“What makes the desert beautiful … is that somewhere it hides a well.” — Antoine de Saint-Exupery, “The Little Prince.”
Under normal circumstances, the above would be rather an odd quote for fecund, rainy April, but Saint-Exupery’s surreal tale seems to hit home right about now. As we shelter in place, each of us isolated on our own “planets” for the common good, with more time to think and reflect than we may have wanted, the silence can feel like a gift or a wasteland, depending upon how we navigate it.
In our various posts and other communications — so many messages in bottles thrown out to cyber-sea — the myriad voices run the gamut from wry humor to pathos.
For now, humor seems to prevail. Although the boundary between “funny” and “in poor taste” is a bit porous and, yes, we must take the situation seriously, it’s a wonder to behold people’s innovative spirits, which our technology makes so easy to share.
Those “quarantine cuisine” and “stresscipes” being perfected — adapted to deal with missing ingredients — and swapped as folks who never had time to use their kitchen appliances now get reacquainted with them; the musical instruments being dusted off, and the first chapters of unwritten books becoming a second and third chapter: These are what resilience is about. These family TikTok dances and hilarious song parodies on YouTube are in my mind more than bored people going a little stir-crazy. The makers of the world are taking their place in a time-honored tradition of bursts of artistic energy as part of a creativity response to crisis.
Turbulence begets the formation of something new. It reflects our need to be simultaneously mindful and to allow ourselves respite from the gravity of the situation. May we all be compassionate, adaptable, wise and steadfast in our resolve to do our utmost in helping our community get through this, and be respectful and supportive of those on the front lines working to care for the sick, and of those whose loved ones are among our neighbors fighting to regain their health.
May we also allow a little ebullience to leaven what can otherwise be dark days.
Speaking of dark, the library — empty of all its people, lights off and utterly silent — is a different, rather desolate place. It will be joyous to return to the bright bustle of our usual role as community hub, and while it might just be the isolation causing me to anthropomorphize inanimate objects, it seems that the floors full of shelved, idle books and movies, the stowed-away toys and games, even the chairs by the fireplace, fairly wriggle with impatience to be used and enjoyed again. We all look forward to that day, which will come, friends.
We’ve exchanged distant waves as folks using the parking lot Wi-Fi or walking by for a bit of fresh air see me plucking litter from the grounds and emptying the drop box. Bins of incoming materials, under a two-week isolation, line the walls in Adult Services before they are checked in, sanitized and reshelved.
The stay-at-home order has curtailed all but virtual services for the time being, but I have appreciated the kind exchange of emails with so many of you, and, before the stay-at-home order deadline, the lists of essential reads for curbside delivery. These “drive-through orders” and email conversations have led to an idea for what I hope will be a collaboration.
In preparation for the shelter-in-place directive, during these past couple of weeks and at our last, socially distanced BYO Books meeting on March 16, a list of folks’ must-have books and shows has emerged.
If anything, this is proof positive of the need for great variety on a library’s shelves, since people’s definitions of what comforts them are, well, as eclectic as the range of human personalities.
For example, when I am feeling anxious and melancholy, I do not curl up with a stack of Stephen King novels or binge-watch the corresponding movies, but for some, it seems a good creepy clown or demon-possessed car takes their mind off their troubles.
Whether you crave gentle picture-book journeys, the pure escapism of romance or sci-fi/fantasy, the total absorption in the plot of crime procedurals, the intellectual nourishment of the range of serious nonfiction; whether you are refreshed by faith-based works or wildly entertained by over-the-top horror or nonstop action, sharing your go-to “comfort reads and must-see movies” might inspire the rest of us to try something new. The list will grow as we go, I’m sure, and if you’d like to add to it, please send me a message at firstname.lastname@example.org, but for now, several contributors have compiled their recommendations of text and film medicine for the soul: Stories for Troubled Times.
