“These are the times that try men’s souls.” So begins Thomas Paine’s The Crisis, written during the early days of the Revolutionary War. As fledgling America came to grips with a war against the world’s supreme power, some colonists began to despair. Sensing flagging morale, Paine argued that America had no choice but to stand up to the tyranny of the King — “a sottish, stupid, stubborn, worthless, brutish man.”

It isn’t 1776 any longer, but it’s still a trying time for souls around the world. Globally, it seems that hawkish nationalism and campaigns of fear far outweigh empathy and compassion. Personally, the idea of rapidly cooling my core temperature until I enter a multi-year cryogenic hibernation state is growing more and more appealing.

As tempting as it may be, letting oneself be consumed by such feelings is tantamount to throwing in the towel. For the politically engaged, there will always be a space for dissenting opinions, which means not giving up. It is impossible to be a useful political participant from the sidelines. Step one: banishing discouragement.

This, I feel, is when literature can step in. Inspiration, empathy and courage: these are the gifts the tomes of the world offer. Rather than throwing up your hands, I suggest finding perspective through reading. Therefore, I posit: the Essential Booklist for the Politically Discouraged, 2017 edition.

Beowulf (Unknown). An Old English tale dating to the seventh century, perfused with campfire smoke and themes of good and evil, Beowulf recounts a hero’s struggle against the cursed, indomitable monster Grendel (and its mother). Irish poet Seamus Heaney does a masterful job translating the ancient testament to hope, courage and taking things into one’s own gauntleted fists.

One Hundred Years of Solitude (Gabriel García Márquez). “Many years later, as he faced the firing squad, Colonel Aureliano Buendía was to remember that distant afternoon when his father took him to discover ice.” So begins the immersive tale of the city of mirrors, the Buendía family and the larger forces at work in the universe. Fatalist and magical, One Hundred Years of Solitude is a fictional story about a fictional place that feels awfully familiar.

A Constellation of Vital Phenomena (Anthony Marra). The title, the definition of the word “life” in one of the protagonist’s old medical textbooks, is perfectly apt. Marra’s novel, set between 1994 and 2004 during the bloody wars in Chechnya, is much more universal. Equal parts philosophical and gripping — it is a treatise on empathy, the world’s complexity and why it all matters.

The Once and Future King (T.H. White). The history and prehistory of King Arthur, T.H. White’s epic fantasy evolves from light-hearted and droll to sober and meditative. More topical than ever, it is a musing on the appropriate use of power, failure and what it means to rule. “‘The best thing for disturbances of the spirit,’ replied Merlyn, beginning to puff and blow, ‘is to learn. That is the only thing that never fails … That is the only thing which the poor mind can never exhaust, never alienate, never be tortured by, never fear or distrust, and never dream of regretting.'”

Literature is not a substitute for political engagement. But in discouraging times, poignant reminders that empathy and compassion exist are more valuable than gold — and might be enough to get the disheartened moving again.

Jack Siglin is a senior physiology and neurobiology major. He can be reached at jsiglindbk@gmail.com.