I feel it strongest at times like these—when you can’t turn on the TV or open a newspaper without wondering if the world is slowly imploding—that books are a refuge. Books aren’t written or published overnight, so there’s no chance of tripping over a reference to the coronavirus, blundering into the latest political maneuvers or gasping over a new sex scandal. It’s just you and whatever genre you care to escape into.
For example, you could get lost in this wonderful story of nature and loss as recommended by Editor-in-chief Amanda Jaros: “I adore nonfiction books steeped in some aspect of nature all wrapped up in a personal story, and Helen Macdonald’s H is for Hawk is just such a good read. Macdonald’s story revolves around her life as a falconer and the heartbroken period after her father’s death when she acquires and trains a goshawk—a bird notorious for being feisty and difficult to train. Throughout the story, Macdonald also looks frequently to T.H. White’s classic 1951 book, The Goshawk. While the segments about White moved a bit slowly for this reader, what comes across clearly is Macdonald’s obsession and fascination with White’s own story of poorly training a goshawk. She repeatedly reflects on the torture that White put his hawk through, compared to how she respects and honors hers. Macdonald works with her hawk and mourns her father, finding herself withdrawing from human society. As she retreats deeper into the world of hawks, we come to see how the training of the hawk parallels the depths of Macdonald’s emotions. I knew nothing about falconry when I picked up this book, but as Macdonald skillfully brings all the pieces together, I felt as if I were standing in the fields with her, watching the goshawk fly free.”
You could also chose to take a break from modern woes and retreat into a timeless classic as Senior Editor and Literary Reflections Editor Libby Maxey did this month: “I’ve been on a John Steinbeck kick recently, and I’m here to tell you that he won the Nobel Prize for good reason. The Pulitzer Prize, too. The Grapes of Wrath, for which he won the latter, wasn’t on my high school’s list of required reading, but I’m glad I saved it for 2020, when a story about the plight of migrants, the inhumanity of capitalism, and America at an ethical and economic crossroads is as appropriate as ever. Published in 1939, the book tells the story of the Joad family, driven off the land they farmed in Oklahoma by the Dust Bowl, the Depression, and the primacy of someone else’s profit. They head to California in hopes of finding work, only to discover that labor is now a losing game everywhere, even if they’re lucky enough to be allowed to play. Steinbeck lightens their story with lively dialogue, moments of humor, strokes of good fortune among the bad, and timely kindness, the kind that staves off despair. But he doesn’t let us forget that the conditions that keep the Joads homeless and next door to starvation won’t change without mass resistance.”
Our final offering to divert your thoughts is to lose yourself in someone else’s troubles as Creative Nonfiction and Fiction Editorial Assistant, Kim Ruff did: “Over the past two years, like so many others, I have become immersed in the world of True Crime podcasts and listened to Wondery’s, The Man in the Window: The Golden State Killer. The podcast piqued my interest and led me to further investigate this violent, true crime that spanned two decades in the 70s/80s and led me to Michelle McNamara’s book, I'll be Gone in the Dark. The book was published 38 years after the crimes were committed with no arrests yet made. It is the most riveting account of the case that I have encountered to date. I was compelled to keep reading because of McNamara’s years of research, her clear passion for her subject, and her decisive narrative. HBO is making a documentary series based on the book and Stephen King writes in his review of the book that it is ‘Propulsive, can’t-stop-now reading.’ McNamara died unexpectedly in her sleep while writing the book and is praised for keeping the public and police detectives interested in the case, ultimately leading to the arrest of the monster coined by McNamara as ‘The Golden State Killer’ for violent crimes across multiple California counties that included rape or murder, sometimes both. The arrest came two years after McNamara’s death.”
Which books give you an escape route from life’s stresses? Share with us in the comments or tweet us @LiteraryMama. You can also follow us on Instagram @Literary_Mama and Goodreads for more recommendations.