Sometimes empathy for our fellow humans can feel just beyond our reach. On those days, we want to shut out the world and escape from our differences. Fortunately there are books that reaffirm hope and help us feel patience for our neighbors once more, like breathing warm breath onto cold hands.
Ninety-Nine Stories of God
This book is pretty clear about what it’s offering: 99 stories from Pulitzer Prize and National Book Award finalist Joy Williams, all of them in some way about God. In typical Williams fashion, though, Ninety-Nine Stories of God is far more than that. The stories here are short and strange, the longest no more than a few pages, but each is crammed with life. From Kafka and a fish to the Aztecs and O.J. Simpson, these stories highlight the absurdity and whimsy of being alive. A teacher recommended this book to me, but she warned me to curb my expectations: While “God” is present in each story, the book is really about humans and the strange things we do for faith. Praying, hoping, crying—it’s all crystallized in these short stories. Williams reminds us that God, however you think of God, is in people.
—Eric, Editorial Intern
Evvie Drake Starts Over
I hate Hallmark movies. So much so that I can’t even stomach watching them in a so-bad-it’s-good type of way. I get anxious the farther I get from an urban center, I break out in hives when faced with a quirky pun, and I have never really understood the appeal of New England. So it means a lot for me to say that reading Linda Holmes’ wry romance, Evvie Drake Starts Over, filled me with joy. The author’s warmth and humor radiate off every page, the sense of place (a tiny town in Maine, by the sea) is absolutely perfect, and then there’s the marvelous Evvie herself, she of the relatable breakdowns and perfect zingers and hard-won journey to happiness and love. This is an endearing little bundle of a book, and after finishing it, I considered, for the first time in my life, taking a trip to Maine.
—Savanna, Associate Editor
Flora & Ulysses
I love all of Kate DiCamillo’s books, but I love her Newbery Medal-winning Flora & Ulysses most of all. The miraculous, madcap adventure of a superpowered squirrel and the girl he loves, Flora & Ulysses is as honest about the possibility of goodness as it is about darkness and despair. In a world where tragedy can be “just sitting there, keeping you company, waiting,” Flora believes herself a cynic who can’t afford to hope. In fact, all of the characters have been, in one way or another, disappointed by other people. DiCamillo’s willingness to acknowledge how audacious it can be to hold on to hope amid uncertainty makes the book’s climax, in which so many hopes are rewarded, all the more moving. As one character says, “There is much more beauty in the world if I believe such a thing is possible.”
—Stephanie, Associate Editor
The Lager Queen of Minnesota
No one makes me feel good about the world quite like my mom and grandma, the relentlessly positive Minnesota matriarchs of my family. But their upbeat nature isn’t a willful idealism; rather, it’s a daily choice to take the hard stuff in stride, to make the most of it, because why not? J. Ryan Stradal’s Midwestern family drama takes me home. It’s got some ups and downs as two estranged sisters figure their way through a longtime divide, but it’s packed with redemption, as one of the sisters’ granddaughters makes a go of a new beer venture that promises to change everyone’s fortunes for the better. Behold the power of hard work and determination to heal nearly any wound. You’re never too old, and it’s never too late, if you’re willing to put a little elbow grease into it. Plus, there’s pie and there’s beer, and those are my two pandemic love languages.
—Cat, Deputy Editor
The best way for me to show good cheer toward humankind is to spend time away from them. Call it introversion, call it misanthropy—the bottom line is that I can lose steam quickly when I interact with people, and it’s difficult to be charitable toward your fellow human when you’re cranky. This is where a book like Cosy becomes invaluable. From soups to tea to socks to soft lighting, Laura Weir is an expert at cultivating a space that’s warm, peaceful and snug, and she shares her insights in prose that radiates comfort. Need a cozy movie, hike, book or tipple? There are recommendations in every category, as well as atmospheric musings on the philosophy of coziness. Dipping into this book makes me gentler and more compassionate, and during a year when keeping your distance is a concrete act of kindness, Cosy is worth its weight in gold.
—Christy, Associate Editor