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Cozy, escapist and inspiring books for troubling times

By day I’m cranking out articles about COVID-19’s impact on our community, but at night, I just want to settle down with a good book.

A lot of you are probably feeling the same way.

So I’ve gathered up reading recommendations from my co-workers here at the Mail Tribune. We hope this mix of cozy, escapist and inspiring books will help you forget the anxiety and stress of this global pandemic — if only for a little while.

Reaching back to my childhood favorites, “Anne of Green Gables” follows the adventures and mishaps of a red-headed orphan with a big vocabulary, positive outlook and overactive imagination. The 1908 novel by L.M. Montgomery will transport you to simpler times and the natural beauty of Price Edward Island in Canada.

My two fantasy careers as a kid were journalist and veterinarian. Obviously, veterinarian was the road-not-taken for me, but I loved James Herriot’s series of books about his life as an English country vet, including “All Creatures Great and Small.” You’ll meet a cast of small town and rural characters and hear heartwarming, funny and sometimes tragic tales.

Mail Tribune Web Editor Ryan Pfeil, our resident science geek capable of knocking out a blistering 5-mile run on a whim, recommends “Rocket Men” by Robert Kurson.

The nonfiction book covers the 1968 Apollo 8 mission, the first time humanity ventured to the moon. While they didn’t land, the crew performed a successful fly-by before returning to Earth.

“This is also the mission where astronauts Jim Lovell, Bill Anders and Frank Borman read from the Book of Genesis on Christmas Eve while the Earth rose over the moonscape, their words broadcast to the world,” Pfeil says. “Kurson’s writing is lovely, and the true story that puts the best of humanity on full display is inspiring. I still think about this book about once a week.”

His other book pick for you is “The Rise and Fall of the Dinosaurs” by Steve Brusatte.

Paleontologist Steve Brusatte weaves together a compelling natural history account of the Triassic, Jurassic and Cretaceous eras with the history of paleontology itself, along with several of his own personal yarns from the field.

“Easy to understand, despite the amount of biology and geology discussed, this book was so fun and interesting to churn through. I feel like I have a fighting chance against 6-year-old me when it comes to dinosaur trivia now,” Pfeil says.

Reporter Damian Mann, known around the office for his dry humor, surprised me with his nostalgic pick — “A Wrinkle in Time” by Madeline L’Engle. A misfit girl must travel across the universe to find and rescue her missing scientist father.

Carrie Brown, marketing coordinator for our advertising department, can usually be found reading a book during her lunch break. She can stomach Ann Rule’s disturbing true-crime books, but offered some less violent fare.

“This is harder than I thought it would be! There are so many books that I’ve read and loved, but I’d have to say ‘Little Women’ by Louisa May Alcott and ‘The Thorn Birds’ by Colleen McCullough are two that I re-read at least once a year,” Brown says. “It feels like visiting old friends. And that’s why I liked both these books. As a military ‘brat’ whose family moved every six months to two years, inside the covers of my books were friends I didn’t have to leave behind.”

“Little Women” is the story of the March family, set in the Civil War era. The four very different sisters — Meg, Jo, Amy and Beth — come of age while enduring the hardships of wartime and poverty. The novel shows how with love, perseverance and faith, one can not only survive, but thrive, Brown says.

“The Thorn Birds” is set in Australia and spans the years 1915 through 1969. It tells the story of the Cleary family and their lives on Drogheda, a vast sheep station in the Australian Outback. Wonderful, complex characters people this book. It is a sweeping family saga of dreams, titanic struggles, tragedies, and triumphs, Brown says.

Robert Galvin, who doubles as news editor and weekly columnist, admits to going a bit overboard on this book recommendations assignment. He has four picks for you.

The first is "Straight Man" by Richard Russo.

“Ever been in middle management? Ever been surrounded at work by an eclectic collection of lovable lunatics? Then bask in empathy as William Henry Devereaux, Jr. tries to navigate the swirling waters of the English department at a small college, now that he’s been named interim chairman. Not to mention that someone’s put a hit out on the campus pond’s obnoxious goose,” Galvin says.

He also recommends “Foul Matter” and “The Way of All Fish” by Martha Grimes.

“Best known for her series of mysteries centered around Scotland Yard detective Richard Jury, this pair of treats features a much more dangerous world — book publishing — and the nefarious types who inhabit its environs,” Galvin says. “‘The Way of All Fish’ takes a couple of secondary characters from ‘Foul Matter,’ a duo of misfiring hitmen, and moves them center stage — with oft-hilarious results.”

Another of Galvin’s picks is “Who the Hell is Pansy O’Hara?” by Jenny Bond and Chris Sheedy.

The book is a charming, non-fiction collection of the stories behind the memorable creations of 50 well-known authors, Galvin says.

“Besides finding out about Pansy, did you know that when the original manuscript of ‘Gone With the Wind’ — when stacked on a floor — stood taller than Margaret Mitchell herself? Or that Leo Tolstoy’s wife hand-copied War and Peace — seven times? Lots of fun for book lovers and historians,” he says.

“The Devil’s Details: A History of Footnotes” by Chuck Zerby will change how you view footnotes, assuming you ever read them in the first place, Galvin says.

“Zerby’s singular wit and remarkable research takes a topic that might seem suited only to logomaniacs and turns it into a clever — and funny — deep-dive into getting to the source,” he says.

(For those of us without Galvin or Anne of Green Gables’ vocabulary, a logomaniac is a person obsessed with words.)

Bill Carey, who leads our talented team dedicated to video production, says his go-to cozy pick is “The New York Times Cook Book.” His copy in the pantry is stuffed with torn pages from the Sunday magazine.

He says “The Pearl” by John Steinbeck was a thoughtful gift from his seventh grade teacher. That act turned him on to Steinbeck’s simple declarative style of writing, and pointed him toward his career in the news.

“I’ve given many seventh graders that book, and I’m about to give it to my first granddaughter, now in the seventh grade,” Carey says. “In fact, with school closed, I’ll think I’ll do it now.”

Reach Mail Tribune reporter Vickie Aldous at 541-776-4486 or valdous@rosebudmedia.com. Follow her on Twitter @VickieAldous.

"The Rise and Fall of the Dinosaurs" by Steve Brusatte
Mail Tribune staff have book recommendations to help you weather the coronavirus crisis.