Martians, Millennium & Maitlis: Nine Novels of Lockown

On entering lockdown in March my catalogue of recently read novels was looking pretty sparse. My last fray into fiction being the completion of George Orwell’s Nineteen Eighty-Four, arguably best read onboard a ferry to Shetland.

For the first two months of 2020 I’d been too distracted by Netflix and an unhealthy addiction to Rugby League Live in my downtime which kept me away from literature.

But as the nation was told to stay indoors, a personal silver lining amongst the gathering storm clouds was a pick up in my reading habit. Dropping the PlayStation controller (have resisited its pull since), I buried myself in the first book at hand. Here’s a rundown of my nine lockdown novels:

  1. War of the Worlds by HG Wells

I like making the slightly clumsy comparison between the storyline of this late 19th century fiction with some aspects of the Covid-19 outbreak, particularly when studying the apparent helplessness of swathes of the population when faced with a certain threat. After wanting to read Wells’ masterpiece since I was a child obsessed with Jeff Wayne’s musical version of the story, I certainly wasn’t left disappointed. Additionally, I found the sudden conclusion to the novel satisfying as humanity eventually needs an uncontrolled disease to wipe out the unwelcome Martian invaders. 9/10.

2. 21 Lessons for the 21st Century by Yuval Noah Harari

Although I enjoyed this read, I did find it slightly repetitive in Harari’s emphatic description of the future struggle against issues such as the increasing inclusion of artificial intelligence in the workplace. It was however, illuminating and reasonably straightforward, providing clarity to some of the biggest questions in the modern day. Good for getting the brain’s cogs whirring and proved a bit more uplifting than Wells’ descriptions of a burning London. 7/10.

3. Airhead by Emily Maitlis

As the presenter of BBC’s Newsnight, I’d come across Maitlis in passing, but really sat up and noticed her work after she infamously nailed Prince Andrew in a revealing and deeply uncomfortable interview. Airhead emotively details her experiences in interviewing a downtrodden Theresa May following the tragic events at Grenfell Tower and a scary encounter in a Cuban prison cell, while also describing more lighthearted encounters with figures like the Dalai Lama. It was rather reassuring to read about the pre-show nerves that Maitlis still experiences and she provides motivation in spades for any budding journalists out there. 9/10.

4. And yet … Essays by Christopher Hitchens

I flipped through this collection of intellectual essays in a matter of days and in no particular order, in awe of the numerous subjects tackled by Hitchens with ease. Reading this collection made me went to become a better writer. 8/10.

5. The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo by Steig Larsson

If Hitchens made me want to write better, Larsson’s first of his posthumously published Millennium trilogy inspired me to get more creative with my writing. This proved to be one of those rare and wonderful novels which I flew through and found difficult to put down. The devil was in the Swedish author’s detailed geographical and character based descriptions. 9/10.

6. War and the Death of News by Martin Bell

This account from an aged and experienced war correspondent was another interesting read, yet excluded some of the palpable emotion of Airhead. Perhaps, this is an unfair reflection though, as the realities of how horrendous conflict is described through the eyes of the man in the white suit. Bell takes the reader through his poignant experiences in Vietnam and Yugoslavia, two of several conflicts which have blemishes the fantastical idea that we live in peace times. 7/10.

7. March of the Lemmings: Brexit in Performance 2016 – 2019 by Stewart Lee

As a big fan of Lee as a comedian, this collection of his Observer columns was hilarious and wacky in equal part. I particularly enjoyed his insistence on inserting self-deprecating swathes of abuse which he received online after each article. However, the last section of the book was quite tedious as a full transcript of his Content Provider stand-up routine was included with a meticulous catalogue of asterisks and notes. 6/10.

8. Flat Earth News by Nick Davies

After leaving this book midway through on the first attempt, I’m glad I decided to pick it up again a couple of years later. Flat Earth News delivers a pessimistic and quite shocking account of the direction the newspaper industry is travelling in. A major selling point of this read for me was its deliberate distancing from political point scoring, taking aim at papers which have historically positioned themselves on both sides of the political spectrum. 8/10.

9. The Girl who Played with Fire by Steig Larsson

After picking up the second installment of Larsson’s best selling series in a Moray village shop for £1.50, the follow-up didn’t fail to disappoint. Leaving the reader on a frustrating cliffhanger, I reckon its predecessor has the slightest of advantages when it comes to nail-biting action. Now I just I need to get my hands on the final volume!

9 1/2. The Age of Surveillance Capitalism by Shoshana Zuboff

A fascinating and terrifying description of the issues surrounding the intrusions of digital marketing which I’m yet to finish. Not a book to read before bed, but I’ll hopefully return to tackle Zuboff’s enlightening and complex work soon. Uncompleted.


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