Saturday, November 29, 2014

My Favourite Comfort Books ...

Hello, everyone!

My apologies for the hiatus in posting. It's been a particularly busy month with workshops and talks interspersed with treatment for my recently diagnosed normal-tension glaucoma. I'd forgotten, (with the same kind of denial a mom uses to "forget" the pain of labour so she can do it again), how time-consuming specialists' visits, tests and treatments for chronic conditions can be. While I have some vision loss in one eye, my pressures have stabilized, I've managed to avoid surgery and I have time, once again, to enjoy writing some holiday posts (and perhaps, some new workshops for 2015).

Reading has always been one of my favourite comfort activities so I thought I'd share with you a list of my favourite "comfort books" for your own reading pleasure and, perhaps, for holiday gift-giving:

1.   The Guernsey and Potato Peel Pie Society by Mary Ann Shaffer and Annie Barrows (2009)  I hugged this book when I finished reading it for the first time in 2009 and I've read it at least twice since. Set in 1946 and beyond, the story is revealed through a series of letters between an author, Juliet Ashton, who is searching for ideas for her next book and members of the Guernsey Literary Society. Fascinated by the people she is meeting through the letters, Juliet decides to go to Guernsey to meet her new friends. This book describes both life in WW II, German-occupied Guernsey and the invincible spirit, humour  and honour of the people who lived through those times.
2.  The Two of Us: My Life With John Thaw by Sheila Hancock (2004) This wonderful biography/autobiography of British actor, John Thaw, (Morse, Kavanaugh QC, Goodnight, Mr Tom) by his wife, Sheila, (also a well known British actor) provided me with unceasing comfort and the affirmation that I wasn't losing my mind through the early years following my husband's death and I still pick it up from time to time ten years later. It, in concert with its sequel, Just Me, is the best book on spousal grief I've read. Interspersed with stories of their early lives are moving, emotionally honest, italicized segments from Sheila's journals, tracing John's diagnosis with cancer, Sheila's caregiving and her early struggles with bereavement. A sometimes painful but ultimately heartwarming story of strength, hope and deep spousal love.
3.  Listening Below the Noise: A Meditation on the Practice of Silence by Anne LeClaire  (2009)  This eloquent little book sits on my bedside table and I dip into it from time to time just to enjoy the beauty of the writing, let alone the wisdom of the words. Anne LeClaire, a novelist and journalist, shocked her husband, children and friends by deciding to spend every 1st and 3rd Monday in silence. To say that it disrupted the pattern of their lives is an understatement and there was plenty of pushback. But eventually, they  began to learn what she was learning - that in silence lies joy and a much deeper connection with oneself, with others and with Nature.
4.  Kitchen Table Wisdom: Stories That Heal by Rachel Naomi Remen, MD  (1996/2006) My husband read this wonderful storybook before I did and couldn't resist interrupting what I was doing to read lengthy excerpts out loud. Rachel Remen, a physician, medical educator and patient with a severe chronic illness, writes stories of hope, humour and joy that remind us that even the worst circumstances can bring us experiences of mystery and growth. These stories were a source of comfort and healing as I recovered from my second bout of compassion fatigue.
5.  To Bless the Space Between Us: A Book of Blessings by John O'Donohue (2008) I love this book of blessings and have quoted it often in my workshops and in this blog. John O'Donohue describes a blessing as a circle of light drawn around a person to strengthen, heal and protect. His blessings, steeped in Celtic spirituality, offer comfort and encouragement in situations as varied as beginnings, desires, thresholds, homecomings, states of the heart, callings and endings. 
6.  Enchanted April by Elizabeth von Arnim (1922/2014) This is a gentle story of four very different women from 1920's London who travel to Italy to escape loneliness, sorrow, dreariness and the dissatisfaction of exploitative and overbearing relationships. Once away from the unending winter and greyness of their lives in England, they settle into the sunny warmth, simplicity and undemanding rhythms of a country guesthouse and slowly begin to come to life. I love the book and the British movie by the same name and return to both again and again.
7.  Winter Solstice by Rosamunde Pilcher  (2000) Written in Rosamund Pilcher's warm and evocative style, this story of later-life love, loss and healing weaves through difficulties and tragedy to a thoroughly satisfying Christmas ending in a rambling house in Northern Scotland. If you're looking for an easy and predictable but heartwarming read to help you transition to the spirit of the holiday season, this is it.
8.  Why I Wake Early: New Poems by Mary Oliver (2004) Anything by Mary Oliver is comfort reading for me. I especially like this volume which includes poems on crickets, toads, trout, lilies, goldenrod, bears, greeting the morning, watching the deer and lingering in happiness. Reading Mary Oliver is like going for a silent walk through woods and meadows with a very dear friend - absolutely perfect.
9.  Girl of the Limberlost by Gene Stratton-Porter (1909) I first read this inspiring book when I was about ten or twelve years old. It tells the story of Elnora Comstock, an impoverished girl living in the Limberlost who, despite her father's tragic death and her mother's strict and bitter parenting, manages to "lift herself above her station", excel at school and become a gifted violinist. Any time I feel discouraged about life, I go back and reread the story of this spunky young woman who overcame so much to find the happiness she sought.  
10.  Christmas With Rosamunde Pilcher by Rosamunde Pilcher  (1997)  I'm not sure why I love this book so much but every year I bring it down from the bookshelf on the last Sunday in November to mark the beginning of the holiday season. I settle in front of the fire with a glass of eggnog and with Marty Hagen's Night of Silence playing on the stereo and carefully turn the shiny smooth pages taking in exquisite photos of winter in Scotland and of the Pilcher family preparing for and enjoying their family Christmas. Then I snuggle more deeply into the chair to read from the last third of the book, a lesser-known Pilcher short story, Miss Cameron's Christmas. This gentle tale of family caregiver, Miss Cameron, and of the kindness of neighbours at Christmas time never fails to lift my heart and to begin the season on exactly the right note.

So, these are ten of my favourite comfort books. What about you? Are there stories you might like to re-read yourself or to give friends, children or grandchildren as a gift of comfort this holiday season?

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