Four books to soothe your soul
A reading list for times like these
Earlier this week, I abandoned the theme I had planned for today’s newsletter in favour of curating a list of comforting books - and I don’t think that needs an explanation. Working in a newsroom makes me all too aware of how awful the news is right now, while social media seems to have entered a new level of depravity. (Who would have thought it was possible!)
My friend Arielle introduced me to the concept of putting yourself on “special measures” when things are tough: the idea is that you make a deliberate effort to increase the number of things you’re doing which soothe you, while decreasing those which exacerbate anxiety or stress.
If you’re anything like me, special measures will always include comfort blanket reading. Here are four suggestions if you need just that.
Games and Rituals by Katherine Heiny
When in doubt, read a Katherine Heiny. This would be my life motto were it not for the fact I’ve already read everything she has ever published, and there are only so many times you can re-read something. (That’s actually not true when it comes to Heiny, but let’s keep it between us so that perhaps she will write some more.)
Anyway, this short story collection came out earlier this year, and it’s an absolute treat. No one writes about the intricacies of love and relationships better than Heiny; no one can do it with such empathy, humour and warmth. I think it is near-impossible to read Games and Rituals without a smile on your face.
The Storied Life of A.J. Fikry by Gabrielle Zevin
Most people will know Zevin through her extraordinarily good novel of last year, Tomorrow, and Tomorrow, and Tomorrow. After that book left me bereft, I spent a long time looking for something to read that would satisfy me in the same way. Nothing did. So, I ended up turning to her backlist.
The Storied Life of A.J. Fikry is nothing like her hit novel, but it is gorgeous nonetheless. This is a gentle story of a grumpy 39-year-old widower who runs a bookshop. His life is changed when he goes to the store one day and finds that someone has left a two-year-old girl, along with a note asking him to look after her. Uplifting, heart-warming stuff.
One More Croissant for the Road by Felicity Cloake
This book is part travelogue, part food memoir and every bit as lovely as the cover. We follow Cloake, a cookbook author and Guardian columnist, as she sets off on her bike for a Tour de France of her own. That is, the kind which involves cycling from cafe to restaurant to market in order to sample the best French cuisine there is to offer.
Mouth-watering descriptions of food, beautiful landscapes, a wonderful sense of adventure and a very witty narrator to guide us through it all - One More Croissant for the Road oozes joy.
Let the Light Pour In by Lemn Sissay
“We are in oceans of words and images, pushed and pulled by the current, smashed by relentless waves of news. These morning words are my life jacket.”
So said Lemn Sissay when I had the pleasure of speaking to him on the publication of this poetry collection last month, and the statement gets more relevant by the day. Let the Light Pour In is the result of a morning ritual which he has kept for the last 10 years - one which sees him writing a short poem as soon as he wakes. It’s the kind of book which belongs on every bedside table. An absolute balm for the soul.
A short compendium of other things bringing me comfort and happiness right now:
Only Murders in the Building. I’ve now binge-watched all three series of this TV show and it made me laugh a lot.
This red lentil and chorizo soup is comfort food at its finest.
Yoga at my local studio Fold. I can’t tell you how much my Monday evening classes keep me sane.
Strictly Come Dancing. Do I try to avoid admitting I’m in my late twenties and can very happily stay in on a Saturday night to watch this show? Yes! Do I cry at some point in every episode? Also yes!
This Rituals bath foam feels like a spa.
Jo Whiley’s weeknight show on BBC Radio 2. Listening while I cook is how I de-stress after a busy day at work.
The way the sun, which is lower in the sky at this time of year, floods my flat with a silky gold light.