There are many reasons why we should read.
We read to learn:
Mortimer J Adler was an American educator, philosopher, and popular author. He says,
‘A good book can teach you about the world and about yourself. You learn more than how to read better; you also learn more about life. You become wiser, in the sense that you are more deeply aware of the great and enduring truths of human life.’
We read to find answers:
Lynne Reeves Griffin is a nationally recognized expert on relationships and family life and is an acclaimed novelist. She says,
‘No matter the narrative, we read to explore human behaviours and the intricacies of social and emotional life. Good stories ask us to contemplate universal questions, like “Are we in control of our lives?” or “Will we be punished for our sins?” or “What do we need most in the world to feel whole, to be loved?’
We read to escape:
Francine Prose is a distinguished novelist, literary critic, and essayist. In her book, ‘What to Read and Why,’ she says,
‘Reading is among the most private, the most solitary things we can do. A book is a kind of refuge to which we can go for the assurance that, as long as we are reading, we can leave the worries and cares of our everyday lives behind us and enter, however briefly, another reality, populated by other lives, a world distant in time and place from our own, or else reflective of the present moment in ways that may help us see that moment more clearly.’
We read to heal:
Harold Bloom was an American literary critic and author. He says,
‘We should read slowly, with love, openness, and with our inner ear cocked. We should read to increase our wit and imagination, our sense of intimacy – in short, our entire consciousness – and to heal our pain.’
The following books achieved all of the above, informing my thinking in 2021.
Delia Owens – ‘Where the Crawdads Sing’
Where the Crawdads Sing takes place in the marshlands of North Carolina. Despite experiencing abandonment as a child, Kya Clark learns to embody independence and self-sufficiency.
Amor Towles – ‘A Gentleman in Moscow’
On June 21, 1922, Count Alexander Ilyich Rostov is sentenced to a life of house arrest in Moscow’s Metropol Hotel. The Count misses his privileged life but discovers what is necessary to survive.
Sofie Laguna – ‘Infinite Splendours’
Infinite Splendours is a story of inestimable beauty and unfathomable grief. Lawrence Loman is forced to negotiate childhood trauma and the loss of his mother, finding release in his art.
Rebecca Solnit – ‘A Paradise Built in Hell’
A Paradise Built in Hell examines the behaviour of people during and after disasters. Despite the grief and disruption, people adapt to their changed circumstances, finding meaning and purpose in their acts of bravery, kindness, and generosity.
Patti Callahan – ‘Becoming Mrs. Lewis’
Becoming Mrs. Lewis is a work of historical fiction. It is the story of an unlikely friendship and an unshakable love between Joy Davidman, an independent mother and poet, and C. S. Lewis, a renowned author and Oxford don.
Eddie Jaku – ‘The Happiest Man on Earth’
Eddie Jaku’s memoir, ‘The Happiest Man on Earth,’ was published in 2020 and became an instant success. Eddie experienced incredible hardship and witnessed unimaginable suffering. Both his parents were killed at Auschwitz. He survived and discovered how to be happy.
Maggie O’Farrell – ‘Hamnet’
William Shakespeare’s son, Hamnet, died at age 11. Maggie O’Farrell’s novel, by the same name, provides a fictional account of the inspiration Shakespeare derived from his heartbreaking loss.
Barack Obama – ‘A Promised Land’
A Promised Land is Barack Obama’s widely anticipated presidential memoir. This is a lengthy volume, a first installment, that deals honestly with the challenges of managing numerous political crises while maintaining a healthy and fulfilling family life.
Ann Patchett – ‘The Dutch House’
The Dutch House is a story of siblings Danny and Maeve Conroy and their stepmother Andrea Smith, who expels them from their childhood home after the death of their father.
Madeline Martin – ‘The Last Bookshop in London’
The Last Bookshop in London is an irresistible story depicting the courage and perseverance of the people of London during the war years. It is a reminder of the enduring power of literature to sustain us in perilous times.
Pip Williams – ‘The Dictionary of Lost Words’
The Dictionary of Lost Words is the absorbing story of the Oxford English Dictionary’s compilation through the eyes of Esme, the daughter of one of the men working on it. The book explores how words take on different meanings for men and women. It focuses on Esme’s undercover attempts to rescue words which have been overlooked or intentionally omitted from the epic dictionary.
M L Stedman – ‘The Light Between Oceans’
The Light Between Oceans is an incredibly moving and heart-wrenching story about what happens when good people make bad decisions. It explores how tragedy can connect families, whether they want it to or not.
Georgia Hunter – ‘We Were the Lucky Ones’
We Were the Lucky Ones is a work of historical fiction based on a true account of the author’s ancestors during a time of unprecedented upheaval and uncertainty. It is a compelling story of who will be the ‘lucky ones’ to suffer through but actually survive the atrocities of World War II.
Emily St John Mandel – ‘Station Eleven’
Station Eleven is a story about a post-apocalyptic world in which a super flue has wiped out most of the population. The book explores how our world would change in the face of a major collapse. In the words of writer Adrienne Westenfeld, ‘It celebrates that which allows us not just to survive, but to live: making art, belonging to something bigger than ourselves, searching tirelessly for what it means to be human.’
Cormac McCarthy – ‘The Road’
The Road tells the story of a father and his young son journeying across post-apocalyptic America some years after an unnamed catastrophe. It imagines a world where nothing is left except for ash and dust. Barren of resources, facilities, food, and general humanity, it is a dangerous and poisonous place.