Four Books That Meant the World to Me When Times Were Hard

Posted April 1, 2020 by Amber in Bookish Things / 6 Comments


Everyone has their reasons for loving a book.

Sometimes, it is mechanics – the characters, the plot, the writing style.  But I also think that people have those books they were reading when they really, really needed an escape.  Whether it’s a personal tragedy, a particular dark spell, or a worldwide pandemic… it’s good to find an escape.  And while I know escapism isn’t always the best reaction to the difficulties of the world… sometimes you need it.

And I do want to take this moment to apologize – I said in my Support Indie Bookstores post that I would not build another post around COVID-19.  Believe it or not, this was half-drafted before the pandemic became headline news here in the US, and I’ve altered the post to include a book that comforted me at the start of the pandemonium, but this is about books that have comforted me in a few different difficult times.

A Book for Cancer

The first book I want to share is The Fault in Our Stars by John Green.  This book was hand-selected at a time when it felt particularly relevant in my life: when my boyfriend (now-husband) was diagnosed with Non-Hodgkin’s Lymphoma.  Non-Hodgkin’s Lymphoma is a form of cancer that originates in the lymphatic system.  It wasn’t the first time I had faced someone close to me fight cancer – my mother went through radiation for ovarian cancer when I was in high school, and is now healthy and concerting-free.  But when Matt was diagnosed, I needed someone to talk to about it.

Nobody, and I mean nobody wants to talk about cancer.  Friends and family members become ghosts and you’re in everyone’s “thoughts and prayers” but people begin distancing themselves from something scary and what could, perhaps, end up in a loss.  It’s a subconscious protective measure, when I understand now, but seven years ago, I was bitter.

So, I turned to The Fault in Our Stars.  I knew the book – I’d read it before.  I know that Hazel and Augustus go through so much more than Matt and I ever did, but it felt like I had a person to discuss cancer with and the balance of trying to maintain normal life and deal with this huge, terrifying elephant in the room.  Also, The Fault in Our Stars always makes me cry, and I wanted that a little bit when I was angry and scared and lost.

Two Books For Miscarriage

In 2016 and 2017, I suffered two miscarriages.  I haven’t been tight-lipped about this because like with cancer, I detest the stigma around talking about these things.  In the years since, I learned how common miscarriages are, and while the two I had (a missed miscarriage, then a second-term miscarriage post-car accident) are less common varieties, there are families hurting all over the world, all the time.  I wrote a blog post sharing my experience to try to be in solidarity with those who suffered like Matt and I did at the crushing loss.  It’s been a while, and that old wound has scabbed over, but I grieved for a long time.

Sometimes, I still do.  I try not to think about it too much.

When everything started, I was in the middle of reading The Night Circus by Erin Morgenstern.  I was close to DNFing it, honestly, and that may come as a surprise to those of my readers who have heard me screaming about Erin Morgenstern over the last three years.  The page was slow and there was a lot of romance and, I don’t know, I think I was looking for something with more comedy and a faster pace or something.  But they I had my miscarriage and paused in the middle of listening to the audiobook.  I didn’t go back to it – or any book – for about a month.

At the time, I was still not a big fan of DNFing books, and so many people loved The Night Circus soooo much that I felt like I needed to persevere.  I picked the audiobook back up, and I am so glad I did.  The slow-paced world of quiet romance and circus mysteries was exactly what I needed in my sad and broken state.  Erin Morgenstern builds world like almost no other author I’ve ever read, and in le cirque des reves, I found an escape from the truths of my world and the pain and the creeping memories and deep feeling of unfairness and injustice of my whole situation.  In short, I needed a book with a rich and beautiful world that shined brighter than my own, and I found it in The Night Circus.  I’ve been a loyal fan of Erin Morgenstern’s ever since.

While The Night Circus helped me get through the end of my grieving period, it was a different book that came months later that helped me feel seen in a world that kept saying “I’m sorry”.  This one… this one I talk about a lot.

I wasn’t really looking for a book that felt like it was written for me, but I found it in Tess of the Road. I’d requested Tess of the Road from NetGalley the summer after ~everything~ based only on the fact I’d read Seraphina and enjoyed it well enough, so why not try something else in that world?  I was surprised to receive the book, to be honest.  Seraphina was really popular, and I doubted I’d be a desirable enough reader.

