Boston Marathon bombings: 5 books to read in the aftermath

In times of national crisis such as the bombings at the Boston Marathon, does reading for pleasure do any good? The great food writer MFK Fisher provided an answer of sorts during World War II when she produced a cookbook, “How to Cook a Wolf,” aimed at teaching Americans how to continue eating delicious meals even in the face of wartime shortages. She knew that readers might wonder why she was focused on such a thing at a time of national trial.

But affirming the best qualities of civilization is the best way to answer the worst qualities in human nature, Fisher told her readers several years after the war. “Then Fate, even tangled as it is with cold wars as well as hot, cannot harm us,” she wrote.

Surely, good books rank with good food and good music as important ways to nourish our souls when times are bad.

Here are five books that offer special comfort in the wake of tragedies like the Boston bombings.

1.'The Bridge of San Luis Rey,' by Thornton Wilder

First published in 1927, Wilder’s novel tells the story of a bridge collapse in Peru in 1714, using the tragedy to explore the cruel acts of timing that allow some to be spared from harm and others to lose their lives. After the Sept. 11, 2001 terrorist attacks, then-British Prime Minister Tony Blair quoted from the book to honor the attack’s victims, saying, “There is a land of the living and a land of the dead and the bridge is love, the only survival, the only meaning.”

'The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society,' by Mary Ann Shaffer and Annie Barrows

In this 2009 bestselling novel, British subjects living on the German-occupied island of Guernsey find hope and courage by forming a book club, using period authors, such as Charles Lamb, to remind them of the true things that endure, even beyond human conflict. It’s a tonic for today’s news.

'One Man’s Meat,' by E.B. White

During World War II, this collection of E.B. White’s essays from his Maine farm was such a comfort that the military distributed it in a special edition. White’s musings on home, hearth, and community were a reminder of things worth fighting for.

'A Collection of Essays,' by George Orwell

As England endured bombs during World War II, Orwell quietly went about writing some of the best prose in the English language. His writings continue to remind readers of the power of language to answer human depravity.

'1776,' by David McCullough

In times of turmoil, anything by David McCullough is good medicine. After the Sept. 11, 2001 terrorist attacks, McCullough’s biography of John Adams, published the same year, provided a model of grace under pressure. All of McCullough’s books have something to say about human courage, but “1776,” with its passages about colonial Bostonians facing violence and prevailing, seems as much about today as the morning headlines.