Books and films: recommendations from our staff

The COVID-19 pandemic means many of us will find ourselves spending more time at home. We've rounded up some book and film recommendations from our staff to help distract from the stress of it all.
  Published:  18 Mar 2020    |      6 minute read

Corrina Cordon, Head of Brand, Marketing and Audience: Rear Window (film)

"'Six weeks sitting in a two-room apartment with nothing to look at but the neighbours.' Sound familiar? A film about a man grounded in his apartment because of a broken leg might seem an odd choice for self-isolation viewing, but this acclaimed classic from Hitchcock provides complete immersion in an unfolding mystery set against the backdrop of a New York heatwave.

"James Stewart at his languid, cynical best, plays the main character Jeff. Convinced he has witnessed a murder in the apartment block opposite, he draws his initially sceptical girlfriend, played by Grace Kelly, into the drama, enlisting her help along with his nurse and detective buddy.

"The audience sees the world through Jeff’s eyes, his gaze almost entirely directed towards the people living opposite, including a newly married couple, a lonely woman, a dancer and a composer who throws loud and lavish parties, a travelling salesman and his apparently sick, bedridden wife. Bored and frustrated, he gives them names, embroidering what he can see of their lives with his own stories.

"The voyeuristic intimacy builds to a dramatic conclusion and is a strangely uplifting reminder of how life is constantly unfolding around us, whether we see it or not, and how interconnected we can be, when we choose to look hard enough."

Aaron Kiely, Climate Campaigner: Erin Brockovitch (film)

"As a gay man this film has it all – a strong female lead, terrific 90s looks, and Sheryl Crow on the soundtrack. Julia Roberts delivers an Oscar-winning portrayal of beauty queen turned environmental campaigner – Erin Brockovitch. The film, in a very human way, tells the heroic story of a formidable single mum of 3 who takes on a giant utilities company when she suspects they’re behind contamination of the local water supply.

"One of the things I like most about the film is how honestly it portrays the challenges so many of us face in our lives. It touches on the environmental issue of access to safe, clean water, but also shines a light on issues around access to healthcare, job insecurity and the structural inequalities still facing women. I love that it plainly illustrates the immense resourcefulness, capability and tenacity within working class people and the power of organising together for justice."

Erin Brockovich speaking at University of Sydney 2012
Erin Brockovich speaking at University of Sydney 2012
Credit: Eva Rinaldi

Lucie Gagniarre, Network Coordinator: Golden Child, by Claire Adam (book)

"I loved Golden Child. It’s a gripping novel that centres around the family life of Clyde and Joy as they navigate bringing up their twin boys, Peter who is intellectually gifted and Paul, a dreamer who enjoys spending time in nature.

"Set in rural Trinidad, the parents make sacrifices to give both children a good life despite the crime, corruption, and extreme weather conditions. And then one day, Paul disappears and Clyde faces his worst nightmare – having to choose between his sons. It’s a beautiful and raw depiction of parenthood mixed into a psychological thriller."

Ben Rider, Press Officer: All the Birds in the Sky, by Charlie Jane Anders (book)

"Imagine you’ve wandered into a party with Neil Gaiman, Margaret Atwood, and Ben Okri. They’re all bouncing off each other to tell you one amazing story about the conflict between science and the supernatural. Then they resurrect Salvador Dali and ask him what San Francisco would look like in the near future if it was filled with hipsters and witches.

"Imagine all that, add an ever-escalating climate crisis, and you’ve got the setting for Charlie Jane Anders’ All The Birds in The Sky. It’s a story that sublimely blends science and magic, and shows that humans are at their best when working towards the same thing."

A swarm of birds around a derelict torpedo-testing platform in Lough Neagh
A derelict torpedo-testing platform in Lough Neagh
Credit: Six Mile images

Isobel Foulsham, Creative Producer: Waterlog, by Roger Deakin (book)

"Early spring is one of my favourite times of the year, so being stuck in a small flat with no outdoor space has been challenging. That’s why I’ve been reaching for my old copy of Waterlog, a beautiful account of the late environmentalist Roger Deakin’s swims around Britain. He sets off from his home in Suffolk to find rivers, ponds, lakes and streams to dip into and learn about the social-cultural history linked to them. His descriptions of the water and landscapes he visits are so vivid you can almost feel the cold water on your skin.

"I've never read the whole of this book, but enjoy reading a chapter from time to time. I take it when I go on a swimming trip, or visit the sea. My copy is rough around the edges because of this, after being crammed into a bag with a wet towel and swimming costume. Until I can venture out to the UK's rivers and seas again, I'll be living vicariously through Deakin's accounts of wild swimming."

