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Tuesday, October 13, 2020

More on Comfort Books

Thank you for exploring with me again --

And please understand that I am not advocating for ostrich behavior, simply acknowledging today, once again, the very real fact that most of us cannot stare reality full in the face for every waking minute of every day. 

I am frequently asked these days in my bookstore to recommend something light, something cheerful, for someone who needs a break from either dark thoughts or hard, determined work or both, and my bookstore customers have found hope in Emita Hill’s Northern Harvest, smiles in Amy Krause Rosenthal’s Encyclopedia of an Ordinary Life, and respite in the novels of Alexander McCall Smith, particularly those set in Botswana featuring the oh-so-comforting Mma Ramotswe. But now I am casting my mental net wider, and maybe you can help. 

A perennial favorite of mine

Many of us find vicarious adventures as wildly different as Lee Child’s “Jack Reacher” novels to Mary Norton’s “Borrowers” series, and I wish I had all of Chiang Lee’s “Silent Traveler” books on hand, every day, so I could dispense them like multivitamins! Sometimes I am frustrated in my desire to provide the books I find most comforting myself. Either I recommend them so enthusiastically that they fly off the shelves, or they are no longer in print and quickly accessible through my new book distributor. Anyway, here is the beginning of a list of sub-categories of books I find offer respite for the soul:

Long-ago, gently humorous nonfiction: If you can get your hands on Emily Kimbrough or Frank Gilbreth or Clarence Day, you’ll be plunged into pretty innocent representations of the past -- a very narrow, limited perspective but one that can be refreshing at times.

Young people’s books: Here it might be books from your own younger days or new discoveries. For me, the Walter Farley horse stories never fail, but I also love Ellen Airgood’s Prairie Evers and The Education of Ivy BlakeMen, what books carried you away when you were a boy? The Artist recommends – and I include it here, though it is hardly a YA novel -- The Count of Monte Cristo!


Biographies/memoirs “about interesting but not grossly painful lives,” as a friend of mine requested: I have enjoyed so many memoirs and biographies over the years! Right away I thought of Alfred Kazin’s A Walker in the City and Helen Keller’s The Story of My Life, but of course there are many, many more recent possibilities. I love Wallace Stegner’s Wolf Willow; Anne-Marie Oomen’s Love, Sex, & 4-H; and Mardi Link’s Drummond Girls (those last two very much alive and active northern Michigan writers). But of course the list here is practically endless.

Historical Fiction: Don’t get me started! Actually, I have gotten started and finally created a category of HF at Dog Ears Books. 


Books about books: Kathleen Hill’s She Read to Us in the Late Afternoons will start an endless association of memories in lifetime readers. We booksellers, of course, never tire of Christopher Morley’s classic tales.

Dogs and Horses: For me, not only fictional dogs and horses but also memoirs and books about training or (as I prefer to think of it) working towards partnership with dogs and horses. So many could go in this category! I hope my reading friends who live with cats will not feel slighted. There are some good cat memoirs, too, but cats are a whole different ball of yarn, aren’t they? Dogs and horses try to please us. Cats tolerate us. In my opinion.


Books about Food: I’m not talking about cookbooks, though if you find comfort in reading cookbooks, go for it. What I have in mind is more memoir or essay or travel – kind of a grab-bag, I guess. For starters (if you’re going to be really serious), there is, of course, Jean-Anthelme Brillat-Savarin’s The Physiology of Taste, but there are also recent gems that include anything by Ruth Reichl, Anthony Bourdain, M.F.K. Fisher, Calvin Trillin, or Roy Andries de Groot. And count yourself fortunate if you have in hand the utterly charming Clementine in the Kitchen, by Samuel Chamberlain. Who wants to add favorites to this list? Be my guest!


More ideas


Anthony Trollope novels

Arctic adventures – or any travel books set in a faraway place you love (for me, Paris; for you???) or someplace that intrigues you that you will probably never visit except in books

First-person back-to-the land tales, if you like those; or city adventures, if you have urban dreams

Poetry – of course!

The Tracker, by Tom Brown, Jr. (one of my favorites)

Long, lose-your-self-in-them novels – Here one friend recently took up Thomas Mann’s Magic Mountain. For me, Proust fills the bill. I’d also include here Seth Vikram’s A Suitable Boy, 1400 pages, even though I’m losing hope of the promised sequel.

On the other hand, short stories – have a selection of different authors for an at-home literary smorgasbord! 

So now, what are your recommendations for the large, lumpy category I’m calling “comfort books”? What works for you when your spirits need a rest?




Kathy Garthe said...

Ah, poetry. Linda Milliman, David Whyte, Mary Oliver, Billy Collins, Robert Frost, Emily Dickinson, Rumi, just to name a few. Thank you for this wonderful list of books and categories, Pamela!

P. J. Grath said...

Kathy, thank you so much for your suggestions and for leaving a comment here where everyone can see it! I know that you read a lot more than comforting, escape literature, too. Bring on those economics essays any time, and I'll dig in. Thanks again --

Valerie Trueblood said...

Valerie Trueblood -

Thank you so much for your list!

More books to read while getting used to our changed days:

Akenfield by Ronald Blythe, a lovely book about the customs and crafts that sustained English villages for centuries. Makers of thatched roofs speak, and wheel-wrights, and bell ringers. A book about people putting skill, physical effort and love into a tranquil and dependable, though changing, community.

The novels, poems and essays of Wendell Berry.

Nature poems - John Clare, W.S. Merwin, Pattiann Rogers, Seamus Heaney.

Czeslaw Milosz’s wonderful anthology A Book of Luminous Things.

Earthly Paradise, by Colette.

P. J. Grath said...

Valerie, hello and thank you so much for leaving a comment here with additions to my starter list. The Ronald Blythe, a work unfamiliar to me, sounds lovely, as I know is true of the other items you suggest. Again, thank you, and be safe and healthy and as tranquil as possible in these changing times.