Friday, October 2, 2009

Comfort Books

I've been itching to write, but lacking focus, a top(ic)less dancer of sorts, whirling round the pole of my imagination, unable to pick up a rhythm, a beat I could really groove to.
Then, someone tweeted today to author Neil Gaiman, who has himself been tweeting about feeling ill this week:
RT @SOCMusic: I always re-read "Good Omens" when I'm sick. It always makes me feel better. Good chance that won't work for you, though.
I count Good Omens, which Gaiman co-wrote with Terry Pratchett, among my favorite books, and I, too, often turn to it for comfort when I'm feeling unwell or a bit too weary. That charming tale of an impending apocalypse never fails to draw me in and cheer me up.
Gaiman then tweeted about his own comfort books:
At different times of my life, my 'Comfort Book' has been Narnia, LOTR, Glory Road, Cold Comfort Farm, Psmith Journalist, Father Brown.
This simple remark spawned a cascade of tweets that is still falling as I write this post. People everywhere, well at least everywhere on Twitter, have been sharing the titles of the books they turn to when they need to feel better. The titles, not surprisingly, have included a hefty number of Gaiman's books, a load of science fiction and fantasy standards including LOTR/Hobbit, Narnia, Screwtape (for heaven's sake!) among countless others. The Harry Potter books have figured prominently, as have the Twilight novels. I've also seen a few unexpected favorites like Silence of the Lambs.
In a later tweet, Gaiman mused
Lots of people sending in their #comfortbooks. I wonder what makes a particular book a place to go when under stress.
I wonder, too.
Some of Gaiman's other followers allowed as how a "comfort book" might be a portal of sorts, a gateway to a more innocent time of childlike wonder or a sense of hopefulness that we often find sadly lackling in our day-to-day.
I think that may be part of it, but that explanation is a bit too simple. Some comfort books are less about idealism and more about the elemental pleasure of letting ourselves go, of submerging ourselves into worlds not of our own making, surrounding ourselves with friends unlike any we're likley to meet.
Like Gaiman, my comfort books have changed up over the years. As a child, I treasured the Big Little Golden Books edition of A Connecticut Yankee in King Arthur's Court so much that reading it got me tossed out of reading class in the first grade. I followed that up with (first) the Disney version of The Jungle Book and then the original, which I liked a great deal more. A few years later, I read Elizabeth George Speare's The Witch of Blackbird Pond at least a dozen times and To Kill a Mockingbird a dozen times more. And there was The Hobbit, LOTR, and anything by Roald Dahl.
All that prepared me, I suppose for high school and college and graduate school, a 10-year expedition of discovery that led me to major in English and devour books at the alarming clip of five a week. I read fast, but I read deep. I read on my walk to class. I read at meals. I read in the bar. I even read at parties, beer in hand, book in the other.
Though my reading life was eclectic, I did light on favorite themes and authors. Tom Robbins enchanted me with Still Life with Woodpecker, and I still credit him with teaching me how to make love stay, even in the 21st Century. I return, from time to time, to 28 Barbary Lane to visit with Armistead Maupin's eccentric characters from Tales of the City. And my bored and lazy hand will almost always travel to the spot on the shelf where Vanity Fair waits to entertain and amuse me.
I've been alive too long, I think, to make even an attempt at a comprehensive list of my comfort books. And I hope to live a good while longer and to find new ones along the way.
Suffice it to say that the first book I bought for my sexy new Kindle was Gaiman's Neverwhere, a book he adapted from the 1996 BBC television series he developed with Lenny Henry. This ramble started with him, and I suppose it should end in the same place. I don't know what his next book will be, but I suspect I will want to read it more than once. That troubles me, of course, because there are just so many books and so little time.