Never read Middlemarch or listened to Wagner’s Ring cycle? Now’s your chance

Observer critics suggest ways to while away the long days of self-isolation during the coronavirus crisis

Coronavirus – latest updates
See all our coronavirus coverage

Books: Rachel Cooke

The Zoo of the New, edited by Nick Laird and Don Paterson. Such an anxious moment surely calls for the consolations of poetry. What you need is this fat anthology, in which Rosemary Tonks nestles up to Tennyson, and Sappho sits in close proximity to Seamus Heaney. Or what about The Prelude, Wordsworth’s epic autobiographical poem? Even if you can’t leave the house, its hundreds of pages will transport you swiftly and elegantly to the Lakeland fells – and, perhaps, to the happier times of your own childhood.

Middlemarch by George Eliot. Maybe you want a novel. This is a book so capacious and wise it cannot fail to suit a period of quarantine.

Chips: The Diaries of Sir Henry Channon. Not only are these journals, written by the snobbish, American-born Conservative MP for Southend, witty, gossipy and completely engrossing; they also cover the blitz and, as a result, come with a built-in sense of perspective. These bad times, like other bad times before them, will surely pass in the end.

Podcasts: Miranda Sawyer

My Dad Wrote a Porno. If you’ve never got round to listening to this, now’s the time. With loads of episodes, every one hilarious, ridiculous and with no relevance to real life, this podcast will cheer anyone up.

The Allusionist. This is about language, and never fails to engage: clever, witty, distracting.

In the Dark: Season 2. One for true-crimers. It’s about a Mississippi man who faced trial for the same murders six times: a shocking miscarriage of justice case, doggedly and brilliantly told. (Season 1 is also excellent, but it’s about child abduction and I found it quite distressing.)

TV: Euan Ferguson

Detectorists (iPlayer/Amazon). Nothing happens. But this gentle tale of treasure-seekers, penned by Mackenzie Crook, who co-stars with Toby Jones (left), contains sublime depths and sharp humour amid the whimsy. Let Johnny Flynn’s achingly soft music wash over you as you watch the meadows, old stone and butterflies of England, and wonder when it’ll be safe to leave the house again to seek them.

Toby Jones, left, and Mackenzie Crook in Detectorists.
Toby Jones, left, and Mackenzie Crook in Detectorists. Photograph: BBC

Money Heist (Netflix). It sounds much better in the original Spanish (La Casa de Papel, or House of Paper) but it’s still the best subtitled/dubbed thing around. Combines a series of ingenious thefts with, for once, truly three-dimensional characters. You’ll laugh, you’ll cry, you’ll fall in love. And series 4 lands in April.

Classical music: Fiona Maddocks

Mendelssohn: Octet (1825). As exuberant and joyful as music gets; eight string players jostle for attention, chipping in like a witty dinner-table argument. Mendelssohn was only 16 when he wrote it.

Bach: Goldberg Variations (1741). Sharpen your brain with one of the greatest works of all time, Bach’s “aria” and 30 variations supposedly written to amuse an insomniac count. Fit to refresh the most jaded spirits.

Wagner: The Ring (1876). Wagner demands time, in the case of his epic four-part Ring cycle (Das Rheingold, Die Walküre, Siegfried, Götterdämmerung), about 15 hours. All human life is there, and gods, valkyries and dragons, too.

Film: Simran Hans

An Elephant Sitting Still (2018) on BFI Player. In a time of global emergency, frivolity can feel inappropriate. That mood has me inclined towards something more sombre and reflective, like the late Chinese filmmaker Hu Bo’s searching, rageful four-hour drama.

The Matrix (1999) on Amazon Prime. Escaping into a virtual reality is also an option. Twenty years on, the Wachowski sisters’ cyberpunk dystopia feels a little dated but their vision of the future is fun to revisit.

Contributors

Rachel Cooke, Miranda Sawyer, Euan Ferguson, Fiona Maddocks and Simran Hans

The GuardianTramp

Related Content

Article image
I’m sorry Fleabag put my family in spotlight, says Phoebe Waller-Bridge
Show’s creator regrets that guesswork about inspiration for characters made life tricky for those close to her

Vanessa Thorpe Arts and media correspondent

30, Jun, 2019 @6:59 AM

Article image
Covid-19 forces UK arts to seek virtual venues and online audiences
The shutdown of cultural life has raised urgent debate about how to protect one of Britain’s most high-profile industries

Vanessa Thorpe

22, Mar, 2020 @9:04 AM

Article image
Josh O’Connor: from The Durrells to the ‘Yorkshire Brokeback Mountain’ … and beyond
Early starts, long hours, lots of sheep: the star of God’s Own Country tells of the hard graft behind the acclaimed film

Vanessa Thorpe

26, Aug, 2017 @11:05 PM

Article image
Autumn arts: our critics pick the best shows, film, music, books and TV
The world of culture is raring to go … from Steve McQueen’s first TV drama to Tracey Emin and Munch, here’s our pick of the season

06, Sep, 2020 @6:00 AM

Article image
Future’s bright for Mabel, Olive and lockdown’s other unlikely stars
Sports presenter Andrew Cotter – the man behind Twitter’s top dogs – is among the social media stars now being offered TV and book deals

Vanessa Thorpe Arts and media correspondent

27, Jun, 2020 @3:05 PM

Article image
Sam Neill: ‘I should be at Pinewood. The Jurassic World III sets are there waiting’
The actor talks about shunning fame, putting his latest movie on hold … and playing Radiohead’s Creep on the ukulele

Vanessa Thorpe

23, May, 2020 @1:05 PM

Rare TV film reveals early life of Dudley Moore
Rare TV film reveals early life of the comic and composer Maxwell Davies, reports Ben Dowell.

Ben Dowell

17, Jun, 2007 @9:54 AM

Article image
Fifty years after the radio revolution, are the BBC’s stations now irrelevant?
The Home Service, and the Light and Third Programmes became part of British life. But too much of their successors’ content is unfit for the digital age

Miranda Sawyer

23, Sep, 2017 @11:03 PM

Article image
Opportunity knocks: how lockdown is opening doors for new creative talent
Aspiring writers and directors now have a rare chance to impress producers and publishers with time on their hands

Vanessa Thorpe

18, Apr, 2020 @1:05 PM

Article image
Untrained blind student lands starring role in Netflix second world war epic
Disability rights groups applaud casting of Aria Mia Loberti in All the Light We Cannot See

Dalya Alberge

26, Dec, 2021 @8:30 AM