Tuesday, July 3, 2012

comfort reads (too much bitter and not enough sweet)

today was a momentous day, although i'm probably the only person who would ever view it that way. what did i do that was so special? not much, just took the brothers karamazov and don quixote from next to my bed, and sometimes a great notion from the dining room table, and quietly re-shelved them. yes, that's right! i put them away, and grabbed one of the many unread books teetering on the top of other books to begin reading.

if someone really knew me, they could gauge my mental state by the books on my bedside table. books are both my main source of new thoughts and ideas, and also the socially-acceptable stuffed animals i use to comfort and console myself with. when i'm engaged with living life, when i'm eager to learn and experience things, to encounter new feelings, i devour new books and will often have two or three piled up next to me, keeping me up for hours at night through excitement and wondering what will happen next. conversely, when i'm feeling down or overwhelmed by life, i reach instead for my comfort books - the ones i know inside and out, the ones that won't shock me or surprise me or trick me into feeling emotions i'm not ready to feel - no sneaky books here, no risky books here. just the kind where the words are so familiar they wash through your brain like soft music, the kind where the feelings are known, the aura is comfortable and the reassurance palatable.

it started a while ago when i set aside the murakami book borrowed from a friend (i had no idea what was going to happen next!) and instead reached for don quixote one night before bed. don quixote is supremely funny; it's a great book to read when one wants to relax, and yet be entertained and led down joyful paths, ridiculous paths.

"'Did I not tell you so?' said Don Quixote. 'Wait but a moment, Sancho; I will do it as quickly as you can say the credo.'
"Then, stripping off hastily his breeches, he remained in nothing but skin and shirt. Then, without more ado he cut a couple of capers and did two somersaults with his head down and his legs in the air, displaying such parts of his anatomy as drove Sancho to turn Rozinante's bridle to avoid seeing such a display. So, he rode away fully satisfied to swear that his master was mad."

but a short while later and it wasn't enough. it was too light. when times call for some deep introspection, guided meditations on life and what it all means, yet the reassuring kind that won't lead you into unforeseen territory where you might - accidentally! - think something new, there's nothing better than the brothers karamazov, the ultimate meditation on religion, love, life, passion, pride, and self-deceit. nothing works better to pull you out of your own life and submerse you into another world - another world both culturally and temporally.

"Some snotty-nosed, consumptive moralists, poets especially, often call this thirst for life base. True, it's a feature of the Karamazovs, to some extent, this thirst for life despite all; it must be sitting in you, too; but why is it base? There is still an awful lot of centripetal force on our planet, Alyosha. I want to live, and I do live, even if it be against logic. Though I do not believe in the order of things, still the sticky little leaves that come out in the spring are dear to me, the blue sky is dear to me, some people are dear to me, whom one loves sometimes, would you believe it, without even knowing why; some human deeds are dear to me, which one has perhaps long ceased believing in, but still honors with one's heart, out of old habit."

and what then? the damn rains continued all through june and sometimes a great notion reappeared in front of me for my morning reads. it's usually my go-to book in november, when i'm ready to fall back into the wonderful coziness of the oregon winter; when i'm ready to fall back in love with the grey skies and the inevitability of several months of never-ending drizzle. when i'm ready to revel in the place i come from - when i'm ready to sink into the moss of kesey's words, like laying in the damp forest as a child, when i'm ready to wallow in troubles that seem to advance as surely and steadily as the steely clouds rolling in from the west.

"Because nothing can be done about the rain except blaming. And if nothing can be done about it, why get yourself in a sweat about it? Matter of fact, it can be convenient to have around. Got worries and frets about the way the old bus is falling to pieces right under you? It's the ruttin' rain. Got a deep, hollow ache bleeding cold down inside the secret heart of you from too many deals fallen through? too many nights in bed with the little woman without being able to get it up? too much bitter and not enough sweet? Yeah? That there, brother, is just as well blamed on the rain; falls on the just and unjust alike, falls all day long all winter long every winter every year, and you might just as well give up and admit that's the way it's gonna be, and go take a little snooze. Or you'll be mouthin' the barrel of your twelve-gauge the way Evert Peterson at Mapleton did last year, or samplin' snail-killer the way both the Meirwold boys did over to Sweet Home. Roll with the blow, that's the easy way out, blame it on the rain and bend with the wind, and lean back and catch yourself forty winks - you can sleep real sound when the rain is lullabying you real nice and sound..."

but somehow, this week, things feel better. enough to put away the snuggly stuffed kitty cats and face the evening free to think new things, feel new things, see new things. read new things!


p.s. are you familiar with the feminist ryan gosling memes, and other such interwebs hilarity? well, in searching for images for this post i came across this site: Literary Ryan Gosling.

i think i'm in love.


  1. It's amazing how those things we love that comfort us can be such a gauge of our moods.

  2. Yes, Mindy, I go to different music for comfort for all kinds of moods. It's so easy to identify with what you've expressed here.