I need help in book form.
August 6, 2020 9:41 AM   Subscribe

I am going to spend a week in a lean-to in the woods of Vermont next week, out of cell service. I am very burnt out on work and school and [gestures broadly] and I am mourning the very recent loss of my dog. I am seeking out That Book - the sort that one feels better / wiser / more grounded upon finishing.

I know this is not a lot to go on, but I hope that other book lovers will know what I mean. This doesn't necessarily need to be a serious book, or even non-fiction. I just want a book-as-companion for this week in the woods that I can dig into and find some peace / wisdom / something. If you have a recommendation for a book you read that helped you get through a tough time, I'd love to hear it. Poetry recommendations also welcome, doesn't have to be prose necessarily.
posted by lazaruslong to Media & Arts (41 answers total) 66 users marked this as a favorite
George Saunders's Lincoln in the Bardo.
posted by We put our faith in Blast Hardcheese at 9:45 AM on August 6, 2020 [10 favorites]

Best answer: Marcus Aurelius's Meditations is the book I go to for this sort of thing. I prefer the Gregory Hays translation.
posted by bfranklin at 9:46 AM on August 6, 2020 [4 favorites]

Best answer: Not a book recommendation, but if you are going to be anywhere near Dog Mountain, it might be worth a visit, to leave a picture of your doggo at the beautiful chapel.
posted by coevals at 9:46 AM on August 6, 2020 [12 favorites]

Response by poster: I'll be in little river state park about an hour and 20 from there - thanks for the heads up. I just might take his photo to the chapel there.
posted by lazaruslong at 9:50 AM on August 6, 2020 [4 favorites]

The Dearly Beloved by Cara Wall. This book rocked my world.
posted by lyssabee at 9:52 AM on August 6, 2020 [2 favorites]

I don't know that it's everyone's cup of tea, but I read and re-read Neil Gaiman's American Gods. It's my comfort now. I recommend the author's preferred text if you can get it.
posted by Medieval Maven at 9:56 AM on August 6, 2020 [2 favorites]

The Snow Leopard by Peter Matthiessen.
posted by Hypatia at 9:58 AM on August 6, 2020 [2 favorites]

Pilgrim at Tinker Creek by Annie Dillard
The Summer Book by Tove Jansson
Moominpappa at Sea and Moominvalley in November, to be read together, also by Tove Jansson
posted by Balthamos at 10:01 AM on August 6, 2020 [8 favorites]

If You Want to Write: A Book About Art, Independence and Spirit, by Brenda Ueland. Writing is just metaphor for living your true life and finding your voice.
posted by NotLost at 10:03 AM on August 6, 2020 [2 favorites]

Steinbeck's East of Eden, for sure.
posted by vitout at 10:04 AM on August 6, 2020 [3 favorites]

Best answer: These are so specific to time and temperament, but one that has lanced and braved me is The Decipherment of Linear B. It is triply elegiac, for the lost culture of the Minoans, for what was destroyed in World War II, and for the author’s dear friend and collaborator. And yet, it’s a short book mostly about understanding fragments of a language. It’s about the most efficiently “these fragments we have shared against our ruins” book I know.
posted by clew at 10:05 AM on August 6, 2020 [4 favorites]

Best answer: Rebecca Solnit's "A Field Guide to Getting Lost". This book has been the book you described for me and also for several of my friends through our own tough transitions and inner wilderness wanderings.
posted by cnidaria at 10:19 AM on August 6, 2020 [3 favorites]

Last year I sat in a hammock by a pond and read The Abundance of Less, which absolutely showed me how to be more grounded.
posted by JanetLand at 10:24 AM on August 6, 2020 [5 favorites]

Barbara Kingsolver’s “The Poisonwood Bible” is that for me. And as I’ve grown old, particularly the mother’s sections.
posted by raccoon409 at 10:27 AM on August 6, 2020 [2 favorites]

Iron John!

It got me through some tough patches in life - it's a good mix of allegory and self-reflection, and has a distinctly Grimm's feel to it, which I really enjoyed.

Also, +1 for Marcus Aurelius' Meditations
posted by _DB_ at 10:52 AM on August 6, 2020 [2 favorites]

I think you might want to look at this book (pdf warning), The Last Lecture by Randy Pausch. It had a significant impact on me. If you haven't already read it or seen the video, maybe just give it a skim, see if it's something that hooks you, or not.

Here's a memorable quote: "So that was a setback. But I kept my mantra in mind: The brick walls are there for a reason. They’re not there to keep us out. The brick walls are there to give us a chance to show how badly we want something."

