The best books to escape from the darn kids

Who am I?

I am an astrophysicist. I am a mother. I am an author. I am a cleaner of dishes, a cooker of meals. I am a daughter, a friend on the end of the phone, a reader of bedtime stories, and the one who hugs away the tears and kisses it better. But I am also just me. Emma. And the books I read are always to escape or understand the internal fight I have between identities and the feeling that pursuing one is failing all the others. Lift yourself above it all, breathe, and read yourself into a different world.


I wrote...

First Light: Switching on Stars at the Dawn of Time

By Emma Chapman,

Book cover of First Light: Switching on Stars at the Dawn of Time

What is my book about?

Astronomers have successfully observed a great deal of the Universe’s history, from recording the afterglow of the Big Bang to imaging thousands of galaxies, and even to visualising an actual black hole. But when it comes to understanding how the Universe began and grew up we are literally in the dark ages. In effect, we are missing the first one billion years from the timeline of the Universe.

Incorporating the very latest research into this branch of astrophysics, this book sheds light on this time of darkness, telling the story of these first stars. Emma Chapman tells us how these stars formed, why they were so unusual, and what they can teach us about the Universe today.

The books I picked & why

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Kafka on the Shore

By Haruki Murakami,

Book cover of Kafka on the Shore

Why this book?

I could have filled this entire list with books by Japanese authors. It is a generalization but I find the writing from this country to be so very unique. Quirky, perceptive, direct, and utterly enthralling, however mundane the subject. Kafka on the Shore was the book that started this passion for me and remains a masterpiece of surrealist fiction in my mind. It follows the story arcs of a man that can talk to cats and a boy that has run away from home, following them on their spellbinding journey. I haven’t come across many books that manage to lift you so completely out of your life and place you in a world where you escape the unwanted familiar. Perhaps this is cheating but you must also check out Hiromi Kawakami, Kazuo Ishiguro, and Hiro Arikawa.


Cecilia Payne-Gaposchkin: An Autobiography and Other Recollections

By Cecilia Payne-Gaposchkin,

Book cover of Cecilia Payne-Gaposchkin: An Autobiography and Other Recollections

Why this book?

Cecilia Payne-Gaposchkin was a female astronomer who was prominent in the mid 20th century. Cecilia showed that stars are made predominantly of hydrogen, and thus that stars were not simply ‘hot earths’. This point of view was such a blow to the scientific establishment that she was laughed away and, in the end, added a sentence to her thesis saying her results were probably incorrect. Her results were quickly proved right of course... though she was given no credit. She loved astronomy, knitting, her children, her smallholding of chickens, and she wasn’t afraid to speak of the unfairness she faced… and so I feel some very faint parallels from which I drew strength from. Sexism in science has improved so much since her time, but there remain many, many challenges and so her writings are an inspiration.


The Bone Clocks

By David Mitchell,

Book cover of The Bone Clocks

Why this book?

David Mitchell is perhaps more famous for writing the book that inspired the Hollywood film Cloud Atlas. I prefer Bone Clocks though because it is really…creepy. It revolves around a timeless battle between two factions that can achieve immortality by murdering. It got under my skin in a way that made it a page-turner and a book that has always stayed with me. I usually hate horror but this was not gratuitous (though Stephen King did say it was one of the best books of its year of publication!). It was spiritually terrifying if that makes sense… another dose of real escapism.


More Than a Woman

By Caitlin Moran,

Book cover of More Than a Woman

Why this book?

Despite the title, I think that any gender can draw something from this book. It is the sequel to her phenomenally successful book “How to be a woman”, which quite frankly changed my life and made me decide to have children. This new book can be read as a stand-alone and charts Caitlin’s thoughts on her late 30s and 40s. It begins with her usual hilarious and irreverent tone, speaking about the pressures put on you by children, parents, work, best friends, basically everything. It suddenly becomes very serious in a way I didn’t expect though, and the message of balance is one that is important for anyone to read in this way. I rarely say this and mean it but… it made me laugh and it made me cry.


Activate Your Life: Using Acceptance and Mindfulness to Build a Life That Is Rich, Fulfilling and Fun

By Joe Oliver, Jon Hill, Eric Morris

Book cover of Activate Your Life: Using Acceptance and Mindfulness to Build a Life That Is Rich, Fulfilling and Fun

Why this book?

This is the first self-help book I have ever read, and I read it in 2019. I have always been honest about my battle with my mental health, from anxiety to depression. This book was recommended to me by an excellent expert in the field and it changed my view of my relationship with mental health as a battle. It sounds corny putting it into words but when you learn to accept the different parts of your personality and how they help and protect you, then it is easier to say “not right now, I need to make dinner, not crawl into bed”. The analogy that stuck with me was pulling a rope opposed by a character representing anxiety on the other side, and a pit in the middle. You can pull and pull, trying to avoid the pit, or you can… let go of the rope and accept that character’s presence, but not their control. Trust me, read it.


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