What is it about familiar things that brings such great comfort? Comfort food- never anything fancy, rarely made of expensive ingredients or from something hard to come by- usually something warm and creamy and probably rich. Macaroni and cheese, chicken and dumplings, maybe chocolate pudding (the cooked kind, eaten while still warm because who has the patience to let it cool?). Food for the soul, sometimes it’s called that. Being sick means not having much of an appetite. I tried some tomato soup and gave up after a couple of mouthsful. Tuna salad and crackers, usually a guaranteed palate-pleaser, also didn’t cause much excitement. Tangerines are about it, the only thing that really tastes any good these days. Thank goodness they’re in season.
Since comfort isn’t coming in a bowl right now, it has to be found in other ways. Books seem to work. Not just reading them, but the real, honest, books. The kind that kept me company when I was growing up. You know, BOOKS. With pages that you turn and can flip back when you realize you missed a part. The kind where you stick a piece of paper to mark the page when your eyes get too heavy and you realize it’s 1 am and you have to get up in 4 hours to get the day going. Those kinds of books. It has been a while since I sat down with a real book and actually turned the pages.
I have never been able to keep up with bookmarks. I like them, the pretty ones with tassels or maybe the fancy metal ones with a doo-dad at one end or a little can of copper clips. But I never have one when it’s needed, so resort mainly to whatever is closest, a scrap of paper or perhaps that string from a set of earplugs. Whatever works. Right now it’s a post-it, folded in half so the sticky part doesn’t stick to the page.
Himself got me an e-thing for Christmas a couple of years ago and it has been a right handy e-thing to have. Instead of schlepping a massive Bible and it’s Oxford Intellectual SmartPerson Reference, when going on trips, the e-thing tucks right into my purse and still has all that stuff, and weighs much less. Nice, huh. I have heard that with the e-thing people can read books that they don’t want anyone else to know they’re reading, but I haven’t tried that one yet. But the e-thing, useful and practical as it is, lacks the charm and comfort of a real book. I use to for getting the stuff that’s free, the out-of-copyright old books, or maybe the books I want to read once but won’t particularly want to read again later. Mysteries and such. So I like it well enough, it suits for reading on an airplane or whatever.
It’s the familiarity of a book, the tactile comfort of actually holding this hefty chunk and turning page after page, that is so important. For me, all that with a book that I know like an old friend, one that I’ve read so many times the cadence of the author’s words are familiar like a family member. I like knowing that just a few pages more and Jane will have her Mr. Rochester, or that Christy will open her eyes, or that Scarlett will indeed return to Tara. These are books I’ve read so many times I know exactly what will happen, and there is great comfort in those familiar words.
Oh sure, I like to read new things. I like to try new foods as well. But when I am sick and wobbly and whining, I don’t want the newest thing on the menu at Emma’s featuring scallops or truffle butter. I don’t want to wonder who’s going to die or what sort of distress the latest Stephen King novel will heap on an unwitting Maine village. I want chicken and dumplings, and the safety of Christy and David and Cutter’s Gap, and I want food in a bowl and words on a page I can turn.
The turning of pages acts like the turning back of time, somehow. When I am reading a book that was first read as a much-younger person, it feels like I am back there, somehow. Instead of being 48, it feels almost like I am 12 again, sitting on my bed, or under that big tree, with my nose buried in the book. I am back in the world of the book, and the setting is wherever I was the first time I read it. I like that. It’s like a vacation of sorts. Time stops, sets itself over to the side while I get reacquainted with old familiar friends.
Do you have books that you return to, time after time?
Here are some of the ones I love:
Christy, by Catherine Marshall
Vanity Fair, by William Makepeace Thackeray
The Big Fisherman, by Lloyd C. Douglas
All Creatures Great and Small, by James Herriot (also the sequels)
Jane Eyre, by Charlotte Bronte
The Adventures of Tom Sawyer and Huckleberry Finn, by Mark Twain