Saturday, 8 September 2012

Comfort reading




Ask any fervent reader and they'll tell you that they have a treasured few books they read over and over again. Know you're going to be stuck on a train or a coach? Want to fill a few minutes with the familiar delights of a well-loved tale? Or maybe you like to check in with a long-standing paper friend, just to see if you're still as close as you remember?

Books - like music, scents and photographs - have the power to magically reconnect us with the past. When you choose your reading matter with discernment, every book you read seeps into your DNA. Sometimes it's an author's entire works, rather than a single book, but the same principle applies.

Richard Bach's The Gift of Wings is one such book for me. Just holding the battered cover transports me 25+ years through time. I'm on the Staten Island ferry, heading for Manhattan, and wondering how to spin my disaster of an American Dream into a more positive adventure.

I can see my 1986 self now, a bagel in one hand and Gift of Wings in the other, breathing in the salt-sea air as I devour R Bach's collection of old articles, especially the ones that speak of limitless possibility and the freedom to shape my own destiny. I glance up, periodically, watching as Manhattan looms ever larger, and the water glistens like a molten, silvery sheet. And I whisper to the stern sky, "This is the moment I have chosen." Ah, bless.

I rarely read the pieces in order - I have my favourites there too. Over the years, those preferences change, and sometimes so does my attitude towards the book's contents. I guard against the internal 'tsk-tsk', where the jaded, cynical side of my nature swamps the bright-eyed optimist to mutter despondently, 'Yes, well, it's fine for you to think like that, but look at the life you've been able to lead.'

I know differently, of course. I only have to look at my own, meandering path to recognise that choices are made every day and consequences pop up around us like daisies. I started reading Richard Bach's books in 1983, long before Gift of Wings joined my travelling bag for $3.95 from some un-named bookstore (but probably Weiser's).

I know too that all writers write a version of themselves - a 'who I wish to be and be seen as'. But then, don't we all?

My comfort reading also includes:

Illusions - Richard Bach
Jonathan Livingston Seagull - Richard Bach
Wuthering Heights - Charlotte Bronte
Jude the Obscure - Thomas Hardy
Secrets of Dr Taverner - Dion Fortune.

So what's on your list?

8 comments:

  1. I can't believe anybody reads Thomas Hardy for comfort! I actually don't re-read books very much, even if I love them. But I make and exception for Notes from a Small Island and Notes from a Big Country. The latter in particular is so bite-sized it's ideal.

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    1. Hi Chloe, well maybe comfort is the wrong word. It's an enjoyment and a sense of familiarity. Thomas Hardy is like a fun-fair ride that you know won't end well, but you go along just the same.

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  2. Tried to comment, I apologize if this is sent twice--glitchy computer. Good choices, I've read all except A Gift of Wings. My comfort read would be Mythago Wood by Robert Holdstock. My copy is falling apart. (: Interesting post, Derek.

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  3. Hi Clarissa, now that you mention it, friends absolutely raved about Mythago Wood years ago and I never got round to reading it. (Hangs head in embarrassment.) Perhaps a list of 'to be reads' is another post in the making. You may also enjoy: Lilith by George MacDonald, The Wood Beyond the World by William Morris and Quest for the Faradawn by Richard Ford. In fact, Quest did fall apart through repeated reading.

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  4. Hi Derek - I love to read. I enjoy the escapism. :-)

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    1. Sometimes I think fiction can seem more real - and engaging than real life (whatever that is!).

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  5. I love this post, I felt like I was on the Staten Island ferry with you. I've never read a Gift of Wings but now you've got me curious.

    Have a great weekend, Derek. :)

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    1. Then you'll love my work-in-progess, Scars & Stripes - I think there might be an early draft of the opening chapter, somewhere in the blog. Starts off in Britain and skips across the pond.

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