Reading is a safe space where you can go on adventures without feeling overwhelmed.
Many of my fondest childhood memories involve books. I remember early winter mornings when I would rush upstairs to the bookcase and settle down to read in the dark, not caring that everybody else was still fast asleep. Then there were the evenings spent in the local library with my mum, leafing through books as it poured with rain outside. One of my favorite memories is of the Snoopy collection in our holiday house in Northern France. I would spend hours sitting surrounded by dusty copies of Snoopy, inhaling their old book smell.
I’m sure a lot of highly sensitive people (HSPs) feel the same way. Reading is a safe space where you can go on all kinds of adventures without feeling overwhelmed. It’s an activity you can do at your own pace — a relief for HSPs, who absorb so much external stimuli that they often find themselves drained. There’s just something peaceful about being alone with a good book.
The best books are the ones where you can relate to the story or the characters in some way. You want a story that sounds a little bit like yours — or a protagonist whose thoughts sound like your own. Of course, everyone’s tastes are different, but here are six books that I think will resonate with HSPs.
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Books for Highly Sensitive People
1. All the Light We Cannot See by Anthony Doerr
A novel about two teenagers during the Second World War, All the Light We Cannot See takes the reader on a rich and thought-provoking journey. It follows the lives of Marie Laure, who lives in Nazi-occupied Paris, and Werner, who is a member of a Nazi service in Germany.
Doerr portrays his characters brilliantly, particularly young bookworm Marie Laure, who is blind. He describes her world the way she sees it, with intricate descriptions of sound, touch, and smell. The reader starts to feel their way through the world with her. It’s a wonderful exploration of the non-visual senses. HSPs, who are particularly tuned into their senses and process a lot of external stimuli (sounds, touch, general “moods”), will no doubt appreciate this startling depiction of the outside world. The title says it all.
“To shut your eyes is to guess nothing of blindness. Beneath your world of skies and faces and buildings exists a rawer and older world, a place where surface planes disintegrate and sounds ribbon in shoals through the air.”
2. Death and The Penguin by Andrey Kurkov
This surrealist dark comedy explores diverse themes such as isolation, loneliness, the Mafia, and a human’s relationship with his pet. Set in post-Soviet Ukraine, it tells the story of a writer, Viktor, and his pet penguin, Misha. Viktor works for the local newspaper as an obituary writer and lives a solitary life with Misha. However, obituary writing turns out to be a much more dangerous profession than Viktor could ever have imagined, and suddenly Viktor finds his very survival resting on little Misha’s shoulders.
The loneliness and warmth in Viktor and Misha’s relationship touched me as a sensitive person (HSPs often have a special connection with animals). And if, like me, you’re a writer, you’ll find it reassuring to read about another writer’s struggles.
“Misha had brought his own kind of loneliness, and the result was now two complementary lonelinesses.”
3. Quiet by Susan Cain
This Sunday Times and New York Times bestseller is a popular read among introverts. Not all HSPs are introverts, but most HSPs do share a few similar traits — notably disliking loud, crowded environments and needing frequent downtime. This non-fiction book applauds the listeners, the quiet thinkers, those who do their best work alone or in very small groups. It even touches upon high sensitivity, and some of the overlapping research on the two traits.
For me, it was hugely validating to see that certain traits that society tends to frown upon (not participating in class, needing time away from people) are not bad traits at all. Indeed, they’re powerful, unique, and can be massively beneficial to society. HSPs often feel a little unvalidated for being who they are. Quiet tells the world just how much power there is to be found in being true to your inner self.
“The secret to life is to put yourself in the right lighting. For some, it’s a Broadway spotlight; for others, a lamplit desk… Everyone shines, given the right lighting.”
4. No Exit by Jean-Paul Sartre
In this French play, three strangers die and go to hell. They end up locked in a room together, waiting for whatever hell has in store for them. While they wait, they get talking and realize that they don’t really get along. They start getting on each other’s nerves — and there seems to be no way of escaping each other’s company. Hell, it turns out, is very different from what they all expected.
If you’re an HSP who hasn’t had enough downtime away from people, this wonderful dark read will almost certainly resonate with you.
“Can you stop your thoughts? I hear them ticking away like a clock, tick-tock, tick-tock, and I’m certain you hear mine.”
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5. Madonna in a Fur Coat by Sabahattin Ali
This Turkish novel, originally published in 1943, has become a bestseller in recent years. It tells the story of Raif, a sensitive young man from Ankara who is fond of the arts and somewhat addicted to romance novels. Not too keen on his son’s interests, Raif’s father sends him to Germany to make a career for himself. In Berlin, Raif spends his time wandering the streets and going to art galleries — not exactly what his father had in mind. One day, he finds a painting of a woman that stops him in his tracks. She is surely the woman of his dreams. Deeply moved, he decides to find her.
The story is heart-wrenchingly romantic and reads like a work of art. HSPs often find themselves moved by art, beauty, and the deeper emotions of life. This novel, with its deeply sensitive protagonist, has all of these things.
“Surely I knew this pale face, this dark brown hair, this dark brow, these dark eyes that spoke of eternal anguish and resolve. I had known that woman since I’d opened my first book at the age of seven — since I’d started, at the age of five, to dream… She was a swirling blend of all the women I had ever imagined.”
6. The Witches by Roald Dahl
A childhood favorite of mine, I picked up this book again last summer and couldn’t put it down. A young boy, enthralled by his Norwegian grandmother’s folkloric stories, goes searching for “REAL WITCHES” — monstrous, toeless creatures who turn children into mice.
Both grandson and grandmother live in their own little bubble, separated from the outside world (as an HSP child, escape from the real world was often on my agenda). Together, they build a world where folklore and reality merge into one. They have the kind of deep and meaningful relationship that HSPs crave. And the writing style is so charming that it’ll put a smile on your face, guaranteed. A good, light read when the real world is too much!
(Honestly, Dahl is such a master that you might be happier just getting the full 16-book Roald Dahl collection.)
“’Children should never have baths,’ my grandmother said. ‘It’s a dangerous habit.’”
“I agree, Grandmamma.”
You might like:
- 4 of the Best Books About Highly Sensitive People
- Get Overstimulated Easily? You Might Be a Highly Sensitive Person
- Are Highly Sensitive People Natural Born Creatives?
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