Bibliotherapy: Weekly reading recommendations
Peggy Hughes gives her weekly book recommendations – including short stories, nature writing and historical fiction

In times of uncertainty, what better comfort than the company of a good book? Each week, NCW Programme Director Peggy Hughes will attempt to address your bibliotherapy needs with a handful of book recommendations.

Peggy HughesIf you’ve got a request – by genre, theme or anything else – send an email to [email protected] with the subject line ‘Bibliotherapy’ and Peggy will do her best! You can also send your requests via Twitter, Instagram or Facebook.

Historical fiction

‘Big historical fiction fan. Anything new I should put on my reading list?’ – Sue

Book cover for 'Hamnet' by Maggie O'FarrellSue, you’re in luck: a new Maggie O’Farrell is worth shouting about, and her latest hits the shelves this week. Hamnet (Hachette) fires us back in time to the 16th century, in which Shakespeare’s 11-year-old son has died (of the plague, I’m afraid), and four years later the Bard writes his play, Hamlet. This book is about that period, that grief, about family and courage and the stories we tell ourselves to get through the most difficult times, making it hideously pertinent, but timeless, too. Read more


Short stories

‘Short stories please!’ – Sam

Book cover for 'There are Little Kingdoms' by Kevin BarryJanice Galloway once said that a short story collection is like a bottle of malt whisky: don’t read it all at once or you’ll do yourself a mischief! I’ll confine myself to just three of the most potent collections in my drinks cabinet:

Kevin Barry’s There Are Little Kingdoms (Stinging Fly). A master of the small-town saga, hard men with big, sad hearts, chronicler of places where everything is changing and yet everything stays the same. Read more

Jan Carson’s Postcard Stories (The Emma Press). 52 tiny stories, one for each week of the year capturing the foibles and whimsies of everyday life, were originally written on a postcard and sent to friends and family. Like a finger of fine malt, these slender tales pack an extraordinary punch. Read more

In Grand Union (Hamish Hamilton), Zadie Smith brings her remarkable powers to bear on a first collection that riffs wildly across form and theme – autofiction, spec fic, parable, it’s all here, stylish, clever and unconventional. Read more

My colleague Róisín loves The Nose by Nikolai Gogol. She says: It’s surreal, hilarious, weirdly moving and basically follows the journey of a nose who has detached itself from Major Kovalyov’s face, and Kovalyov’s attempts to find it. ‘Perfect nonsense goes on in the world. Sometimes there is no plausibility at all.’ Read online (translated by Henry Whittlesey)


Nature writing

‘I’ve been enjoying getting back in touch with nature recently. Do you know of any books that might help me explore the natural world more?’ – Steve

Book cover for 'The Living Mountain' by Nan ShepherdSteve – the moment may be now for you to connect with Nan Shepherd’s ground-breaking The Living Mountain (Canongate), part memoir, part field notebook, part lyrical meditation on nature and our relationship with it. Nicholas Lezard, in the Guardian, said: ‘After about 11 pages, by the time she had described seeing a view from high up a mountain, I was giddy with something halfway between delight and vertigo.’ And don’t we all need a little giddy delight in these days? Read more

Also, if you’re inclined and able, Rob Macfarlane is leading a Nan-inspired Twitter read-along: search Twitter for #CoReadingVirus to share your thoughts.


Friendships and relationships

‘Hello! I’m really missing my friends and family in lockdown, do you have any recommendations on the theme of friendships and relationships?’ – Orla

Book cover for 'Women Talking' by Miriam ToewsOrla: I’m sorry to hear that. I’m sure a lot of us are feeling similarly at the moment. I find there’s a great comfort of togetherness in Tove Jansson’s Moomin books: though the Moomins often experience some degree of peril or threat, they band together to protect and cheer each other.

Miriam ToewsWomen Talking (Faber) takes a very difficult subject, but lifts us up in its exploration of the solidarity of friendship and community. And no-one does the fine line between heartbreak and wicked humour better than Toews. Read more


Got a request?

In need of a personal bibliotherapy recommendation? Send your request – whether it’s by genre, theme or anything else – to [email protected] with the subject line ‘Bibliotherapy’ and Peggy will do her best to help! You can also send your requests via Twitter, Instagram or Facebook.


Where can I buy?

Many of your favourite independent bookshops are continuing their business online or by phone and will deliver anywhere in the UK. Why not give them a shout?

Norwich – The Book Hive, Jarrold, Tombland Books, Bookbugs and Dragon Tales, Abstract Sprockett, Norfolk Children’s Book Centre

London – Burley Fisher Books, Daunt Books, Brick Lane Bookshop, Pages of Hackney, Dulwich Books, Stoke Newington Bookshop, South Kensington Books, Newham Bookshop, Pages of Cheshire Street, The All Good Bookshop, Pickled Pepper Books, Owl Bookshop, Persephone Books

Edinburgh – Golden Hare Books, Typewronger Books

Wadhurst – Barnetts Books

York – Ken Spelman Books

Petersfield – The Petersfield Bookshop

Stockton-on-Tees – Drake the Bookshop

Arundel and Chichester – Kim’s Bookshop

Nottingham – Five Leaves Bookshop

Hexham, Northumberland – Cogito Books

Explore The Bookseller’s list of independent bookshops and the services they can offer

Are you an independent bookshop? Email [email protected] to be added to the list!

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