10 Books to Soothe Your Soul

As my stress levels have been skyrocketing over the last weeks and months, I often find myself seeking a refuge in books. During the times of anxiety, I am always in need of reading something heartwarming, soul-healing, soul-soothing and gentle. I have prepared a list of 10 books that can help you soothe your soul – I hope you will find it interesting and useful.

A Month in Siena by Hisham Matar

“Then we sat in silence that seemed touched by an oblique sort of sadness, as though time itself were a burden that had to be carried doubtfully and with a quiet show of regret in case fate might decide to double the load. We said goodbye”

A Month in Siena by the American-Libyan author, Hisham Matar explores the relation between life and art. It is also a meditation full of beautiful observations on grief, loss, solitude, belonging, linguistic identity, friendships as well as our relationship with our fathers. The book is full of references to art, music, and literature (Ibn Battuta, Montaigne, Camus, Ibn Khaldun). Art here constitutes a refuge for one’s emotions and the way one can connect with oneself. Siena as a city offers “that unobservable emptiness” that many might have sought for many years. A Month is Siena is a short, gentle read, with accompanying illustrations that Matar reflects on. I highly recommend this book so that you can join Hisham Matar on one of his daily walks and visits to the museums and look at the medieval paintings. While Siena and its art offered solace to this sensitive writer in a time of the great sadness, then his book is incredibly soul soothing for the reader and brings up calmness, even to the most cynical heart. FULL REVIEW

Whereabouts by Jhumpa Lahiri

“Solitude: it’s become my trade. (…) It’s a condition I try to perfect.”  

Written in forty-six short vignettes, Whereabouts portrays daily wanderings and inner workings of the narrator’s mind who is a solitary unnamed woman in her mid 40s working as a teacher and living in the unnamed city in Italy. Whereabouts is an exploration of urban solitude, alienation, loneliness, growing old, with the narrator’s beautiful ruminations and perceptive thoughts infused with a profound sense of nostalgia veiled in gentle melancholy, on the meaning of living a solitary life, inspired by the locations of daily errands. The narrator is a very sensitive and astute observer of other people’s words, emotions, and gestures. She often reflects on how we cross our paths with others on our daily errands, often without exchanging any words, often just having the presence of other person as a reference point. Throughout the pages of Whereabouts, the narrator attempts to locate her own place in the world, she is in the quest of an identity as well as emotional home where her body and soul can sense they belong. This book exudes some sort of yearning for a new attachment without a burden of geographical and cultural frontiers which makes Whereabouts truly universal in terms of the protagonist’s depicted emotions and thoughts. There is a very interesting depiction of the silence in the book which induce some sort of solace and calmness. That presence of aloneness on the pages of Whereabouts is very soothing for the reader. Whereabouts is a stunning and reflective book, a remarkable ode to a wonder of an ‘ordinary’ life. Lahiri’s writing is enchanting, subtle, delicate, and very precise; every single word has its own deserved place on the page. In many aspects, this book conveys universal existence, eradicating those geographical belongings and identities. I highly recommend this book to everyone who loves gentle and thoughtful writing. FULL REVIEW

Lost for Words by Stephanie Butland

Lost For Words by Stephanie Butland brought me solace, so needed moments of joy and peace. Stephanie Butland wrote a book which should be prescribed as a medicine to heal one’s soul and to calm one’s heart. It is an exquisite and profoundly touching storytelling, with many layers of depth and hidden meanings. Lost For Words is a tale about an introverted, quiet, withdrawn and sensitive woman, Loveday Cardew who prefers books to socialising with people. Loveday works as a bookseller in a second-hand bookshop, based in a magical town of York, which is the only place where she feels safe – it is her refuge from the surrounding world and the events from her pasts. It is clear from the beginning that she has some deep-rooted traumas. Loveday leads her life with as little human interactions as possible. With the arrival of a box filled with books, she is forced to face the events from her past and as the story progresses, we learn more about Loveday’s family and childhood.
Through literature, Loveday connects with the inner self and the rest of the world. This is a tale about the importance of books and bookshops in one’s life. Lost For Words is a very pleasant, gentle and delightful read. If you are an introvert, a bibliophile, I am sure that this book will become very dear to you. Lost For Words by Stephanie Butland serves like a balm for a soul. FULL REVIEW

