Column: No-drama books

Obviously you’re someone who follows the news since you’re reading the Courier. The often-crazy news can take a toll on you. There are lots of ways to restore some sanity to your wearied brain; watch a comedy, stream some silly cat videos, a beer and a bump. Since you evidently like to read, another option is a good book.

Some books you’d want to avoid, though. Books about how you can improve this or that, and biographies of exciting lives, just add to your to-do list. (Monday: Become a better person. Tuesday: Live an exciting life.) Some writers create wonderful essays about deep topics, but there you are again in deep material; exactly what you needed a counterweight to.

Novels or biographies that are full of tragic drama only add to the stress. There are enough problems in the world, and perhaps in your life. Who wants to spend a few hours slogging through the tragedies of some fictional character on top of that? Even if in the last pages it all works out, still, it’s a lot of drama getting there.

Here are a few of my favorite works to get lost in that are excellent writing and have little or no drama.

One is “Natures Engraver: A Life of Thomas Bewick”. It was written by Jenny Uglow, an excellent historian and crafter of biographies. Bewick lived from the late 1700s to early 1800s. He created beautiful wood cuts of animals and nature, mostly in England. His work set the standard for those old books and engravings you see from before photography. His life was mostly about becoming excellent at what he did, enjoying walks, sometimes weeks-long walking tours of parts of England, and having a mostly good life even while the world was sometimes eventful around him.

Two books I just received as gifts for Christmas are by Amor Towles. I’ve been interested in his books since I read about his novel “Rules of Civility” which came out a few years back, though I hadn’t gotten to it. Then last year he released another novel “A Gentleman in Moscow”. I am halfway through “Gentleman” and, while it has a little drama, that’s not so much the focus. It’s mostly a matter of enjoyable writing, little events written in engaging ways, and small triumphs of spirit. The gentleman at the center of it was a minor member of the nobility during the communist revolution in Russia and was confined to live in a hotel. His grace, character and imaginative ways of making a life for himself are the core of the story. The writing itself takes imaginative turns and is graceful. When old friends talked of things far and wide, “They spoke of the once and the was, of the wishful and the wonderful.”

One I read last year, “Cabaret of Plants”, is perhaps the most engaging and at the same time has absolutely no drama. It is nature writing but more. Richard Mabey is the author and good enough that the reader can just get lost in the flow of it. This mostly takes place around England, though he gives extended histories of families of plants, and the stories of people who first studied them or drew them. Those history stories take the reader around the world. Mabey and a photographer spend weeks in the field, sometimes photographing a group of plants for days to capture the cycle of it.

A couple of books I read years ago on a similar theme are by Amish farmer David Kline. They chronicle his life and work on his farm, but also the wild areas beyond it. Being a very un-mechanized farmer he is acutely aware of the wildlife that comes and goes on his farm and in the woods. One of his books, “Great Possessions”, chronicles how all of this changes over the course of a year. Part is his intimate connection to nature himself and his changing roles depending on the season, and the wildlife on the farm that changes over the year. Beyond the farm he has a season to go berry picking in hidden ravines, a season to go cutting firewood from fallen trees, and encounters plenty of wildlife along the way.

It was a crazy year last, and looks to be more again. Treat yourself to something that both feeds you with its quality, and raises your spirits. Oh, and a little warm brandy while you’re reading on a Winter night doesn’t hurt either.

Tom Cantlon is a local business owner and writer and can be reached at comments at