2019 was far from the best year of my life. I spent 11 weeks straight in hospital, followed by a further three weeks total scattered over the next three months. One health issue led to another which led to another until I was in a cycle of hospital admissions, some voluntary and some decidedly not. These were long hours spent unable to leave the ward either because my physical health wouldn’t allow me to move, or because my mental health was considered too poor. There are two words I would use to describe this collection of experiences: distressing and boring.
If I’m honest, I remember little of the past year; trauma has ways of messing with your memory like that. But I did keep a meticulous record of all the books I read to try to mitigate that distress and boredom. There are a spreadsheet and piecharts. I read a lot. Curled up on the floor in the corridor of the psych ward, stretched out in bed on the burns unit with an unreasonable quantity of pillows. So now that I find myself stuck inside and isolated again, albeit for different reasons, I can look back on the books that saw me through last year. Here is a selection of books I read with some thoughts on why they helped me and how they might help you as we all find ourselves isolated, distressed, and bored.
There are many aspects that make up the ideal comic book here. I want gorgeous artwork to get lost. Something fairly easy to read so I can be enveloped in the story. Empowering stories with leads who are women, and/or LGBTQIA+, and/or people of colour, and/or disabled. Fantasy or superheroes or similar to allow an escape from the real world to something better.
Books Where People Are Having a Shit Time in Big Houses
For a book to make this category it needs to be at least 50 years old (first half of the 20th Century is ideal), written by a British woman (bonus points if she is queer), and include both relatively rich people and a good dose of moping or danger. Take your mind off your own personal misery and onto someone else’s. This works best if the characters are having a worse time than you.
Self-help is an obvious choice when times are hard. But not all self-help is created equal. What I needed was to feel safe despite the chaos around me and inside my head. The book that this for me was Cosy: The British Art of Comfort by Laura Weir.
Sci-Fi and Fantasy to Get You Out of This World
Similar to some of these other categories, SFF really helps me to get out of my own head and right out of this world. Here all the rules are different, here you aren’t locked inside – you’re roaming the galaxy or disappearing into magical worlds.
Religion and spirituality are things that can help ground me. They connect me to my community, to my ancestors, to the Earth, to something bigger than myself. As such there are some religious books that bring me comfort, that challenge and affirm me.
Examples include Queer Magic: LGBT+ Spirituality and Culture from Around the World by Tomás Prower and The Talmud.
Poetry to Make You Feel Seen
Poetry has a sort of magic to connect you directly to the poet. The best poetry feels as if the poet sees you just as through their words you see them.
Books to Wow You
Finally, there are books of any genre that just wow you. That make you breathless with anticipation as you tear through the pages. That allow hours to pass without you noticing. The book that did this for me more than any other was Freshwater by Akwaeke Emezi.