Week three, how are you all doing? After last week’s dystopian and depressing list, I thought you may be in the mood for something more uplifting. So this week we’ll look at the wise and calming books. Those that transport you, help put things in perspective or focus your mind on other things.
Most of us are probably at around a month of lockdown by now. And probably very much fed up with it. Now put yourself in the shoes of count Rostov, who is sentenced by Bolsheviks to house arrest. As his house at the time was a suite in Moscow’s Hotel Metropol that’s where he was ordered to stay. It would seem a nice place to be under house arrest, but Rostov is forced to move to a tiny attic room. He takes his fate stoically and tries to make the best of it… for over thirty years. The book is a lovely escapist fairy tale that will make you feel a bit better about your circumstances.
It’s a beautifully moving book, and it really makes you think about time and what we do with it. A book that you want to read slower, so it lasts longer. One to draw you in and keep you in its own world. Which is a good thing given that our world now is not necessarily the most pleasant. One of those books that feel like a meditation.
Another very meditative book. This time on the nature of travel and the inability to keep still the constant change. It’s a long book, and it takes a long time to read, which for once is what you probably have in abundance. It will calm you down, by distracting you from your current situation. But be warned, it may also make you antsy, as there’s a lot of travel mentioned. Which now feels so tantalizingly out of reach.
Olive is one of those larger than life characters, not necessarily likable, but very human. With all our failings, pettiness, but also the ability to rise to sudden heights. Told through a series of loosely interconnected stories the book gives us a good look at Olive’s life from many aspects. This book is not only about Olive. For me, through the various stories, it told about how… unsatisfactory… not sure if it’s a good word but disappointing is even worse…maybe underwhelming will do…life generally is. How we all try to be happy and we spend most of our life trying rather than being happy. How reality check gets everyone. And when it all gets sad and self-pitying Olive comes with her big self and undeniable common sense, sometimes even with a touch of tenderness. I think now we could all use someone like Olive in our lives.
For a book about depression and anxiety, it is a very uplifting one. It is Haig’s personal story. First, we follow him into the abyss of depression combined with anxiety. Haig traces his anxiety into his past, while also telling us about his painfully slow recovery and fight for every day. He learns to recognize the signs of the depression and anxiety coming back and learns coping strategies. Some of them may even be useful to us now, some, unfortunately, do not apply given the lockdown. The important thing is caring about yourself. Be nice to yourself, spoil yourself a bit. No point in making life harder than it already is.
It is a great book about the human condition, touching on many topics, such as does our work define who we are and should it, are all people truly equal, is a sense of responsibility and loyalty always right and justified. Ishiguro built powerful characters, set them firmly in the context of a dramatically changing world, built the big picture, the middle one, as well as the close-ups. All of it with tenderness and not without a sense of humor. Yet another one that you will want to read slowly, just to be in it for a while longer.
I know, it may feel completely out of place. With no way to reasonably travel for pleasure in the next weeks, it must look like I’m taunting you. For me, the most important thing I got from this book is the importance of really being in the place, of taking a close look and seeing things. And this is something you can do at home. Pay more attention to your loved ones, spend more quality time, cherish the fact that you have the opportunity to spend time with them, no matter how annoying they may be becoming. In the end how many series can you binge-watch?
Now, I didn’t love this book instantly. I still don’t completely love it, but it is something that you may want to try out as you get antsy staying at home so much. Cameron proposes a way to discover and enable your inner artist. She proposes a number of exercises that may keep you occupied, and also if in the process you do discover your creative side, there’s nothing bad about that. You may even finally write this novel, who knows. One thing I realized while reading this book was that I haven’t had fun in years. I do many things and a lot of them bring me joy, but they always have a purpose, it’s been ages since I had fun for fun’s sake. What do grown-up people do for fun? Sad isn’t it?
Yes, you probably cannot get to the forest right now. But why not take an imaginary walk? And there can be no better guide than Peter Wohlleben. He poses to us the idea that trees can actively communicate. That they form communities and support each other. It is a fascinating read and one that will teach you new things and make you feel like you are outside. It will remind you of all those walks in the forest you had as you’ll try to remember seeing the things Wohlleben describes.
I think we can all agree we live in an age of anxiety. The times are far from certain and reassuring. Watts published his book in 1951, yet all the points and observations he makes still hold. If they haven’t even become more urgent. And let’s be honest the human mind has not evolved that much, we still cannot deal with the world we’ve created. Watts draws from the Eastern philosophy and religion in handfuls. And on the surface, his message is not unknown to us – focus on the present. He claims we spend too much time planning and obsessing about the future, which is completely intangible. Or worrying and lamenting the past, which has gone and unchangeable. So on the surface, you could almost take it as the next in a long line of mindfulness books. But Watts gives us so much more. And his message in many places is a lot darker and more challenging than the smiley simplicity of mindfulness.