World Book Day: From Bridget Jones to Mark Renton, here are the best books for those rough days
A good book is basically a cheap therapist, right?
Books are one of the things that are always there for us. After an arduous and awful day at work, there are few things better than curling up with an old favourite, a slice of cake, and a cup of tea. With that in mind, and as it’s World Book Day, here are some of our team’s favourites to turn to when things have all gone a bit tits up!
The Alchemist, Paulo Coelho
One is loved because one is loved. No reason is needed for loving
This tiny slither of a book is my reset button when I’m feeling a bit lost and drifty. The story follows a shepherd on a strange journey, in a simple lesson on the twists and turns of life. It has a way of reminding you that your path is not linear; the complete psychopath you spent the last month dating is probably a life lesson and things learnt at your awful job might actually come in handy.
I’ve read it at least 5 times now, and each time I have taken something different away… and I’m not the only one. Over the years I have met several people who use this book in a similar way, which is an unavoidable blow to my individuality and a resounding success for Paulo Coelho.
Bridget Jones’s Diary, Helen Fielding
It is a truth universally acknowledged that when one part of your life starts going okay, another falls spectacularly to pieces
Bridget Jones’s Diary
Now hear me out … I am not saying it has aged well and is without flaw. The book focuses on the trivial struggles of a white middle-class woman and seems to normalise an incredibly unhealthy obsession with weight and food – but there’s just something about Bridget Jones that I keep coming back to in times of failure.
Bridget Jones, for me, represents a woman who is obsessed with how she presents herself to the world and is constantly setting high standards that cause her a serious amount of guilt and self-deprecation when she does not meet them. She is bursting at the seams with ridiculous stereotypical feminine traits, but I guess I see those in myself (did I just call myself basic??), and when she experiences disappointment and setbacks in her life, she emerges stronger and with a sense of humour. Yes, it is very cliché, but I’m going to say it; I relate to her.
Conversations With Friends, Sally Rooney
Everyone’s always going through something, aren’t they? That’s life, basically. It’s just more and more things to go through
Conversations With Friends
There have been many books that have helped my ever-changing moods during a year of lockdowns, but a favourite would have to be Sally Rooney’s Conversations with Friends. After watching the BBC series Normal People (a real tear-jerker!) I was eager to delve into another of Rooney’s superb stories.
I read the book in the summer of 2020, at a time of peak-I-can’t-take-anymore-Netflix stage and at a loss for what the future held, and this book was a little bit of relatable escapism for myself (what a joke). An easy read about juicy drama and life events during a time when everything stood still in lockdown. It made me feel emotions during the most numbing and lifeless times of my life, how tragic. I quickly became addicted to the book and couldn’t put the thing down; I even took it with me on my daily walks. It ends on a cliffhanger, so I’m anticipating the sequel to find out what happens to characters Nick and Frances and their toxic age gap love affair.
The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society, Annie Barrows & Mary Ann Shaffer
“Life goes on.” What nonsense, I thought, of course it doesn’t. It’s death that goes on
The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society
These pages gave me escape when I was a shivering wreck curled up on the sofa wrapped in 10,000 blankets, and dosed up on paracetamol. It provided sanity and idyll during my brush with Covid in the early stages of the pandemic. It was a book I had been meaning to read for years – and I actually mean years. As one of my mum’s favourite books, it was a literary work that throughout my teenage years I’d actively avoided out of rebellion, but now as a mature and somewhat wiser adult? Gimme.
In a last bid to get me to read it, she’d bought it for Christmas, from Oxfam for £1.29, and at the beginning of the end, when all I wanted was a hug from my mum, this book was there. The story follows Juliet Ashton, an author in London after World War Two, who strikes up an unlikely friendship with Dawsey Adams who is a member of an unusual ‘secret’ book club in Guernsey born during the German occupation of the island. It’s a string of letters, platonic love letters if you will, filled with imagery, romance, suspense and pure joy. It is simply gorgeous. I finished it within a few days; and that is record-timing for me. And if that doesn’t get you, read it simply for justification of the name.
High Fidelity, Nick Hornby
I lost the plot for a while then. And I lost the subplot, the script, the soundtrack, the intermission, my popcorn, the credits, and the exit sign
Wind the clock back, if you will, to pre-pandemic Birmingham. Long-time singleton Matt has just got his mojo back before his romantic ideals have come crashing down to Earth with the force of a nuclear weapon. Enter Nick Hornby’s High Fidelity, a novel so precisely tuned to my feelings it felt as though it could have been written specifically for me.
It follows record shop owner Rob Fleming in his quest to find meaning in his past relationships, and purpose in his current state of life. It’s a work of sheer beauty that asks its reader to ponder what masculinity means in the modern day, and how we must move on from the toxicity of our forefathers into something healthier, more special. It gave me answers to questions I didn’t even know I had about being a man in the 21st century, and taught me the importance of learning to let go of my pain. I devoured it upon my first read, and carry its lessons with me daily.
Steppenwolf, Herman Hesse
In eternity there is no time, only an instant long enough for a joke
I attribute my relative sanity at this stage of the pandemic to lazy afternoons spent pouring through this book. For those who are not familiar with it, it’s the poetic introspection of a man who understands modern society so little and detests it so much that he feels that he must be half-man half-wolf. If you are after a book that will whisk you away from your pandemic depression, this is definitely not it, but the age-old adage that misery loves company could not be truer in this case.
The novel opens with the lines, “The day had gone by just as days go by. I had killed it in accordance with my primitive and withdrawn way of life.” After a long day of sitting around the house in lockdown, having achieved next to nothing, it was a relief to pick up a book that could encapsulate my “rage against this toneless, flat, normal and sterile life.”
Trainspotting, Irvine Welsh
We start off with high hopes, then we bottle it. We realise that we’re all going to die, without really finding out the big answers
It’s May 2020, I’ve just spent four years reading and analysing compulsory literature for my degree, and I’m hungrier than ever to finally pounce on a book of choice. Bouncing back to the Scottish port district of Leith during the 80s and following the lives of four Edinburgh crack addicts, I lapped up the cultural journey that Irvine Welsh’s Trainspotting so addictively executes.
I sympathise with anyone who has given up on the, shall I say, exotic Scottish dialect that forms this book. Perhaps my Scottishness is a tad biased, but every time I read it I can’t deny just how fantastic a mix of emotions I experience. I inhale the words as I laugh and cry over the gang’s fates and ponder the difficult society that our generation has unwillingly inherited. Ultimately, the surprisingly inspiring words uttered by protagonist Renton, a helpless heroin addict, I have found to be quite comforting during the pandemic. Renton proclaims: “By definition, you have to live until you die. Better to make that life as complete and enjoyable an experience as possible, in case death is shite, which I suspect it will be”.