- Aiken, Joan — “The Wolves Chronicles” (A.S. recommends these as a good British alternate-history series)
- Youth Librarian Rachel Funk recommends “Wishtree” by Katherine Applegate, “Beverly, Right Here” by Kate DiCamillo, and says “Anything by Kate DiCamillo is uplifting and inspiring.” Also, for a fun mother-daughter relationship read, Ann Brashares’ “The Sisterhood of the Traveling Pants” is a good one.
- Franklin Dixon’s The Hardy Boys books are fun to read together, offers a parent, and the Scott Lobdell graphic novelizations of the series are a fresh take.
- “The Night Gardener” and other picture books by the Fan brothers.
- “Boxes for Katje” by Candace Fleming — a picture book about two World War II pen pals and how each community reaches out to the other with gifts of comfort as they recover from the war.
- Lewis, C.S. — “The Chronicles of Narnia” (the audiobooks, narrated by the likes of Lynn Redgrave and Kenneth Branagh, are particularly balm to the soul right now).
- Martin, Ann —“Rain, Reign” (Mary West recommends the audiobook, explaining that this one must be heard aloud).
- All picture books by Patricia Polacco
- The Harry Potter series by J.K. Rowling, especially the audiobooks narrated by Jim Dale, who could make the list of ingredients of tile grout sound interesting.
- News & Citizen news editor Tommy Gardner touts Douglas Adams’ “The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy” series as a must-read for tough times.
- Trustee chair Julie Pickett recommends “Little Women” by Louisa May Alcott and Elisabeth Berg’s books.
- Jane Austen’s books, particularly “Pride and Prejudice,” got several votes.
- Benioff, David — “City of Thieves,” a grueling “how we met” story based on the real-life experiences of the author’s grandparents: end of World War II, Russian siege, desperate characters in Armageddon-like horrorscape. Good times.
- Dickens, Charles — “Bleak House” and “Nicholas Nickleby”; both are “coming through hard times and triumphing” stories
- King, Stephen — “The Stand.” T.G. is rereading this uncomfortably timely one by the king of horror.
- BYO Books member J.B. recommends “anything by Hilary Mantel.”
- J.R.R. Martin’s Game of Thrones series, say some diehard fans.
- James Patterson
- Louise Penny
- Richardson, Kim — “The Book Woman of Troublesome Creek.”
- See, Lisa — “The Tea Girl of Hummingbird Lane.”
- Stein, Garth — “The Art of Racing in the Rain” (the movie is also recommended).
- Any “good dog” books.
- K.W. suggests Corrie Ten Boom’s “The Hiding Place.”
- E.S. recommends Sally Thorne’s “The Hating Game” for pure escapism.
Movies and series
- From P.M.: “Anne With an E” (PG/PG-13)
- “Aquaman” (PG-13)
- “Black Panther” (PG-13)
- From two thirtysomething men: “Breaking Bad.”
- From R.J.: The Christy series,(G/PG) about a young woman moving to early-20th-century Appalachia to teach school.
- Dr. Who series (PG-13)
- Inspector Lynley; Inspector Morse series (PG-13)
- From the F. family: “It” and “It 2”
- The Marvel Movies — for superhero-saves-world binge-watching, say some families
- “Mary Poppins” (G)
- From a couple of families: “The Muppet Show” (G/PG)
- “Room” — Imprisoned mother and son escape their captor’s clutches and brave the world.
- From a number of BBC costume drama-lovers: “Sanditon,” “Jamestown,”
- “The Wizard of Oz” (G)
Thank you, all who offered a title that brings you some relief in these times. These are just a few in an ocean of literature and film offerings that may lend you strength, inspiration, solace or just a few hours of entertainment. As we spend time in the desert of isolation, such collaborative lists prove that we can still help one another along paths to an oasis.
Until we see each other in person, please take care of yourselves, and each other; be well, be safe, and appreciate beauty where you find it.
Gizelle Guyette is director of Morristown Centennial Library.