Books can help us cope with the existential dread of our times and to make sense of the current madness
“All I have learned, I learned from books.”― Abraham Lincoln
Books to Change our Lives
As a lifetime learner in pursuit of truth, out of all the different ways to learn, books remain my favourite way to absorb knowledge and discover new ideas.
What I like about books is that I can read them by myself, in silence, anywhere and anytime I wish. It’s me and the author, one on one, having a conversation in my mind. I can then engage with others, dialoguing about the subject, stretching my mind and my horizon.
So I'm going to recommend some books and ideas that are helpful in navigating this sprawling, and at times, chaotic, journey called life.
For each of us, the meaning of life is different. But, we are all seeking answers, so we can find our own meaning of life. For some of us, this is a lifelong journey. For others, it is a matter of taking the right steps to figure out why we are here, and what we are meant to do with our lives. There are several great books out there that can help us with our search. Here are a few pearls of wisdom, amongst a very long list.
‘These are tough times, infused with anger, anxiety and ambiguity. Where to turn, whom to trust? How to find the energy, let alone the will, to become engaged, active citizens of the world when we are constantly being pushed into cultural tribes and mental ghettos? Now we need books more than ever, and we must keep our reading lists diverse, including fiction and nonfiction.’- Booker-shortlisted novelist Elif Shafak
What are the best titles to help us through tough times?*
Elif Shafak chooses and recommends the following books to help us through tough times – books about how to persevere under difficult circumstances, works full of wisdom, heart and hope.
‘Robert Macfarlane’s Underland is a wonderful book, full of wisdom and hope. Beautifully written, it is a journey into the fascinating, but mostly unknown world underneath our feet. A lyrical exploration of time, nature, memory, literature and landscape, it took Macfarlane 10 years to complete, but it will take you longer to forget it.
George Monbiot’s Heat: How We Can Stop the Planet Burning is a solidly researched, well-presented answer to climate deniers everywhere. For anyone who cares about the survival of our biosphere, anyone trying to find the right balance between preserving lifestyle and cutting carbon emissions, it is the perfect guidance.
For a brilliant perspective on the nature of human beings, what better than Isaiah Berlin’s The Hedgehog and the Fox? Written as an essay on Tolstoy’s view of history, it is so much more than that and strangely relevant to our times. Berlin claimed it was just an intellectual game, but recall the line by the Greek poet Archilochus: “The fox knows many things, but the hedgehog knows one big thing.” Berlin’s writing helps us to find out which approach is better for our conflicted, polarised world.
Ta-Nehisi Coates’s first novel, The Water Dancer, is a remarkable story about inequality, slavery, memory, freedom and dignity. I found it important and universally relevant. Read Etgar Keret’s short stories in Fly Already, not only for their brilliant language and imagination, but the depth of Keret’s craft. Jeanette Winterson’s Courage Calls to Courage Everywhere is a slim volume with a big heart. It will provide us with the energy we need as we walk the long road ahead to attain true gender equality.’
*This writeup was inspired by and is based on the Book clinic: what are the best titles to help us through tough times?
A Selection of related inspiring books and articles full of wisdom, heart and hope from the GCGI Archives:
"Passing of Knowledge" by Victor Tan Wee Tar