Comfort Reads

I’m assuming anyone reading this blog will have had, by and large the same sort of reaction to the United States election results last week that I did, namely, dismay, disbelief, disappointment, sadness, anger, confusion. If you turned to liquor in your time of need then this article on Trump, Brexit and the lessons of history by Tobias Stone provides sobering thought. Politics isn’t the business of this blog in general – I leave that to others – although I do believe the upholding of human rights and the struggle for equality and justice for all in the creation of a fair and progressive society is everybody’s business. I’ve started my annual rereading of A Christmas Carol earlier than usual this year and the ghost of Jacob Marley expresses it this way:

“Business!” cried the Ghost. “Mankind was my business. The common welfare was my business; charity, mercy, forbearance, and benevolence were, all, my business.” 

If only Marley’s ghost hadn’t dismissed this business in favour of the pursuit of wealth he wouldn’t have ended up with that monstrous iron safe attached to his ankle in the afterlife. What a dreadful fate then, to be trapped in a gold lift for an eternity. Just imagine that and smile a little if you can.

I’m wondering what people read for comfort when they can’t read any more Trump think pieces. Some people turn to the literature of their childhood. I don’t generally do that. I think maybe it’s a mistake to go back and can lead to disappointment. If pressed though, I’d pick up Carrie’s War by Nina Bawden or The Owl Service by Alan Garner. Both are set in Wales and both feature myths and curses. My copy of Carrie’s War had a skull on the front cover that I had to turn away from me at night for fear of repercussions, namely a haunting of some kind. I was a superstitious child. Nothing much has changed in that regard. I had a book of Hans Christian Anderson fairytales, beautifully illustrated – a gift from my Danish grandmother. I would always return to The Little Match Girl and the things she saw when she struck a light, a christmas tree, a marvellous feast.

Aside from A Christmas Carol, from my adult reading life I’d suggest  Raymond Carver’s short story A Small, Good Thing. It’s a difficult story in many ways but was a great comfort to me in a time of grief and offers hope of a kind. Actually there’s this one particular sentence upon which the entire story turns, it’s toward the end of the story, but you’ll have to read it for yourself.  It’s from the collection of stories Cathedral, published in 1983. But anything by Raymond Carver really. Also, anything by Alice Munro. Another short story writer. Start with the anthology Dear Life but read everything. They are finely-honed vignettes of Canadian life and in particular the lives of women. She is compelling and you’ll probably become addicted to her and end up binge reading everything. There are worse vices.

Finally – you’re only getting three – Angela Carter’s last novel, Wise Children. It’s about Shakespeare’s plays and the lives of twin sisters who trod the boards as they reminisce about their life in theatre. It is full of magic realism and humour, and with the news that Steve Bannon is apparently being appointed as chief Whitehouse strategist, I find myself swiftly reaching for my copy.

So what’s your comfort read?

Hans Christian Anderson’s matchgirl sees a vision of a christmas tree from the striking of a match.

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