This is my list of Recovery Reads; for when you need to go slow, when you need to just read one page before drifting off into sleep without your iPhone, laptop, Kindle, or anything else that shines bright. For when you need to ponder something, meditate on the meaning of life and the universe, or just take a break from your normal trashy romances (100% guilty).
Next Friday I’ll be in surgery having my colon removed. I’m finding it harder and harder to work and concentrate (but easier to run-there’s nothing better for stopping the anxious and restless feelings I’ve been having).
Right now I’m thinking of how to pamper myself and keep my mind active even when my body is recovering. My friends took care of one part: they gave me a beautiful care basket with tons of face-masks, lip balms, lotions, and bath salts. I’m covered on that end.
For the mind, I’ve assembled what I’m calling my Recovery Reads, because reading a certain type of book during recovery helps me. This is because I have no self-control when it comes to most fiction.
I say this with absolute certainty. If I was in the middle of reading a fiction book and someone told me that I would die if I read one more word, I’d be dead. I just can’t stop myself. Even when books are bad, I still have to find out what happens to the characters.
I would get so mad at myself in college or grad school after finishing an essay in the middle of the night. I would say to myself “Okay, you deserve a little reward. Just read one chapter and go to bed.” But every time, no matter how tired I was, one chapter would turn into the whole book and two in the morning turned to seven.
Because of this weakness, I’ve found that while trying to heal and recover from being really ill, it’s best if I avoid fiction for the most part. I do however usually end up re-reading the whole Harry Potter series. I think the nostalgia makes me feel better and I’ve read them so many times I can usually put them down when I need to sleep or rest. I also include classics because I often am able to read them like nonfiction.
This does not mean that nonfiction is boring. It just demands to be read differently and I experience it in a different way. I don’t feel the need to speed read through them. I’m content to read one page at a time and really think about what’s being said.
My Recovery Reads
The Prophet, Kahlil Gibran
“Your pain is the breaking of the shell that encloses your understanding. Even as the stone of the fruit must break, that its heart may stand in the sun, so must you know pain.”
Gibran’s poetry is easy to understand and its beauty is in its simplicity and conversational style. The format of The Prophet, which contains 26 prose poetry essays, is perfect for reading in small bits and pieces or skipping to your favorite parts. There is a lot of comfort to be found in his words and you can fall asleep with beautiful images dancing in your mind. This comes from both his prose and the accompanying illustrations done by the author.
Bradbury Classic Stories 1: From the Golden Apples of the Sun and R is for Rocket, Ray Bradbury
I love short stories, but finding a good collection of them can be hard. My battered copy of this can attest to the fact that it’s a keeper. It went missing for a while but I recently found it again so I’ll be re-reading it. Bradbury is a science fiction writer but I often think of him as a poet. He is always able to bottle up emotions, sensation, and images into paragraphs of impactful insight. I still to this day think of this passage from The Fog Horn when I’m feeling or trying to describe a lonely, isolated emotion.
“One day many years ago a man walked along and stood in the sound of the ocean on a cold sunless shore and said ‘We need a voice to call across the water, to warn ships; I’ll make one. I’ll make a voice like all of time and all of the fog that ever was; I’ll make a voice that is like an empty bed beside you all night long, and like an empty house when you open the door, and like trees in autumn with no leaves. A sound like the birds flying south, crying, and a sound like November wind and the sea on the hard, cold shore. I’ll make a sound that’s so alone that no one can miss it, that whoever hears it will weep in their souls, and hearths will seem warmer, and being inside will seem better to all who hear it in the distant towns. I’ll make me a sound and an apparatus and they’ll call it a Fog Horn and whoever hears it will know the sadness of eternity and the briefness of life.’”
The Universe Within: Discovering the Common History of Rocks, Planets, and People, Neil Shubin
Within each of us is the universe. I think most people would pair this statement with ancient thought and religion, poets, romantics, or new-agers. But this book takes you on a massive scientific narrative, telling the stories and discoveries that have led to our current understanding of the universe and us. It’s also multidisciplinary: there’s a little bit of all the sciences in there from astrophysics and earth science to biology and paleontology. And of course, some history too.
A lot of people feel tiny and insignificant when talking about The Universe because they can’t see themselves in it. But “by smashing the smallest atoms and surveying the largest galaxies, exploring rocks on the highest mountains and in the deepest seas, and coming to terms with the DNA inside every species alive today, we uncover a sublimely beautiful truth. Within each of us lie some of the most profound stories of all.”
Your Inner Fish: A Journey into the 3.5 Billion-Year History of the Human Body, Neil Shubin
This is Shubin’s first book, which I actually read after The Universe Within. It’s got the same kind of theme going on but on a smaller scale. This one focuses more on anatomy, evolution, and genetics but I like how it makes me look past the surface of everything (which always seems so different) to see all the similarities.
E=mc²: A Biography of the World’s Most Famous Equation, David Bodanis
This is the most unique approach to a biography I’ve come across. It starts with the premise that E=mc² is more than Einstein: it’s a sum of the past, present, and future. It has a life of it’s own and deserves it’s own biography. A biography entails “stories of the ancestors, childhood, adolescence, and adulthood of your subject,” and Bodanis treats the equation no differently. He takes you through the history of each part of the equation and focuses on a “single person or research group whose work was especially important in creating our modern understanding of the terms.” This makes for great reading and by the end you feel like you know the equation like a friend.
Black Hole Blues and Other Songs from Outer Space, Janna Levin
I haven’t read this one yet, but it’s the first one I’m pulling out in the hospital. I was overcome with emotion and excitement when I listened to the sound of gravitational waves. It fits right into my journey of falling in love with science again, through these amazing authors who are able to translate highly esoteric knowledge into something tangible and connective. I feel like this read will be the grand cherry on top.