Escape, solace, laughter, inspiration, meaning, hope… These, and more, can be found within the pages of recent books worth rereading to make sense of the new normal or brace for another day of Covid-19 uncertainty.
Lobster is the Best Medicine
By Liz Climo
This compact collection of comics about friendship will bring a smile to someone who is weighed down by worries of having to start over again from square one and needs someone who understands. American cartoonist and animator Liz Climo remembers feeling lonely when she moved away from home for a job on The Simpsons and how friends helped her adjust. One offered her a futon to sleep on and kept her company for three months. The best of what friends have to offer can be funny — as the animal pals in this book shows. Making her best buddies and unlikely mates laugh is Climo’s way of reciprocating how they make her feel.
Yasmin Ahmad’s Films
By Amir Muhammad
Malaysians old enough to know will remember looking forward to Yasmin Ahmad’s commercials every festive celebration. They were nostalgic, heart-warming and held out hope for the kind of country we could be. The same goes for her six feature-length films — Rabun, Sepet, Gubra, Mukhsin, Muallaf and Talentime — which Amir Muhammad watched anew to deal with his grief after she died in 2009. Yasmin used a blend of languages in her movies and actors from “all hues of the Peninsular Malaysian rainbow”, and made viewers rethink assumptions about the Other through stories about interracial romance, simple pleasures and sensitive issues. Today, as fractured politics compound the fears wrought by Covid-19, it is timely to revisit her works and look for common threads that can bind us together.
Sacred Nature: Colouring Experiences for the Mystical and Magical
Illustrations by Lydia Hess
Cannot go out and about and looking for an escape from dullsville? Grab some colour pencils and find your way back to Nature’s nurturing bosom through secret gardens and wonderlands where flora and fauna thrive. Colouring encourages people to be creative and imaginative. It eases stress and helps us relax as we put aside cares that cramp the mind and engage in the moment. It helps fill the hours without our having to fiddle with the phone. Lydia Hess’ illustrations are accompanied by nuggets of wisdom that can be embellished with different colours to emphasise their meaning. After completing a piece of artwork, give it to someone who appreciates that Nature can heal and restore. Or, frame it up and feast on its soothing beauty on days when life feels dreary.
The Little Book of Sloth Philosophy
By Jennifer McCartney
Slow down, reboot — these seem to be the buzzwords of those whose frantic routines have been upended by the pandemic. Becoming sloth-like (the creature is synonymous with slowness) has the promise of positive change as people stop thinking about productivity and start enjoying what they have. “Sloths are mindfulness in action,” says Jennifer McCartney. “They are contemplative, deliberate, relaxed and focused.” Fun facts on sloths, poems and cute illustrations of these wide-eyed mammals fond of hanging upside down from trees remind us not to complicate everyday tasks but live in the moment, embrace imperfection and be happy with what we have. When we move slower, we notice more of what is around us. Peace of mind comes when we unclog our thoughts and take time to do nothing.
French Women Don’t Get Facelifts
By Mireille Guiliano
Covid-19 may have emboldened women to discard bras, make-up and heels, but its unyielding horrors can deepen worry lines around the eyes and above the brows. Well, step back from the mirror and take a cue from the French, whose women look effortlessly stylish even when stepping out to get a baguette. Mireille Guiliano’s sequel to French Women Don’t Get Fat focuses on ageing with grace. Forget the knife and reach for foods rich in antioxidants as they help defend skin cells from damage caused by free radicals. Skincare, exercise and friends can literally make a person glow. Know what suits you — remember, less is more — and be comfortable with who you are now, not what you were or want to be. Wrinkles are inevitable but not important, says Guiliano. What is alluring is attitude because the confident woman who feels good, looks good.
By the Book
The New York Times
It is easy to give in to despair when you cannot see the end of the tunnel. Take your mind off things beyond your control and find meaning in By the Book, an archive of The New York Times’ weekly feature in which outstanding people talk about what they get from reading. Author Martin Amis reads literature “to have a good time” while singer, composer, filmmaker David Byrne — “Rock’s Renaissance Man” on Time magazine’s cover in 1986 — says “sharing words is like sharing food”. Novelist Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie reads poetry to immerse in language and lure back her own words. Books kept country music star Loretta Lyn company so she would not miss her family on tours. How various plant species were originally discovered fascinates Julie Andrews. In her second memoir Home Work (2019), she talks about actors having no control over how viewers interpret a performance. “But the doing is everything.”
The Boy, the Mole, the Fox and the Horse
By Charlie Mackesy
The 100 whimsical drawings in this good-for-gifting book by British illustrator and author Charlie Mackesy draw from life and outline quiet truths on kindness, self-esteem, hope and love that four unlikely friends learn as they work through their doubts and fears. A curious boy asks a horse: What is the bravest thing you have ever said? “Help,” says the wise animal. What’s your best discovery, asks the greedy mole, who is being watched by a wary fox. “That I’m enough as I am,” the boy replies. These and other gems crop up as the vulnerable friends seek answers through conversation. It is a fitting book for our times and Mackesy points the compass towards kindness. “Be kind … and support one another,” New Zealand Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern urged her people in March. Looking at how the country is now free of the coronavirus, that word can work wonders.
Dancers Among Us
By Jordan Matter
There is something about a snatch of a tune, a song, a feeling that galvanises the body and makes one twirl, leap, twist, kick and spin, in the most unlikely places, like a condo balcony or the car park. Jordan Matter’s images of people dancing in the midst of daily life capture the spontaneity of expressing joy with the body. The photos — arranged around themes such as work, play, love, exploration and dreaming — are the results of the photographer’s Dance Among Us project, for which he asked people to express themselves through motion, at a construction site, the library, a restaurant, the beach, up on a tree. They did and he clicked away. These pictures affirm the connection between body, mind and emotion. They remind us that as long as we can move, there is a reason to celebrate life.
This article first appeared on Nov 9, 2020 in The Edge Malaysia.