"This is exactly the lifeline I needed while wallowing in the depths of anxiety and despair.” Photo by Omid Armin on Unsplash
Culture Books

Books that widened our perspective, lent us escape, gave us hope over the lockdown

From fantastical adventures and the collected works of saints to exhortations on rap music and even marketing books, here are some titles that carried us through community quarantine. BY JACS T. SAMPAYAN
ANCX | Jul 16 2020

Through these troubled and baffling times, everyone has a different way of coping. Some gravitated toward making magic in the kitchen, or ordering obsessively from those who do. Those who love working with their hands throw themselves into different arts, crafts, yard, and home projects to fill their days, while others prefer to strengthen their bodies. Still others prefer falling into a Netflix rabbit hole, whether it’s a K drama extravaganza or chilling, painfully real documentaries.

But for wordsmiths and bibliophiles, there is no better time spent and no better respite from a ridiculously confused world than with the printed word. We’ve asked bookworms the titles that got them through the months-long lockdown, and we were surprised by some of the answers. (And we’re adding to cart as we speak.)

“I was able to read a lot of business books that I just did not have the time to read before, but in between I was able to squeeze in two sci-fi books that really comforted me. One is a relatively new one called A Memory Called Empire, and the other is the sixth book in The Expanse series, Babylon’s Ashes. Both books are very political and contain a lot of court intrigue between different factions of humanity, but the latter has more action in it. What made them extra comforting during this quarantine period is the fact that it’s about characters solving problems and doing things, something that countered my feeling of helplessness. Plus it’s a good escapist distraction from the politics happening in the real world. – Vincenzo Tagle, managing director, Griffinstone, Inc.

“I read my favorite dystopian book series over the lockdown, namely Chaos Walking by Patrick Ness and Red Rising by Pierce Brown. Seeing how the characters lived and acted during times that are increasingly similar to what we're going through is such a comfort. Although it also makes me sad because reality is anything but that.” — Ida Torres, digital marketing specialist, OMF Literature

“The first book is a newly published one by Dana Thomas, Fashionopolis, the price of fast fashion and the future of clothes. Working in the fashion industry, it has always been a part of my routine to read books and watch documentaries about fashion’s other face and how our actions affect both the people and the planet. It’s a great book for self-reflection and validates what we need to do as an industry to truly be sustainable. I also read Drive by Daniel Pink. This is a great read to understand what truly motivates us and our colleagues, and what will make them stay in love with the company.” — Dan Mejia, head of communications and press (Philippines), H&M

“I re-read old favorites that feature food and travel: French Lessons by Peter Mayle, A Cook's Tour by Anthony Bourdain, Garlic and Sapphires by Ruth Reichl, Lunch in Paris by Elizabeth Bard and Comfort Food, a collection of essays by Filipino writers, artists and personalities, edited by Erlinda Enriquez Panlilio published by Anvil in 2003.” — Angelica Pettersson, development consultant

“My most meaningful reflections happen whenever I feel small and insignificant. When overwhelmed with the world, I pick up a book that puts things in perspective for me. These are books that remind me that humans—and all our human shallowness—are never the center of the universe. Humbled, kumbaga. There’s a calming effect that inadvertently comes after reading fiction and non-fiction inspired by the vastness of the cosmos, or the grandness of nature, or the marvels of the human body. Then I would find my center and carry on with a reenergized sense of sympathy on how life works. This week, reading about the subject of mass extinction, during this time of rising new COVID-19 cases, seems rather morbid, no? Of course, human extinction was not the premise of this book written way back in 2014. The Sixth Extinction: An Unnatural History, the awesome reporting by Pulitzer-winning master explainer Elizabeth Kolbert, follows the logical path that, while the first five mass excitations were triggered by non-human causes (pre-historic continental drift, cooling temperatures, warming temperatures, global volcanic activity, asteroids) the next mass extinction, the sixth, will easily be caused by us, humans. On homo sapiens driving other living creatures in the planet into massive disappearance, the author writes, ‘No creature has ever altered life on the planet in this way before, and yet other, comparable events have occurred.’ Basing on evidence, she likens our current destruction to the past five catastrophes. ‘Very, very occasionally in the distant past, the planet has undergone change so wrenching that the diversity of life has plummeted. Five of these ancient events were catastrophic enough that they’re put in their own category: the so-called Big Five.’ (Quick primer on the Big Five here.) We are in an era of the first human-caused extinctions. But reading about the subject of mass extinction while we all are under lockdown, I am reminded instead of the un-extinction stories popping left and right during this pandemic: marine animals blossoming back to life in Italy, eagles being seen again in UK’s cities, wild canines and felines reemerging in the US valleys, leatherback turtles repopulating on the beaches of Thailand, Orcas bobbing up in Bohol, bees back in your backyard once more. Is that a good thing, or a bad thing? Di ko alam, but it sure does strengthen man’s dual role in protecting and ‘Thanos-ing’ life.” — Jao Bautista, creative director, Publicis JimenezBasic

