1. The Gulag Archipelago by Alexander Solzhenitsyn
The Gulag was the Russian government agency that managed a series of forced labour camps from the 1930’s until the fall of the Communism. If you think that work is bad, this three-volume tome should make your heart a little lighter while you take the 122 to a job that, presumably, doesn’t involve breaking rocks. Solzhenitsyn won the Nobel Prize for Literature in 1970 and his work is criminally under-read outside of Russia despite his popularity. It’s not that his books are particularly hard to read, but rather that the content is crushingly depressing as well as compelling. The Gulag Archipelago is perfect for the Monday morning commute in that respect.
2. Lolita by Vladimir Nabokov
Almost everything by Nabokov will elicit a few odd glances on public transport, so intimidating is the perfection of his prose – so why not up the ante by reading an obscene book with absolutely no obscene terms in it whatsoever? Humbert Humbert, our paedophile narrator, is recalling his past life and disturbing ‘relationship’ with the young nymphet Lolita, even marrying her overbearing mother just to get close to her. Lolita is sinister and blackly funny, and accessible despite its subject matter. You might even get so absorbed that you miss your stop.
3. The Stand by Stephen King
Stephen King books are rarely considered particularly impressive or intimidating, but The Stand is a different proposition altogether. This much-beloved-by-hardcore-King-fans book is huge, a doorstopper of gargantuan proportions, a labyrinthine composition with hundreds of characters and almost as many interweaving storylines. Set in a post-apocalyptic world in which almost everyone has, weirdly, died of the flu, The Stand eventually descends into an epic battle of good against evil, the Hand of God against the power of malevolence and fear. Spoiler alert – this battle takes place in Las Vegas (of course).
4. Anything from the Four Corners Familiars series
Four Corners Books is a small publishing company that is challenging the old tradition of the illustrated book – in particular, their reworked classics (or Familiars) are a joy to hold and to read. William Makepeace Thackeray’s Vanity Fair is packaged beautifully in pink with illustrations of Becky Sharp resembling Bette Davis and Oscar Wilde’s A Picture of Dorian Grey is dressed up to look like a vintage men’s magazine. The only one perhaps not suitable for your commute is the lavishly illustrated Madame Bovary – but that’s because it weighs about two kilos.
5. Any book, wrapped in brown paper
It’s a rather sad fact of life that people-watching is a universal pleasure, and most of us get our fix on the bus. You may not particularly want people to see what’s you’re reading, or vice versa, especially if it’s Fifty Shades of Grey. It’s possible to buy pre-made fabric book covers online (they’re incredibly popular in Japan) but brown paper is really a classic. Added to that, you get to be the person on the bus with an air of mystery – and those people are very rare.
Sarah Waldron is our Books Editor.