It has been a difficult year – especially for us university students, having been catapulted into productivity after months of lost motivation. It’s extremely hard sometimes to extricate yourself from the mindset of the constant urge to be working, especially when your workplace is intermingled with your relaxation space. I just want to stress how important it is to take time for yourself in whatever way you can. My personal outlet is reading, and recently I’ve been enjoying re-reading the books that have given me comfort in the past (and have probably played a major role in shaping my personality, as I know so many of us accidentally find!). Here are some of my recommendations.
I Capture the Castle – Dodie Smith
The ideal book for escapism, encapsulating every cliché you could think of. Cassandra Mortmain lives in a crumbling castle with her eccentric family. Her father has been experiencing writer’s block for years and the family are running out of money. Cassandra’s sister Rose is desperate to escape when a family of rich Americans move to the hall near the castle, allowing for the Mortmains to try and marry into riches. This book is sharp and witty, with Cassandra being a perfect combination of dreamily poetic and hilariously observant. My mum pestered me to read this for years and years but I only did so during lockdown, and I regret not doing so earlier.
Emma – Jane Austen
My favourite Austen, as I believe it to be warmer and wittier than your textbook favourite Pride and Prejudice, with a slightly more engaging plot. ‘Emma Woodhouse, handsome, clever and rich’ believes herself to be a paragon of matchmaking and love, but she is hopelessly blind to the true reality of life. Of course, this may be widely known as the novel that Clueless was based on, making it even better in my opinion. Although Austen’s prose is sometimes difficult to navigate, I never wanted this book to end. It is a book that I believe everyone should read at some point in their lifetime.
A Moveable Feast – Ernest Hemingway
Set in the 1920s, A Moveable Feast is Hemingway’s memoir of his time living in Paris and his struggles as a journalist and writer. It has wonderful attention to detail of his specific experiences and particularly the food he eats. It certainly provides the reader with a sense of wanderlust, and is fabulous for escapism. It is excellently observed, including Hemingway’s relationships with other figures of the Lost Generation of the ‘Golden Age’.
The Pursuit of Love – Nancy Mitford
A very witty satire of British culture done in a way so that you wouldn’t necessarily realise it. It centres around the Radlett family; the eccentric cast of characters are endearing and iconic. It follows the characters through dramatic love affairs and marriages, with extremely funny anecdotes, then throughout World War II and hones in on how they all cope. It is meant to be a sharp commentary on Mitford’s own family, who make for an equally interesting group of people, with one of her sisters being a good friend of Hitler. Also, there is an upcoming BBC TV series based on this starring Lily James, Dominic West and Andrew Scott.
Everything I Know About Love – Dolly Alderton
A more modern recommendation, this is an extremely funny and mostly light-hearted, if slightly tender in places, memoir of the journalist Dolly Alderton. It interlinks anecdotes and stories of Dolly’s childhood and experience living in London, as well as satirical observations and re-assesses our preconceptions about many things. She also has a podcast with another journalist Pandora Sykes, which I am obsessed with, called The High Low, which covers high-brow and low-brow pop culture and literature.
Decline and Fall – Evelyn Waugh
One of Evelyn Waugh’s best, in my humble opinion. It follows Paul Pennyfeather’s life as a teacher at Llanabba Castle after he was sent down from Oxford for indecent behaviour. It provides a completely eclectic bunch of characters and becomes downright bizarre in places, with humorous stories remarked in a deadpan way. Paul becomes infatuated on Sports Day with Margot Beste-Chetwynde and it completely transforms his life as the farce continues, in a delicate criticism of high society.