Feature

Matt Haig recommends 6 books that offer solace

The best-selling author recommends works by A.A. Milne, Rainer Maria Rilke, and more

Matt Haig is the best-selling author of the novel The Midnight Library and this summer's The Comfort Book, a collection of aphorisms, lists, quotations, and stories. Below, he recommends other books that offer wisdom or solace in difficult times.

Letters to a Young Poet by Rainer Maria Rilke (1929).

This is the ultimate comfort read. The book is what the title suggests: letters from an older poet to a younger one. The great thing about Rilke's advice is that it acknowledges the darkness and suffering of existence, yet manages despite that — or maybe even because of that — to inspire. Buy it here.

When Things Fall Apart by Pema Chödrön (1996).

I read this book during the first lockdown, and it was the perfect read for uncertain times. Chödrön is a Buddhist, but the advice and philosophy in these relatively few pages speaks universally. It's a great book about embracing life in its totality, about seeing hope and suffering as part of a whole. Buy it here.

The House at Pooh Corner by A.A. Milne (1928).

The Winnie-the-Pooh stories really speak to people going through tough times. In many ways, each of the characters reflects a different mental state: Eeyore is depressed, Tigger is hyperactive, Piglet is anxious, and Pooh reflects a hope and optimism much needed in recovery. I reread this book when I was ill with a panic disorder, and it soothed me. Buy it here.

Bird by Bird by Anne Lamott (1994).

In my opinion, this the greatest book about writing ever written (alongside Stephen King's On Writing). But like Rilke, Lamott is offering far more than writing advice. She is offering wisdom on life and how to embrace its imperfect nature. Buy it here.

Meditations by Marcus Aurelius (c. 180 A.D.).

This one may be the world's ultimate self-help book. Marcus Aurelius was the most powerful man in the world when he wrote these notes to himself two millennia ago; he had a literal empire at his disposal. Yet the philosophy presented here is a humble one that shuns material rewards in favor of a quiet stoicism that helps build resilience. Buy it here.

On the Shortness of Life by Seneca (c. 49 A.D.).

This is such a readable book for something that was written by a Roman philosopher 2,000 years ago. The writing is almost conversational, but the stoic wisdom is timeless. Buy it here.

This article was first published in the latest issue of The Week magazine. If you want to read more like it, you can try six risk-free issues of the magazine here.

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