One of my habits is to turn back to old favorites in times of stress. I suppose this is like “comfort food”. There are certain movies I’ve watched so many times I can recite whole scenes, for example. I laugh before I get to the funny parts because I know they’re coming and laugh again when they happen. There’s comfort in that.
I do something similar with books. I’m reading THE EMBERS by Hyatt Bass right now and I just love it. I’m so engaged with this family, so caught up in their struggles, that I dare not read it before falling asleep, for fear I won’t be able to stop thinking about them when I turn out the light. But I nearly always read before I go to sleep. What to do, then?
I turn to my old favorites. This is a weird selection, I realize. They are not necessarily the best books in my collection. BELOVED by Toni Morrison is an amazing novel, but I can’t read it to relax. It’s too exquisite and powerful for that. Nor are my comfort food books always light, relaxing reading. I don’t try to understand myself anymore, I just go with it. (I think my husband has the same thought about me.)
So, here’s an incomplete sampling of some of those comfort food books (and who wouldn’t need comfort when stranded on a desert island?)
THE FEMININE MYSTIQUE. What? You might reasonably ask. A 40-year-old treatise on feminism that was assigned to you in a college class is comfort reading? What’s wrong with you? All I can say is that this book resonated with me in the 1990s and still does. Despite all the strides women have made, I still sometimes feel guilty pursuing my passion when I could be baking homemade cookies for my kids, and I know I’m not the only woman to still feel this way. Reading this book reminds me that it’s not only OK, for me it’s necessary to have a life beyond the home. Thanks, Betty Friedan.
NOTES ON A SCANDAL, by Zoe Heller. Another one that’s not light reading. But I’m astounded by the skill Heller displays in this book with her deft character development and the many layers of her narrator. I admire it like a car nut would walk around and around a vintage restored muscle car, giving it a low whistle of approval.
BREATHING LESSONS, by Anne Tyler. I’ve blogged about this one before. This is one of the major inspirational books of my writing life.
WAITING TO EXHALE, by Terry McMillan. It’s a fun, engaging read, and by now it’s started to seem quaint, having come out in 1990 or so. It’s almost nostalgic, even, for that reason.
THE LAST GIRLS, by Lee Smith. I heard her read from this book at a literary festival in Key West, and got a chance to exchange a few words with her. Thus one of my favorite things to do is re-read the chapter she read aloud, which means I hear it in her lilting Southern accent, especially the very funny line (hilarious in context): “Hell is direct lighting.” This book is a beautiful, finely drawn blend of comedy and drama with delicate character portraits. I was reading it last night, in fact.
So there you go. I don’t know what this list says about me, but as I said, I don’t try to understand or question everything I do anymore. I just like what I like and on a desert island, who’s going to care, anyway?