“I have a shelf of comfort books, which I read when the world closes in on me, or something untoward happens.” –Anne McCaffrey
This quote exemplifies my reading life in 2021. Comfort reads dominated my reading log. Last December, I re-read the Christmas themed volume from The Mitford Series, Shepherds Abiding, by Jan Karon. This is favorite series of mine is a slow amble through the ups and downs in a small mountain village as seen through the everyday life and ministry of an Episcopal priest named Father Tim. When I finished that book, I couldn’t stop. I chose to re-read the entire series from the middle forward and back around to the beginning. The cast of characters were the precise company I needed as I weathered Midwest winter days and nights compounded by pandemic isolation.
I have been enjoying this series since I was a twenty-six-year-old newlywed. In those early years, I experienced a loneliness that I couldn’t yet name, and these books were a comfort.
The interesting thing about re-reading favorites is that they serve as a measuring stick for one’s growth and maturity.
I had another Christmastime favorite that became an annual ritual. I bought the book while browsing the book bins at Barnes and Noble shortly after I graduated from college, and read it into motherhood. The story featured a Vermont family who spent their Decembers selling Christmas trees in New York City. In the early years, the book transported me to a destination I’d only visited in books and at a sparkly, magical time of year. I was drawn to the story’s depiction of how neighbors formed community around this family that was far away from home and living simply in a rustic camper trying to earn much of their yearly income in a few short weeks.
The Nutcracker Ballet was a secondary character, and I loved reminiscing about my own days dancing in our local production. But later, the story began reading differently as my experiences as a mother grew. The father telling the story had, what I considered, an overreaction to his young daughter’s interest in attending the ballet with a neighbor friend and her family.
I took a break from the annual reading, and considered how traditions and rituals can change or need to end. When I picked it up a few years later, I didn’t experience the joy and excitement I’d felt in earlier readings. I was now so annoyed by the father’s self-absorption that I decided I had outgrown the book entirely and retired it from my shelves.
The act of reading shapes us. The stories we read can serve as mirrors.
I love sharing books I read and the insights I discover between the covers. This reading room can be a conversation. I love hearing what books spark others’ interest. Readers make up one of my favorite communities (along with gardeners and yogis.)
Besides sharing the current books I’m finishing, I’ll also share books that were instrumental in helping me navigate difficult days and find the courage to make necessary changes and later heal from those difficulties.