My condolences, prayers and best wishes!
posted by forthright at 11:25 AM on August 6, 2020 [2 favorites]

This might be strange, but the Tiffany Aching books by Terry Pratchett have always scratched this itch for me. Wee Free Men, Hat Full of Sky, Wintersmith, I Shall Wear Midnight, and The Shepherd's Crown.
posted by ChuraChura at 11:30 AM on August 6, 2020 [4 favorites]

A couple of very different books that have comforted me:

Anna Karenina by Tolstoy. More so if you're a guy than a woman.

The Inner Game of Tennis by Timothy Gallwey, only superficially about tennis.

A Pattern Language by Christopher Alexander.

Maxims by la Rochefoucauld. Perhaps a little too cynical for this particular occasion, but IMO a good companion/counterpoint to Marcus Aurelius, who can be a little extra sometimes.

Anything by John McPhee. Oranges probably isn't right for this trip. Maybe The Pine Barrens?

I wouldn't expect you to read the whole thing, and I haven't, either, but the prose that opens (and by opens, I mean "the first few hundred pages") Swann's Way feels remarkably comfortable to me.

I've read The Razor's Edge by W. Somerset Maugham more times than I've read any other piece of prose, and I find it has something new to offer each time. It's one of those YMMV books where you can easily find the characters too unlikeable to continue, but if that doesn't bother you, I recommend it.
posted by kevinbelt at 11:34 AM on August 6, 2020 [1 favorite]

The Bean Trees or Animal Dreams - Barbara Kingsolver
Both are powerful novels, but they're also quiet and meditative (with some spicy humor thrown in). Kingsolver has a profound respect for the environment, and lots of little wisdom to impart. I felt calmer and more grounded after reading these books. And they gave me a good laugh at times too.
posted by NewShoo at 11:54 AM on August 6, 2020 [2 favorites]

Always Coming Home, Ursula Le Guin

Seconding The Summer Book.
posted by Lawn Beaver at 12:00 PM on August 6, 2020 [3 favorites]

I second Pilgrim At Tinker Creek
posted by gt2 at 12:05 PM on August 6, 2020 [1 favorite]

I also came to recommend Pilgrim at Tinker Creek, unless you dislike writing that could be described as 'breathless'. In which case you could opt for Thoreau, since Pilgrim is a kind of metatext to Walden (though I prefer Thoreau's journals).
posted by Beardman at 12:08 PM on August 6, 2020 [2 favorites]

I just read Zadie Smith's wise, short, meditative, and extremely currently topical essay collection Intimations and would recommend it. Also, it might not be everyone's thing but I absolutely love Tamara Shopsin's Arbitrary Stupid Goal, which is dry and hilarious but about serious questions of love and loss, and rereading it grounded me in a really rough time.
posted by ferret branca at 12:52 PM on August 6, 2020 [2 favorites]

Braiding Sweetgrass: Indigenous Wisdom, Scientific Knowledge, and the Teachings of Plants by Robin Wall Kimmerer (Goodreads page). This book brought me into other ways of living and knowing, into imagining how I might understand myself in relationship to a specific tree, maybe Oak Tree out my window, whom squirrels climb.
posted by spamandkimchi at 1:01 PM on August 6, 2020 [7 favorites]

It may only be the adjacency, having read my paperback copy in a succession of Appalachian Trail log shelters, but here's a vote for reflective moments with Mark Helprin's A Soldier of the Great War.
posted by bartleby at 1:01 PM on August 6, 2020 [2 favorites]

I wish I could read Helen DeWitt's The Last Samurai for the first time again.
posted by rdnnyc at 1:02 PM on August 6, 2020 [3 favorites]

A Pattern Language is intriguing...

But my mind immediately went to Catch-22.
posted by booooooze at 1:27 PM on August 6, 2020 [1 favorite]

Eric Booth's The Everyday Work of Art. It really verges on cliche in places but is nonetheless a powerful book about focusing on that phrase's "work" as a verb -- the work of art can be a powerful thing in changing my approach to life.
We must remember that the magic resides neither in the place nor in its detachment from the rest of life.
posted by introp at 1:33 PM on August 6, 2020 [1 favorite]

Circe by Madeline Miller was a soul salve for me a couple years back. I gobbled it up while on vacation at a much too expensive for me health spa that I splurged on because my mental and emotional state were so low that it was literally not wise to prioritize my finances over addressing my well-being head on. For me, the reading experience was exactly what you seem to be describing here.
posted by amycup at 1:36 PM on August 6, 2020 [4 favorites]

Response by poster: Thank you everyone for your thoughtful recommendations. There's so many books here that sound like they are exactly what I am in need of, especially impressive given how vague I was. I'm bookmarking this to read many more of these in future.

