Erin Turner is a member of Restoration and avid reader. She is currently getting her PhD in English Literature at SMU. Today she shares a variety of books to read when you are searching for something peaceful to escape to.
When I’m stressed, I read. I find it ironic that with my PhD classes still continuing online, I haven’t actually had a lot of time to just curl up with a good book and read. But there’s something so valuable about being able to get outside my own head and disappear into a story for a few minutes or hours.
In his essay “On Fairy-Stories,” J.R.R. Tolkien writes,
“In what the misusers of Escape are fond of calling Real Life, Escape is evidently as a rule very practical, and may even be heroic. . . . Why should a man be scorned, if, finding himself in prison, he tries to get out and go home? Or if, when he cannot do so, he thinks and talks about other topics than jailers and prison-walls? The world outside has not become less real because the prisoner cannot see it.”
I don’t know how you feel, but I’ve taken great comfort in “thinking and talking about other topics” in this time. It’s important to be informed, but too much information can be overwhelming, and it leads me towards anxiety and away from resting in God. Finding places to Escape provides a reset for me.
So, here are some suggested places to Escape to. The book recommendations below are based on my reading preferences, which may not be yours. If none of them sound interesting, pick up a book that does! Or, if reading isn’t your thing, let yourself get immersed in that old TV show you love, or watch a different movie every night. The point here is to put down social media, step away from the news, and immerse yourself in a different world for a while. Even if you’re busy during the day with kids and spouses and online work, taking a few minutes before bed to read a chapter or five pages can provide a wonderful reset.
I’ve tried to recommend books that are easily accessible through the library’s online catalogue or online. If you do want to buy a book, consider ordering from Interabang Books, a local Dallas bookstore, to help out our neighbors at the same time.
When I’m stressed, I find a lot of comfort in letting the prayers of the Church support me when I struggle to remember to make time for God. The daily rhythm keeps me grounded, and if I find myself particularly anxious during the day, taking five minutes to pray is the best way to Escape.
Restoration has been recommending the Common Prayer app and I second that; it’s lovely and convenient.
If you prefer a more analogue form, Phyllis Tickle’s Divine Hours books are also wonderful, and easy to use.
TheTrinityMission.org provides an audio version of the Daily Office if you prefer that format.
You can’t go wrong with a good classic. Escape to another time and enjoy the rich portrayals of life that they offer. Bonus – you can almost always find a free copy online! There are SO many good classics to recommend, but here are a few favorites:
Middlemarch by George Eliot is one of my favorite classics. It follows the people of a small English town over the course of several years, through joy and heartache, success and failure.
Emma by Jane Austen is one of her more lighthearted novels, and is just a delight to read. Have you seen the new film version? Pick up one or the other, or both!
Robinson Crusoe by Daniel Defoe. Robinson is shipwrecked on a Caribbean Island for years, taking social distancing to the extreme. I’m currently re-reading this and not only do I love the survival aspect of the story, but Defoe adds a surprising spiritual dimension to Crusoe’s survival that I find very encouraging.
I love fantasy books SO much. Not only is my imagination captivated by all of the magic and wonder of a different world, I find the clear good-versus-evil aspect that these books (usually) have helps me more straightforwardly see my own, Real Life struggles, which are usually much less clear-cut than they are in fantasy.
The Finnovar Tapestry by Guy Gavriel Kay. Escape to a completely different world with five young adults who are invited by a wizard to visit Finnovar on a fun trip. Then an ancient evil is awakened, and, you know, fantasy stuff happens. I love this trilogy; it’s rich, and exciting, and kept me reading late into the night. The Summer Tree is book 1.
The Scorpio Races by Maggie Stiefvater. To save her family’s home, Kate Connelly must enter the deadly Scorpio Races, held every November on her home island of Thisby, and featuring man-eating sea horses. While technically YA, the book appeals to a broad audience, and is a lovely, warm story (despite the man-eating horses).
Winterhued by E.H. Alger. A princess must hold her people together during a dragon attack, while a solitary knight is drawn towards the kingdom. This is, at its heart, a very traditional fairy tale, one which praises goodness and love. It is wonderfully written, and a truly delightful escape. As an indie publication, this one is a little harder to find, but it’s available on Kindle for a low cost.
Whether you have kids or not, children’s books can be wonderful opportunities for Escape. I find that they hold my attention better when I have less capacity for adult books, and they are often wonderfully rich and delightful tales. Read them aloud to your kids, or get in touch with your kid-at-heart.
Anything by E. Nesbit. These children’s classics range from the sibling-adventure story The Railway Children to the silly fantasy The Five Children and It. I haven’t read one I didn’t like.
Navigating Early by Claire Vanderpool. Two boys spend a school holiday on a canoeing adventure. One, Jack, is mourning some major life changes, and the other, Early, is seen by his peers as “different,” and “strange,” although Jack soon learns how special Early’s unique way of seeing the world is.
The Princess and the Goblin by George MacDonald. Princess Irene and working boy Curdie must work together to stop a goblin attack on her own. Heartfelt and containing some wonderful truths, this is one of my favorites.
I’m full of recommendations (and so are many Restoration people), so if you don’t see a book here that grabs your interest, let me know, or post on the Restoration Activity page and crowdsource your book recs!
Whether you read one, all, or none of these, I hope you’ve found a way to Escape in these times. It’s such an important way to care for yourself. And who knows, maybe you’ll find a new favorite book (or movie, or TV show, or podcast, or . . . )!