BY Cheryl Till

When living in interesting times, reflecting back on life, challenging what you know, and learning new things can help to stem the tide of uncertainty better than any search for false reassurances and hollow hopes. To help bridge the chasm between life as we knew it and the new reality, here are three books that will get you thinking.

Thing Explainer, by Randall Munroe

Thing Explainer is perhaps best described as a sort of coffee table book for the inquisitive and intellectually inclined individual. With whimsical descriptions and detailed illustrations, it explains complicated stuff in simple words - like how the box that cleans food holders (dishwasher) works, or the features of the other worlds around the sun (solar system). Filled with bite-size chunks of science that you didn’t even know you were interested in, and a heavy dose of humour, it is the perfect kind of book to open to a random page for a bit of light reading every now and then.

Fahrenheit 451, by Ray Bradbury

Written in just nine days, Fahrenheit 451 is a work of art that has often been recognised for its metaphor loaded criticisms of the state of the world. The post-Second World War context gives some suggestion as to the relevance of the subject of book burnings; destroying knowledge to subdue the ability of the masses seems reflective of the times in that way. But it was never Bradbury’s intent to for the brimming symbolism to be analysed and reinterpreted over generations (which speaks volumes to about the ‘death of the author’ – a whole other discussion in itself). Yet almost seven decades later, his book is still as relevant as ever; The New York Times even called it ‘the book for our social media age’.

The story revolves around Montag, a fireman whose job is to start fires to burn books. He lives in a world where people find endless ways to be alive without living – stuffing their ears with Seashells (basically AirPods…?) and living inside TVs, in parlours where every wall is a screen that constantly bombards condensed snippets of information; where people drive at 500mph above the minimum speed and move so fast that they never have to think – where all of this keeps people ‘happy’. And yet, as Montag turns a corner and meets Clarisse McClellan who walks without going anywhere and stops to pick flowers, he comes to find that he is unhappy and has been for a long time…

Although the book itself is extremely vague and the writing style is … weird, for lack of term – almost difficult to read – it is impossible to put down. In similar fashion to George Orwell’s Nineteen Eighty-Four, or The Handmaid’s Tale by Margaret Atwood, Bradbury’s poetic prose has a captivating quality to it as it presents a dystopian society which seems to so perfectly reflect our world today (and all the worlds in the last seventy years where this book has been read). Although the oodles of description may read as balderdash to some (reviews call it everything from a ‘cult classic’ to ‘utter shit’), the poignant and somewhat prophetic writing creates a stimulating paperback that you will dash through with still a few good take-aways about the importance of knowledge. 

Carnet de Voyage, by Craig Thompson

From the graphic novelist behind Blankets and Habibi, Carnet de Voyage is a short travel diary that illustrates Thompson’s trip through France, Barcelona, the Alps and Morocco, over the summer of 2004 while promoting first and researching the latter of his aforementioned novels. While a compilation of sketches and journal entries may not immediately sound like a riveting text to delve into, it presents a keen reflection of the author’s subconscious, innermost self in an extremely compelling way. The unconventionally enchanting sketchbook creates a comic that explores the pitfalls of travelling alone, the heartbreak that comes with love, and the intellectual and spiritual inspiration to be found on the road.

Unlike Thompson’s heftier fictions, Carnet de Voyage (which perfectly bridges his two books, Blankets and Habibi) buries the ‘moral of the story’ as a pensive afterthought – perhaps because that is exactly what it is. It is a journey that unfolds through each page without foreshadowing, because the book chronicles life as it is experienced – day-by-day. The graphics also captivate in the way they betray emotion, with the face of every woman (aside from Thompson’s closest friends) unintentionally taking on the face of his lost lover; a blunder for an artist who usually draws each subject with individualistic care. In that sense, real-ness of the book is its most rewarding feature. Witty and charming in its brutal honesty, this travelogue is the perfect read for those stuck inside.

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