Before we began our social isolation I had checked out several books from the library. Every spring I try to focus on reading Irish authors and books that are based in Ireland as part of my tribute to St. Patrick. This year I was excited about the stack of books I had selected.
As the days passed in March, the Covid19 outbreak continued to spread and my anxiety continued to rise. I started to read the books I had picked out for the month, but it just so happened that the books I picked out were filled with sadness, death, and uncertainty. A couple of chapters in, I would put down the book and start another one, hoping for lighter escapism through the pages. But alas, each book I tried was not the right fit for what I was needing in this time of crisis.
When I was a kid I used to watch the same movies over and over again, much to my siblings’ frustration. Cinderella, The Little Mermaid, and Robin Hood, and Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory, were my go-to movies. It provided a sense of comfort, knowing the ending and mindlessly watching; the familiar characters like friends. I felt much the same about books; The Berenstain Bears, The Pee Wee Scouts, and a book called, Rachel’s Rainbow, all provided familiarity and comfort. I never grew bored of these books, but instead drew warmth and relief from their pages.
As I grew older, the titles changed, but the idea of comfort from the familiarity did not change. When I failed a test, had a fight with a friend, a break-up, or when I became overwhelmed with the unknows about the future; I turned to the familiar comfort of specific books and movies. My “comfort” books were The Great Gatsby by F. Scott Fitzgerald, and The House on Mango Street, by Sandra Cisneros. There were also my “comfort authors”: Wally Lamb, Sherman Alexie, and Alice Sebold. These were authors I had grown familiar with as I read and re-read anything and everything they had written. And of course “comfort movies” had a significant role as well; Garden State, Rent, You’ve Got Mail. These titles, authors, and movies helped me navigate the ups and down, the emotions, the anxiety, and the unknowns of high school and college. It wasn’t that these stories always had happy endings (most of them don’t really). It was that I knew the rhythm of the text, I knew the cadence of the author, I knew the characters, I knew their stories, and I longed to escape back into their realities.
So this month, when I found myself unable to immerse myself in new adventures, I knew it was time to re-visit some favorites. Perhaps getting lost in these stories, can also bring you some comfort and escape.
The Dearly Beloved, Cara Wall
I just started reading this for the 4th time. My first read-through was from an Advanced Readers Copy that I received. My second read-through began immediately after I read this book for the first time. I just couldn’t bear to part with the characters already, so I started the story again. My third read-through was right before I saw the author, Cara Wall, speak at Rediscovered Books in Boise. During a time filled with anxiety, and uncertainty, I wanted the familiarity of these characters again. So began my fourth reading. Prose so beautifully crafted, it is easy to feel a part of the story and forget that you are even reading. The conflict is enough to keep your interest, but not too much to leave you feeling despair. A story about faith and relationships in the broader sense. You’ll smile, you’ll cry, you’ll finish the last page, and immediately want to read it again.
Wildflower Girl, Dana Stewart Quinney
Oh, to get lost in the wilds of Idaho! Reading through these beautifully written memoirs and dreaming of adventures in nature, offers a comforting escape from the repetitive nature of being cooped up in the house day after day. Dana is a wonderful story-teller and it is easy to get caught up in her tales.
Oregon Trail Choose Your Own Adventure Series, Jesse Wiley
This is a middle-grade chapter book series that I recently finished reading together with my seven-year-old son. Each chapter ends with a question you must answer to complete your journey on the trail. Some choices result in “the end”, while others allow you to continue on your way to Oregon. Truthfully I never liked “choose your own adventure” stories as a kid. I felt overwhelmed by the choices, and I always wanted to know all the different outcomes, not just one. But this series felt different. It really felt like an adventure. It was also reassuring that if we made a choice that resulted in “the end” we could go back and change our minds! Oh, how I wish we could do the same thing in real life at times. The 90s nostalgia with this series really appeals to me as well!
Harry Potter Series, J.K. Rowling
I read through the Harry Potter series about once a year. Each time I close the page on the last book, I have to fight the urge to start back over again. The writing, the adventure, the characters, and the depth, all make this series a perfect choice to come back to over and over again. Nothing like battling Voldemort and the Death Eaters to ease your mind from your current tribulations.
Loose Chronicles, R.D. Gaines
Humorous, witty, care-free, “dad jokes” in the best sense, all told from the perspective of a dog. There are few things I can think of that would have a greater effect on reducing anxiety. Each short chapter is a quick story, making it effortless to pick up at any time.
Wildwood Series, Colin Meloy
A young adult series written by the lead singer of one of my favorite bands; Colin Meloy of The Decemberists. Wildwood is a fantasy adventure series with a resemblance to The Chronicles of Narnia, complete with lyrical text, and augmented by beautifully whimsical illustrations brought to life by Carson Ellis, who also happens to be Colin’s wife. This is a series to get lost in, and to read over and over again.
Do you have comfort books, movies, or authors? Share them with us on our social media pages!
Here is one of my favorite scenes from Garden State- something about this scene is so cathartic, and of course this movie has one of the best soundtracks of all time (in my opinion, of course).
Rachel Wickstrom coordinates marketing at Hidden Shelf Publishing house. She’s an avid reader, master party-planner, craft enthusiast, a mom to two young boys with wildly long hair, and is married to a hospital chaplain. As an Oregon native, Rachel’s childhood memories are scented with juniper berries and the crisp mountain air of Central Oregon. She currently lives in Boise, Idaho where her days are scented with lukewarm coffee, and spilled snacks.
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