Hope is something to hang on to in times of crisis. It’s a ray of light in the darkness, and it can give us the strength to carry on when we start to feel as though there’s no fight left in ourselves. Literature, incidentally, can have the exact same effect. When you’re feeling hopeless, is there a specific book you turn to for inspiration? Or maybe a favorite line from a favorite book that you have memorized at this point, for all the dark places it’s pulled you out of? Literature is powerful like that.
Since it’s spring, and it’s been a strange year, and we could all use a dose of hope right now, we turned to the experts: We asked 21 authors to speak to what hope means to them, to the marriage of literature and hope, to the importance of hope to our society today, and to the books they turn to when feeling hopeless. Read what they have to say, read their books, and remember to never give up hope.
ON LITERATURE AND HOPE
Barbara Bradley Hagerty
“Literature showcases the power of story, of anecdote, to lift our eyes from the unimaginative, despairing, or cynical road we are treading and glimpse an alternate path. But I also find hope in the sheer beauty and cadence of words, the idea that no matter how bleak our circumstances, a masterpiece can emerge. Even in the gulag, Solzhenitsyn’s words could change the world; indeed, tragedy is often the necessary soil of masterpiece.”
“Literature is story, and story has immense power. All of us are living our own. But when we open up a book, we get to live another. We get to put on someone else’s skin—see the world through new eyes. Experience their struggles, their triumphs, their beauty. And where there is struggle and beauty and triumph, there is always hope.”
Katie Ganshert is the author of Life After.
“Most of us in our everyday lives don’t have nearly enough time to give something our close attention for very long. We have jobs, families, bills to pay, chores to finish, traffic jams to endure, terrifying headlines to digest—so many responsibilities, and such little time.
But then we read a book, one where the author has given a subject years of attention, where the author has used all of his or her sensitivity, knowledge, wisdom, empathy, and observational skills to reveal the world’s hidden depths. What happens to me as I’m reading great literature is that I become aware of things that maybe I’ve known all along but haven’t had the time or energy to put into words. As the Russian literary theorist Viktor Shkovsky said, ‘Art exists to help us recover the sensation of life.’ And this sensation, I find, is almost always hopeful.”
Nathan Hill is the author of The Nix.
“Literature gives us a rare glimpse deep into the lives of others. It carries us beyond ‘a face to meet the faces that we meet,’ and beyond the quick artificial snapshots of a TV or magazine ad. A story, poem, novel, or non-fiction portrait helps us to understand that our interior lives are very similar. We all want love, we all have fears, we all have our pleasures and our pain. Understanding that can inspire us in better moments and soothe us in tough times. That’s what hope does.”
Roland Merullo is the author of The Delight of Being Ordinary.
“Literature gives us hope because it gives us stories. It allows us to step into the lives of those we would never know, or could never meet, and it invites us to experience their worlds—real or imagined. In literature, we gain an intimate knowing of another’s relationships, thoughts, questions, passions, and fears. When we enter another’s story we see more truth, we gain empathy, and we listen. We see the good in someone we might otherwise dismiss. In a world divided, I am thankful for literature. For the stories that give us the chance to understand one another more and, through that understanding, hope together for a better world.”
Allison Trowbridge is the author of Twenty-Two.
“Stories are our lifeline to inspiration, awe, and hope. Fiction and nonfiction entertain us and introduce us to characters with immense courage. When characters overcome a challenge that mirrors the reader’s own circumstances, their story provides a lifeline of hope to the reader. I am grateful that my story has become a beacon of hope to millions around the globe.”
Terry Wahls is the author of The Wahls Protocol Cooking for Life.
ON THE NATURE OF HOPE
“We’re driving across the Bay Bridge and the mood is serious from the gravity of the occasion. I’m going away to college. Hope is what fills the silence between us, in this departure that takes me away from my family and love. Hope is to believe in the merits of this call.
In my college dormitory room, plain, functional—a bed, a desk, a closet—I was filled with hope because it was a room like everybody else’s. Here, it didn’t matter where I came from. Here, I could become whoever I wanted to be.”
Donia Bijan is the author of The Last Days of Café Leila.
The space between
what is and
what can be
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Donovan Livingston is the author of Lift Off.
Hope allows us to rise above the tedium and the heartache of daily life to remind us that something exists that is bigger and both more universal and eternal than the pains and challenges of daily life.”
Lisa Smartt is the author of Words at the Threshold.
“Hope allows us to look forward, not back. It keeps us open to possibility and helps us reach toward the positive. Like friendship, it gets us through the toughest times. Hope is coming up with at least one good thing at the end of even the most difficult day.”
Wendy Wax is the author of One Good Thing.
ON HOPE IN OUR SOCIETY
“Hate is the low-hanging fruit of passions, the emotion within easiest reach to people buffeted by economic, technological, and demographic change. Hate is all around us in times like these. That’s why hope, now more than ever, is so important – and I hope readers found some in Love That Boy. Be it a Bible or a biography, you can always find hope in a book.”
Ron Fournier is the author of Love That Boy.
