Tips, links and suggestions: what are you reading this week?

Guardian readers and Sam Jordison

Welcome to this week’s blogpost. Here’s our roundup of your comments and photos from the last week.

Isaac Asimov’s The Naked Sun has “some interesting parallels with current restrictions,” says nilpferd:

An investigator from the earth is sent to distant Solaria to investigate a murder. Life on Earth - whether for reasons of defence or pollution is never quite made clear- now takes place exclusively in underground cities, so our investigator experiences acute agoraphobia anytime he is in the open or even just able to see the sky, which is all the time in Solaria, an advanced utopia where married couples live isolated on enormous estates while robots meet all their needs…

Between the investigator’s preferred underground quarantine and the Solarian’s enforced physical distancing we have the perfect mix of Covid-era social relations. Asimov’s main point about the Solarians - who see themselves as descendants of the Spartan warriors, except with docile helots (the robots) - is that though they believe they have reached the apex of civilisation (with their army of robots which cater to their every whim), they have in fact lost the essence of civilisation by isolating themselves and shunning group contact; each is totally absorbed by their own life and thoughts and has no interest in the lives or viewpoints of others. As we can see eloquently here, the more people are forced to isolate the more they yearn for human contact and interaction.

Marilynne Robinson’s Housekeeping has impressed PaultheExile:

I am requiring essentially no adjustment to “lockdown” as I lived relatively hermit-like prior the Coming Of Endtimes. Housekeeping is a book written wonderfully about those edge-dwellers, the ones who don’t fit in and don’t want to. The type of people who would look at your cell phone with undisguised contempt and who would view a weeks-long snow-in as an achievable goal … it’s a book that stayed with me, it impressed me, but it kind of took a left turn at the end there and I was really thinking that scenery off to the right was far more interesting. I loved her prose though, and I didn’t find the moral heaviness of religious weight that I had feared.

LostCarthagian has managed to make a mental voyage to Italy thanks to A Month in Sienna by Hisham Matar:

Hisham, a Libyan author based in the UK, is fascinated by the 13th-14th century school of painting developed in Sienna. This book describes his “pilgrimage” to finally see his beloved paintings and the city of their creation. However the art only provides a basis for a beautifully written, reflective and philosophical meandering on the city and relationships in general.

Kate Atkinson’s A God in Ruins made MarGar65 weep:

I cried enough that Mr. MarGar sat there watching me cry as I read. “Good?” This is, and he knows it, a d-uh question ... If I’m crying, can’t stop and look very ugly it’s “oh so good!”

A Woman in the Polar Night, Christiane Ritter’s account of her time on the Norwegian island Svalbard in 1934-35, has set safereturndoubtful “working out how and when I can get there”:

Her transformation from the excitement of arriving on the island, which reads like an Enid Blyton-style adventure of the day (1930s), to a fear of what she has let herself in for as the sun goes down in October, not to rise until February, is perfectly described. That bright Blyton style descends into a dark cerebral tone; the mental toughness necessary for survival is evident.

The savage magnificence of the landscape carries the book for me, but the interactions between Ritter (an Austrian artist), her husband and a young Norwegian adventurer, are cheerful, sincere and also a highlight.

Cantata 140 by Phillip K Dick has delighted AbsoluteBeginner76:

A joy to be back among the masters clean, deliberate prose, the dexterity he employs means the scifi world he explains is clear and has a meaning, unlike lesser scifi.

SaraRichards has reread The Essex Serpent by Sarah Perry:

I enjoyed the reread even more than my initial read and found so much more in the text which is one of the reasons that I do read some books more than once. Perry gives us a novel of Dickensian proportions, lots of different locations and groups of characters, a feel for the era of the discovery that the world was old, much older than imagined. Her language is poetic, the descriptions of the scenery around the Kentish marshes were beautifully written.

“TLS advice needed, please,” says Rick2016:

What are your favourite novels along the same lines as War and Peace and A Suitable Boy (i.e. realist, warm-hearted and humane, great characters, absorbing)? Length is unimportant - it’s just coincidence that I’ve cited two bricks - and as obvious or obscure as you like.

Finally, The Ghost by cultural investigator Susan Owens, has explained a “a difficult issue” for robertrudolph1:

Why do ghosts always appear to be wearing bedsheets?

“One of the main reasons for ghosts wearing white was to do with the colour of grave clothes, which were traditionally made from undyed linen or, after 1666, wool - this was when the Burial in Woolens Act began to come into effect decreeing that English wool must be used for shrouds. Grose noted that white-clad apparitions were ‘chiefly the churchyard ghosts,” and Defoe, in An Essay on the History and Reality of Apparitions, described the archetypal ghost of the era as ‘dressed up in a Shroud, as if it just came out of the coffin and the Church-yard.”

Wooooohhhhh!

Interesting links about books and reading

If you’re on Instagram, now you can share your reads with us: simply tag your posts with the hashtag #GuardianBooks, and we’ll include a selection in this blog. Happy reading!