Books That Help Us Through Challenging Times in Life


Books are more than just a form of entertainment. Novels and their fictional characters can help us to navigate some of the changes and difficulties of our own life. Ahead of Viv Groskop’s talk on literary self-help at Durham Book Festival, Gareth Reeves shares four special books that have helped him out.

Charlotte’s Web, by E.B. White

Once a friend or a pet dies, they don’t magically come back to life, but there are still valid reasons to be optimistic. This children’s book, about a pig and his genius eight-legged friend, convinces us why, and it helped me cope with the death of a beloved (and somewhat porcine) family dog when I was a boy.

The Secret Diary of Adrian Mole Aged 13¾ by Sue Townsend.

Reading this at 13 years old helped prepare the ground for teenage life – hopeless crushes, acne, etc. Of course, nothing can fully prepare you for the abomination that is puberty, but this was a useful and timely warning. Miraculously this was written by a woman in her late thirties, published in the year I was born.

Wuthering Heights, by Emily Brontë

Speed (up your) dating. An old school friend contacted me out of the blue requesting a date. She told me that she had been reading Emily Brontë’s Wuthering Heights and explained why it was ‘sooo boring!’ Straightaway I knew she wasn’t for me and politely declined her invitation. This may seem harsh, but it saved us both a lot of time. Besides, it was the book that really got me onto the path of literature, so it means a great deal to me.

Once you love something, you’ll follow it to the ends of the earth. I tried two careers in my twenties – publishing and, rather weirdly in retrospect, financial compliance – and neither one ultimately satisfied me. Thank goodness, then, that literature and literary criticism exist, otherwise I would have got bored of professional life too soon.

Riddley Walker, by Russell Hoban

The death of my father in 2013, as I was starting my PhD, took me back to this post-apocalyptic classic by the late Russell Hoban. Although it is never stated explicitly, the personal quest of the titular character is initiated by the death of his father. As I near the end of my PhD, I feel an epic journey not dissimilar to Riddley Walker’s has taken shape.

Do you have a favourite book that has helped you through challenging times? Share it with us below or on Twitter. And come and hear Viv Groskop talk about the Anna Karenina Fix at Durham Book Festival on 14th October.

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