The Compassion Project: 12 Books to spark compassion and conversation by Julian Abel

The Compassion Project: 12 Books to spark compassion and conversation by Julian Abel

Books and stories have always been a key part of helping us to see inside the minds, lives and hearts of others, and play a huge role in the development of empathy and compassion.

To celebrate the launch of The Compassion Project I partnered with the independent bookshop in Frome: The Hunting Raven Bookshop. While we talked to the locals and asked for their stories of kindness during covid, the gifted and knowledgeable Tina from Hunting Raven put together a list of 12 books that spark compassion and conversation.

FIRST UP THREE VERY WARM-HEARTED AND GENTLE BOOKS WHICH WOULD BE THE PERFECT BALM TO ANYONE WHO IS FEELING FRAGILE AND IN NEED OF AN UPLIFTING READ…

1. The 24 Hour Cafe by Libby Page

From the Sunday Times bestselling author of The Lido comes a story of friendship, belonging and never giving up on your dreams.

 Welcome to the cafe that never sleeps. Day and night, Stella’s Cafe opens its doors to the lonely and the lost, the morning people and the night owls. It’s a place where everyone is always welcome, where life can wait at the door. Meet Hannah and Mona: best friends, waitresses, dreamers.

They love working at Stella’s – the different people they meet, the small kindnesses exchanged. But is it time to step outside and make their own way in life? Come inside and spend twenty-four hours at Stella’s Cafe, where one day might just be enough to change your life.’

It is also worth following the author Libby Page online, as she is an honest, compassionate and thoughtful woman who feels instantly like a friend. From her big, bright smile, her love for sunshiny yellow, and her honest words in self doubt, anxiety and sometimes feeling low she really is a good social buddy. She’s also a real advocate for the power of swimming (pool-based and wild) for health and for developing deep friendships. In fact, her first novel The Lido is just as warm-hearted and inspiring as the above title.

2. The Authenticity Project by Clare Pooley

Julian Jessop is tired of hiding the deep loneliness he feels. So he begins The Authenticity Project – a small green notebook containing the truth about his life.

Leaving the notebook on a table in his friendly neighbourhood cafe, Julian never expects Monica, the owner, to track him down after finding it. Or that she’ll be inspired to write down her own story. Little do they realize that such small acts of honesty hold the power to impact all those who discover the notebook and change their lives completely. Another book about cafes and about how being honest and authentic can open the way for a happier and better life. Hunting Raven hosts a monthly pre-publication book review club and this book came out as a winner, with the reviewer raving about it.

3, Something to Live For by Richard Roper

This book is the perfect blend of extremely funny and very moving. It also deals with the isolation felt by the protagonist Andrew. With one small lie, Andrew paints himself into a corner and struggles to see how life will ever turn out ok. To put things right he finds support in the unlikeliest of places – an online forum for model train enthusiasts. Can the men behind the online monikers help him, and can strangers really help save your life? 

The twists and turns of this seriously life-affirming debut are a joy to unravel.

NEXT UP A COUPLE OF BOOKS FOR YOUNGER READERS FOR EXPLORING COMPASSION AND UNDERSTANDING DIFFERENCE…

4. Wonder by R. J. Palacio

Auggie wants to be an ordinary ten-year-old. He does ordinary things – eating ice cream, playing on his Xbox. He feels ordinary – inside.

But ordinary kids don’t make other ordinary kids run away screaming in playgrounds. Ordinary kids aren’t stared at wherever they go. Born with a terrible facial abnormality, Auggie has been home-schooled by his parents his whole life.

Now, for the first time, he’s being sent to a real school – and he’s dreading it.

All he wants is to be accepted – but can he convince his new classmates that he’s just like them, underneath it all? ‘Wonder’ is a funny, frank, astonishingly moving novel to read in one sitting, pass on to others, and remember long after the final page.

The book is brilliant at getting young readers  to put themselves in someone else’s shoes, which is such a great component of compassion. But it also challenges them to consider how they would react both to Auggie and how they might cope if they were Auggie.

5 & 6. ‘Kindness Grows’ and ‘We are Together’ both by Britta Teckentrup

A perfect picture book duo for tiny readers about the importance of community and of taking care of one another. Kindness is contagious!

