Saturday, February 21, 2009

Comfort Books

“I’ve taken this out from the library so many times,” my 18-year-old daughter told me, a happy smile lighting her face as she settled in the passenger seat. “I just love this book. It’s my comfort book.”

‘Comfort book’, I thought, like comfort food. Hmm.

… a comfort book is one you return to to re-read, despite a hectic schedule that would seem to prohibit the re-reading of even prescription instructions.

… a comfort book is one with dog-ears, cracked spine, and smudges in the margins from repeated use.

… a comfort book is one you will take to your favorite reading spot and bury yourself in its pages, oblivious to the world – or sit at a lunch table, book propped against the nearest sturdy food container, and hunker down behind it, hiding away in its world to escape from your own.

You get the picture.

I realize that in a world where reading time has been diminished by the electronic media, social networks and lack of interest, there is concern about getting people to read a book at all. People who are reading usually protest they can’t squeeze multiple readings of the same material into their hectic lives.

BUT – we watch our DVDs repeatedly. We have favorites. And who among us can state truthfully that they don’t watch TV reruns? “7th Heaven”? “I Love Lucy”? “M*A*S*H”? It’s about comfort, familiarity, and feeling good.

It’s putting Mozart or the Rolling Stones on the stereo or iPod, sitting back with an apple or some Oreos and milk, and opening up a book to a familiar scene, returning to a place that intrigued us, gave us joy or prodded our intellect in some satisfactory way.

If I can’t get my hands on a new book by a favorite author, I’ll re-read one. DO NOT ASK me how many Agatha Christies I’ve re-read. I started re-reading favorites by her when I was still a teenager. I will re-visit Pern to ride ‘between’ on dragonback, cook with Goldie Schulz, garden with China Bayles, quilt with Bennie Harper Ortiz, and bask under the Tuscan sun with Frances Mayes. I will even build houses in a town of schoolchildren with Tracy Kidder. And – through less often – travel almost anywhere with James Michener and Isaac Asimov.

Of course, the shorter books are easier. They are quicker to read and easier to put down if I remember them well enough. Longer ones take, well, longer. Still, in times of life that are difficult or even just mildly stressful, familiar faces and places that can be delved into at a moment’s bread are truly comforting. I don’t count the time spent in re-reading against my new-book reading time. Instead, I count it as re-grouping time, stress relief, self-indulgence. I don’t go to spas, or get my hair or nails done; I don’t party or even dine out frequently. I don’t go on retreats. But I read and re-read my favorite books, my comfort books. What are yours?

1 comment:

  1. There's a book my fourth-grade teacher read to me that I pick up every now and then. It's called "Me and Caleb," by Franklyn Meyer. Each chapter is a different adventure... or predicament, triumph, milestone, what have you. Mostly, it's about boys being boys.

    It was written in the '60s, but the stories are timeless. No mention of e-mail or cell phones or Facebook, but this doesn't seem odd in the least when you're reading the stories. It's an escape to a simpler time: childhood. In reading and rereading the book, I get to (vicariously) do the mischievous things I never did as a child!


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