My lockdown reading list, and the epiphany that led to it

What can be better than a good book when one is stuck at home, right? Wrong – it seems it’s not quite that simple. In our last book club Zoom meeting, many of my friends confessed that they’re struggling to read during lockdown, and I can tell you that’s coming from some pretty hard-core readers!

I had the same sense of lethargy and frustration early in lockdown. With my thoughts constantly circling around to the pressing issues of our day, I couldn’t concentrate on the words on a page. Nothing ‘grabbed’ me. I’d start a few pages of one book and then put it down to try another…and another, not able to figure out what I was in the mood to read.

Then I had an epiphany.

I decided to read some of my all-time favourite books. Since then I’ve had my nose in a book at every given opportunity. What surprised me is that the books are as gripping on the 2nd reading as they were on the 1st. Most of my choices were books I’d read well over ten years ago, so I’d forgotten many of the details and they felt as new and exciting as they did then.

Here’s what I’ve read from my ‘old favourites’…

Here be Dragons, by Sharon Penman

Penman is the queen of historical fiction and this is my absolute favourite of her many books (all of which are on my shelf). Set in the 13th century, it tells the story of Wales during the rule of Richard the Lionheart and the brother who succeeded him, King John. What makes this book so riveting is its two central characters, the Welsh Prince Llewelyn and Joanna, King John’s illegitimate daughter. For political reasons Joanna is given to the Welsh prince in marriage and Penman skilfully weaves the complexities of their relationship into the web of shifting politics and intrigue. I might as well confess that I have a severe crush on the man who, through his strong and fair leadership, united Wales and became known as Llewelyn the Great. Penman’s writing has one scrambling for the history books, and isn’t that exactly what you want from a good historical novel?

The Robe, by Lloyd C. Douglas

A book club card in the back of this book records that I first read it in 2003 (this was a different book club than my current one where no-one has ever felt the need for anything as organised as catalogue cards). But, back to the books…this classic, published in 1942, tells the story of a Roman centurion, Marcellus, who wins Christ’s robe as a gambling prize, and then sets out to discover more about its original owner. Douglas richly brings to life the 1st century Roman world, and reading the book gave me fresh insight and appreciation of the roots of my Christian faith, and the cost of being a Christ-follower in that period of persecution. It’s an absolute beauty of a book.

Assassins Apprentice, by Robin Hobb

The kingdom of the Six Duchies is on the brink of civil war when news breaks that the crown prince has fathered a bastard son and is shamed into abdication. The child’s name is Fitz, and he is despised.

Told through the eyes of Fitz, this first book of the Farseer Trilogy showed me what masterful fantasy writing looks like, and I only aspire to attain Hobb’s dizzying heights. The world she creates is vast, intriguing, political and at times brutal. Her characters are complex and she skilfully draws you into their lives with as much magic as her characters use to influence the minds of people and animals. That’s why you find yourself still reading well after midnight! It’s also why I have plunged straight onto the 2nd book of the trilogy, The Royal Assassin.

And on to what I’m going to read next…

Chains of Gwyndorr, by…well, Moi of course

I know this smacks of self-promotion but I promise you that’s not my intention. I’ve never read my trilogy from beginning to end, and that’s why this is next on my lockdown reading list. I want to be caught up in the world, characters and plot as a reader, and not as the story’s creator. I also want to remind myself that I’ve got it in me to write a series of books, because a lot of my confidence as a writer has ebbed away in the last year or two. I can’t exactly write a glowing review of my own book, but you can find reviews on Amazon and Goodreads.

I’m also reading two non-fiction books, that I haven’t read before…

To Live is Christ, by Beth Moore

This book is about the life of Paul from his childhood till his martyrdom. I so enjoy Moore’s style of writing, which is warm, vulnerable and accessible. Through her deep study of Scripture and her wise insights, she has brought Paul’s witness, writings and passion to life for me and challenged me to live with my own sense of purpose and passion.

The Weight of Glory, by C.S. Lewis

This is a series of nine talks that C.S. Lewis gave, mainly during the 2nd World War. I can’t say too much yet because I’ve only finished the first of the talks, but I can already see that it’s a particularly good time to be reading the thoughts of this great Christian writer, who was also living in a world caught up in turmoil, fear and death. As I read, I find my heart beating with hope on passages such as:

“At present we are on the outside of the world, the wrong side of the door. We discern the freshness and purity of morning, but they do not make us fresh and pure. We cannot mingle with the splendours we see. But all the leaves of the New Testament are rustling with the rumour that it will not always be so. Someday, God willing, we shall get in.”

At times I find Lewis’s words a little difficult to grasp—I think I’m going to have to go over them again. Yet they are touching a deep part of me and I’m grateful for that beautiful gift during this time.

Please tell me what you’ve been reading or what favourite books would be on your ‘Re-read list’.

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  1. Eileen Hickman

    I first read The Robe more than 40 years ago and it’s been at or near the top of my favorite’s list ever since then. A real winner. I haven’t read it for a while. I may have to change that soon.

  2. Well, I can write a review of your trilogy and I can say it is an excellent read to move you into a different world where the pressures of today fade away and you become caught up in adventures the books contain. I’m not giving away any secrets. Suffice it to say, it is also on my reading list for this lockdown period to read from one end to the other. I just hope lockdown lasts long enough!
    This is great advice, Joan. There is nothing like a book you have enjoyed in the past to give you pleasure in the present. Enjoy reading your trilogy. I can recommend it!

  3. Irene Robinson

    Joan, thank you so much for your honesty re reading during this time and the idea to reread books that you once enjoyed immensely. Leigh & I have reread together one of our favorite books. In fact I read it exactly 20 years ago and as you, had forgotten some great insights that the author shared. We thoroughly enjoyed his writing style, his splendid use of the English language, and of course his life story. “Wonder O’ The Wind” by Phillip Keller, the author of “A Shepherd Looks at Psalm 23”. His autobiography was published in 1982 but still a great read. I remember watching the movie “The Robe” as a child and you’ve inspired me to now read it. I always enjoy your blogs a LOT! Keep them coming.

    • Joan Campbell

      Ah, always lovely having someone recommend a book or movie they love – I’ll take a look at it.

  4. If I were to read all the books you mentioned, I need a couple of years of lockdown. Rather not! I have a different routine though. I’ll do something chores and then reward myself with a cup of coffee and read a while. But I don’t want to fast read a book I enjoy. I want to kind of savour it. OK, I’ll come to get one of the books you mentioned after I finished the Millennium trilogie. (I’m only half way, i.e. in the middle of the second book)

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