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?
9 Replies to “In which Deb Kristina uses books as comfort food (not literally)”
Great post! I go back to some of my childhood favorites when I’m really down. “Good Old Archibald” and “The Bad Times of Irma Baumlein” both of which are about kids who don’t fit it and have sick mothers, now that I think about it. Odd. I also read the Lilian Jackson Braun “Cat Who” series over and over. And the Dell Shannon “Luiz Mendoze” crime novels from the sixties. I’ve been known to re-read a book 4,5 or 6 times when needing comfort “food.”
“Breathing Lessons” is one of the best books ever, in my opinion. Just a miracle of a book.
I do the same thing. Some of my favorites are “The Roman Way” by Edith Hamilton. The voice of this historian is delicious. By the end you are convinced the ancient Romans were her own naughty nephews of which she is discreetly fond. Another is “Agatha Raisin and the Vicious Vet” by M.C. Beaton. Nothing is more comforting when your head is reeling from life’s affairs than being cushioned in the village life of England’s Cotswold’s and having a good laugh at Agatha’s foibles. Probably at the top of the list for comfort reading is Alison Weir’s “The Life of Elizabeth 1.” It’s impossible not to find these people fascinating and engaging every single time. The voice of this historian is both calming and intriguing.
Great topic. Thanks!
I love Anne Tyler, too. Thanks for giving me a few other book suggestions as well. I love finding new writers!
I didn’t know you were a fellow Lee Smith fan, Kris! Have you read “Fair and Tender Ladies”? (HA – I almost typed “Fair and Tender Kadies”–an oxymoron!)
I’m glad I’m not the only one who does this!
Kim, that’s interesting about the trend you noticed in your “comfort” books.
Sarah, so glad to hear from someone else who feels that way! I was in an online discussion this year with some people who were saying in essence, “I have no idea why it won the Pulitzer Prize. It was boring.” Subjective and all that, I guess. I love that you feel the same way as I do.
Camille, those books in particular out of all the fine ones recommended here sound so interesting to me! Thanks.
Meredith, I know, one of my favorite things about the Deb Ball experience has been finding new writers, either “in person” so to speak or by recommendation.
Katie, no, I haven’t read that one! Another for the “to be read” list (miles long, alas…)
For me it’s all about the Betsy-Tacy books or a Nevil Shute novel.
Comments are closed.