Is there a new way of looking at life? We spend hours working in front of our computer screens. We look at our phones to get to the most important information of the day. We talk to our friends and family through a screen, sending out an incredible amount of ones and zeros. We are more connected than ever, and yet, we feel an aching melancholy like never before. “You are born alone. You die alone. The value of space in between is trust and love,” wrote the French artist Louise Bourgeois, and this is how Maria Popova, creator of the brilliant website BrainPickings, presents one of the best books she read in 2016: The Lonely City by Olivia Laing.
In this digital age, books have been transformed into tweets. Now you can say you’ve read War and Peace by simply searching for its most relevant quotes. The essence of the work dissipates in this vast digital expanse. Reading an entire book can teach you invaluable lessons that perhaps not even the author thought about while writing their work.
The Lonely City revolves around solitude and how its author found peace within it. After a bad breakup, she decides to leave London and move to New York, where she learns to embrace her new life and accept this loneliness. This experience helped her not only to move on, but also be extremely creative. Her book is a guide to accepting solitude and having the strength to move on.
Maria Popova’s list of the best reads of 2016 includes a plethora of genres, but the titles listed below will leave behind a grain of wisdom, which we hope will prove to be invaluable to you.
Hope in the Dark (2004) – Rebecca Solnit
“This is an extraordinary time full of vital, transformative movements that could not be foreseen. It’s also a nightmarish time. Full engagement requires the ability to perceive both.”
With people violating civil and human rights as we speak, the work of Rebecca Solnit is more important than ever. We find ourselves in a new dark age, but just as Leonard Cohen once said: “There is a crack in everything. That’s how the light gets in,” and that’s exactly what we must look for right now.
Upstream (2016) – Mary Oliver
“The most regretful people on earth are those who felt the call to creative work, who felt their own creative power restive and uprising, and gave to it neither power nor time.”
A lot of writers write about writing, and a lot of artists reflect about creativity, but Oliver manages to do both in a spectacular way. There is joy and peace while doing art, but most of the time one has to give it all, bleed, breathe, and live for the work, which is even harder than one might think.
Black Hole Blues and Other Songs from Outer Space (2016) – Janna Levin
“There’s an important pursuit of objectivity in science and nature and mathematics, but still the only way up the wall is through the individual people, and they come in specifics… So the climb is personal, a truly human endeavor, and the real expedition pixelates into individuals, not Platonic forms.”
As a scientist and a gifted writer, Janna Levin presents a book that mixes art and science and proves it may be one of the most aesthetic and powerful things mankind can do. The sounds of the universe, Einstein’s theories, and all the work that’s being made to understand the universe clash in this existential, yet moving book that would make David Bowie proud of the relation between sound, emptiness, and stars.
Hold Still: A Memoir with Photographs (2015) – Sally Mann
“I tend to agree with the theory that if you want to keep a memory pristine, you must not call upon it too often, for each time it is revisited, you alter it irrevocably, remembering not the original impression left by experience but the last time you recalled it. With tiny differences creeping in at each cycle, the exercise of our memory does not bring us closer to the past but draws us farther away.”
Sally Mann reflects on the importance of memory through a photographic essay. The memories we have as children are untouchable, or at least that’s what we believe. For Mann (and a lot of philosophers and intellectuals) revisiting your past alters the way you feel about it, and even the way you remember it. Maybe that glorious day fifteen years ago wasn’t as shiny and perfect as you think, but your memory has put that day on a pedestal for you to revisit, feeling a little more nostalgic every time.
The Course of Love (2016) – Alain de Botton
“Maturity begins with the capacity to sense and, in good time and without defensiveness, admit to our own craziness. If we are not regularly deeply embarrassed by who we are, the journey to self-knowledge hasn’t begun.”
A novel in which both protagonists talk, theorize, and practice love, and ultimately invites you to do the same. Even if we tend to think that love is the greatest feeling, it also brings a lot of painful things. If you think jealousy is the only negative part of being in love, you must read this book and open your eyes.
You can find BrainPickings best books of 2016 here. Maria Popova proves that reading is one of the most important things you can do in this life. She makes everyone realize that books not only change lives; they save them. From love to the truth about your inner desires, they can teach you almost everything you need to know.