Book clinic: what books might ease my despair about the world’s state?

From Mary Oliver’s verse to a touching tale by Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie, reading can be a salve for the soul

Q: What books do you recommend to help me combat my growing misanthropy caused by despair over the increasingly gloomy outlook for our planet?
Anonymous teacher, 55, US

Alex Preston, author and Observer critic, writes:
I think, in fact, that reading as a whole is a cure for misanthropy. There’s nothing like a book to persuade you that you’re not alone. John Steinbeck said: “We are lonesome animals. We spend all our life trying to be less lonesome. One of our ancient methods is to tell a story, begging the listener to say – and to feel – ‘Yes, that’s the way it is, or at least that’s the way I feel it. You’re not as alone as you thought.’”

But I think decency is what’s called for here, a selection of books that burn brightly on the side of the light. You might start with the work of Mary Oliver. She’s a wonderful poet – humane, generous and forgiving. Start with the heart-repairing Wild Geese.

You might then read Alexander Masters’s A Life Discarded. He’s a lovely writer, and this sad, true, uplifting story will make you see the wonder of the everyday world.

As far as novels go, you might try Americanah by Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie – it’s a beautiful and moving love story across two continents. Or what about Cormac McCarthy’s The Road? It paints an unutterably bleak picture of the planet’s future and yet, at the end – spoiler alert – there is hope.

Failing all this, you might do what I do when I’m feeling grim and dreary: draw the curtains, put on the kettle and reach for PG Wodehouse.

Submit your question for Book Clinic below or email


Alex Preston

The GuardianTramp

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