2020: saved by books

Every time I turn to a page with the heading, “Chapter 11” I sort of snigger, and that’s all I’m going to say about that.

Bucking the trend, I have thoroughly enjoyed the lock-down social distancing of 2020. Sure, I would have liked to have visited my mother residing 15,000 kilometres from my front door. Seeing my two children who live somewhat closer, only 10,000 kilometres from here, would have been great too, but each time I ponder the 2020 experience, these missed in real life / togetherness moments are the only things that come up as potential regrets.

Otherwise, it has been a blissful year. There are several reasons it has turned out this way.

For six weeks my spouse and I lived in an economy hotel room in a heritage quarter of one of Asia’s tiniest countries, Singapore. Many useful lessons were learned in those six weeks regarding living with less.

Fans of cinema, we were denied entertainment on the really big screen, yet as our old television decided to die suddenly, our new 52 or something inch smart television expanded our choices beyond our DVD collection and Netflix subscription to include offerings from Amazon Prime Video and Google Play. Just add microwave popcorn and beer and we hardly miss the cinema (but we will return, no doubt, once we are allowed to – if for nothing more than to pose as wannabe old hipsters in the lobbies and to shush the chatty adolescents).

Claustrophobia. No better way to begin this paragraph came to mind, so the word claustrophobia will have to do. A condition brought on by the inability to travel – a situation magnified in a country known as The little red dot, where we have nothing remotely close to the endless roads of the United States, Australia, or even Malaysia. This has left many feeling stranded.

Yet, that feeling of being stranded is a choice. Those who wish to brand themselves as being stranded are welcome to do so. “Good luck with that,” I say to them all. It is not a choice that I find attractive or useful in any way.

Someone who I actually detest for too many reasons to go into here (the subject of another blog in another place) once said something of substance and truth; “The mind is much faster than the body.”

The mind is much faster than the body.

An otherwise despicable con artist

What I got from that observation, is that while the body is stuck in a specific physical location, the mind can wonder. Drawing on cliches because one shouldn’t, we often hear that the mind wanders aimlessly. Daydreams. Such wanderings can explore the immediate surroundings, or venture towards the far end of the expanding universe, and everywhere in between, to places actual and imaginary.

This is where the beauty of books comes into play – their wonderful ability to take the readers far from their immediate physical location, a welcome attribute during a unique year.

With the simple turn of a page, books bring us to places that are currently unreachable.

Sure, this is a recognised feature of literature which has been true since drawings of hunts were scrawled on the walls of caves, taking the cave dwellers back out to the bloodied hunting grounds. Like the ancient cave drawings, books have not only enabled readers to travel great distances, but have also provided a means to travel back, and forward, in time.

The travel restrictions imposed on us in 2020 have helped me to appreciate these aspects. I emphasise books here, because as a recovering political junkie I’ve found that reading the news, articles of embarrassing political developments are often the opposite of uplifting (yes, I am particularly embarrassed being the holder of an American passport). Political misdeeds and incompetence do not inspire, on the other hand they tend to disgust.

In contrast, books (of course with exceptions), and the glorious authors who create them (there – I filtered out the non-glorious ones, ok?), do inspire. They bring us to picturesque places rich in history and culture where invented characters solve murders, where revered philosophers develop new perspectives on human existence, where fiction and nonfiction alike introduce readers to new people, taking readers to far off places, without the airfare or TSA hassles. Without the jet-lag. Exhilarating.

For me, an enhanced reading habit in 2020 provided a welcome sanctuary and put me on an inspiring international journey. I suppose the purpose of this post is two-fold; to share this renewed discovery of the benefits provided by books, and to offer sincere thanks to every author struggling to provide these works.

It’s all good.

So have a read – libraries even provide eBooks now, enabling one to avoid all the social-distancing hassles.

Below are some of the titles that made 2020 a special year for me, provided for anyone needing recommendations or inspiration to get started.


  • Under the Tuscan Gun by Tess Rafferty
  • Resistance by Tori Amos (a book I wish Bowie had written before he left us)
  • Nothing to See Here by Kevin Wilson
  • Too Much and Never Enough by Mary Trump
  • At the Existentialist Cafe by Sarah Bakewell
  • Don’t Just Do Something, Sit There by Sylvia Boorstein
  • Wisdom as a Way of Life by Steven Collins
  • From Here to Eternity by Caitlin Doughty
  • How Not to Die by Dr. Michael Greger with Gene Stone
  • Living Simple, Free and Happy by Cristin Frank
  • Essentialism by Greg McKeown
  • The Subtle Art of Not Giving a Fuck by Mark Manson
  • Upheaval by Jared Diamond
  • The Demon Haunted World by Carl Sagan

The titles in the featured image played a big role in shaping the perspectives through which I have seen the world, with the assistance of assorted chemicals.

Photo credit: I snapped a photo of some of my favourite books with my iPhone6, then laid the image on top of a manipulated photo taken from the Flickr Commons – using GIMP.

Published by Thomas Timlen

Where to begin? Perhaps the web content says it best...

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