Comfort reads for hard times: 5 local writers share their picks

Audre Lorde's book Sister Outsider.
Audre Lorde's book Sister Outsider.PHOTO: PENGUIN RANDOM HOUSE

SINGAPORE - As we wait for the circuit breaker to run its course, reading can be a therapeutic and comforting way to pass the time.

Five local writers share with The Straits Times the books that bring them comfort. From humorous picks to inspirational reads, here are the works they turn to in these trying times.

1. POOJA NANSI

SISTER OUTSIDER BY AUDRE LORDE

"Sister Outsider has always brought me comfort because it really is a very empathetic book about how to navigate the world and systems that don't benefit you. It's a book written from a lens of kindness, which I find is a very helpful way to navigate difficult issues and situations.

"I read it all the time but I've gone back to it recently because there's a great essay about what to do with uncomfortable feelings like anger or despair and how you can use those feelings to constructively create good in the world."

Nansi has published two collections of poetry: Stiletto Scars (2007) and Love Is An Empty Barstool (2014). She received the Young Artist Award in 2016, an award given by the National Arts Council to encourage the development of young artistic talents in Singapore.

2. HARESH SHARMA

THE FAR SIDE SERIES BY GARY LARSON, CALVIN AND HOBBES COLLECTIONS BY BILL WATTERSON, MAD MAGAZINE

"My comfort books are not great literary classics or spiritual tomes. When I'm in need of comfort, I turn to humour. And where books are concerned, nothing beats Gary Larson's The Far Side series, Bill Watterson's Calvin And Hobbes collections and of course, the ageless Mad Magazine created by their "usual gang of idiots".

"The geniuses who created these comics are not just humorists. They are also philosophers and social commentators, shedding light on the quirks and foibles of human behaviour. The cartoons can be read and re-read anytime of the day when I need a pick me up.

"In times of crises, my survival techniques don't involve stockpiling and vigilantism. I don't need to take photos of people without masks to stay calm and feel good about myself. I don't have to draw arms for that last cup of bubble tea.

"If I feel a little anxious, I take refuge in these comic strips, bite sized LOLs (laugh out louds) which always bring a smile to my face. It's tempting to elevate yourself by throwing others under the bus or talking smack about people living amongst us. That's why I avoid the comments section (of social media posts), and just find solace in my "usual gang of idiots". At least they're funny. And comforting."

Sharma is the resident playwright of local theatre company The Necessary Stage. He has written over 100 plays, including Off Centre, which was selected by the Ministry of Education in 2007 as a Literature text for GCE N and O-level examinations.

3. NURALIAH NORASID

AND STILL I RISE BY MAYA ANGELOU


PHOTO: PENGUIN RANDOM HOUSE

"I find many of the poems in this collection rich, sassy and affirming. Reading them reminds me of the strengths that I possess and they encourage me to think more kindly about myself."

THE PROPHET BY KAHLIL GIBRAN


PHOTO: ALFRED A. KNOPF

"This is a book that I have read several times. I find that the words of this imaginary prophet speak of universal human concerns and actions, and point at how we can be better human beings in every aspect of our day to day life. Whenever I find myself a little stuck in one of these aspects, such as in love or in my career, I can find the relevant passage in the copy that I have and meditate on what I read."

HEIDI BY JOHANNA SPYRI


PHOTO: BARONET BOOKS

"One book that has brought me endless comfort since I was a young child is Johanna Spyri's Heidi. I know it is terribly cliche, but I find the idea of drinking goat's milk and (eating) goat cheese with rough bread high up in the Alps to be the peak (of) happiness."

Nuraliah's novel, The Gatekeeper (2017), won the Epigram Books Fiction Prize in 2016. She is currently a Literary Arts educator at School of the Arts Singapore (SOTA) and is working on a series of short fiction, a novel, and a book on community heritage in Singapore.

4. AMANDA LEE KOE

IF NOT, WINTER BY SAPPHO, TRANSLATED BY ANNE CARSON


PHOTO: VIRAGO PRESS

"Amidst all the uncertainty, I've found it challenging to stick with long-form fiction of late, and so I have been revisiting my favourite volumes of poetry. I'm currently rereading the incandescent poetry of Sappho, as translated by Anne Carson in If Not, Winter.

"These translations are remarkable because Sappho's poems have survived as Ancient Greek fragments on torn papyrus scrolls, and whenever Carson encounters a missing part of the scroll, she formally acknowledges each and every gap with a bracket in the translation itself, instead of trying to pretend that the loss doesn't exist.

"In some of the translations, there are more parentheses than there are words, and this lacunae is so beautiful to me. In one of her poems, Sappho writes: "someone will remember us / I say / even in another time". The fact that a queer poet wrote this circa 630 to 570 BC on the Isle of Lesbos, and thousands of years later, I am now sitting in my room reading her words in 2020, is oddly comforting to me."

Lee Koe won the 2014 Singapore Literature Prize for her first story collection Ministry Of Moral Panic (2013). Her debut novel, Delayed Rays of A Star (2019), was one of National Public Radio's Best Books of 2019 in the United States, and a No. 1 Straits Times bestseller in Singapore.

5. MELISSA DE SILVA

THE BIBLE

The only book I reach for when I am in times of trouble in my life is the Bible, especially the Psalms. They address so many of our human emotions and tumultuous life events that can leave us hopeless or in despair, not knowing where to turn. And this is the book that has given me solace and comfort, faithfully, every time I go through difficulty.

De Silva won the 2018 Singapore Literature Prize for her book, 'Others' Is Not A Race (2017). She is currently Singapore's Education Ambassador for American non-profit organisation Write the World.

LISTEN TO BOOKMARK THIS PODCAST