
Good Omens by Neil Gaiman and Terry Pratchett
By the time December came around, I was so ready for a little pick me up. Despite absolutely adoring Neil Gaiman as a writer, having heard him speak on multiple podcasts and TV shows, I realised I’d never actually read anything of his aside from Coraline. If you’re a first time Gaiman-er, I would absolutely recommend Good Omens. It’s the hilarious and emotional tale of an angel and a demon who have somehow ended up being each other’s only friend for the last 6,000 years. Aziraphale and Crowley have lived on Earth since the beginning, so when Armageddon is announced, they band together to try and save the world.
Honestly, ten outta ten, couldn’t stop laughing but also the writing is just spectacular and you’ll get so attached to these characters, you’ll be thinking about them long after you’ve finished reading.
Untamed by Glennon Doyle
This book will change your life in the most glorious way. Glennon writes with humour and empathy, and each chapter of this book is like a tiny parable in itself. There’s not much else here to say except I’m glad I started my year with this book and set the tone for 2021 to be a year of self-development and appreciation.
The Invisible Life of Addie Larue by V E Schwab
I hate Past Beth for not reading this one sooner. Addie Larue is, quite possibly, my favourite book that I’ve read most recently, and I cannot speak highly enough of it. It’s a quote from Addie Larue that inspired this blog post, and I’ll insert it here to give you a real taster of just how spectacular the standard of writing is in this book:
March is such a fickle month.
It is the seam between winter and spring–though seam suggests an even hem, and March is more like a rough line of stitches sewn by an unsteady hand, swinging wildly between January gusts and June greens. You don’t know what you’ll find until you step outside.The Invisible Life of Addie Larue by V.E. Schwab
I think, over the last year, my hair has been at least ten different colours. I’ve written (and deleted, and rewritten…) thousands of words, made hundreds of phone calls, watched friends drift apart and together, strengthened relationships, juggled a handful of different jobs, and taught almost a hundred hours worth of creative writing Zoom classes to kids from all over the world. I’ve had productive days and creative days and days when I’ve laid in bed and willed the world to just pass me by for a little while.
The point of all this rambling, you ask? The reason I’m reflecting on a year in isolation?
We’re still here.
March, for many of us, will forever mark the beginning of something life-changing. An ‘unprecedented’ (who else hates that word now?) time, a moment in history that will never be forgotten. But March isn’t just the month that plunged us into darkness. It is the month that pushed us into change.
I’ll leave you with a short piece I wrote last week, and a single word: soon.
You probably think I’ve forgotten. I’m like that, I know; it wouldn’t be out of character for me to quietly slip into silence and then burst back into your life six months later. The occasional ‘like’ on social media, the odd message, out of the blue, promising to call soon — that’s all you hear from me, these days. I know there are no hard feelings, we’re just those kind of people, but this is for you.
I’m still here.
I haven’t forgotten.
I remember everything.
Specifically, if you need specifics, I remember always being a short walk from my favourite coffee shop. I remember lighters lost in beer gardens, fighting to hear your voice above drunken laughter, spilt drinks on sticky wooden benches, swiping mindlessly at wasps hovering over half-empty glasses. I remember spontaneity and last-minute plans, even though life now is so predictable our routines could be mapped out months in advance.
I remember warm summer days, bare feet on cobbled stones, leaning into the breeze and shuffling blankets further up the beach as the tide creeps in. I remember quiet company, sitting in each other’s space but existing separately, heads stuck in books, minds in different worlds, still beside one another like it doesn’t matter. I remember the exact day the weather turns and August is just a line drawn in the sand before Septembers waves carry it away.
As the days grow shorter, I remember meals out in restaurants we can’t afford, waiters spinning plates and banging drums and the bittersweet mix of mint lemonade and laughter. I remember cold walks through North Oxford parks, weaving through cyclists and dog-walkers until we find a bench with our name on it. Pink fingers wrapped around takeaway americanos, bags full of groceries and secondhand books. Phone conversations on the street outside the flat, sitting on concrete steps by the old newsagents in my pyjamas with a mug of tea, because you can take the girl out of the North, but the North will always find a way to creep back in somehow. I remember hugging and hand-holding and clothes-swapping and everything else we’ve been robbed of in between.
I remember you.
One word keeps me going through these restless weeks, one word that holds the hope of a nation in a single syllable; one word that I write to you, now, as a promise — because I haven’t forgotten, and one day I’ll tell you in person.
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