Books that offer comfort and/or a way to dwell more deeply

Recommendations from readers for readers.

A book of luminous things, An international anthology of poetry, collected by Czeslaw Milosz. This work contains over 300 poems, each with a short commentary. Poems are organised thematically into ten categories with titles like ‘Nature’, ‘People among People’, and ‘The Secret of a Thing’. Milosz includes a brief statement at the beginning of the sections that introduces the themes that he had in mind when selecting poems for that particular segment of the anthology.

Blue horses, Mary Oliver. Anything by Mary Oliver evokes the challenges of belonging to the world without being consumed by it.

Call of the reed warbler, Charles Massy. This work is a paean to the potential of regenerative agriculture in the Australian context, blending anecdote and evidence in great beauty and potency.

Dibs in search of self, Virginia Axline. This book is a true account of play-therapy sessions with a young boy. I have not yet, after rereading this book many times, been able to get through it without shedding tears. But it is a story which ultimately gives hope – not the kind of shallow hope that comes from seeing a drop in the price of petrol or finding a new flavour of chocolate in the supermarket – but hope of a profound and real kind.

Einstein’s monsters, Chris Impey. This is a tiny bit technical, but is written for non-physicist black hole geeks.

Go in and in: poems from the heart of yoga, Donna Faulds, in particular the poem ‘Walk Slowly’ which you can read on this link.

In love with George Eliot, Kathy O’Shaughnessy. This is a perfect read for these changing times. George Eliot was a genius and innovator; I loved the portrait of her marriage, friendship, and centrality of her turbulent moods to her craft; there is no worshipping the cult of happiness in these pages. Set in a time without the distractions of retail and technology, this novel is an ode to the power of literature and a reminder that the noblest pursuit is developing one’s intellect.

In tune with the infinite, Ralph Waldo Trine. This books teaches us that there is a universal thread that runs through every seer, every sage, every prophet’s teaching, which says “What one has done, all may do” (A seminal book for me personally). 

Love in the time of cholera, Gabriel Garcia Marquez. I chose this for the title, resonant in these infectious times, and to read a book by this 1982 Nobel Prize-winning author. This book was another journey for me, now into the sensuously described foliage, and deforestation, luxury and poverty, birds, creatures and corpses, perfume and fetid smells of the steamship-era Caribbean. The companionship and irritating tedium of the long marriage of Fermina Daza contrast with the concealed obsession for her and the sensual attachments of Florentino Ariza. Early on, Florentino’s mentor in work and sexual activity, Lotario Thugut, who is adorned by the women who work as whores and wait eagerly for his attentions, attributes as gifts as being of ‘pure love’. The purity and directness of sexual love contrast the muddy undercurrents of human behaviours in this book, as the surrounding environment of the abundantly life-giving river system is degraded.

Map: collected and last poems, Wislawa Szymborska. Because we don’t always know what life consists of until poetry tells us. 

Our revolution, Bernie Sanders. This book offers some solutions to Rutger’s questions in Utopia for Realists.

Rebels on the back lot, Sharon Waxman. You think this time is the first time people have had major roadblocks to moving ahead in life? Explore other biographies about filmmakers.

Rodham, Curtis Sittenfeld. This is the story of what happens if Hilary didn’t marry Bill. It’s the first fictionalised exploration I’ve read about a woman driven to serve as President. This novel provides a fascinating insight into the machinations behind the US elections, and the nomination of Kamala Harris provides hope for a future with more female leaders shaping our public discourse.

Sea of many returns, Arnold Zable. Storyteller Arnold Zable takes the reader to the heart of Ithaca, the original homeland of his wife’s family, voyaging between historical and village Ithaca, and the suburbs of Melbourne’s historical connections with people who came from Ithaca and of an aching nostalgia felt by them for their homeland that can be appreciated by anyone who has been touched by travel to places in Greece.

The devil and Miss Prym, Paulo Coelho. The parable of good and evil, is a reminder that choices and actions are not black and white. Conscious awareness of the complexity of choices, priorities and motivations is valuable to keep in mind as we lean into the opportunity of creating a different world. 

The freedom artist, Ben Okri. This story is marvellous, complex, layered and subtle in its appraisal of how contemporary society warps our individual interpretations of our collective reality. This is a book with which to sit, reflect and engage. Each read will tease out another example of what it means to be controlled by social norms.

The god of small things, Arundhati Roy. It’s been a long time since I’ve read this book (you have inspired me to re-read it), it’s a book about family that makes you really think and is beautifully written, a ‘joyful distraction’.

The mouse and his child, written by Russell Hoban, illustrated by Lillian Hoban. The tale of two wind-up toys – the eponymous Mouse and his Child – journey in search of sanctuary and family. Hoban’s pastoral tale of perseverance and devotion is also packed with wit and charm and replete with a gently happy ending. Hoban tried numerous times to write a sequel, but there it is, singular and complete.

This mental fight, Ben Okri. Especially pertinent is his suite of poems.

To bless the space between us, John O’Donohue, in particular the poem ‘Time to be slow’ which you can read on this link.

Trick Mirror: reflections on self-delusion, Jia Tolentino. A book of essays about our various cultural, societal and interior delusions and how difficult it becomes to see ourselves clearly (and make ethical, sane decisions) in a culture that revolves around the self. I love what she writes for the ‘New Yorker’ and how intelligent, intuitive and illuminating her thoughts are on the complex refractive hall of mirrors we seem to have found ourselves in, especially via what she calls the ‘unliveable hell’ of the web. A book to help me try to reset my own focus and my own self-talk.  

Utopia for realists, Rutger Bregman. We need to start thinking about what we want while we can. The world is changed and we need to also ask for good things, not fear what we have lost.

Winnie the Pooh, A.A. Milne. Although I haven’t done so for a while, Winnie the Pooh used to be a favourite comfort on wakeful nights. For Pooh fans, this take-off by John Finnemore’s ‘Souvenir Programme’ is a guaranteed giggle.

Year of wonders, Geraldine Brooks. Inspired by a true story, this is a novel about the plague in 1666 and how the disease’s quick spread disintegrates communities. Somehow this novel offers hope through a character who can see the positives while living in such a terrible time in history. 

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