Sunday, September 18, 2011

Comfort Books

Some people have comfort food: chocolate chip cookies, macaroni and cheese, dark russet potato chips. When I get sad/ lonely/ depressed, or if I'm just in a darker place in my life, I turn to my comfort books. They're the ones that I've been reading since childhood. They're the ones that make me feel hopeful about humanity. They're the ones whose characters feel like an extension of myself, as if I could somehow slip into their skin. They're the ones that embrace love and happiness and childlike wonder. When I'm reading them, I feel like I'm with a trusted friend.

I can divide these books into two categories: the ones I am happy to acknowledge, and the ones that I'm... not. Just as someone might say, "I was so sad, I ate a pint of ice cream last night," and wouldn't be judged, but that same person might say, "I was so depressed I went out to KFC and ate an entire bucket of fried chicken, two sides of macaroni and cheese, and four biscuits with butter" and the listener might actually puke from disgust.

Let's call them "happy" comfort books and "guilty" comfort books.

Here are some of my happy comfort books:

1. Anne of Green Gables by L.M. Montgomery (I wanted to be just like Anne when I was a kid)

2. Pride and Prejudice by Jane Austen (I also wanted to marry Mr. Darcy. Who wouldn't?)

3. The Shopaholic series by Sophie Kinsella (Oh, Becky Bloomwood. Has there ever been a character more simultaneously endearing and exasperating as you?)

4. The Pushcart War by Jean Merrill (All about cooperation and self-sacrifice. Also very funny, in a child-like way.)

5. Jemima J by Jane Green (A great book for when you're feeling down on your body image.)

6. And of course, the entire Harry Potter series by J.K. Rowling. Because there's nothing like spending time with Harry, Ron and Hermione, forever battling evil forces, to make you feel good about life.

I can't reveal all of my guilty comfort books. But I'll share two. And believe me, they are embarrassing.

1. The Babysitters Club series. Yeah. I know. I read them all between the ages of eight and twelve. Well, all the ones that currently existed, anyway. It wasn't so much that I loved the stories, or that I enjoyed babysitting. I just really liked Kristy, Claudia, Mary Anne, Stacy, Dawn, Mallory and Jessi. (There are a few more now, I think.) I liked that each book was voiced by a different character. (See, the multiple perspective preference started early.) And now when I pick them up, it just feels like I'm regressing back to my much-younger self, a time when things were safe, and my whole world was just school and family and friends.

2. These aren't even really books, which makes them even more embarrassing: Archie comic books. I read them whenever I need to de-stress. I have a whole boxful. (This is worse than The Babysitters Club problem, because I don't actually own any of those. Or maybe it's better, because I don't have to go to the library for Archie comic books. Yes, it is embarrassing to check out "Kristy's Big Day," and yes, I do pretend that I have a much younger cousin that I read to.)

I do know exactly why I like Archie comic books, though. Their world is safe and imminently predictable. You always know exactly how the characters are going to wind up in any given situation: right back where they started. Archie's never going to be able to choose between Betty and Veronica; Moose is always going to beat up the guy who hits on Midge; and Jughead will always make a beeline for the food. It feels like reading about a time much before my own. Of course, they are also some of the most sexist and anti-feminist reading material of all time. For that reason, I will never let my (as yet unborn) children read them.

I'm almost reluctant to post this. It's hard to let go of guilty secrets! But I bet everyone out there has some reading material that they always revisit when they need a little comforting, and some of that may cause them a little embarrassment. So go ahead, leave me a comment with your guilty comfort books. Or make fun of mine. I don't mind. If I feel bad about it, I know just where my Archie comic books are.

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