84 Charing Cross Road by Helene Hanff

This a little uplifting book recommendation from my side for anyone in need of magical and cosy stories. 84 Charing Cross Road by Helene Hanff provides one of these pleasant reading experiences. It is a true story written by real life events; this tale is both life-affirming and sad but still a real treat for all the bibliophiles. This gem consists of letters written between an American writer, Helene Hanff and a British bookseller, Frank Doel and other employees of Marks & Co Bookshop in London which was based in Charing Cross Road. Their correspondence overspanned the period of twenty years, between 1949 and 1968. Sadly, Frank died in 1968 without ever having an opportunity to meet Helene in person. This little book is about developing a long-distance friendship between two people by the means of letters. Over two decades, they had exchanged gifts, recipes, ideas on books and current world events. What started as an inquiry about one book that Helene was unable to find in New York City, it turned into a magical relationship between two unique souls connected by their love for words and stories. Following Frank’s death, Helene finally visited London in 1971. At that time Marks & Co Bookshop was already closed (it was closed in 1970). Today there is a plaque on the building in which Marks & Co Bookshop was once based. I would highly recommend this book and the movie under the same title starring Anthony Hopkins and Anne Bancroft. 84 Charing Cross Road is a compelling story which will warm your heart and will give your soul a ‘necessary touch of magic’ so desperately needed in current times.

Honeymoon by Patrick Modiano

Honeymoon by Patrick Modiano is an evocative, melancholic tale, and, at times, it resembles a frame from “film noir” of the 1950s. Modiano presents the lives of the protagonists from the point of an observer, never depicting the reality in a straightforward manner, but rather showing different angles, playing with the memory, the passage of time and changeability of place we used know. The reader must remain focused and to reflect on the past, presence and future to appreciate the full artistry and emotional sensitivity of Modiano’s writing. Throughout the reading of Modiano novel, I felt a strong connection with the protagonists of Honeymoon, Jean B and Ingrid. There is a veil of nostalgia that prevails which causes a very compelling feeling for the reader. Modiano’s novel is a mediation about life. It is the exploration of its meaning and its ordinariness, often marked by the circumstances that the individual has not chosen to be a part of; they were imposed on the individual life, and one is forced to live with them. This is also a tale about the overwhelming feeling of emptiness related to the places we used to know, and which are no longer as we remember them. Honeymoon contains the essence of Modiano’s writing; it is dreamy, melancholic; it depicts an overbearing sense of loss and is a reflection of how we perceive the lives of the others who once entered our lives, even for a short time, and left an indelible mark on our life. Ultimately, it is a tale about memory and time which is the quintessence of Modiano’s artistry and his understanding of human condition. If you are an introverted soul who enjoys moments of silence and have an interest in an individual’s story, this little book will not disappoint you. FULL REVIEW

Stoner by John Williams

Many people have a problem to articulate what’s so wonderful about this book. Stoner is a compelling exploration of the individual life, which is very realistic filled with simplicity and existential meaning. This novel attempts to restore the memory of one ordinary man whom history has forgotten. Stoner is a story of a very ordinary man, William Stoner, not a hero, not a villain, the most human protagonist ever written. It is an honest portrayal of a man who gave his best attempt to live the life of integrity. His life might be considered by some as dull and unspectacular but still with the realm of possibility something decent to occur. Even if one’s life is disappointing, we still can expect small moments of beauty. Stoner is a great teacher, but that’s all … he tries to live with dignity, then he dies, he does not exist in other people’s memory. It shows that life is short, banal, and often we will be forgotten shortly afterwards we cease to exist. Once our children, partners, siblings die, then any memory of us will disappear with them. Williams beautifully portrayed human condition with a veil of melancholy. Stoner is a great soul-soothing novel. FULL REVIEW

Amour. How the French talk about love by Stefania Rousselle

“I am single today, and I have been struggling with my thoughts. And after so many years, I want to know what it is just to be two. United. One. I’ve never had that experience. People say they ‘fall’ in love. That word is so negative. I want to ‘rise’ into love. That’s exactly what I want to do. I want to rise and fly.

