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The year 2020 has altered every part of our lives. Some people were given more time to read by the closing of offices, cinemas, theaters, pubs and restaurants, but it was also influenced by the radical curtailment of bookstores, libraries and book festivals. So, what books did people turn to during the Corona Virus period? We asked book lovers around the cultural spectrum to share their year’s favorite reads with us.
Isolated star of Outlander: Sam Heughan
I found myself in isolation in a London hotel room for several days in preparation for filming a movie amid multiple lockdowns, fluctuating stage processes, and a number of quarantine policies. I find myself looking out over the Thames every day and watching it shift and transform its subtle character. My regular routine included walking through varied wharves and alleys along the adjacent sidewalks. I passed cobblestone streets and old markets, following the river. The arched Millennium Bridge across to the Tate Modern, with St. Paul’s Cathedral opposite, sparkling on the horizon. I calculated each trip by the bridges. Westminster Bridge, halfway through, and the Houses of Parliament. Wrapped in his own scaffolding mask, as if waiting to be released from captivity, despite being on lockdown, Big Ben still attracted visitors. Searching for coffee to go or festive mulled wine, people of all nationalities meandered along the Thames Road.
Warnings for snow and ice for areas of Scotland
I had begun to read Mudlarking by Lara Maiklem by this point. Like the river itself, a stunning, meandering book weaves together numerous stories from her encounters and knowledge of the Thames. She had spent more than 20 years scouring the banks of the Thames as a ‘mudlark’ – anyone who digs in the earth of a river or harbor. Maiklem had found a number of interesting artifacts that pointed to the history of the city and its inhabitants, from Neolithic flints to Roman hairpins, from medieval buckles to Tudor buttons, from Georgian clay pipes to Victorian toys.’
The river is enormous in character; it is basically the reason London exists, and yet I had overlooked it for some reason because, depending on the tides, it flows everyday in both directions. I knew I was walking through history as I walked along it, every dock and wharf a symbol of its past. Tobacco, ivory, and sugar were all brought here by sea, giving different locations and ports their names. Maiklem explains the objects she finds just below the river bed surface, or even next to a pier-supporting timber above, dug up by the tide and a moving ship.
The tide, often low enough to step out and enjoy the world freshly uncovered under the muddy water, I started to note. I saw other Londoners doing the same from that hotel room, hopping along the shore to keep their shoes clean. I saw mud whippers like Maiklem, appropriately dressed in rubber boots, looking for fascinating items through the rubble. I was watching parents teach young kids to create sandcastles in the amber sands and enjoy the fleetingly exposed landscape.
The Thames kept me company every day when I woke up in my lonely bubble. Some 400 years ago, I longed to find a clay pipe in the river bed, discarded or lost, a reminder of someone like me who enjoyed the company of the river. The book by Lara Maiklem is enchanting, haunting, and historically intriguing. The river, a time machine, holds the townspeople’s secrets secretly, exposing them for a time depending on the current’s whim. I wonder if it realizes that I’m here, and it’s going to keep a piece of me.
Clanlands: whisky, warfare and a Scottish adventure like no other by Sam Heughan and Graham McTavish is published by Hodder & Stoughton, £20. Their upcoming Men in Kilts travel show is set to debut early next year.
Novelist close up: Kirstin Innes.
Like a lot of people, the unsettling intensity of this year meant I couldn’t focus on anything longer than a tweet for most of the lockdown. The book that brought me back was Sudden Traveller by Sarah Hall, a master