Previously published in the Hughson Chronicle-Denair Dispatch.
What do you read when you need to cope? Or do you?
Haley Stewart, author and host of the Fountains of Carrots podcast, published an ebook called “The Literary Medicine Cabinet: A Guide to Self-Care through Good Books.” The books in the cabinet are the comfort reads one can return to again and again. Somewhere between 600,000 and 1,000,000 books are published every year in the US alone. To be sure, wherever you are emotionally, there is a book for that. But how do you start?
It was some time around college when my reading habits diminished. In a graduate school with graduate reading, I picked up The Witch of Blackbird Pond, then The Island of Blue Dolphins, books I have loved and read again and again since I first met them in the 4th Grade.
Scott O’Dell led to Dickens and I traveled the way through my first pregnancy, graduate school classes and humid Virginia summer with friends I hadn’t seen in years. It relaxed me, refreshed me, and kept my head on straight for future studies.
Then the baby came and books went by the wayside. It was survival time.
In “The Literary Medicine Cabinet,” Stewart makes the case that we need to make time for reading as we would other types of self-care. Indeed, when I finally returned to those old friends, it was at a time in my life when I needed it most.
At the side of hospital crib, I read Zelie Martin’s letters in A Call to a Deeper Love: The Family Correspondence of the Parents of St. Thérèse. How greatly she suffered for her children in their births, deaths, discovered abuse and lastly, that she should leave them prematurely when she learned she was dying of breast cancer. “Life is short and full of misery…we’ll see them again Heaven.” I needed a woman who understood.
I read books that inspired the parts of my soul that could have died in crisis. The creative part, the artist, the one who seeks beauty. I read A Million Little Ways by Emily P. Freeman and I found a purpose for my day-to-day beyond answering questions about my son’s medical condition.
Kristin Lavarnsdatter was the oar that pulled me back to literature, to a healthy escape, to feelings the feels without the weight of feeling. From there, the list of books read and books desired to read only grew.
I discovered both new books from podcast recommendations and checked out books from authors I had heard about but never read. In between, I picked up books I read in high school and remembered liking.
I discovered the grotesque intellectual fodder through O’Connor and the bawdy but loveable, easy-reading characters of Steinbeck’s Cannery Row. The sequel to Cannery Row, Sweet Thursdays, saved me from a no good horrible very bad day.
And as everything both slowed down and sped up, I came to a new place in my journey, when it was time to begin to look back and remember the things that were not quite a tidily tied with a ribbon in my writing. I read Grace Like Scarlett and Forgiving God, allowing myself to walk back through the madness of the miscarriages and the ache of memories from hospital hallways. Could I have read this in the midst of the heartache? I do not think so. At the right time, they were part of healing.
The books that can help through times of trial are as varied as the resources outside the page. You may depend on therapy (self-help books), spiritual direction (spiritual, Christian living, inspiration books), hobbies (in my case, writing and design, possibly science, technology or athletics for other types), exercise and time outdoors (literature set in faraway places) and relationships (great literature).
Stewart’s Cabinet is filled with the books she returns to again and again. Mine is a mixture of the new and the old, the related and unrelated, the inspiring and the dream-making. It takes a process to find the ones you love, the authors you love, but little by little, setting aside time as you would for physical therapy, counseling or showering, you will get there. And you will find new remedies along the way.