Two weeks ago, I tried to come up with ten comforting reads for #LockdownLife and then ran out of space so decided I needed to do a rerun of the topic. But this time, as well as general reads to prompt sensations of safety, I tried to also think about the non-fiction reads that have lifted my spirits in times of trial. I have read some of the ‘Chicken Soup for the Soul‘ series and frankly, it made me rather nauseous but I still believe that the right book can change your life. There are books on this list that have made me laugh and others that gave me much needed escapes but there are also a few on here that made me think differently. I don’t have a lot of time for the term ‘love language’. It seems to belong in the same kind of bag as ‘Chicken Soup for the Soul‘. E.g. a different bag from mine. But still, buying people books is irrefutably one of my ‘love languages’. If we know each other in real life and I have ever bought you a book, please understand that it was because I loved you very dearly. But I do feel nervous about recommending books. There’s a wide spectrum of experience, taste and opinions in this world of ours. The biggest pitfall with any kind of gift-giving is if you are more excited about the giving rather than whether or not the other person will wish to receive it. But my urge in any kind of stressful situation is to find a book to make it better. If we have to stay put right now, here are some more books that I would like to send your way.
The late great Rachel Held Evans (still stings to remember that she is no more) recommended this in one of her Sunday Superlatives nearly a decade ago and for me, this remains unsurpassed in terms of books that made me laugh out loud and uncontrollably. Truthfully, the best way to tackle this on is on lockdown. I tried reading it on a train and I remember trying desperately to compose myself. It was actually pretty embarrassing. If you’re looking for a really good laugh – check this one out.
This is one of the most defiant memoirs that I can ever remember reading. When so much feels out of our control, I Am, I Am, I Am celebrates the life within in our hands today. Written for the author’s daughter, who suffers from anaphylactic allergic reactions, I Am, I Am, I Am argues that life is always risky no matter what so that every day is a victory. This is advice worth remembering for anyone struggling with COVID-19 anxiety.
Bibliomemoir on Childhood Reading
I originally had all three of these on my list but in the end I decided that not everyone enjoys bibliomemoirs as much as me. Samantha Ellis’ How To Be A Heroine considers how female characters shape the women we come to be, Lucy Mangan’s Bookworm reflects on childhood favourites while Clare Pollard’s new release Fierce Bad Rabbits chronicles the history of children’s picture books. All three books incorporate the experiences of their respective authors but also celebrate the power of literature itself to help us over personal crises. How To Be A Heroine taught me that I am the writer of my own life. Bookworm brought me back in touch with my childhood self while Fierce Bad Rabbits demonstrated the fierce courage behind so many of the classic stories that we all grew up with. There is a reason why I turn to books when the going gets tough and these three bibliomemoirs reminded me that to read is to build up an armour against the world.
I don’t think I talk enough about how much I love this book. It’s one of my early reviews on the site and it’s one of those books that finds beauty in even the bleakest points of life. We meet seventeen year-old Alex Woods as he is driving his car off the ferry ramp and he gets stopped by the police. They want to know where Mr Peterson is. The answer is that he’s on the front seat. In an urn. Alex has some explaining to do. It all started when he got hit by the meteor. And no, this is not a fantasy read. Part coming of age story, part celebration of friendship, it is a book that has a heart the size of its head. You can’t read Alex Woods and not feel better about the world although it may leave you wanting to read more Kurt Vonnegut.
I love this book in all its purple-prosed glory. It’s just a silly story about silly men doing silly things in a boat and it’s always sunny and they never run into anything particularly serious. If lockdown sees you stuck inside, this is great escapism and hilarious to boot. Contemporary critics complained that the book was insufficiently highbrow but I think it’s just what we need right now. Victorian fiction is often witty but it is rarely so full of belly laughs.
