A few years ago, when I was grieving my mother’s death, a friend sent me a link to an article on the fine art of re-reading.
The gist of the article was this—re-reading a favorite book in a time of stress is another way of providing comfort to ourselves while we’re deep in the healing process.
My husband often jokes that he knows when something’s really bothering me because I reach for my Jane Austen. I’m not sure if I can explain why I love those books so much but I readily admit that they are my idea of the ultimate comfort food.
Grilled cheese and tomato soup for my head, I guess.
I’m sure that part of this is the peace I feel when I’m immersed in something familiar when everything around me is stormy and painful. But another part of this pleasure is the sensation of enchantment that accompanies opening the covers of certain books.
I think this enchantment is the kick—the high—that readers experience when they connect deeply with another human being through the written word. To me, it’s a sensation like no other—which probably explains the large number of full book shelves in my house and the number of library cards in my wallet.
Part of this reader’s high is a desire to share these special books with others so I’ve decided to launch a weekly series called “Books That Enchant” and I’m asking everyone who would like to participate to plunge right in and share your close-to-the-heart-enchanted specials.
The definition of enchantment is up to you. It could be a book you read as a child that still makes you smile when you think about it. It could be a full-immersion piece of non-fiction with prose so juicy, you want to ingest it slowly. It could be something philosophical that made you think and change your way of seeing the world. It could be something that conjured up such a powerful emotion (Old Yeller comes to mind here), that just hearing the title squeezes your heart. Or it could be a story so fascinating, the first paragraph grabs you by the collar and won’t let go.
Books that enchant. Let’s make a list and share it with one another, shall we?
And sometimes, I just can’t resist pulling one of her novels off the shelf just for the pleasure of her company.
Last fall, I decided not to renew my membership at the Howe Library in Hanover, NH, arguably the best library in the Upper Valley. You see, I have all of these unread books on my own shelves that continue being unread because I go to the library.
Really doesn’t make sense now, does it?
The idea that denying myself access to the Howe would mean I’d plunder my own shelves. I also gave myself permission to stop reading any book that failed to entertain.
I’ve also been trying not to re-read because that goes against my purpose.
But then I gave in and Jane’s Persuasion came off the shelf.
Guess what? Ann marries Frederick again. And Ann’s father and older sister are still just as fatuous as before and her younger sister Mary just as funny.
Ah, so satisfying.
When we are under stress, the article stated, we find comfort in the familiar. And for readers, that comfort is most often found in classic literature.
When Marie sent me the article, I was re-reading Edith Wharton’s The Age of Innocence, one of my all-time favorites. But as much as I enjoy Edith, it’s Jane Austen who rules my heart when it comes to comfort books.
For years, my collection of Janes was a rather dilapidated mess of old paperbacks, a couple of which had failed bindings. I once sighed over this, and told my husband that “someday, I am going to buy myself a full set of Jane in hardcover so I can read and re-read them to my heart’s content.” That year, for my birthday, he presented me with this wonderful set of Jane Austen done by the Oxford University Press from the earliest print editions of her work. They are a treasure of historical and literary pleasure.
The comfort of familiar books is powerful. It’s the reason why young children want to “read” the same book over and over because what Bartholomew does with the Oobleck on page 10 is exactly what he did on page 10 the last time the book was opened. Books are rational in that way, behaving as expected again and again.
And for me, when my whole life has been turned upside down by a hurricane or illness, there’s nothing better than Jane.
Today, I’m restarting my quest for Irene recovery funds to stabilize the bank on which our house sits. Please pass the Pride and Prejudice.