Monday, March 27, 2017

Books as Comfort Food: Novels for When Your Heart is In Need


I read both fiction and non-fiction in fairly equal quantities, often having a stack of both on my nightstand. But lately, I noticed a tendency about my reading. When things are more chaotic than usual or when I'm stressed, I bypass non-fiction and read fiction almost exclusively. There's just something about the more prescriptive nature of non-fiction, even in memoirs and biographies, that I can't handle when I'm already at full tilt.

Fiction, even when it's true to life, is a departure from reality, an escape hatch from the everyday. When I don't have a lot of mental margin, getting swept away in a good story isn't just comfort food - it's soul food.

If you're looking for a good novel to feed your soul when the going gets's tough, here are a few:

A Tree Grows in Brooklyn, Betty Smith - How can you not love young Francie Nolan? Growing up in the tenements of Brooklyn isn't just rough, it's dangerous. But she makes it seem a little bit enchanting.


The Long Winter, Laura Ingalls Wilder - I love all of The Little House books, but I frequently default to this one. During the blizzard, I feel the cold as Laura and Pa twist hay into bundles for burning and hold my breath waiting to see if Cap Garland and Almazno Wilder will make it back safely with the wheat.


Mrs. Mike, Benedict and Nancy Freeman - This book is set in the Canadian outback, so I think I must equate cold with hardship. Sixteen and sickly, Katherine Mary O’Fallon marries Sergeant Mike, a Canadian Mounty with eyes so blue she could swim in them. He whisks her away to a very remote part of Alberta, Canada, where they begin life together. 


A Man Called Ove
, Frederick Bachman - A book about a crusty, old curmudgeon may not seem like relaxing reading, but this book is actually a beautiful love story. The fact that Bachman wasn't an overnight success makes it even better.

The Gurnesey Literary and Potato Peel Society
Annie Barrows and Mary Ann Shaffer - The entire book is written in a series of letters. It's set on the Isle of Gurnesey (a real place in the Channel Islands) and deals with the inhabitants as they try to reclaim their lives after the German occupation of World War II. 

Peace Like a River, Lief Enger - Ruben Land is born with "swampy" lungs and is dead for a full ten minutes until his father orders him to breathe. His existence is a miracle and he finds other miracles in the most unlikely of  circumstances.

Winnie-the-Pooh, A.A. Milne - While this is typically thought of a children's books, reading it as an adult will give you a whole new appreciation for the silly old bear. Milne actually wrote with a lot of sly humor that sails right over the heads of children (or at least this child). 

What's your default comfort book?

7 comments:

  1. I still think you should check out "Pioneer Girl," which is considerably grittier than the Little House books (which I love!). The winter of 1880-1881 really was that bad -- it was called the "Snow Winter," and is worth reading up on.

    - K.

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    1. Put it on reserve at the library. Thanks!

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  3. Everything single one.


    We really are "soul" sisters.

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    1. We've always been soul sisters! I learned about Betty Smith from you.

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  4. Just wanted to put in another plug for "A Gentleman in Moscow." I stayed up late to finish it, which I rarely do! I don't know if it quite qualifies as a comfort read, but it's a darn good one.

    - K.

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    1. The books that keep you up late reading are the best books.

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