Books To Chill To

I used to think of resting as hiding. When I would wrap myself up and read a book all day, I thought of it as a failure. I saw it as “pretending I didn’t exist.” When I described it as such to a friend, he said it actually sounded like a perfectly healthy thing to do. “Maybe you’re not pretending you don’t exist.” he said, “Maybe you’re just giving your mind time to rest. Time to heal.”

These are some of the books I’ve used to buoy myself up, to find comfort and rest.

Mr. Penumbra’s 24 Hour Bookstore – This is a gem of a book about technology, fonts, collaborative problem solving, books, and friendship. I read it during a very difficult time right after my diagnosis and found it to be a lovely little vacation. If you’re feeling truly debilitated, this would be my recommendation for you. It’s engaging and smart but very light and very easy to read.

Resilience: Why Things Bounce Back – This book studies resilience in animals, ecosystems, communities, and individuals. I found the content interesting and the message comforting. It argues for more a more dynamic view than is allowed by popular concepts like “survival of the fittest” and “sustainability” – a view that respects our interdependence. People who have a lot of anxiety about the environment may find parts of this book difficult.

A Primate’s Memoir – Half travel memoir, half entertaining (really) treatise on baboons, I love this book. I’ve read a LOT of ‘traveling through Africa’ books and this is one of only two I’d recommend. Some readers might find the chapters that take place in Somalia and Uganda unsettling. Feel free to skip them, the rest of the book stands fine without them.

The Importance of Being Earnest – How do you write a timely satire that will still be funny in 100 years? I don’t know, but Oscar Wilde did. As someone who tends to take things very seriously, I found his fun with earnestness and triviality refreshing. A great little read.

The Illusion of Separateness – I recommend this book if you can handle some sad and touching material. It’s beautifully written. Try it out if you’re encouraged by themes of interconnectedness and forgiveness.

Shantaram – People either love or hate this book. I’m listing it here because I found it totally engrossing. It includes more violence and heartache than you might want during really dark times, but if a sweeping, interesting story is what you’re looking for – this’ll keep you busy for a good long while.

Malcolm Gladwell’s books – Haters be damned, this stuff is academic candy. Perfect for when your brain needs some attention but your mind and heart are tired.

Transatlantic: A Novel – This is a beautifully written novel with some historical fiction mixed in. Some readers may want to skip the descriptions of the Irish potato famine, including one particularly disturbing image on pages 72-74, and again on 78. Skipping won’t badly hurt your understanding or enjoyment of the book. There are also touching descriptions of violence in Northern Ireland in the penultimate chapter. I found it tolerable since it describes the peace process more than The Troubles themselves.

The Kingdom of God is Within You – Did you know that Tolstoy was a huge influence on Gandhi? Me either. This is the book that inspired Gandhi to start up a correspondence with the aging Russian writer. It argues that every true Christian must be against violence in all forms. Christian or (like me) not, if you love clearly articulated, logical arguments and hate violence, you’ll find comfort here. If you’re a soldier or a cop, this book may infuriate you. Skip it ’til you feel better. It’s heavy – not the easiest to focus on when your brain is tired. The end gets circuitous, but the first few chapters are fantastic.

Please help me add to the list! What books have you found helpful when you needed a break? Email me


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