Reads for times of crisis pt. 2

Photo courtesy of Laura Kapfer on Unsplash

Photo courtesy of Laura Kapfer on Unsplash

Inspired by messages from friends following my previous post on the subject of how to stay hopeful in times of crisis, I have decided to make it into a series! I was pleasantly surprised, as I was finding new things that inspired me at every turn, once I started looking. And then, when I published the first piece, I received even more inspiration from friends and colleagues. Leading me to new and unexpected places of discovery, some which I already know will change my life, and some which will be bright guiding stars for years to come. I hope, with this series, to share some of this feeling of hope and inspiration that has kept me going through this highly confusing and anxiety provoking time.

So here’s my second list of recommended reads for times of crisis. Hope it helps others find their way through the darkness of these times. Starting, again, with my favourite author of the day:

  1. The Impossible has already happened by Rebecca Solnit – where she tells us that we can use this dark moment for good. “One of our main tasks now – especially those of us who are not sick, are not frontline workers, and are not dealing with other economic or housing difficulties – is to understand this moment, what it might require of us, and what it might make possible” Solnit says here. Times of crisis are times of change, there is no doubt about that. What we do with that fact is up to us. There is the potential to use it for good. Or we can just let things play out, which would likely mean change for worse. The choice is ours. I also listened to Solnit’s conversation with Krista Tippett, Falling Together, on On Being today, and, even though it was originally recorded in 2016, in the face of another grave crisis, which reminded me just how important human connection is today. I believe that if we join the two together – our ability to connect and to discover the potential of collaborating in times like these – we can achieve things that we perhaps thought impossible before.
  2. The Universe in Verse by Maria Popova – a tribute to science through poetry, and to the beautiful interconnections between their two worlds. This is an annual charity event set up by Popova in 2017. Recordings of the previous 3 years can be watched on Brainpickings. This year’s event, will be livestreamed free all over the world, tonight! “An adaptation, an experiment, a Promethean campfire for the collective imagination,” in her own words, and all donations will support Pioneer Works, which normally hosts the show, but, of course, had to close this year before it was due to go live again. Popova’s Brainpickings was one of those literary finds that saved the year for me. I felt like I found a soulmate. Hope you manage to catch it tonight and it does some of that to you to. It’s an amazing feeling.
  3. The Ministry of Utmost Happiness by Arundhati Roy – is a novel, but for Arundhati Roy, a committed activist, every personal story is a story of struggle. And, quite openly, activism is also a strong theme throughout. I feel like this is why it speaks so strongly to me, personally – if I ever become a fiction writer, politics would also seep in through that writing, whether I willed it or not. It’s just who I am. And it’s what Roy personifies in her writing. The age old feminist adage of personal is political. Roy has been heavily criticised for it, told she lacks subtlety as a writer. But can we really afford to worry about subtlety when the world is burning around us? In her own words:“I want to wake the neighbours, that’s my whole point. I want everybody to open their eyes.” I can’t see a fault in that!
  4. A Paradise Built in Hell by Rebecca Solnit – similarly to Hope in the Dark, Solnit provides an alternative way of looking at disaster. A glimpse into our immense ability to respond in humane ways to extremely testing situations. She argues that this suggests a less Darwinian and more hopeful interpretation of what human nature is. The potential of this take on humanity cannot be overstated. It creates an opening – one through which we can envision societies that are cooperative, supportive and community-centred, successfully, I might add.  It offers us “a glimpse of who else we ourselves may be and what else our society could become” according to Solnit.
  5. Wilding by Isabella Tree – was recommended to me by a Feminist Library friend, as a good read for this time. A very different kind of reading to all the other, more political stories that tend to dominate my reading lists. However, not apolitical, if you ask me, not in a world that so much needs an alternative way of living, and soon, with multiple and impending crises, now right on our doorstep – with perhaps most of them all, the climate crisis. A perspective of a new way of building a world, a greener world, or at least a microcosm of it, giving us hope for more. Hope that it can be done. That another world is possible, as Roy famously put it.
