Literature Therapy: Six Books To Add To Your Quarantine Reading List
Here’s our recommendation of books to curl up with, in these strange times–a select six that help us transform.
2020 was a crooked year. Our physical and mental wellbeing, relationships and finances all took a hit; but while everything else slid downhill, literature surprised statistics. Book sales surged during the pandemic. I, for one, couldn’t have lasted the lockdown on Netflix and Twitter alone; there are cravings of the mind satisfied only by novels, magazines, journals and anthologies. By continuity of thought. By the touch of good old paper that doesn’t lunge at the reader with live updates. Given the slowing-down of our lives, we now have more opportunities to squeeze offline reading hours into our schedules. To spend a longer while with each writer, sometimes to zoom in closer and at other times to escape our present. To dig into ‘transformative literature’ – books that hold within their pages the force to change lives.
Drawing up this compilation reminds me of Alberto Manguel’s ‘A History of Reading’, which ends with a WWII photograph of a bombed, roof-less library in London. Everything in it is in shambles, but the books and the shelves that support them have largely survived. Three men stand studying them amidst this rubble. Three readers. “They are not turning their backs on the war,” Manguel writes, “or ignoring the destruction. They are attempting to find once again – among the ruins, in the astonished recognition that reading somehow grants – an understanding. Here then, are six reads – with no loyalty to any particular genre – that help us adapt to the chaos that surrounds us.
‘How I Became A Tree’ By Sumana Roy
Sumana Roy loves plants and we love her for how she writes about them. How I Became a Tree is an unusual, healing book. It explores the plant-world through literary history, vividly described memories, botany and spirituality, branching into different fields of philosophy to build a solid narrative around a tree. If you appreciated the brief silence in our streets during the first bout of lockdown, you’d enjoy Sumana’s company.
‘Flights’ By Olga Tokarczuk
Polish author Olga Tokarczuk isn’t exactly well-known outside Europe, but her experimental ‘novel’ Flights came into the limelight with a long-overdue English translation that won the International Booker in 2018. Her prose has the rhythm of movement. It encourages us to move forward in poetic little steps. It jumps time zones and airports, compares the human body with a perfectly packed suitcase, mixing art and tourism, anatomy and feminism. Missing mask-less, freewheeling travel of yore? Get this one.
‘The Clearing’ By Samantha Clark
An artist’s memoir, The Clearing deals with the subject of mental illness and draws parallels in other forms of the unknown—dark as the mysterious dark matter in our universe but lightened by the pursuit of art. The book is focused around the author’s journey down memory lane as she clears her childhood home in Glasgow after the death of her parents.
‘A Little Book Of Life’ By Ruskin Bond
We end it with a humble little book full of Bond’s favourite passages and quotes. They include his aphorisms, ancient proverbs, other authors’ musings and granny’s sayings. A Little Book of Life sits well as a bedside companion and makes just as thoughtful a gift.
‘On Being Ill’ By Virginia Woolf
This 14-page essay – penned by Woolf in the throes of a nervous breakdown – is available as a standalone copy as well as part of various collections. I doubt there’s anything in our pandemic-time social media rants that matches the intimacy with which Woolf drew out the experience of being down and out in bed. She treads isolation with great poignancy, drawing creative inspiration from illness and sharing a view of the sky from her pillow.
‘The Overstory’ By Richard Powers
Coming back to tree time, those of you who believe in the power of fiction might prefer The Overstory to the first recommendation on this list. I say read both. Richard Powers needs no introduction as far as science fiction fans go, but The Overstory, his 12th novel, swept the world (and the 2018 Pulitzer) off its feet. This 500-pager is brilliant storytelling; not until halfway through does the reader realise that the real protagonists in here are trees. I promise you’ll not look at a tree as an inanimate creature ever again.