Because I am leaving on Monday and COVID-era shipping being what it is, I needed to put the order in today. I ended up ordering A Field Guide to Getting Lost by Rebecca Solnit and The Decipherment of Linear B by John Chadwick. Thanks again for the recs, there's so many great recommendations here that this was a tough choice!
posted by lazaruslong at 1:46 PM on August 6, 2020 [2 favorites]

Classics are classics for a reason. Have you read Moby Dick? Ulysses? Giovanni's Room? Absalom! Absalom!

A book that left me feeling... something.... recently was Satantango by Krasznahorkai.
posted by dis_integration at 1:49 PM on August 6, 2020 [3 favorites]

Too late for this trip, but this is what came to mind for me: Essays in Idleness (Tsurezuregusa) by Kenkō.
posted by mustard seeds at 2:19 PM on August 6, 2020 [1 favorite]

Becoming Wise: An Inquiry into the Mystery and Art of Living, by Krista Tippett. My condolences on the loss of your dog, lazaruslong.
posted by MonkeyToes at 2:50 PM on August 6, 2020 [1 favorite]

Not everyone's cup of tea, but John Barth's The Tidewater Tales was one of those books for me. Also Middlemarch and Richard Russo, Straight Man. (Straight Man is set at a university, which may be a disqualifier, but it is not your typical campus novel.) Montaigne's Essays are also that kind of book.
posted by brianogilvie at 7:37 PM on August 6, 2020 [2 favorites]

Moby Dick and Ulysses are my two stalwarts. But all these other suggestions sound wonderful!
posted by storybored at 9:36 PM on August 6, 2020 [1 favorite]

Agree on Pilgrim at Tinker Creek, and would add, as I ridiculously do in every book thread with little remorse or regret, Passage, by Connie Willis.
posted by fairlynearlyready at 12:17 AM on August 7, 2020 [2 favorites]

Oh, dudette, I envy you. Enjoy.

For future reference I'll second the recommendation of Brenda Ueland's "If You Want To Write." It was published in 1938, so most of her examples are men, and you have the occasional chapter title like "Why women who do too much housework should neglect it for their writing," but it also has some wonderful thoughts on writing, the power of what she calls "creative idleness" and the recharging she gets from long, solitary walks. It's a very insightful, loving, kind (and breezily short) book.
posted by mediareport at 7:59 AM on August 7, 2020 [1 favorite]

Highly recommend The Dog Stars by Peter Heller.
posted by whatevrnvrmind at 5:51 PM on August 7, 2020 [3 favorites]

Lin Yutang's The Importance of Living is a banger.
posted by turbid dahlia at 5:56 PM on August 10, 2020 [1 favorite]

For future reference, Robert Sapolsky, A Primate's Memoir, which is funny, interesting and I always learn something from it.

I hope you'll update after you get back.
posted by theora55 at 5:27 AM on August 13, 2020 [2 favorites]

Response by poster: A delayed final update post-Vermont trip:

I read both books on the trip, and enjoyed them both a lot. I didn't get the exact thing I was looking for from Decipherment but I love puzzles and Ancient Greek history, so it was just fun to read.

A Field Guide to Getting Lost was great, and scratched the itch for sure. I ended up doing a small painting when I got back which included a quote from the book. I sent it as a gift to my sister down in Asheville, NC.

I am very grateful to all of you for the book recommendations, I am ordering more of these soon.

I'm also very grateful to coevals for the recommendation to visit Dog Mountain and memorialize our dog there. It is a beautiful place, and I'm glad we went. It was pretty overwhelming to be in the chapel, surrounded by what must have been thousands of photos of dogs and notes from bereaved owners. Here are some photos:

Exterior | Upon entering | Main altar | Another stained glass section

and here's where we left the photo of Dennis:

Far | Medium | Close

All in all, Vermont was gorgeous.

As far as grieving goes...I don't know. I'm working on it with my therapist. I'm still in the denial stage, and I have a ways to go. I'm not crying all the time anymore which is good I suppose. I know we did the right thing, and I know it was time, and I know he went peacefully and without pain. I'll make peace with this eventually.
posted by lazaruslong at 12:34 PM on August 31, 2020 [6 favorites]

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