The best books to read in self-isolation

… as recommended by London’s favourite authors and writers

You’ve consumed the bestsellers and have the year’s cult releases on your Amazon pre-order list.

So what to read now? We’ve asked some of our best-loved authors and writers to give ES Magazine their recommended reading for Londoners in self-isolation. 

Nick Hornby, author of Fever Pitch

LONESOME DOVE, by Larry McMurty

‘Larry McMurtry’s great western novel seems to me to have everything you need for right now: it’s long, absorbing, thrilling, it has fantastic characters you care deeply about and most important of all, it recognises that life is fragile and risky, and that the world is a dangerous place. I wish I hadn’t read it so recently, but that might not stop me from reading it again.’

Elizabeth Gilbert, author of City of Girls

THE SUMMER BOOK, by Tove Jansson 

‘A transporting, delightful, not-well-known-enough novel about a young girl and her grandmother, spending their summer together on a tiny, remote island in the Gulf of Finland. This is the most brilliant story of childhood I’ve ever read — charming without being sentimental, and full of a truly holy understanding about the wonders and terrors of nature and the deep friendships that can exist between wise older women and wild young children.’

Fatima Bhutto, author of The Runaways

THE SHAPELESS UNEASE, by Samantha Harvey

‘I wish I had saved The Shapeless Unease to read in isolation but Samantha Harvey’s book about insomnia, time, death and so many unknowable things is a blessing to have in lonely times. It is a profound and stunning book but funny, too. I’ve got a galley proof of Ben Ehrenreich’s Desert Notebooks, which comes out in July, but we may still be in lockdown then so pre-order it now.’

Amrou Al-Kadhi, author of Unicorn

STANDARD DEVIATION, by Katherine Heiny

‘I’d like to say we should all use this isolation period to finally get to grips with War & Peace, but the book I would recommend in a heartbeat is Standard Deviation by Katherine Heiny. It is without fail the funniest book I have ever read — I even cuddled it in my sleep I was so attached to it — and manages to make you chuckle with laughter whilst crying at the most tender, human moments. It’s original, at points surreal and at points uproarious, and if ever you needed a comfort read, this book is it.’

Olivia Sudjic, author of Exposure and Sympathy 

THE UNDYING, by Anne Boyer

‘It’s a memoir of survival and a celebration of love, care, and all the things — life and art and books — that persist despite illness.’

Otegha Uwagba, author of Little Black Book

STEAL AS MUCH AS YOU CAN, by Nathalie Olah

‘This razor-sharp polemic exploring class, taste and culture, is one of the most insightful analyses of the British class system I’ve read in years.’

Laura Whateley, author of Money: A Users Guide

SALT, FAT, ACID, HEAT, by Samin Nosrat and/or THE FLAVOUR THESAURUS, by Niki Segnit

‘I have dozens of pristine cookbooks taunting me from my kitchen; now I actually have time to open them. There’s something soothing about reading a cookbook cover to cover. One of best for this is Salt, Fat, Acid, Heat, as much of a beautifully illustrated science lesson in how to cook well — and why restaurant food tastes so much better (butter) — as it is a recipe book. I also love The Flavour Thesaurus, by Niki Segnit, which explains how certain combinations — anchovy and cauliflower, or chocolate and bacon — work together. Inspiration for figuring out what to do with the random tins left in my cupboard.’

Raven Smith, author of Raven Smith’s Trivial Pursuits

THE HUNGOVER GAMES, by Sophie Heawood

‘I’m binge-reading Sophie Heawood’s The Hungover Games, reminiscing on a simpler time when you could live out your personal chaos abroad in the fresh air. I’m in desperate need of the forthcoming André Leon Talley memoir to soothe my isolation.’

Hadley Freeman, author of House Of Glass


‘Of course, the Mitford sisters wrote many books themselves — Nancy, most famously, as any of her novels would be a delicious read on a long afternoon of self-isolation. But for a proper tub-thumping dynastic drama, one that will last you a good while even if you gulp it down, you cannot beat Mary S Lovell’s The Mitford Girls. Lovell conveys their individual glamour without ever getting starry-eyed about it and she brings clear-eyed clarity to how one family produced a communist, a Nazi-supporter, a fascist, a duchess and a seminal novelist among a group of sisters. A completely irresistible book and one that sparked my lifelong obsession with the Mitfords specifically, and biographies generally.’

Helena Lee, founder of the platform East Side Voices 

STARLING DAYS, by Rowan Hisayo Buchanan

‘It’s an illuminating, enlightening tale about the human condition that centres on Mina, a classicist from New York who tries to navigate the circumstantial loneliness of living in London without her husband.’

Michael Donkor, author of Hold


‘Set in the 1920s in the Deep South, it follows the life of a complicated, young African-American woman Janie Crawford as she struggles to find love, understanding and a means of self expression in a hostile world. Hurston’s beautiful prose shimmers with wisdom and insight, and in its depiction of Janie’s trials and triumphs, the novel is a towering testament to the resilience of the human spirit. Exactly what we need right now.’

Polly Samson, author of Theatre for Dreamers


‘At times like these I like to read first person accounts of everyday life, so recommend I Remember Nothing by Nora Ephron. When we’re cut off and lonely it’s nice to have people talking in that humorous anecdotal way that makes you feel less solitary.’

Nikita Lalwani, author of You People, out on 2 April


‘This is really a manifesto for love between humans. We encounter all the shape-shifting forms of eros: romantic, parental, filial and friend-love. ‘I have nothing but sympathy for how people behave,’ says Garp, in one of his many almost-wise moments, ‘and nothing but laughter with which to console them.’ The book is full of false endings because it tells us that life can be long; there is often more down the line, and even after the most apocalyptic moments in our personal histories we will probably have to live on a bit more. In that sense it is surely perfect for current self-isolation. The best part about this book is that it is an example of how art imitates life imitating art imitating life. Go float your nerd boat on that one. Yeah! Go GARP!’

Natasha Lunn, founder of Conversations on Love newsletter


‘I’ve been dipping back into Tiny Beautiful Things, a beautiful collection of agony aunt columns by Cheryl Strayed (aka Dear Sugar). Funny, profound and moving, this book is a balm for tough times, and reading it will remind you to fall back in love with the life you’ve got.’

Mishal Husain, author of The Skills: How To Win At Work​

SONG OF ACHILLES,  by Madeline Miller 

‘In these times, even the next road feels adventurous, but a book that takes you to another age is a proper escape from isolation. Here, the beautiful writing envelops you in the world of the Greek heroes and the great love of Achilles and Patroclus.’

Kiley Reid, author of Such a Fun Age

THE HISTORY OF LOVE, by Nicole Krauss 

‘This is one of those novels that makes you miss your train stop, and I say that from experience. It’s a beautiful story about two very different but intertwined lives, and it’s told with depth, heart, and humour.’

Elif Shafak, author of 10 Minutes 38 Seconds in This Strange World


‘I think this is the perfect time to read Edward St Aubyn’s Patrick Melrose novels, all five of them. You might have watched it on TV or read parts of it before, but now that we are all self-isolating it is a great time to go the full journey, not only to witness a family’s extraordinary story through traumas across generations, but to understand better both the loneliness of the human mind and the amazing resilience of the human spirit.’