Joe Downie, Social Media Manager: The Boy Who Harnessed the Wind (film)

"The Boy Who Harnessed the Wind (Netflix, 2019) is a heart-warming film which will make you feel that little bit better about the world, and give you hope at a time when things feel so uncertain.

"Set in Malawi, it’s a story of struggle – against grinding poverty, lack of opportunity, and a hostile, changing climate. When 13 year-old William has to leave school because of a lack of money as the crops fail again, he vows to help his family and local community get back on their feet.

"Through a mixture of cunning and determination, he trains himself in electronics, and becomes convinced that he can build a wind turbine and irrigation system that will save his family and his village from the prolonged drought. But to allow his plan to come to fruition, he needs to dismantle his dad’s prize possession – the family bicycle…

"To fight the climate emergency, and help ensure everyone can benefit from clean, green energy, we know that we need much more renewable energy capacity, including wind power. William shows just what is possible when we are bold, brave and original in our thinking – and our doing."

Clare Oxborrow, Food Campaigner: In Defense of Food, by Michael Pollan (book)

"'Eat food, not too much, mostly plants' is the central theme brilliantly explored by Michael Pollan in this compelling book.  

"Years ahead of the current debate around plant-based diets and climate breakdown, before Deliciously Ella and Keto diets, he provides the perfect compass to help navigate the often-fraught issue of what to eat. 

"There’s practical advice (eat food, food that your grandmother would recognise), mixed with a fascinating history of how food corporations in the US deeply influenced the development of health policy for their own gain – and how this affected the health of a nation.  

"I had the privilege of hearing the author speak about this book a few years ago, and his incisive and optimistic approach comes through the pages as it did in person. In my 15 years of food campaigning, I haven’t read a better book that both explains the past, as well as helps navigate the future, with some vital lessons about how to build a resilient food system that nurtures us and the planet."

Mia Ruffo, Supporter Relations Assistant: Shantaram, by Gregory David Roberts (book)

"Shantaram is an epic novel about extraordinary adventure, morality, and the love of life. A book of beautiful storytelling, Roberts takes you on his captivating and dramatic journey through an underground Bombay in a way that will ignite all your senses and emotions – you will be left in awe that it is a true story!

"You are in for the long haul with this one, as it's a big book, but I guarantee you will not want to put it down. It is a perfect read to distract your mind and get lost in another world for a while."

Eoin Redahan, Content Writer: Siddhartha by Herman Hesse (book)

"Siddhartha seeks enlightenment. He gives up all his possessions and loses himself in meditation, but it doesn’t work. He tries to find it by accruing wealth. He falls in love. Still, he cannot find it. 

"He eventually meets a ferryman who has what he seeks. In the passing river, the ferryman sees the cycle of life and death. Siddhartha stares into the water for hours and – through the beauty and wisdom of nature – finally finds enlightenment.

"Herman Hesse’s Siddhartha is a short book, but it is a masterpiece that reminds me just why our natural environment is so sacred.

"If Siddhartha looked into many waterways today, I doubt he would find enlightenment. He would see lime-green algae, plastic, and the smells of industry. But people everywhere are fighting for nature and some of the river’s wisdom is theirs."

Louise Brown, Supporter Relations Team Coordinator: Princess Mononoke (film)

"Netflix couldn’t have timed their retrospective of the magical Studio Ghibli better. Over the next few weeks all films from the Oscar-winning Japanese animators will be released online. If you’re wondering where to start, I would definitely recommend watching 'Princess Mononoke'. It’s a beautiful and poignant tale about the ways we, as humans, have devastated our natural habitats in the name of industry.

"The film follows the wild forest spirit Princess Mononoke, who is determined to destroy Lady Eboshi, the foolish boss of a iron mining community, who cannot see how her climate-wrecking work is killing the spirits of the trees. It’s a visual feast of a fairy tale and you will fall in love with the cute forest imps, the kodoma.

"Other films in the series include the famous 'Nausicaä of the Valley of the Wind', a cautionary tale of what our Earth might look like if we don’t protect it, and the stunning 'My Neighbour Totoro', a children’s film that perfectly illustrates the cycle of life."

Love lifestyle tips and news about nature?

If you've been inspired to buy one of the films or books recommended above, consider ordering it from a local, independent shop (if you have the means to). Many are now doing deliveries, and as COVID-19 is likely to have an adverse effect on small independent businesses, this is a way to support them through unsettling times.