Johannesburg

Lockdown reading list - Gail Schimmel shares her quarantine reads

20 May 2020
Author Gail Schimmel. Photo by Nicolise Harding
Author Gail Schimmel. Photo by Nicolise Harding
To keep you going through this long lockdown we asked some of our favourite independent bookshop owners and local writers to recommend us some books to read to put on your lockdown reading list.

This week Joburg-based novelist GAIL SCHIMMEL, best selling author of The Park and The Accident, shares her thoughts on what to read in lockdown. Gail's new book Two Months is now out. An unpredictable and compelling psychological thriller, when Erica wakes up to discover that she's lost her job and friends and can't remember the last two months of her life, reality slips into new frames as she tries to pull together the fragments and clues of where her life disappeared to.

Don't forget books have now been declared an essential item and are back on sale in shops, here's a list of great Joburg bookshops to visit to stock up your reading list.

I’m a reader. I have kept reading through every crisis in my life. I have never been able to understand people who say “I haven’t read a book for years because I had a baby”. Balance the book on the baby while you feed it, like I did! And then came the lockdown. And for the first time in my life, I couldn’t read. I mean, I can, physically, still read. But it’s slow, and I have really struggled to find books that grip me.

I started out thinking that a thriller would do the trick – distract me and grip me, was the logic. Well, it spiked that low level lockdown anxiety up so badly that now, I couldn’t read AND I couldn’t sleep.

I also tried rereading, thinking that might be more soothing, but that didn’t work for me either.

My answer seems to have been found in an unexpected place for me as a reader – because it’s not my usual choice: magic. 

I’m quite fussy in what I like in a magical book – I like magical realism, but I hate epic battles between good and evil. I like witches, but not zombies and vampires (usually). And no dragons thanks. So what follows is a list that I never thought I would ever compile – my favourite magic reads.

Series

I am finding the YA genre a pleasing place both in general and specifically for lockdown. So I imagine that a reread of Twilight (Stephenie Meyer) or Harry Potter (JK Rowling) would be perfect for these times.

More locally, Fiona Snycker’s new Time Maverick series has me totally hooked, and her previous Eulalie Park Mystery series is also a winner for me. 

My dirty reading secret is a genre called Witch PI, and my drug of choice is the Witch is When series by Adele Abbott. This is not high literature. It includes talking hamsters who have bookclubs. Objectively, it is completely ludicrous. For some reason, I gobble them up. Don’t judge me.

Books

On a more literary note, I have loved The Binding (Bridget Collins) and Once Upon a River (Diane Setterfield) during lockdown. People assure me that Setterfield’s Thirteenth Tale will not disappoint.

My all-time favourite magic read is Sarah Addison Allen’s book, Garden Spells. It is a feel-good, wonderful book. Just writing about it makes me want to immediately read it again. It is followed by First Frost, and she has a number of other lovely books.

And then, for me, there are two classics of magic realism that everyone should read: Isabel Allende’s House of Spirits; and Like Water for Chocolate by Laura Esquivel. 

Reading is always about escape – now more so than ever. And nothing says escape quite like a little touch of magic. 

ABOUT GAIL SCHIMMEL: GAIL SCHIMMEL is an admitted attorney and currently works as the CEO of the Advertising Regulatory Board. She lives in Johannesburg with her family. Two Months is her fifth novel, following on from The Accident (2019), The Park (2017), Whatever Happened to the Cowley Twins? (2013) and Marriage Vows (2008).

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