So much of the media we consume these days comes in bite-sized pieces—or rather, sound byte-sized pieces. On an average day, many of us take in links from social media, headlines on televised news, and any number of newsletters we’ve subscribed to. We want to stay informed, but sometimes it can feel like there’s too much information out there that only skims the surface.
One of the best ways I’ve found to navigate news cycle burnout is to dedicate time to a good book, preferably in hard copy. It’s refreshing to spend more than a few moments on a particular subject, whether fiction or nonfiction. Reading longer works also seems to improve my ever-shortening attention span, which in turn helps me to be a better critical thinker when I get back to current events.
Here, I’m sharing five books that I experienced more like a feast to tuck into than a snack on the run.
The Ballad of Songbirds and Snakes by Suzanne Collins
Wait, there’s another Hunger Games novel?
Yes, there is, and if you can’t believe you missed it, blame it on the surreal experience of those first weeks of COVID-19 (this was published in May 2020). The prequel chronicles the coming-of-age of President Coriolanus Snow. At first, like me, you may wonder why you’re spending any time getting to know the background of a character who will go on to wreak such havoc without remorse. But as you read—and as you find it harder and harder to put down—I hope you also come to appreciate how Collins explores Snow’s younger years to show how he became the man we know in the trilogy. I can’t say I’m a fan of Snow having read this book, but I am intrigued by the questions it poses about how the choices we make and the way we respond to tragedy shape who we are.
The Cul-de-Sac War by Melissa Ferguson
I love a good rom-com, and this one is a really good, no, make that great, rom-com. While certain elements remain predictable, Ferguson’s characters are developed with much greater depth than others in this genre. As in her debut novel The Dating Charade (also a great read), the narrative point of view alternates between that of the lead female character and lead male character. Rarely in this genre do we get such a complete look at both sides of the story. The result is a rich, funny, and completely satisfying story that I’ll likely read again soon.
When Life Gives You Pears: The Healing Power of Family, Faith, and Funny People by Jeannie Gaffigan
I’ve enjoyed all books penned by Gaffigans (Jim wrote Dad Is Fat and Food: A Love Story), but Jeannie’s memoir about her pear-sized brain tumor is my favorite. She writes with honesty and grace about a terrifying experience and how it changed her perspective on life, family, and even the ice cream truck. I’d venture to say this book is even more important today than it was when it was published, since fear and uncertainty seem to touch more of us on a daily basis. And yet, still too often, we shrug away reflecting on the hard things in life because it hurts. Gaffigan takes us to her toughest moments and shows us the beauty and benefit of facing them head-on.
The Extraordinary Life of Sam Hell by Robert Dugoni
We all have things that make us different, but some are more pronounced than others. Such is the case for Sam Hill, the protagonist of Robert Dugoni’s novel: he was born with ocular albinism, which in layman’s terms means he has red pupils. In chapters that alternate between past and present, we see both how we grew up and the man he grew into. He sees ordinary coming-of-age experiences—dealing with bullies, living with family, building friendships—through his extraordinary eyes, making this novel one that you’ll find yourself thinking about for a long time afterward.
My Life in France by Julia Child with Alex Prud’homme
Remember the movie Julie and Julia? This memoir was the basis for much of the “Julia” portion of the film. Today the world knows Julia Child as a master chef, but her introduction to the culinary arts came later in life, and not without its obstacles. Hers is a story of perseverance and grit, but also of a strong and loving marriage that was a big part of who she was. Child’s life illustrates the good that can come of taking risks and letting life surprise you. That’s a message we can always stand to hear again.
We hope spending time with these suggestions will help recalibrate an overwhelmed mindset. Whether it’s responsibly in person or in a virtual setting, perhaps you can then offer a recommendation to help a friend do the same. Good books—like good food—are so much better when shared.