Not enough people have read this book and it’s such a shame. Norman Huntley makes up Miss Hargreaves out of thin air and then, to his horror, she arrives for a visit. In a similar vein to Blithe Spirit, this is another one of those vintage screwball comedies which are always so fun. Miss Hargreaves is a fabulous type of modern poltergeist, dragging her creator ever closer towards insanity even while she claims that she abominates fuss. Clever, witty and side-splittingly hilarious, this is definitely a book to make you forget the world around you.
Another ‘modern’ (1930s) Cinderella story and one by Stella Gibbons no less. Admittedly it’s a fairly cynical fairytale but there is still a wit about it all and and of course a happy (enough) ending that it was just a really lovely read. Stella Gibbons is one of the finest prose stylists of all time and this is one of her most gentle stories.
It may seem odd to put a horror read on this but trust me, Cat Out Of Hell is an exception to all the rules. Roger the cat is trying to tell his life story. He thinks that Daniel Craig should do his voice in the inevitable film. But unfortunately he actually sounds just like Vincent Pryce. Part of why I love Cat Out Of Hell is because I watched cheesy Hammer horror films with my Dad and this is a glorious pastiche of the genre but mostly it’s because this book is a very imaginative comic masterpiece. You can heartily enjoy it whether you love or hate cats. It’s one of the most ridiculous stories I’ve ever read and the perfect antidote to lockdown.
Although Game of Thrones offers us escapism, it is not a comforting read. Enter Dunk and Egg, giving us the world of Westeros in a lockdown-appropriate dose. All the atmosphere but far less bloodshed. Seven foot tall Dunk is trying to become a knight and bald-headed young Egg insists on becoming his squire. Together they tramp across a Westeros still ruled by the Targaryens. The book is composed of three novellas about their adventures accompanied by some truly beautiful illustrations. The stories have a really gentle pace and are all tinged with pathos. This is the very best of George R R Martin’s writing and while I will get over it if he never completes Ice and Fire, I will feel truly miffed if we never find out anything more about Dunk and Egg.
The vet books are almost the dictionary definition of comfort reading. Sweet furry animals? Check! Vintage time period which is simultaneously long enough ago to seem quaint but not so long enough ago to seem completely alien? Check! Gently wry protagonist? Check! As young vet Herriot travels the hills and dales of Yorkshire, he meets animals small and large, comes of age, marries and has children. Not all the stories are funny but all of them are warm of heart.
I’ve been having a wander through Streatfeild’s back catalogue myself at the moment and am thoroughly enjoying the trip. My newest discovery is Apple Bough and it was beautiful! There is a definite formula to Streatfeild’s writing, so much so that I am pretty sure that I could come up with a pretty good drinking game. But perhaps not a good idea for lockdown when you really do need to keep an eye on unhealthy habits. Get in touch for when this is all over if you’re interested. What I love about Noel Streatfeild’s stories is that they always encourage to take action for themselves. The children are always taught to give things their best effort, that they should appreciate their parents or carers and that all talents are worth celebrating. I have a whole list of reasons why I love Noel Streatfeild but I feel her consistent work ethic message is a fantastic one for the current situation. Plus all the stories have some form of a happy ending so it’s nice to know where you’re headed.
This is a truly beautiful book. It’s another 1940s read (noticing a pattern in the books which I find most soothing) but set post-war. Laura is searching for her dog and the hunt takes her across the valley, running into most of her circle of acquaintance. Her life is utterly different to that before the war but over the course of the novel, she recognises her utter gratitude for her own survival and that of her family. It is so easy to focus on the negative, to complain about how this situation has spun out of our control, but One Fine Day reminds me to look up at the sun, to laugh with my toddler as we hunt for dandelions and to follow him as he chases the feathers blowing in the wind. With the rest of the world staying far away, I cling to my little family and try to keep them safe. This is a book about appreciation for survival and about embracing how life changes after global cataclysm. We are living in strange times and we cannot trust those vested with authority to look after us or speak the truth. We must decide what parts of normal we will want or be able to return to and, like Laura Marshall in this novel, decide how we plan to move forward.