Books to self-soothe

We’re living in unprecedented times. We all know this. So how do we try to keep sane, and look after ourselves and those around us at a time of much anxiety and stress? Lots of people turn to creative activities and love to make things. Being creative can soothe the soul, it keeps your mind busy and can let you lose yourself in a very rewarding process. Reading is another activity that can have a very calming effect. Catching up with all those unread books that you never seem to get around to reading. Then there’s gardening, painting, writing, walking outside (but only once per day, for about an hour right now) and appreciating nature too….

Bearing all this is mind, we’ve tried to put together some book and dvd recommendations that might just help you, your partners and your mates or family members during this very strange and unsettling time. If not, they will just give you an idea of the eclectic mix of titles that we are happy to distribute on our ever-growing list.

Nature and appreciating nature is often a very calming influence at times of stress. Here’s a newish and beautiful book from Canadian Indigenous artist Meryl McMaster, As Immense as the Sky. Striking images and stirring artworks. Still enjoy wide open spaces and natural settings, and bask in the sheer beauty of her natural works – shown here in a book format.

For her own work, Of Nature, artist Jackie Brookner says something very poignant, ‘The major theme of all of my work is that humans are part of larger natural patterns and that we are dependent upon the natural systems that support our lives.’  Maybe nature has it sussed, and us humans are just out of synch with it right now? Is nature trying to teach us all a much-needed lesson?

Gardening – if you are lucky enough to have a bit of space (even if it’s just a window box) – is another good way to relax and distract and be with nature. Watching things grow, and looking after plants is a very positive pastime. Sadly, due to social distancing, it definitely isn’t the time right now to go and closely garden with others in a shared, public allotment. However, if you are missing your fix, then take a look at Martin Parr’s allotments book, Kleingärtner. Here he has photographed the German obsession with allotments, and taken pictures of people, like Petra the ‘tomato woman’, from some shared gardening spaces in Dusseldorf and Krefeld. Using British humour, these images might just bring a smile to your face!

Who doesn’t like a bit of colouring-in, during times of stress? This is such a meditative and mindful thing to do – getting lost in the action, calming the thoughts. Some people like to colour together, as an online group, whilst chatting as they go, and others just like to do it solo, or with music playing in the background. If you like colouring too, we can highly recommend this colouring book, from artist Michael Craig-Martin. Hopefully you’ve already got your pack of crayons, pencils or felt tips at the ready. Coming from stationery lovers, believe us, we don’t need an excuse to get a new set of pens! Or why not go freestyle and just get drawing something around you? There are lots of books on drawing, to browse and inspire on our list like those published by Drawing Room.

Some people find that companion animals are a great source of comfort when times are feeling that little bit strange. African American artist Alice Neel often painted her neighbourhood friends and family, along with their favourite animal friends. Here’s her book of portrait paintings to enjoy: Alice Neel My Animals and other Family. Alternatively there’s Emil Nolde’s book, Hunde – featuring the paintings he did of his dogs over the years. However this is more than just a collection of his dog themed artworks, because he met his wife Ada during a dog walk in 1902. This book thus becomes more of a memoir of his life.

Talking of memoirs, maybe you can get writing a journal or memoir of this unsettling time, right now, to help create something that reflects back at you, when you might just most need it! Writing things down can act like a re-assuring mirror. Or why not start that tome you were always going to write? Get it published. Share the wisdom? Writing can be a therapeutic occupation, to get those feelings down on paper and out of your head.

Playing card and board games is also a good way to keep the mind occupied and can be used as a way to have fun downtime with the rest of the family, when you’re pushed together, looking at the same four walls, for unusually long periods of time. This matching-pairs game of cards is something to enjoy, using beautiful flower pictures that Emil Nolde painted. Emil Nolde Memospeil/Pairs  (Note: for some reason children are incredibly good at the matching pairs game. It’s their amazing visual memory. We keep getting thrashed by our younger family members when playing this game!)

Walking is also a way to relax and explore and calm one’s nerves. In this HOME Artist Film DVD, Edith Walks, artist Andrew Kötting takes us on the walk that explores all things Edith Swan Neck – wife of King Harold (of 1066 fame). The walk takes the form of a pilgrimage, from Waltham Abbey in Essex, via Battle and ending up at St Leonard’s on Sea. did back. If you do go out and have a walk, then remember to keep to the social distancing etiquette and stay at least 2m away from everybody, unless you are part of the same family and/or live in the same household. And if walking isn’t energetic enough for you, when you feel the need to get rid of pent up angst, why not think about skateboarding? This book, Skateboard Studies, written by a research professor, goes into skateboarding and its culture in a really interesting way.

If you are inspired to be creative right now, in whatever format, maybe you will find the beautiful work of Anna Boghiguian a huge inspiration? Chantal Joffe‘s paintings may just inspire you to pick up that painting brush? Or the bright, happy, installation work of Yayoi Kusama? Using different materials to make, found around the home could inspire you to do something really fun and different?

Another of Andrew Kötting’s Home Artist film DVDs is Swandown  – a fun journey to watch. Along with his writer mate, Iain Sinclair, he took a swan-shaped pedalo and paddled it around the UK’s coastline and inland waterways, from Hastings to Hackney.

Or if dancing is your thing, then have a read about the lives of three hugely influential female dancers of the avant garde in Rhythm and Colour, who often don’t get the plaudits and respect that they clearly deserve.

Or maybe you’re busy searching ebay right now? Drooling over the things that you’re going to treat yourself to, once the economy gets back up and running again? Or just browsing for fun? Scott King’s book, Lambretta An Ebay Buyer’s Guide Scott King, is all about his ebay scooter obsession – a buying guide as well as a special collector’s insight! Collecting and organising can be a way of gaining back a sense of control. This book, 133 Fruit Labels, from artist  Erica Van Horne is a collection of those tiny fruit labels. You know, the ones you might find on a satsuma, in France. It must have been a satisfying task – to slowly remove the label, enjoy the fruit and then sort it.

Finally, you might find some solace in Yoko Ono’s Everything in the Universe is Unfinished in which she shares her vision and philosophy on life. It comes from her pivotal life experiences, huge optimism and love for others. Ono believes that art, words and books do have a unique power – to change the world for the better.

Image by Jackie Brookner from Of Nature

Posted on 16th April 2020
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