The Gentle Escapism of a Feel-Good Story
I’m tempted to use my quarantime to tackle my mile-long To Be Read list. (That’s not a typo… it’s a newly manufactured portmanteau. Or a bad pun. Whatever you want to call it.) Whenever I have extra time at home, it haunts me like Poe’s tell-tale heart. (Speaking of which, how much Poe have I actually read? Should I fix that?) I think of all the weighty books my intellect has shrunk from, and intimidation gives way to shame. I’m a self-professed bookworm and voracious reader. Why haven’t I plunged into Crime and Punishment yet? Or even The Great Gatsby, for crying out loud?
It’s not as if I have the excuse of not getting to the library. It’s 2020. I have Libby, Overdrive, and Project Gutenberg at my fingerprint-unlock. The classics are waiting for me. Time means nothing to them. Plague and stay-at-home orders mean nothing to them. Thousands smarter than I have already read them, and my ingrained fear of missing out pushes me to pick them up.
But somehow I don’t. Somehow instead I find myself breezing through Elizabeth Enright’s The Saturdays and E. L. Konigsburg’s From the Mixed-up Files of Mrs. Basil E. Frankweiler. I pull my volumes of The №1 Ladies Detective Agency off the shelf where they’ve been collecting dust since I picked them up at a thrift store and lose myself in the sweet-smelling heat of Gaborone with the levelheaded Precious Ramotswe. My husband and I are book hoarders — our living room alone holds over 400 books in four bookcases, and boxes of Amelia Bedelia and Frog and Toad sit waiting to be unpacked in the nursery upstairs, awaiting our first baby and the world of reading we will unceremoniously thrust upon that child.
I’ve spent my whole life with these books, and they are what pulls me back to reading these days. I find myself not really caring how relevant 1984 or The Diary of Anne Frank might be to my situation, or how good or important those books are on their own. I’m not even much interested in Love in the Time of Cholera, which seems like the perfect read these days and yet Wikipedia tells me it doesn’t cover epidemic-based quarantine at all, so — boo. But ticking titles off a list so I can feel accomplished doesn’t interest me right now. Instead, my mind is craving The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society (admittedly, Netflix has something to do with that), wanting to go back to Georgette Heyer’s Regency romances, wishing for James Thurber’s satire and P.G. Wodehouse’s nonsene, and looking for the quiet down-home beauty of Jan Karon’s The Mitford Years.
For some, this time may be an opportunity for adding to their stockpile of intelligence, and for others, the mental mountain-climbing involved in The Art of War manages to take them out of themselves for the time being. I applaud their resilience and their ability to take this time and redeem it. But I would argue that it is still just as nourishing to the mind to pick up something you love and absorb it again. And again. And again.
So I might just give myself that kitchen inspiration I need (funny how cooking becomes a little less palatable when you have no choice but to do it every single night, even if that’s generally what you did in the past anyway) by rereading Ruth Reichl’s Garlic and Sapphires for the second time in a year. (If there was ever a person who knew exactly how to write about food… wow.) I might just start Emily of New Moon tonight, or get back into my preteen favorite of scarlet-cheeked Cherry Ames and her unrealistic, always romantic, haphazard nursing adventures. (Does she really need a different boyfriend in every episode, though? Come now. No one is that popular.)
There will be other times for books that cause me grief and books that make me think too hard and books that challenge and provoke and unsettle, but for now, I am looking for books that will comfort.
“What an astonishing thing a book is!” Carl Sagan wrote.
“…One glance at it and you’re inside the mind of another person, maybe somebody dead for thousands of years. Across the millennia, an author is speaking clearly and silently inside your head, directly to you. Writing is perhaps the greatest of human inventions, binding together people who never knew each other, citizens of distant epochs. Books break the shackles of time. A book is proof that humans are capable of working magic.”
I feel the need for a little magic these days. (Peter Pan, maybe…) Don’t you?