The Best Books Take You Away From Hard Times

As Dickens would say, ‘It was the worst of times.’

When real life gets tough, when it seems every phone call is more bad news, you need something to take your mind off of crap, something vivid and entertaining, engrossing and imaginative. You know what I’m talking about.

Now, there are options: You could take a trip, but your problems might just follow you; you could play board games or tennis, but forty minutes of the former will make you bored and forty minutes of the latter will give you tennis elbow.

You could even watch movies, which is great for a break from reality. But after two hours, it’s over, and the actors and set pieces never really engaged your imagination. They were like a Monet painting, nice to look at, but devoid of personal engagement.

Books, my dear Watson, are the perfect remedy. Well-written novels force you to imagine what you are reading. You brain transforms text into images and living scenes for you alone. An author writes about events on a windy desolate beach, and you are instantly transported to the Outer Banks, your problems and sufferings a thousand miles behind you. (The best part is that the trip cost you no more than the price of the book.)

Some books you enjoy but then never really give them a second thought.

Others are rare gems. You know the ones—those wonderful books that transport you to another world, or to a different, better one than this one(because it’s about other people’s problems), and which you so loved that it earns an eternal place of honor in your readers’ memory. Such winners might even merit a second or third reading. I want to provide my personal list of these types of favorites. Perhaps you’ve read some of them yourself and enjoyed their gift of: lifting you out of your no good very bad terrible day. Maybe there are a few titles you have not yet had the pleasure of experiencing. If that’s the case, go ahead and pick them up. They might just take you to new worlds and times, and lift your flagging spirits.

I believe in the power of books to engage our minds and to bring us joy and peace in the hard times—as well as in the good times. I trust these titles can do this for you:

  • Jonathan Strange and Mr. Norrell
  • Abhorsen Trilogy
  • Harry Potter series (naturally)
  • Song of Ice and Fire (AKA Game of Thrones)
  • Gaunt’s Ghosts (Dan Abnett’s brilliant Military Sci-Fi series)
  • The Dragonbone Chair
  • Christ Clone Trilogy (makes the Left Behind series look amateurish)
  • Dresden Files (just good plain fun)
  • Codex Alera (because only Butcher can combine the Lost Roman Legion with Pokeman on a dare and create intelligent entertainment)
  • Almost anything by Brandon Sanderson
  • Fablehaven
  • Leviathan Series (Scott Westerfeld)

Not surprisingly, only one title represents a stand-alone book in this list. Jonathan Strange and Mr. Norrell might just be my all time favorite fantasy. Yes, it starts out slowly—like The Dragonbone Chair—but this is intentional and intelligently handled. Reading it is like watching an old-school fuse light and chase, growing ever closer to the explosive finale; tension and excitement build with every page.

You get lost in 1820’s England and in the disturbing fantastical realm of Fairie. And that’s the point, isn’t it? To lose yourself in the fabricated worlds of great writers.

Which beggars a question crucial to all writers: What makes these books and their ilk so dang engrossing?

Well, a number of factors lead to their superior quality and desirability, making them books you continue to think about long after you close the cover.

For me, the most obvious reason for their engrossing nature is to be found in the fact that they were clearly crafted with care after long developmental stages by their creators. George R.R. Martin spent months creating just the back-story for each of his 7 Houses of Westeros.


Then there’s the personalized touch. James BeauSigneur, who wrote the Christ Clone books, is a former intelligence analyst for the NSA. Clearly he employed his experiences and unique perspective to write intelligent apocalyptic thrillers.

Another factor is that these authors all understand the importance (and are not afraid of the risk) of taking their time to develop their worlds and characters. Every book and series in my list becomes more absorbing the deeper you dive into their fictional worlds.

So dive into some deep adventures in reading and don’t be afraid to learn from them and to use whatever unique perspective and strength you have to craft your own engrossing tales. Reading and writing are, after all, both excellent methods of turning your no good very bad days into your best life now.