I really cannot express enough how grateful I am to Rachel Hartman for this book.  I read it at the end of 2017 and it tore my heart open. Not only did it address my pain of losing a child, but it spoke of lost friendships, deep depression, thoughts of suicide, and familial abandonment.  Tess Dombegh made me cry and cry and I have never wished so hard that a fictional character was real.  I wanted to know Tess, to talk to her, to share her story more than anything I’ve ever felt.  Reading Tess of the Road was like a cleansing of my soul.  I felt so seen, and so understood.  I read it again last summer (or rather, listened to the audiobook) and it destroyed me just as thoroughly.  Tess of the Road is the book I needed, and came to me unexpected right when I needed it.  That’s true bookish magic.

A Book for This Broken World

While I will again recommend Station Eleven for anyone looking to read a book where the world is gripped by a virus, that’s not the type of book I would be looking for right now (however, it is a good book!).  If I wasn’t following my strict TBR, I’d be looking for books filled with rich worlds that are a literary escape… especially as we are staying in.  If you cannot escape your home, your imagination should be able to venture elsewhere.

For the first two weeks of the coronavirus media blitz here in the US (and I say that, because it’s been around longer, we just weren’t as aware of it because there was not good coverage… or worse, we were arrogant and felt invulnerable), I was slowing reading The Sisters Grimm.  It wasn’t a book on my radar – I won it from a LibraryThing giveaway and Harper Voyager sent me a complete copy (thank you, thank you!).  I want you guys to know that what I’m saying about this book is my own opinion and not just advertising.

It has nothing to do with apocalypse or sickness.  The Sisters Grimm is a richly written story about four daughters of Wilhelm Grimm discovering their forgotten abilities as they enter adulthood and all the challenges that implies.  Like The Night Circus, it’s very slowly paced, and you must read it carefully to keep track of the five POVs and dual timelines… but it’s engrossing.  It took me about a week to realize that I was pining for the book when people kept talking about the uncertainty of work situations, the empty shelves at the grocery stores, or simply their own fears.  Magical realism always gives hope that there is something beautiful and strong out there that is bigger than we know, and it just seemed better to focus on a battle of good, evil, and the grey space in between rather than dig into the news and social media and try to find certainty in an uncertain world.


Which stories have been comforting you this last month?  Have you read anything that wrapped you up so thoroughly in their worlds that you were able to forget the real world for a while?  I want to know what you guys are reading – please let me know in the comments!

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6 responses to “Four Books That Meant the World to Me When Times Were Hard

  1. I am so sorry to hear about your husband and mother but I’m happy that they are doing well now! I had my best friend die of cancer at 19 and I think about her all the time. I wish I had been near a copy of FioS when it happened because I probably would have devoured it again. Also I am sorry that you’ve gone through this in your life, I have not personally had a miscarriage, nor do I think I know anyone close to me who have had one but I do agree that the stigma needs to be lifted so other woman can know they are not alone and it’s okay to be sad about it and also know there are other people out there who can share the feelings.

    I can say that my friend and I are doing a buddy read, we planned it like two weeks in advance, of Illuminae. So it’s ironic that we picked a book with a killer pathogen during this time, but I find that I really like the book. I’m also reading Barkskins and doing more on my blog and YouTube to try and cope during this time.

    Hope you and your family are safe and sound during this time!

    Monica Laurette recently posted: Where should I take my blog?
    • Amber

      Thank you so much, Monica, you are so kind… and I am so so sorry to hear about your friend. Nineteen is so young, that’s so incredibly tragic. ? It is devastating to lose someone so close to you in any way, but cancer diagnoses are particularly difficult. ?

      I think that sometimes, ingesting art (books, films, games) that addresses the thing we are afraid of – in this case, the virus – can actually be very therapeutic! So I think Illuminae is actually a pretty good choice and it’s a perk you have already read and enjoyed it!

      Take care! ?

  2. It’s amazing the power books have to transport us and comfort us. I’ve been reading a really cute YA contemporary called 10 Blind Dates. It’s so happy and light-hearted and makes me forget about what’s going on for a little while. 🙂

    • Amber

      I think I really need something fluffy like that in my world right now! I’ve got a lot of non-fiction, historical fiction, classics, and beautifully written (but slow) fantasy on my TBR right now and I think we could all use something cheerful and happy! Such a great choice of book@

  3. Thank-you for sharing your experiences and the books that were helpful to you then~ I don’t often read for pure escapism but it was important for me to do so last month! I found myself sucked into Three Dark Crowns. I find it very readable and entertaining. I’m glad it’s a four book series 😉

    • Amber

      I’ve heard so many great things about Three Dark Crowns! I’m so glad you enjoyed it and it sucked you in… those are the best books!