Sometime last week, it occurred to me that books will – as they always have – be the way I make it through these very, very hard days. In the times when my life has been the most bleak, when it has felt the most unsurvivable, I have turned to books as escape and guide, as respite and balm. So today, I’m just sharing some of the books that have helped me most in my lifetime.
(Note, some of these links are from my affiliate accounts, which means I get a small commission at no extra cost to you if you purchase after clicking them.)
- Traveling Mercies by Anne Lamott. This book is a memoir of Lamott’s journey to becoming a Christian. It contains the most honest and striking conversion story I’ve ever heard – and I’ve heard a lot of them – and when I need to be reminded that my faith is not about rules or punishment or some awful God who demands us to be someone we are not, I return to this book. Plus, it’s ridiculously funny. (Also, if you haven’t yet read Lamott’s book on writing, Bird By Bird, I highly recommend it, too.)
- The Art of Misdiagnosis by Gayle Brandeis. This book is, hands-down, the best memoir I’ve ever read. It’s a beautiful story about Brandeis’s relationship with her mother, a woman who lived with and died from severe mental illness. It’s a book about forgiveness and understanding, about grief and birth, and it is so beautifully and lovingly written.
- My Name Is Asher Lev by Chaim Potok. When I was a teenager, I craved any book that told me I could be creative and be a person of faith. I needed to understand that not everything was already figured out and understood. I needed to realize that who I was in the world might not be comfortable for people, particularly people of faith. So this book saved me. I then read everything Potok ever wrote.
- Who Fears Death by Nnedi Okorafor. This novel is my favorite work of fiction. Ever. So far. It’s a book of fantasy and folktale, a coming of age story of sorts, full of magic and journeys. The book is the best of fantasy with shape-shifting and spells but also of storytelling that draws from African traditions and cultures. If you want to disappear into a story where you recognize the landscape but get to step out of reality, this book is the one for you.
- Still Life by Louise Penny. I got on the Louise Penny train late, but I’m now full-steam ahead. These books are delightful and charming while also being just what you want in a murder mystery – that is fast-paced and just the tiniest bit creepy. The detective, Armand Gamache, is a man everyone wants as a friend, well, unless they are murderers, and he will win your heart.
- The Money Book for Freelancers, Part-Timers, and the Self-Employed by Joseph D’Agnese and Denise Kiernan. A bit of practical reading for you if you, like me, get weary of money and budgeting books that don’t work with the way you make your income. This one is practical, clear, and just fluid enough to give me room to make it work for me. It’s the only budgeting book I’ve found that suits my business, and in these times of economic uncertainty, I thought it might be a useful tool for you, too.
- House by Tracy Kidder. If you enjoy deep journalism that reads like a novel, Tracy Kidder’s works are your balliwick. This book is an in-depth story of the building of one house in New England. Kidder introduces readers to everyone from the home owner to the architect to the contractors who install the sheetrock. It’s a beautiful study in how a house comes together but more it’s a love letter to the people who build our homes. (Note, as of right now, the Kindle ebook is just $1.91 or FREE if you’re a Prime member on Amazon.)
- The Cloister Walk by Kathleen Norris. When I was young, all I thought I was going to do with my life fell apart, mostly because my sense of self would not let me do something I felt like I should do instead of what I was made to do. This book, picked up at The Strand in New York City on a very, very hard morning in my life, was my way back to myself. The book is a memoir of sorts, a religious meditation about a life of order, a life of sequestered peace. A story for now in every way, I think.
- Paradise by Toni Morrison. When I weary of life, when I dream of escaping with my best girlfriends to a rural house where we make our own bread, grow our own lettuce, and build our own stories, I go back to this book of women surviving together, or solidarity and just the taste of magic in the daily. This is my favorite of Morrison’s books.
- Gilead by Marilynne Robinson. The way Marilynn Robinson sees the world is gentle but truthful, and in this epistolary novel of an older father writing to his young son, we see a world that is both hard but beautiful, unforgiving but ultimately hopeful. This is the story of a small town and a small family, one I can understand in ways that feel central to who I am.
A bonus title – Walking On Water by Madeline L’Engle. If you are an artist and a person of faith, this book will comfort you and challenge you. Most of all, it will help you believe in the impossible, an essential for all artists.
I don’t know if you need reading just now, but if you do, may these books guide you as they have me.
Now, please, tell me about your favorite books. I’d so love to hear which books have saved you in your hardest days.
Recently, I moved the writing community I coordinate over to a new, focused space that is all our own. There, we share weekly goals for our writing lives, we ask questions about resources or quandaries, we encourage one another, and we commiserate together when the writing life is hard. Plus, each Monday, I write a note just for the members of that community and inspired by our conversations there.
If you’d like to join us, we’d love to have you. Membership is $2.99 a month, but if that’s a financial hardship for you, please let me know. I have one scholarship available from a generous member.
We’d love to see you there.