Surely, in this past year we have been in the longest tunnel our generation has navigated. For those of us still awaiting an end to all lockdowns and recoveries, the difficulties of holding on have been daunting; for some, even devastating.
And, the truth is, it isn’t over yet. Now that vaccinations are showing us the glimmer at the end of the tunnel, the obstacles to “life as normal” can seem even more frustrating. So what do I recommend as helps for a triumphant homestretch run until we can throw that mega party or reschedule the international trip we had to cancel last year?
My answer to keeping the faith and holding on is twofold: take comfort from history and find escape and solace in books.
I have found comforting historical perspective in recent reading. Daniel Defoe’s Journal of the Plague Year shows vivid similarities in the 1665 London plague to our own situation: the “impatience of being pent up within doors,” a fourteen-day quarantine, the “silent streets” as people fled from the city, the fear of touching anything contaminated.
In his book Shakespeare, Bill Bryson recounts the frequent plagues in Elizabethan times when all public gatherings—except for churchgoing—were banned. A calamitous situation for the Bard’s theatre. The results of previous plagues and pandemics were far more catastrophic than Covid-19, yet civilization always survived—and ultimately flourished.
Seeing the darkness of times in the past—and learning that humanity has always triumphed—was one of the recurring lessons I learned when writing my Arthurian epic Glastonbury. In the midst of war, disease, famine, and natural catastrophes, a flicker of light endured, and the Light always triumphed—as it will this time.
For those not given to the philosophical approach, though, simple escapism can have much to recommend it. In this month of Valentine’s Day, a good romance, perhaps one set in an exotic location, can sweep one away from the moment’s stresses and leave one refreshed. My favorites are those that take me to another time as well—like the wonderful Regency romances of Georgette Heyer.
Apparently, many readers are finding solace in the classics and the tried-and-true. “The Economist” reported in December that 2020 was on track to be one of the best years for book sales this century. Surprisingly, print books were particularly popular. The surmise is that people want a break from screen time. Print books are somehow more “real.” Also, backlist books outsold new releases, taking 68% of the market.
It seems that in uncertain circumstances, readers prefer time-tested books. I agree. In times of stress, turn to the classics. As a former English teacher and life member of the Jane Austen Society, I can’t do any better than recommend the works of Jane Austen and Charles Dickens.
Or perhaps, the puzzle-solving intensity of a Golden Age murder mystery is the thing to take you away from it all? Dorothy L. Sayers is my personal favorite, although Josephine Tey, Margery Allingham, and, of course, Agatha Christie are wonderful, too. Few authors do a better job of “bringing order out of chaos” than P. D. James, for whom that was the definition of a mystery writer’s job.
Whatever your choice: a golden oldie, or a hot-off-the-press bestseller; a philosophical approach, or a get-me-out-of-here romance or murder mystery, there are books waiting for you to join generations of readers as we journey toward the light.