Reading beautiful things to get a break from the world

The world is, at present, a pretty wild place. I know that chaos isn’t unique to present times, and that each generation of humans has faced upheaval. But pain and stress are relative. What each individual faces is unique to that individual, and knowing that pain is a shared experience doesn’t make feeling it any easier.

In the early days of my marriage, my husband and I were lucky enough to attend a weekend relationship workshop led by the Gottmans, a married couple from the Pacific Northwest who are researchers and clinical psychologists. Their data-centric approach to relationship success really resonated with me, and one tidbit in particular stuck with me enough that I use this approach whenever I’m dealing with stress or distress, relationship-related or otherwise.

The Gottmans believe that when one or both people in a couple are elevated enough that their conversation could be considered a fight, they should take a break and agree to come back to this conversation in a specific amount of time once they’ve both calmed down. During this break, the Gottmans recommend thinking about something other than the tense situation by reading a book or magazine, watching a show, etc. This allows your heart rate to decrease enough that you can truly revisit the conversation in a different state.

This piece of advice is absolutely something that I believe can be applied to any stressful or upsetting experience. Taking a break from the news, for example, and changing the subject in your brain by reading a book, allows your cortisol (stress hormone) levels to decrease and helps you feel calmer, happier, and more prepared to live your life.

To that end, I have a couple tips for how to access books in a way that is either free or inexpensive, and better for the earth than purchasing a new book every time you have a desire to read one. These might be resources you’re already aware of, but I personally only found out about both within the last five years so I’m sharing in case you don’t know about one or both of them either.

  1. Libby is an app that allows you to use a local library card to access audio books and e-books directly from your phone. E-books from the app even integrate with the Kindle app if you prefer to utilize that app for reading. It’s such a great way to get more from your library card, especially if you need something new to read and can’t make it to the library.
  2. Thrift Books is an online book store that sells second-hand books. I have been able to purchase desired books at 50% or more off the new listing price that you might find on Amazon or in a physical book store. Discounts can be even more significant if you, like myself, don’t mind that a book has been through a bit more use.

As for what to read, well my taste might not be yours, but I have some recommendations. Here are a few from a variety of genres that I’ve enjoyed recently:

  • The Little Paris Bookshop by Nina George (fiction). This is a beautiful tribute to literature and reading, while also celebrating France, love, and the healing powers of a book store. This book was a true escape to read, and put a smile on my face whenever I picked it up.
  • The Three Body Problem by Cixin Liu (science fiction). This is the first book in a triad by the premier science fiction author in China, Cixin Liu. The books span millennia and cover topics I’ve never before considered or contemplated. The series is dense and also somehow expansive, but if you are a scifi fan this is absolutely something you should read at least once in your life.
  • Essentialism by Greg McKeown (non-fiction, self-help). This book taught me to identify what was truly important to me and how to use that knowledge to focus my energy on the activities that help me reach my goals. I use the “essentialism” philosophy in both my work life and personal life, and have been able to carve out some space for myself to breathe through these efforts.

Please pass along any book recommendations you may have. I hope that this week you are able to take a break from the world and enjoy some literary escapism.

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