It was about 10pm. My boyfriend was curled up next to me, dozing quietly. The street was quiet, the night was dark and the TV was on, but muted. My duvet was calling.
And then the newsflashes started. Metropolitan Police had closed off London Bridge. I snapped to full alertness and the details came through; another van, another terrorist attack on the city I’ve adopted as home. I shook my boyfriend awake and we watched the news for a while, texting friends and family, offering our spare room for some friends of ours who might need it. In London, you go on- regardless of what happens.
London Bridge was one event too many, one of too many in a row- too many, too quickly. The absolute horror of the Grenfell Tower fire just days later- and then the most recent hate crime perpetrated against the Muslim community at Finsbury Park. It’s a cumulative sadness that pushes against everything you believe in. Anger and helplessness slide into the crevices. We become jaded and worn.
Sometimes, you need a story that will light up your heart; a story that makes you cry tears of joy or sadness; a story that fits right into the hole that seems to have opened up somewhere inside you. Sometimes, you need a story that warms your heart and reminds you what love is- a story that reminds you what society really means, what resilience looks like, and what community is all about.
This is a list of books for London- full of love, in all its forms- for all of us.
The Shepherd’s Life by James Rebanks
Rebanks writes of joy and sadness- how his farm came to be, how his community came to be- and how it suffers through tough patches, facing destruction with dogged determination. It sounds bland to say that a book about farming will tuck itself into your soul- but at its heart, this is a story about land, identity, loyalty- and family. I’m not English- but this is the book I recommend when people ask me why I like living here.
The Princess Bride by William Goldman
If you haven’t read this, you need to; you will laugh so hard you feel like crying and sometimes, that’s a winner all on its own. Ludicrous satire featuring all the good stuff- heroes, villains, romance, pirates, a beautiful princess and a dastardly prince, narrated by a sassy author with a mind for bewildering mischief. Go on, fill your boots- laugh, out loud. That’s brave.
Unbroken by Lauren Hillenbrand
Sometimes a book comes along that demonstrates human resilience to a degree that you thought was impossible. This is one. The story of an Olympian POW who suffered endless trials during World War II, only to struggle with PTSD and a return to normal life at the end of the war. This is the story of Louis Zamperini, who fought (and fought, and fought) with an indomitable spirit. And the ending? Your soul will soar at how big the human heart will be.
Go Set a Watchman by Harper Lee
To Kill a Mockingbird was a story of moral absolutes, a fairytale in a time long past. Go Set a Watchman was controversial because it presented grey areas for our consideration; it made us rethink what it means to be good- and bad. It made us reevaluate our heroes and demand better of our own understanding. That struggle is vital, and the language here is so beautiful that your heart and stomach will twist. This discomfort about ethnicity, race and freedom is good; experience it.
A Prayer for Owen Meany by John Irving
It’s hard to explain just how well written, well connected and well developed this story is. It’s the tale of Owen Meany, a religious, physically challenged boy. The story is set in an older United States- before, during and after Vietnam. The entire story only comes together in the last few pages and truly, it breaks your heart then builds it right back up again. Invest your time in this one; it pays dividends. What will survive of us is love.
I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings by Maya Angelou
The quintessential story of a person saving herself. Maya Angelou wrote about her childhood, opening her pain up for examination- and emerges at the finish with dignity, integrity and a voice so strong it seems unshakeable. The titular image, of a bird caged, is a permanent icon of resistance. Angelou meant it for women of colour- but resistance is now a job for all of us.
Their Eyes Were Watching God by Zora Neale Hurston
Everyone reading this who is familiar with the book may question this choice- but sometimes, in order to be who you really are, you have to travel a long road and maybe even suffer inestimable tragedies along the way. Janie’s story sticks with the reader for a long time- there’s sadness yes, but there’s a determination, dedication and integrity about Janie that you root for.
Harry Potter by J.K. Rowling
I don’t mean to make a clichéd choice, but Rowling wrote a story with a universal message, one we have to believe in now more than ever: love always wins. Have you noticed that every time something bad happens, there are always those who reach a hand out to help- no matter what it costs them? Fantastic Beasts and The Cursed Child add to this. Rowling’s story is full of these people, but they’re all around us, every day. Our love for others sustains the world- always.