Amour. How the French Talk about Love was written by a French American journalist, Stefania Rousselle who has spent most of her professional life reporting on terrorism and the bleakest events of the recent years. Following the terrorist attacks in Paris in November of 2015, the loss of her friend during the massacre in Bataclan and her relationship breakdown, overwhelmed by pain and sadness, Stefania set out on a journey across France in search of so-called L O V E. Amour. How the French Talk about Love is a compilation of profoundly moving stories and photographs of people from all walks of life who try to answer the question: ‘What is love?’ These are stories of teenagers, middle aged, elderly; stories of solitude, rejection, abuse, abandonment, loss, despair, poverty, anxiety, falling in love at seventy, finding strength and will to carry on thanks to having a loving partner. Those beautiful souls are shown as complex, fragile, nuanced, but also resilient beings, trying to navigate the mundanity of their existence. Stefania spent a considerable amount of time with all the heroes of this book. She slept in their houses, ate and drank with them, talked with them, watched TV together, spent time with their friends, cats, dogs. Stefania wrote in her introduction that the heroes of this book mended her heart. Reading these stories and looking at the accompanying photographs has definitely helped me to heal my own heart. In addition, this book constitutes a beautiful portrayal of France, multilayered, complex, without pathos. I highly recommend this book to have it on your coffee table and once in a while to read one story and to contemplate the meaning of love in all its complexity. FULL REVIEW

A House of My Own: Stories from My Life by Sandra Cisneros

“I feel fortunate at least to open books and be invited to step in, if that book shelters me and keeps me warm, I know I’ve come home.”

A House of My Own is an amazing memoir which consists of a collection of various essays, interviews, articles written by Cisneros between 1984 and 2014. The vignettes included in the book reflect her journey to find a sense of belonging and constitute the quest to find a place called home. All texts are accompanied by numerous black and white pictures which add to the richness of the reading experience. This book depicts so many subjects. There are references to many writers that Sandra met in her life, the exploration of the world through travel while she was constantly short of money, the expectations towards women in certain cultures not only because of outside social norms but also expectations imposed by one’s family. Reading this memoir, we travel the world with Sandra; we go to Chicago, the place of her birth, to Hydra in Greece, to Mexico where her dad was from and where her mum’s ancestors came originally from; we go to Sarajevo in the former Yugoslavia, we go to France, and Spain. There are wonderfully evocative descriptions of the Mexican folklore, insightful reflections on women’s position in the society. The idea of coming from many different cultures, different to the ones that your parents came from and making connections through language, food, and traditions is portrayed in such a rich, multi-faceted manner. It is a wonderful soul-soothing read. FULL REVIEW

Red Is My Heart by Antoine Laurain and Le Sonneur

For those souls who find solace in written words, I would recommend this very gentle book Red Is My Heart written by the French writer, Antoine Laurain accompanied by profoundly moving illustrations of a contemporary Parisian artist, Le Sonneur. This book is a LOVE Letter of one broken-hearted soul to another soul who has recently left. Reading Laurain’s words and contemplating Le Sonneur’s drawings, I interpreted it as a love letter to anything that we lose in life, not necessarily another person. This can refer to a group of people, community, small- and large-scale tragic event, loss of one’s identity, denial of one’s past, anything. Red Is My Heart brought me a few so needed moments of calmness. There is this one passage that I very much love: “Since you’ve been gone, (…), I wake up every morning at precisely ten past four. I researched this phenomenon. It’s called ‘adjustment insomnia’. (…) It is said to stop when the casual factor is removed, or the person adapts. (…). I do not see how your removal from my heart and mind is possible. So, I do envisage waking at 4.10 a.m. for the rest of my life.”

Night Train to Lisbon by Pascal Mercier

Night Train to Lisbon delights with the written word, very vivid descriptions of the places and characters. The author takes us on a long but a wonderful journey full of thoughts and insightful analysis on death, loneliness, courage and friendship looking at the surrounding world through the prism of many people and from a different time perspective. It is like having a long-awaited meeting with a fellow human being whom one listens with an unsurpassed curiosity and fascination. Pascal Mercier offers an astonishing philosophical narrative about the possibility of truly understanding another person, the ability of words to define our very selves and making a journey into the depths of our shared humanity. Night Train to Lisbon compels a reader to look inwards. I would recommend this book to a sensitive reader who enjoys philosophical meanderings about the meaning of life, literature, existentialism, ideas, words and identity. FULL REVIEW

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