“With so much going wrong in the U.S. and the wider world, a bighearted, inclusive, loving hope is vital. Not a short-sighted, selfish hope. Hope like that shrinks possibility. It keeps fists clenched and minds closed. We need arms-wide-open hope, hope for everyone on this planet to have opportunities and live in peace.”
Nina LaCour is the author of We Are Okay.
“I used to think that hope was rooted in the known possibility, however small. If you’re diagnosed with an illness that 99 out of 100 people won’t survive, you could still have hope because of the example of one. But then I learned about people who faced diseases and conditions that it was unheard of to come back from and they still thought recovery was doable. One woman with MS was using a wheelchair. Another woman’s son had severe food allergies. One little girl had intractable epilepsy and autistic traits. Under those circumstances, the reasonable thing would have been not to have hope. And yet somehow they did. There was no example of one, but rather than give up, they became it.”
Susannah Meadows is the author of The Other Side of Impossible.
“We’ve never been inundated with as much noise as we are today. We’ve never had the ability to know so much about the world and at the same time know so little. It’s terrifying and jarring and creates a constant feeling of uncertainty for a lot of people. I know that it does for me. I’m a person prone to anxiety so just looking at my Facebook feed can be enough to completely upend my mood for the day. I think we all need to find moments of stillness and quiet where we can find the time to trust that everything is going to be OK.”
Jo Piazza is the author of How to Be Married.
ON BOOKS AND HOPEFULNESS
“Lately I turn to a book I didn’t know about when I was young, but am so glad to have read now that I’m older and have written a novel for young readers. That book is The Hundred Dresses by Eleanor Estes. In the story Wanda Petronski, a poor Polish-American girl, is teased relentlessly by the other kids because she wears the same faded blue dress to school every day. Wanda asserts that she owns one hundred dresses, which no one believes until they learn that she is a talented artist who has made beautiful drawings of a hundred dresses. But by then Wanda has moved away.
The story is told from the point of view of a classmate, Maddie, who feels guilty and wishes she’d had the courage and compassion to stand up for Wanda. Although her awakening comes too late to save Wanda from her suffering, the heartbreak Maddie feels at not having acted is a lesson in hope. Let us be kind to every Wanda in our midst and act with empathy towards others. I have started carrying this book in my suitcase when I travel and it makes me feel I’m bringing along a bit of hope wherever I go.”
Ruth Behar is the author of Lucky Broken Girl.
A.J. Mendez Brooks
“When I need to escape the real world and find hope in a fantasy one I turn to Terry Goodkind’s The Sword Of Truth series. Kahlan Amnell, the series’s main female character, always endured adversity with grace and could never be broken. She has been a role model for me and a constant source of hope that I can overcome the odds and also maybe get magical powers one day. You never know.”
A.J. Mendez Brooks is the author of Crazy Is My Superpower.
“For me, some of the darkest and most unhappy books are what give me a version of hope. Dystopic books, like Atwood’s MaddAddam Trilogy, for example, offer us potent imaginings of what happens when the world is beyond hope, and fictionalizing that potential tragedy offers us glimpses of how we might avoid it. The idea that we might, through literature, be capable of imagining the disastrous outcome of our present allows me to hope that we pay attention to what’s happening to our world and society today, and change it–we are all writing the future, after all, with the choices we make now.”
Caite Dolan-Leach is the author of Dead Letters.
“I like to keep Meditations by Marcus Aurelius on my bedside table. You can open it up to any page and be inspired in one or two sentences. The book, and the stoic principles that it’s based on, give you hope by making you realize that, while you can’t control external events and what happens to you, you can control your reaction. It helps you remember that true happiness and fulfillment can come only from inside, as illustrated by one of my favorite quotes from the book:
‘People look for retreats for themselves, in the country, by the coast, or in the hills. There is nowhere that a person can find a more peaceful and trouble-free retreat than in his own mind. . . . So constantly give yourself this retreat, and renew yourself.'”
Arianna Huffington is the author of The Sleep Revolution.
“When I really need a dose of hope (which for me, translates into a reminder that the world is full of beauty), I turn to poetry, and to two books in particular. Tremble by C.D. Wright, which celebrates the fury, the sensuality, and the wit of being female, and It is Daylight by Arda Collins, a collection powered by a desperate, gritty, and completely singular humor that makes me want to try and create something beautiful, and odd, too.”
Courtney Maum is the author of Touch.
“When in need of hope, I turn to the books of the most rigorously intelligent writer I know: Christopher Hitchens. It’s true that Hitchens was hardly a harbinger of glad tidings, but it is difficult to feel entirely pessimistic about a world that can foster a brain like his. Hitchens, even when he was wrong about things—as he was most devastatingly about the Iraq war—was wrong about them intelligently. And when he was right, as I think he is throughout God is Not Great, he is fiercely, devastatingly, mic-droppingly right. I have missed him profoundly since he died, but the erudition, range, elegance and fortitude of his writing gives me hope for humanity.”
Nell Stevens is the author of Bleaker House.