Books can provide a much needed escape or offer fresh perspectives on reality. If you are looking for things to read that's not the news, I've put together a small list of fiction, non-fiction and poetry below. They are excellent reads even in normal circumstances, but you might find you'll appreciate them more in the midst of a global pandemic that has upended the world as we know it.
1. The Martian by Andy Weir
“Yes, of course duct tape works in a near-vacuum. Duct tape works anywhere. Duct tape is magic and should be worshiped.”
If you still haven't read The Martian, there is no better time to get to it than now. Mark Watney is stranded on Mars for a whopping 1 year and 7 months and must survive on sheer ingenuity and pure dumb luck. Food is scarce, entertainment more so, and everything - everything - seems to fall apart by the minute. A first-class, fast-paced, nail-biting science fiction novel that will make you laugh out loud. The movie adaption with Matt Damon is well worth a watch too.
2. The Blue Castle by L.M. Montgomery
"She did not ask to be loved. It was rapture enough just to sit there beside him in silence, alone in the summer night in the white splendor of moonshine, with the wind blowing down on them out of the pine woods.”
This is a gem of a story - the kind of book I try to read as slowly as I can because I enjoy it so much. The characters are written with insight, wit and empathy in a way that reminds me of Jane Austen, and Montgomery's love for the Canadian wilderness comes through in the rich and vivid descriptions. A must-read for fans of slow burn romances and the perfect book to warm your heart during self-isolation.
3. Quiet by Susan Cain
"Spend your free time the way you like, not the way you think you're supposed to."
Based on research, Cain explores the characteristics of introverted people and debunks some of the misconceptions. She argues that the modern workplace and education system is entered around socialising, teamwork and multitasking. Since the world as we know it is rapidly changing, both introverts and extroverts might benefit from a better understanding of silence and inner reflection.
4. Awareness by Anthony de Mello
"To acquire happiness you don't have to do anything, because happiness cannot be acquired. Does anybody know why? Because we have it already. How can you acquire what you already have? Then why don't you experience it?"
Published in 1990, Awareness is one of the better books I've read on mindfulness (referred to as "spiritual awareness" by the author). It is easily digestible: de Mello was a psychotherapist as well as an atypical priest who enjoyed a conversational way of teaching (which was sometimes at odds with the more rigid Catholic Church to which he belonged). It took me almost half a year to get through it; not because I didn't enjoy it, but because most of the essays invites to deeper reflection and multiple reads.
5. Why I Wake Early by Mary Oliver
“Hello, sun in my face. Hello you who made the morning and spread it over the fields...Watch, now, how I start the day in happiness, in kindness.”
Mary Oliver was a celebrated American poet who passed away in 2019, leaving behind a prolific body of work. Her poetry celebrates the wonder of nature with graceful simplicity. Soothing for the soul, the poems also have the added benefit of not requiring long periods of undivided attention - something I find difficult whenever I feel anxious and stressed.
6. Wilderness Essays by John Muir
"The views over the icy bay, sparkling beneath the glorious effulgence of the sky, were enchanting. It seemed then a sad thing that any part of so precious a night had been lost in sleep."
I planned to recommend Henry David Thoreau, but I think John Muir will resonate more with a modern audience. He not only wrote about the awe-inspiring beauty of nature, but also fought for the preservation of it. His admiration for the physical world is evident in his lyrical writing which serves as a timely reminder to live more slowly and pay attention to the world around us.
7. Everyone's a Aliebn When Ur a Aliebn Too by Jonny Sun
"u may be sad because u feel alone. the comforting thing abot feeling lonely is that every thing that has ever existed also knows what loneliness feels like too."
While I found the book less profound than I expected (especially compared to Calvin and Hobbes), there are rave reviews on Goodreads on people who found it thoughtful, thought-provoking and wholesome. The illustrations are cute and - as a bonus - it doubles up as a colouring book for instant stress relief.
8. Heartstopper: Volume One by Alice Oseman
Heartstopper restored my faith in YA (Young Adult) literature as something other than predictable and clumsy writing. It is a sweet, surprising and modern story. I enjoyed the silent panels, the black/white colour palette, and the tender relationship between Nick and Charlie. A quick and heartwarming read which will bring a smile to your face - it certainly did for me.
9. The Complete Guide to Baking: Bread, Brioches and Other Gourmet Treats by Rodolphe Landemaine
At first glance this might look like another over-sized coffee table book that doubles as a flower press or a way to level your wobbly furniture. Not so! If bread making seem daunting and complicated to you, this book will break it down with clear explanations coupled with gorgeous full-page illustrations and photography. It might require a couple of readings before you gather the courage to try a recipe, but once you get going you will be surprised at how easy it is.
Did any of these catch your eye?
Before you go on Amazon, I recommend that you message your local independent bookshop to see if they might have it. Many might be taking online orders even if their shop is closed. If you are based in Dublin, Books Upstairs is one of my favourites and can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Also feel free to share your book recommendations below!