To help you navigate difficult times, here is Stylist’s pick of new non-fiction titles to comfort and enlighten.
It’s been a strange few weeks. From obsessively checking our news feeds to stepping away from our phones in an attempt to avoid anxiety meltdown, it’s difficult to know how to react to an ever-changing cycle of information. With that in mind, we’ve rounded up some of the newest, most soothing, educational and comforting books to help us all find a little bit of wisdom, inspiration and understanding during these tricky times.
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The book to give you hope
THE SALT PATH BY RAYNOR WINN
This is what you need to read right now to muster hope and resilience. In 2013, Winn and her husband, Moth, lost their business and home in one day, only for Moth to be diagnosed with a rare brain disease. In the face of disaster, the couple decided to walk 630 miles along the South West Coast Path, and – like Cheryl Strayed in her memoir Wild – found hope and comfort in nature and inner resources they had no idea existed. It’s a beautiful story and a reminder that humans can endure adversity.
£9.99, Michael Joseph
The book to unleash your creativity
SPARK BY MANOUSH ZOMORODI
With so much change and uncertainty in the world, it’s easy to become (even more) addicted to checking the cycle of opinions on social media and news sites only to find that your brain isn’t functioning quite so creatively as it once was. But, as journalist Zomorodi points out, some of our greatest ideas are likely to ping into our minds when we’re absently staring out the window, having a shower or going for a walk – and we need to give ourselves permission to just be. Full of practical tips (taking notes by hand is better for retention, for example), this is the book to get your imaginative synapses jumping.
£9.99, Pan Macmillan
The book to make you feel less alone
NOTES FROM AN APOCALYPSE BY MARK O’CONNELL
“May you live in interesting times” is described as both a Chinese proverb and a curse. Blame climate change, Trump, Brexit and, now, a pandemic, but it’s safe to say all of us would prefer a much quieter time, thanks. So how do we wrap our heads round an era that’s given us so many seismic political, social and economic shocks? O’Connell is a journalist who admits that all of this worries him and goes in search of answers, meeting men and women preparing bunkers everywhere from South Dakota to New Zealand. They may seem like extremists, but thanks to O’Connell’s empathy and humour, this is an insightful and surprisingly hopeful read that underpins how we’re all trying to make our way through testing times the best way we know how.
The book to help you make sense of the world
FUNNY WEATHER BY OLIVIA LAING
In this mesmerising collection of essays (which cover everything from David Bowie and Jean-Michel Basquiat to Sally Rooney’s Normal People) plus interviews with Ali Smith, Hilary Mantel and Sarah Lucas, writer Laing examines how art can be connected with and used for “resistance and repair”. How through writing, art, music and beyond, we can begin to stop, understand and make sense of the world, especially during times of rapid political and cultural change. As Laing so beautifully puts it: “[Art] is a training ground for possibility”, and this unique and compassionate book is a mind-expanding opportunity to rethink how we live, and what we can do to change things for the better.
£20, Pan Macmillan
The book to inspire you
DARE TO BE GREAT BY POLLY HIGGINS
The late environmental campaigner Higgins was an incredible woman who led a decade-long campaign for ‘ecocide’ (destruction of the natural environment) to be officially recognised as a crime against humanity before her death from cancer in 2019. Her legacy lives on, not least in this inspiring book, where Higgins shares her advice, the journeys she went on and explains how we’ve all got the capacity to make big changes through our own small actions. Take heart in her words: “I know it may not yet look like it, but we are sowing the seeds of greatness for countless generations to come. That is the Great Work of our times. Yours and mine.” (£7.99, The History Press, out 10 April)
£7.99, The History Press, out 10 April
The book to nurture your wellbeing
THE WELL GARDENED MIND BY SUE STUART-SMITH
Weaving together real-life case studies, including the story of her own grandfather returning from World War I, psychiatrist and avid gardener Stuart-Smith has created a truly uplifting book on the power of gardening – and how it can change people’s lives. It’s a prevailing reminder that getting our hands in the soil and helping to grow plants and flowers makes all the difference to our minds and wellbeing – something we’re in risk of forgetting about entirely. Examining the ‘gardener’ cells in our brains and drawing attention to the natural rhythms of the world, she puts forward a persuasive argument on why now is the time to plant even just a window box, and nourish ourselves in the process.
£20, Harper Collins
The book to help you switch off
DIGITAL MINIMALISM BY CAL NEWPORT
When the original iPhone was launched in 2007, its creator Steve Jobs described it as a device that would play music and make calls – the app store didn’t arrive for another year. Over a decade later, the average smartphone user now checks theirs 85 times and spends two hours a day on social media. Understanding that people are not ready to give up their devices entirely, Newport posits the philosophy of ‘digital minimalism’ – carefully selecting the technologies you want, optimising them for your life and unloading the rest. Empowering and full of practical steps to reshape our relationship with our phones, everyone should read this book.
The book to get you moving
THE DANCE CURE BY DR PETER LOVATT
It’s hard to take someone who’s known as ‘Dr Dance’ seriously, but The Dance Cure is actually pretty irresistible. Lovatt, a former professional dancer turned psychologist, explores why humans are meant to dance via history, anthropology and case studies. He also suggests that by getting our moves on for just 10 minutes a day we can boost endorphins, alleviate stress and connect to our emotions. If you’re stuck indoors and need an instant uplift, watch his amazing and informative TED Talk about the impact of dancing on memory and cognitive function. Then delve into this book, and let him convince you to dance yourself happier.
£12.99, Short Books
The book to give you perspective
THIS TOO SHALL PASS BY JULIA SAMUEL
Inspired by her work as a psychotherapist, Samuel’s book is a useful reminder that everyone wrestles with difficult moments and sometimes just talking about and acknowledging them can begin a process of healing. From a single dad whose partner has died of cancer to a successful designer who left her marriage only to engage in a toxic affair, Samuel gently explores the inner lives of people and what can cause them to feel broken, lost or unsure of themselves. Filled with wisdom and practical advice, this is an addictive read but also one that will evoke empathy and understanding. It reminds us of human strength; how we can all learn to adapt and thrive during our most difficult and transformative experiences.
Images: Getty Images
Francesca Brown is books editor for Stylist magazine and Stylist Loves; she also compiles the Style List on a weekly basis. She is a self-confessed HBO abuser and has a wide selection of grey sweatshirts. Honestly, you just can’t have enough. @franabouttown