“I’ve finally found the time to read The Collected Works of St Teresa of Avila, which was translated by Kieran Kavanaugh OCD and Otillo Rodriguez OCD. There are three volumes to this collection and they’ve been sitting in my bookshelf for a couple of years now. The lockdown gave me the time and the bandwidth to start reading St Teresa’s masterworks without distraction. It’s pretty heavy reading and I  am only in Volume 2 at the moment. But this is very meaningful and valuable for me as a lay Carmelite and an admirer of this great saint.” — Angela Ureta, professional coach

“I read As Always, Julia: The Letters of Julia Child and Avis DeVoto. Written in the post-World War II years, these letters read like a time capsule into a past. A comforting, familiar past that almost feels like returning to my lolo’s safe, comfortable ancestral home. The world is at peace, Americans are the good guys, French cuisine is on the verge of being rediscovered by the world. I get lost in long passages about the merits of French kitchen knives, the McCarthy hearings, Americans touring Europe, and glimpse into the inner life of 1950s two upperclass women.” — Troy Barrios, food editor, Metro.Style

“Over the lockdown, revisiting Ricky Lee's Para Kay B helped yank me out of ECQ-induced despair. In part because I will inhale rom-com adjacent content whatever the medium; but primarily because the five love stories in this restless page-turner are skillfully, hilariously told. Currently, I'm plodding through Len Deighton's Winter, which follows a family fractured by opposing politics amid the Second World War. Gripping and offers great insight into how we respond to turmoil and destructive ideologies.” — Fidel Feria, freelance writer

“Howard Marks’ Mastering The Market Cycle, Daniel Kahneman’s Thinking Fast & Slow, Eugene H. Peterson’s A Long Obedience In The Same Direction. I felt like they helped me figure out how the world was changing/moving and how history is being lived out. Howard Marks was about oscillations and learning that the more violent the change/shift, the snapback to the average would be just as violent. Kahneman taught me that we have our biases and prejudices. And Peterson showed me that we Christians need to lean into perseverance and looking at the long game.” — Ailene Molina, marketing specialist

“I've been reading The Rap Year Book by Shea Serrano, published in 2015. The book goes through the most important rap song from every year from 1979 to 2014. It's humorously written and it places each song within the larger context in the development of music and culture. I've always been a music geek, but rap is my weakness—so going through the book is part of my goal to get out of my comfort zone and learn something new during this lockdown. Yun lang.” Glen Tuazon, senior associate, Romulo Mabanta Buenventura Sayoc & De Los Angeles

“I enjoyed reading 21 Great Stories, a volume with a little bit of everything for everyone. Featuring some of the finest writers ever, each work is distinct and memorable. Considering this pandemic, how apt that the book opens with War by Luigi Pirandello (1867-1936). In this short story, the 1934 winner of the Nobel prize for literature writes about war and the people, omitting the names of the characters stranded on a train, so they belong to no particular setting. They can be us.” — Monti Tiosejo, writer

“The initial boredom made me turn to my Dan Brown and Robert Galbraith books for some mental stimulation. The more recent weeks with all the local bad news made me tune out the negativity with the early Harry Potter books.” — Manny de los Reyes, editor-in-chief, 2.0 magazine

“Like most people, I suffered from depression and anxiety during the quarantine. Instead of Netflix, I turned to my books. I gravitated to fantasy fiction for my escape and I went back to the old familiar worlds of Terry Pratchett, Deborah Harkness, and Dianne Wynne Jones. I especially enjoyed Wynne Jones's Howl's Moving Castle trilogy: Howl's Moving Castle, Castle in the Air, and House of Many Ways. It's originally written for young adult readers, but the world is complex, the characters flawed yet engaging, and despite the many dangers in the book, they felt safe. Exactly the lifeline I needed while wallowing in the depths of anxiety and despair.” — Stef Juan, public relations consultant, International Care Ministries