Write away your troubles, how international authors cope with staying at home

Find comfort and understanding from your favourite writers who shed light on living in the age of Covid

Photograph Suzy Hazelwood via Pexels
Have you felt compelled to do something, anything, to fill in your time recently? Have you returned to books you had for too long but didn't have the motivation to read? Have you already started journaling your day in whatever forms you like: writing, sketching, or Instagramming? If there's any consolation, writers around the globe feel the same. From organising virtual book clubs to finding humour in every possible situation during confinement, here's insights from some of your favourite English language writers.

Tolstoy Together

Image: courtesy publisher

Want to read War and Peace but put it down too many times in your life because of its sheer volume? Running from March 18 to June 10, 2020, Chinese-born writer Yiyun Li launched the Tolstoy Together project which invites readers from all across the globe to read the Russian literature classic. A project organised by the New York-based independent nonprofit publisher, A Public Space, Tolstoy Together has currently attracted more than 3,000 readers worldwide; many of which under lockdown. The result is an 85-day reading marathon, during which Li shared her reading journal on social media daily while other readers added their own thoughts. But why choose War and Peace? In the book edition published in September 2021, which is essentially an edited version of the online discussion, the author explained it's because the book is such an epic that no matter where and when you are reading, you are bound to find your worlds reflected in War and Peace. More specifically, they are 'the man-made and natural catastrophes; the egomanias and incapacities in those designers of national and international schemes; the boundless human indifference; the inevitable human kindness; deceptions and strivings in marriages and in families; friendships and loves lost and found.'

Yiyun Li is a Beijing-born writer who writes in English. Her short stories, novel and essays have won several literary awards and her best works include A Thousand Years of Good Prayers, Gold Boy, Emerald Girl and memoir Dear Friend, from My Life I Write to You in Your Life.

Visit the website for more details.

Intimations: Six Essays

Image: courtesy publisher

Have you felt compelled to find something to do, and the compulsion has worsened since the beginning of last month? Welcome to the writers club. English author Zadie Smith in her new collection of essays titled Intimations: Six Essays, written at the onset of the pandemic and finished shortly after Floyd's killing in 2020, captured the sentiment during the eventful period, to say the least. One of the essays, Something To Do, shows how millions of lives suddenly become increasingly similar to those of writers, a specimen of human beings who are 'so familiar with empty time and with being alone' and should have managed the situation better than most. However, Smith admitted that she felt lost 'confronted with the problem of life served neat, without distraction or adornment or superstructure'. Smith realised the sudden pause made people develop a manic desire to make or grow to do something, to ease the anxiety over something uncontrollable – baking banana cakes, dressing your pets, and writing, for example. Even if you disagree with her, it is cathartic to know that writers like Smith are just as confused as anyone else with 'no idea what life is for, nor what is to be done with all this time aside from filling it.'

Zadie Smith is an English novelist and essayist. She is known for her debut novel White Teeth published in 2000. Her body of work explores race, immigration issues and feminism.

Listen to the audiobook on Ximalaya.

House Arrest

Image: coutesy publisher

In case you wonder what writers did with their special me-time in the UK, the octogenarian author and playwright Alan Bennett kept a detailed diary of his confinement with his partner, Rupert Thomas, from February 2020 to March 2021. Overflowing with Bennett's trademark wit and dry humour, the book starts with his suspicion over Covid's arrival into the UK and the effects on his work and life. 'So far as work is concerned, I haven't yet noticed much difference,' wrote Bennet on March 1, 2020. Slowly, he noticed and reflected on the changes, from having to talk to friends across the street, to the 'only connect' people get these days – bumping elbows. Further in the lockdown, Bennett described how isolation robbed him of speech and how the closure of 'a lovely bookshop full of unexpected treasures and absurdly cheap' affected the town.

Alan Bennett is an English actor, author, playwright and screenwriter. His best-known works include Talking Heads, The History Boys and The Madness of King George.

Read an excerpt of the book here.

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