  6. Potential History: Unlearning Imperialism by Ariella Aïsha Azoulay – is a timely reminder. There has never been a more urgent time to hear this call. Our imperialist, capitalist, neoliberal ways of being in the world have brought us to this point – where we might be seemingly dealing with one crisis right at this moment, but that really is just an illusion. Capitalism has made the crisis of the pandemic so much worse for so many most affected communities around the world. And capitalism is a disease that’s spread throughout the world thanks to imperialism. This call needs to be heard today! We urgently need to figure out ow to need to build another reality on the ashes of this crisis. But can we do this without understanding our own history – the building blocks of our current reality, as well as where we really come from – the (her)stories that have not been told, or outright stolen from us, stories of resistances untold or buried, to take away our hope?
  7. Is ‘Just Being’ Worthy Right Now? by Krista Tippett – not a read, a podcast. From my favourite series (in fact, the first podcast series that’s ever pulled me in, and only very recently, during this crisis, and totally now I’m hooked!) – On Being. Helps us question what in means to be ‘worthy’ or ‘just be’. In the context of today, but also questioning the concept in the wider context of our capitalist society. And the incredible potential of what thinking about it and rethinking how we see ourselves in this context has. Tippett says: “use this moment… – all the possibility of being active and showing your worth by doing – where that has fallen away. It is a great gift to yourself, and, also to the world — not just the immediate world around you right now, but the world that we want to make, moving out of this — to get settled inside yourself; to know what it means to befriend reality; to figure out how to stay soft.” This extraordinary time is a time of change for us all. Let’s use it wisely. Sitting still – o ‘just being’ can also be part of that.
  8. After the End by Clare Mackintosh – the rare novel on my list. A story of making the most difficult decisions in the most dreadful circumstances most of us can imagine. And yet dubbed “the most hopeful novel you will read this year” by reviewers. Obviously a must-read. Even more so today than ever. Can be emotionally difficult too. So comes with a warning. And also making me reflect, while writing this, how we often, as human beings, take more emotionally the personal story of one writer, than a public story of suffering of thousands. Perhaps this is another reason to read something like this now. We can relate more to a story like this, meaning it can make more of an impact than even the most brilliantly written and most urgent call to political action and social change.
  9. Readings by Writers with Pam Houston – weekly readings during the time of crisis, supporting writers who are unable to do live events promoting their books, and have had to cancel book launches, in this difficult times. The one last week was with my favourite writer these days, Rebecca Solnit, which alerted me to this wonderful platform and project. You can watch the readings live every Thursday, or access all archival footage on their website. It was also great to find out that they’re doing poetry Mondays throughout April. Inspiring to see how many inventive ways people are finding to connect and support each other through these trying times.
  10. The Pandemic is a Portal by Arundhati Roy – yes, again, but this one is a conversation, with Imani Perry, by Haymarket Books. It’s another way to digest the powerful message without actually having to read. As the days under lockdown go by, I have been finding it more and more difficult to focus on reading, with anxiety levels gradually increasing. Thankfully, other modes of learning on how to stay positive and hopeful have been forthcoming, and more and more helpful in the circumstances. “This is a very immediate moment that we do have to seize, because the plans to do otherwise are on” Roy says, reminding us that this time can be our moment to radically change the world for the better, but also that the consequences of not doing so can be truly terrible. It is in times like these that great change happens, for better or worse.

This part is much shorter than the first one. Inspiration has not been as forthcoming in the past couple of weeks as it was before. Partly because the isolation has finally caught up with me, mentally. But I know everyone is feeling it. Whatever our individual circumstances, none of us can escape the impact of the stark changes to our lives created by the pandemic.

I was particularly grateful to find the podcasts that I found in the earlier weeks, as they kept me going through moments when reading felt like just a bit too much effort. I hope that some of these positions help you keep going in a small way as well.

Please don’t forget to support independent bookshops if you’re ordering books – particularly at this very difficult time for most of them, as most of them had to close. The Indie Bookshops website has a great map that they’ve been updating throughout the crisis. And if you want to support radical bookshops, here’s a list of those as well. There’s also a book that explores exactly why this is important. London Bookshop Crawl is doing virtual tours these days.


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