Books we’ve always pretended to have read…

It is a sad and inescapable reality of working at a bookshop that one can not read every book that comes through the door. At times, we simply must resort to handselling titles based on what we’ve heard from others, instead of our own first-hand experiences.

With Covid-19 causing Readings to temporarily close the doors of our physical shops, a number of our booksellers have been home, self-isolating, but with plenty of books for company. We asked them to share what titles they’ve previously pretended to have read – and now actually can!

‘I confess to having sold numerous copies of Station Eleven based purely on the strength of my colleagues, customers and reviews telling me how brilliant it is. I’ve done this for years now while promising myself I’d get to it one day. Eventually. And now, Emily St John Mandel’s new book, The Glass Hotel has been released and it also has all of the qualities of a book that I just know I’m going to love. I’m eager to get to it but how can I possibly read it without having read Station Eleven first?

So, finally, in the midst of a pandemic I find myself reading a book about a fictional pandemic! I did question my timing and was occasionally confronted by how real it all felt but like all great writing it took me out of my own head. Right from the opening page I was seduced by the exquisitely written, evocative world of this book. This is a literary exploration of what remains after the pandemic, of art and memory, and what it means to be human. Not unlike The Road, but with a travelling symphony, Shakespeare and art, this book feels like it was written just for me. I loved it and can attest, now is the perfect time to read Station Eleven.’

Deborah Crabtree, bookseller at Readings Carlton

‘I’m doing my best to stay on top of interesting new releases, but this feels like the time to tackle all the other books teetering near my bed – on the table, as well as the manifold artfully arranged floor piles. Within these glorious, mysterious stacks are quite a few books I’ve somehow convinced myself I’ve actually read, either via their physical proximity to my brain, or via the osmosis of the cultural zeitgeist, or simply because I’ve really, really wanted to read them and just can’t admit to myself that I still haven’t managed to do so.

Among these are two books I’ve pulled out as urgent priorities – Pat Barker’s The Regeneration Trilogy and Olivia Laing’s The Lonely City. Over the years, I’ve often talked to people about both these books with the fervent passion of someone intimately acquainted with their every word. Even in times of great stress and uncertainty, I read to engage with the world, not to escape from it, so I’m counting on Barker and Laing’s tales – of the fortitude of young men in the final horrific years of the First World War, and the complex pleasures of isolation and solitude, respectively – to help me understand the strange and disorienting world we all now find ourselves living within. As Laing sees it, art is good medicine for the lonely. I have no doubt I’ll love these books as much as I’ve convinced myself I already do. And maybe even feel less alone.’

Joanna Di Mattia, bookseller at Readings Carlton

‘Recommending books is a faster paced business than one anticipates from the outside. It’s also my favourite thing to do so when someone asks me for help, I am unable to resist. Unfortunately, it also means I haven’t always had a chance to really sit down and thoroughly read all the books I find myself recommending.

Two that I have been singing the praises of recently are short story collections. Ted Chiang’s magisterial and intimate Exhalation and Sarah Hall’s disconcerting and visceral Sudden Traveller. Now that I find myself with more time and a shorter than ever concentration span, it has turned out to be short stories that bring me comfort with their finite and vivid moments in time. I shall be reading the stories in these two collections that I haven’t yet had a chance to and anticipating the moment when someone asks if I’ve read all of the stories I’m recommending and I will be able to say yes!’

Marie Matteson, buyer at Readings Carlton

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Station Eleven

Station Eleven

Emily St. John Mandel

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