Read IN BED: Books for Hibernation

Images by Hannah-Rose Yee

If you’re anything like me, you might be struggling to concentrate right now. While in mandatory self-isolation after arriving back from overseas last week, I have found myself picking up my phone absent-mindedly, with no clue whatsoever as to what I picked it up for in the first place. I would get 15 pages into a book and then put it down, only to revisit it and start again, certain that I had never read it before.

Times are tough. Which is why I am retreating into only the warmest, cosiest of books to soothe and salve. I have been known to frequent a crime thriller or two in my time, but they’ve all been banished from my bedside table. At the moment, I only want charming, dazzling reads, all gossamer light, that transport me to another place.

So, if you’re anything like me, here are five books that will do just that.

Circle of Friends by Maeve Binchy

In fair Knockglen, where we lay our scene, two best friends Benny and Eve are set to leave their smalltown behind, eyes firmly on the big smoke. There, in Dublin, they will be going to university, meeting boys and going to dances and having their hearts broken, all for the first time. It’s the ‘50s and for Benny and Eve, it seems like anything might be possible, which seems wonderful until it isn’t. This is a novel about friendship and love and the ties that bind, told with Irish author Binchy’s firm but gentle hand, and a book that I revisit year after year. Nothing has ever quite captured the exquisite thrill and despair of all those firsts quite like Circle of Friends.

I Feel Bad About My Neck by Nora Ephron

We all know Nora Ephron as the writer and director of classics including When Harry Met Sally, Sleepless In Seattle and You’ve Got Mail. But she started her career as a journalist, penning columns and essays for publications including the New Yorker on subjects as varied as the perils of getting older (the neck! You can always tell from the neck) or her beloved, sun-drenched Upper West Side apartment building in spitting distance of Zabars market. This new edition, introduced by Dolly Alderton – author of Everything I Know About Love and a lifelong Nora fan – is a reminder that Nora’s words of calm, measured wisdom are as much a balm when they were first written as they are now. Read Nora Ephron once and you feel as if all will work itself out as it should be. And that when it does work itself out, we all ought to have some cake.

The Cazalet Chronicles by Elizabeth Jane Howard

There are five books in this epic, decades-sprawling family saga, which is just as well that we’re in a quarantine – you’ll have no excuse not to devour the lot. We meet the Cazalets, a wealthy English family with four adult children and a growing brood of grandchildren, on the eve of World War II and we follow them through three generations as the family’s fortunes wax and wane. At first, the gaggle of characters might seem overwhelming. And yet as you dive into the books, you’ll come to learn – and love – each of their idiosyncrasies. There’s long-suffering Rachel, so put-upon by her family she’s starting to disappear, and beautiful Polly and gregarious Clary, cousins and close chums, and Clary’s father Rupert, a gifted artist bearing the scars of battle, to name just a few. It’s like Downton Abbey, but better.

Evvie Drake Starts Over by Linda Holmes

Sometimes you read a book that appears to leap off the page and straight into cinematic form. Evvie Drake Starts Over is one of those books. The second you meet Evvie, a recent widow struggling to understand her emotions and Adam, the hunky Major League Baseball player – of course – who moves into her garage (the in-novel set-up for this is perfect, trust me), you just know that it will, one day, be a bingeable Netflix romantic comedy starring Rachel McAdams and Chris Evans. This is romance done right, warm and syrupy and, yes, sexy, but also surprisingly insightful on matters of grief and resilience.

The Rutshire Chronicles by Jilly Cooper

I am well aware that recommending this series is like recommending that somebody watch a little film you might have heard of called The Sound Of Music, or Star Wars. Jilly Cooper has got to be one of the most recognisable authors of all-time, whose books – including The Rutshire Chronicles – have sold millions and millions of copies. With good reason, too: these stories of the antics of Rupert Campbell-Black, the arrogant and devastatingly handsome show jumper, are pearl-clutchingly sexy. (I have heard stories of copies of the books passed around like contraband in girls’ locker rooms in high schools around Australia.) But it’s not just the sex, as I discovered when I read them all for the first time in isolation. These novels – Riders, Rivals and Polo, a saga of epic proportions – might have been written in the late 70s and early 80s, but at times they can be remarkably modern about everything from parenting to the importance of female pleasure. Ignore some of the more outdated gender politics and just embrace the bubblegum-pop trash of the rest of it. Delicious.