rebelling against low expectations

5 Books to Get You Through a Never-Ending Pandemic

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This month, I set out to compile a list of book recommendations that vaguely capture the feeling of now: the world seems tilted, and we wonder when things will be normal again. I don’t know what it’s like in your area, but here in Oregon so many things are still closed down. I feel like I’m cooped up with no clear idea of when I’ll be able to travel and socialize freely again. Because of this, I have felt drawn to books that feature some sort of indefinite confinement.

The books on this list are mostly war stories and feature circumstances far more dramatic than what we’re currently dealing with. I chose them both because they were interesting stories to get us through these times, and because they felt a little bit familiar and had good life lessons for what we’re going through.

1. Unbroken by Laura Hillenbrand

This book is a true story about the WWII adventures of an Olympic athlete named Louis Zamperini. I chose it for this list because Louis spends a lot of time adrift at sea and in POW camps, in confined situations with no end in sight. But the story is so much more; it is a story of wild adventure, resilience, and incredible redemption.

I was fascinated by Unbroken because even though the author, Hillenbrand, is not a Christian (as far as I know), the book details Zamperini’s incredible journey of finding Jesus. Christians will latch on to the dramatic conversion experience near the end of the book, but if you read carefully, you’ll find that God was carefully drawing Zamperini to himself throughout the whole story, answering his prayers and performing miracles years before Zamperini surrendered to the Lord.

It’s an important reminder that our relationship with Jesus isn’t just one isolated conversion experience, but a journey. During hard times in particular, God is working on us in important ways that we might not even recognize until years later. Click To Tweet

I should warn you that Zamperini went through extremely difficult circumstances that are painful to read about. If you have a hard time reading about violence in books, this may not be the book for you. Don’t worry, I have some less intense recommendations as well, such as…

2. Rilla of Ingleside by L. M. Montgomery

Rilla of Ingleside is a relatively lighthearted story about a Canadian teenager whose life changed suddenly and dramatically when World War I hit and her brothers and friends went off to war. Rilla’s story felt familiar to me as I, too, felt stuck at home waiting for a world-changing event to end.

The story is at times funny, romantic, inspiring, and sobering. Through the four years of the war, Rilla changes and grows, learning to rise to the occasion and do hard things.
Published in 1921, the book is filled with pro-war propaganda that’s hard to read at times. Today, most people see WWI as a struggle for power with no clear “good guys” and “bad guys,” but in the book, Rilla’s friends and family were convinced they were the “good guys.” It’s important to remember that the narrative we tell ourselves as we go through hard times isn’t necessarily the same story that will be told in the history books.

It’s also worth noting that this book is by the same author who wrote Anne of Green Gables. Because it takes place during a war, Rilla of Ingleside is a bit darker and more serious, but it still has a lighthearted, fun angle to it. Rilla is Anne’s daughter, so it’s technically a sort-of sequel to the book, but it reads as a stand-alone novel.

3. The Diary of A Young Girl by Anne Frank

Anne Frank’s diary is such a famous book that there’s a good chance you had to read it as part of your high school curriculum. If you didn’t, it’s probably on your “I should read that book” list.

Well, now is a great time to pick it up!

The Diary of A Young Girl is the actual diary of Anne Frank, a Jewish teenager who went into hiding during the Nazi occupation of the Netherlands. It’s famous both because of its historical context, and because it’s such an accurate representation of how it feels to be a teenager. Anne’s struggles are both extraordinary and familiar. Sometimes she’s terrified of being discovered by Nazis and dragged to a concentration camp, while other times she’s obsessing over a crush.

I find it an especially fitting book for everyone who experienced lockdown. Even though our circumstances were far less dangerous and dramatic, most of us will be able to relate to her feelings of being in constant proximity with her family, getting irritated by them, but also growing close to them. The lockdown dynamics are so interesting to revisit.

4. Book of a Thousand Days by Shannon Hale

Book of a Thousand Days is not only fiction but also fantasy, which makes it a bit different than the other books on this list. It’s a re-telling of the fairy tale “Maid Maleen,” only set in medieval Mongolia. Interesting, right? If you’re like me and enjoy fantasy, folklore, and happy endings, this is the book for you.

“Maid Maleen” is a fairy tale about a princess who is locked up in a tower with her maid for seven years because she refuses to marry the man her father has picked out for her. In Book of a Thousand Days, this story is turned on its head by making the maid the main character instead of the princess, and having them learn how to escape the tower before the seven years are up. When they do escape, they find that the world is a much different place than when they left it, and it’s up to them to set things right again.

Of course, I chose the book because their time being locked up reminded me of our time in lockdown. While it felt claustrophobic at times, Dashti’s optimism, resourcefulness, resilience, and gratefulness were inspiring. It was so satisfying to see everything come together for a surprising, remarkable, and satisfying ending.

5. The Hiding Place by Corrie ten Boom

The Hiding Place follows Corrie ten Boom and her family as they hid Jewish people in their home during WWII, and eventually got caught and prosecuted for it. In some ways, this book is similar to Unbroken. They are both true stories of wild adventures and divine intervention during WWII. Although Corrie was in Europe encountering Nazis while Louis was flying over the Pacific fighting the Japanese, the degradation of Corrie’s time in concentration camps was similar to Louis’ experience in POW camps.

Both books deal with hard times and being locked up which is why I chose them for this list, but I noticed one fascinating difference between them. Unbroken is about God leading Louis to himself through hard times, while The Hiding Place is about God using hard times as an opportunity for Corrie to do important work for Jesus’ kingdom.

That’s an important way to think about the hardship and disappointment of 2020. We like to think that God is teaching us things and drawing us closer to himself through hard times, and he is. But that’s not the only way God uses hard times in our lives. He also uses hard times as an opportunity for us to be a blessing to others and to do important work for his kingdom. Click To Tweet

As you pick up one or more of these books at your local library, I hope you find them to be an enjoyable distraction and perhaps find them to be somewhat relatable. But most importantly, I hope these books inspire you to be resilient and optimistic during hard times and to allow God to work through you.


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About the author

Emily Smucker

is an author and blogger from Oregon. Her latest book, The Highway and Me and My Earl Grey Tea, is about a year she spent traveling around the United States, living in a different Mennonite community every month. You can visit her blog at emilysmucker.com.

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