We Are Together

On our own, we’re special, and we can chase our dream. But when we join up, hand in hand, together, we’re a team. Celebrate the power of love and friendship…

Kindness Grows

It all starts with a crack that we can hardly see. It happens when we shout or if we disagree. Angry words cause a crack to open up and widen, but find out what happens when kindness begins to blossom in this thought-provoking book…

7. The Boy at the Back of the Class by Onjali Q. Raid

Told with heart and humour, ‘The Boy at the Back of the Class’ is a child’s perspective on the refugee crisis, highlighting the importance of friendship and kindness in a world that doesn’t always make sense.

‘There used to be an empty chair at the back of my class, but now a new boy called Ahmet is sitting in it. He’s nine years old (just like me), but he’s very strange.

‘He never talks and never smiles and doesn’t like sweets – not even lemon sherbets, which are my favourite! But then I learned the truth: Ahmet really isn’t very strange at all. He’s a refugee who’s run away from a War. A real one.

‘With bombs and fires and bullies that hurt people. And the more I find out about him, the more I want to help. That’s where my best friends Josie, Michael and Tom come in.

‘Because you see, together we’ve come up with a plan. . .:

A beautiful take on the importance of friendship and a call to young people to work together with compassion to improve the lives of those around them.

A COUPLE OF BOOKS ABOUT SURVIVAL AND HOW THE HUMAN SPIRIT CAN PUSH BACK AND FLOURISH AGAINST THE ODDS…

8. The Salt Smith by Raynor Winn

This beautiful and honest book was never intended by the author to be a book. She wrote it as a love letter to her chronically ill husband in testament to the remarkable journey they shared along the South West Coast Path. Life became, literally and figuratively, about simply putting one foot in front of the other. Inspiring and moving in equal measure.

9. Girl by Edna O’Brien

This is an absolutely stunning book, meticulously researched by its unsparing and intrepid octogenarian Irish author. Demonstrating an abundance of compassion if her own, O’Brien tells the stories of literally hundreds of kidnap victims of Boko Haram through the voice of one Nigerian girl fleeing her captors. This is simply beautiful. It will make your heart ache, and you won’t help but marvel at how the human spirit can endure.

FINALLY, A COUPLE OF SOOTHING AND THOUGHT-PROVOKING NON-FICTION TITLES TO EXPLORE FINDING PERSONAL STRENGTH, HOPE IN THE POWER OF COMMUNITY, AND FAITH IN THE INHERENT GOODNESS OF HUMANITY…

10. This Too Shall Pass by Julia Samuel

Readers may be familiar with Julia’s wonderful book Grief Works on coping with bereavement. But This Too Shall Pass truly is a handbook for the soul. She focuses in on change; what forms it takes, how unjust it can feel, how blind-sided we can be by it, or how liberate we can be once we accept and embrace the change. A leading psychotherapist, Julia shows immense compassion for her clients and she invites the reader to show themselves and those they live the same compassion.

11. Human Kind, a Hopeful History by Rutger Bregman

Human beings, we’re taught, are by nature selfish and governed by self-interest. In his latest book ‘Humankind’, Bregman makes a new argument: that it is realistic, as well as revolutionary, to assume that people are good. The instinct to cooperate rather than compete, trust rather than distrust, has an evolutionary basis going right back to the beginning of Homo Sapiens.

By thinking the worst of others, we bring out the worst in our politics and economics too. But, in this reassuringly hopeful book, Bregman takes some of the world’s most famous studies and events and reframes them, providing a new perspective on the last 200,000 years of human history. From the real-life Lord of the Flies to the Blitz, a Siberian fox farm to an infamous New York murder, Stanley Milgram’s Yale shock machine to the Stanford prison experiment, Bregman shows how believing in human kindness and altruism can be a new way to think – and act as the foundation for achieving true change in our society.

12. Staying Alive edited by Neil Astley

A Bloodaxe poetry anthology (the others: Bring Human and Being Alive are just as wonderful)

To be shared alone or maybe to be read in a group – on Zoom perhaps in these socially distanced times – this brilliantly curated selection of poems have the power to awaken compassion and stir deep-seated feelings. 

In just a few lines, the very best poets are able to express those things for which we struggle to find words.

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