2020 has been a difficult year, and as the pace of life has slowed down for many and colder weather is setting in, you may be looking for more activities to do at home, or for distractions from difficult days.
Wisconsin author Nickolas Butler, whose books include “Shotgun Lovesongs” and his latest, “Little Faith,” says the comfort and solace of books is essential — even in the best of times.
“I find comfort in beauty, and books have always been one of the aspects of beauty in my life, and escapism, and it’s a way for me to decompress at the end of the day,” he said. “Honestly, it might sound dramatic, but I don’t know where I would be in my life without books.”
A fortuitous new habit Butler picked up in the new year from his mom has helped him keep track of what he’s read, and mark the ups and downs of this strange year. He started keeping a reading journal, marking down everything he reads and writing his brief impressions.
“Now I can look back over the year and survey what I’ve read, and what’s really stuck out to me as both good and bad. And because I mostly read in bed before I fall asleep, it’s also become sort of this ad hoc dream journal,” he said. “It’s been fun.”
Butler shared some of his favorite reads of the year.
A Book For Uncertain Days
“The Book of Delights” by Ross Gay
In lyric essays written over a tumultuous year, “Book of Delights” captures the quieter, but important, moments of our lives in essays written over the course of a tumultuous year — including stories about nurturing a tomato seedling while aboard an airplane and what it’s like to be the only two Black people in a room.
“Everyone should read this book, but especially during these days of grief, uncertainty and anger,” Butler said. “For me, it restored my faith in writers to actually heal our country, both individuals and the nation as a whole.”
A Few Mysteries To Distract From The News
“The Henry Farrell Novels” by Tom Bouman
“When I’m really struggling with my attention span … when the news cycle is so heavy and there’s so much at stake and you want to pay attention, but then you sort of get trapped in a negative feedback cycle … I find that reading something a little lighter, like a mystery, can help me refocus.”
Set in Wild Thyme, Pennsylvania, a hard-knocks rural area, the three mysteries follow officer Henry Farrell as he investigates a variety of crimes and a growing drug trade in his sleepy town.
“I just can’t quite put my finger on what it is about his (Tom Bouman) writing, the rhythm of his writing, that just really grabs me,” he said. “I wish he’d write faster, frankly.”
A Book For Those Who Miss Sports
“The Cactus League” by Emily Nemens
A novel told through a collection of short stories, “The Cactus League” is about spring training in Arizona and the characters involved — the star baseball player, the groupies, the coaches that never quite rose to the top, Butler said.
“I’m a big baseball fan and baseball season didn’t start on time. And to me, that’s as important as the birds migrating north,” he said. “I really enjoyed that book.”
A Quiet Book, Perfect For Days Spent Indoors
“A Gentleman in Moscow” by Amor Towles
“I wish ‘A Gentleman in Moscow’ was 2,000 pages long,” Butler said.
The book follows a Russian aristocrat, Count Alexander Rostov, who is placed under house arrest for the remainder of his life in a Moscow hotel following the Russian Revolution. The reader understands Rostov is an incredibly intelligent and sensitive man through the bonds he builds with staff members and visitors of the hotel, Butler said.
“You hear (people say), like, ‘Oh, I wish this year would be done. I hated this year.’ I’ve never put a whole lot of stock into that, but I truly feel like 2020 was a miserable year,” he said. “And this is the kind of book that actually brings you out of that and makes the world look brighter.”
A Bonus Recommendation To Brighten The Cold Days Ahead
“It isn’t a book, but I highly recommend The Surfer’s Journal, a beautifully produced magazine about surfing,” Butler said. “Now, I know nothing about surfing, but when the hard winter months arrive in Wisconsin, this magazine brightens my day.”