In the face of depressing news I always ask myself: What can we set against it? And I always end up with the same answer: The pursuit of beauty and the spreading of kindness are the antidote. I am supposed to read Wave for my workshop this month. But I am dragging my feet because I really don’t want to read a story about grief right now. I am craving positivity and lightness these days, so I thought I’d share some of my favorite reads today that deliver just that.

If you’re looking for a funny family story that lets you escape to a sunny locale:

My Family and Other Animals is my favorite happy memoir. Not that there isn’t any hardship: The family is broke, for starters. But in these times of quarantine when we all have to either endure family life or deal with its absence, this jolly portrait of Gerard Durrell’s family’s life on the Greek island of Corfu is inspiring. Each family member has his or her passions and pursues them with zest. Even though I read this book years ago, I still think of it when I am cooking a larger meal. I keep marveling at the Durrell mother’s preparation of what seems like hundreds of dishes for their get-togethers. How did she manage that? The narrator, ten-year-old Gerry, is mainly busy with discovering the wild life of Corfu.

Even if, like me, you’re not into animals, his accounts are so whimsical, comical and light-handed,  that you will gain a whole new appreciation for critters, for example.

I first read this book with my workshop students. Thanks to this book, one of them got into watching the web one spider was spinning outside of her high rise office window. (There’s a practical mindfulness practice for you for quarantine times!) She got really worried when the window washers came by but thankfully the spider survived. Furthermore, Durrell’s prose so gorgeous, it made me green with envy. Anyone who can come up with a phrase like “the headlight raked along the veranda briefly” to describe the sweep of a car’s lights at night is a prose genius, and a master of the strong verb.

If you’re up for the story of an unlikely adventure during equally isolating times:

No Picnic on Mount Kenya is exactly the kind of pursuit of beauty I was referring to above. During World War II, three POWs in a British internment camp in Kenya hatch and execute a plan to escape. However, they are not escaping in order to gain freedom, but rather to add something positive to their lives. They crave something to plan and to look forward to, something to combat the pettiness and dullness of their indefinite imprisonment.

This book buoys your spirit simply because it is about a grand and rather dangerous adventure that the characters hope to be able to look back upon.

What an unusual book! Reading it will make you want to embrace whatever seemingly impossible schemes have floated through your mind, simply to prove to yourself that you’re alive. It will have you cheering for a bunch of crazy-ass, ramshackle prisoners on a hare-brained escape. To boot, Benuzzi’s descriptions of the world they traverse, first the rain forest and then the tundra, are exquisite. It might just have you think about all the startling sounds you have encountered in your life. See my corresponding blog post A Startling Sound.

If you’re up for advice and insight from people who live what they preach:

Tools of Titans is a great book if you have trouble concentrating on longer texts these days (I know I do!). It can be savored in short portions. You can read it in no particular order because it features bite-size, pithy profiles of people who are immensely successful in their fields. And you will find that you will learn something from each profile. I’ve found Tim Ferriss interesting ever since I discovered his book The Four-Hour Work Week a few years ago. Once in a while I listen to his podcast. I bought Tools of Titans after listening to his interview with Paul Coelho, a short version of which you will find in Tools of Titans.

The premise is simple and more easily digestible than Ferriss’s long podcasts: he has distilled the wisdom of highly accomplished people by asking them how they did it and how they manage their lives, from their morning routine to what books they recommend to their creative process.

Each portrait is relatively brief. The questions are not consistently the same, which keeps the tome (seriously, this is a wad of a book) entertaining. Many of my copy’s pages are dog-eared now, which is my way of marking a page I want to get back to. My reading list has gotten significantly longer thanks to Ferriss’s profiles!
Happy reading, and feel free to share your own uplifting but true-to-life reads!