Saturday, August 26, 2006

Comfort reading

I realized that I wrote something not quite true in yesterday's post: I wrote that losing myself in a plot is what I need in stressful times when I'm not reading well. But the truth is, I don't do particularly well with plot-driven novels. What I should have said is something more like "I need to lose myself in interesting characters or a well-drawn atmosphere or in careful emotional analysis." Because those are the things I enjoy most; I tend to get impatient with intricately plotted novels. Most often what draws me to a book are people and relationships. I am stereotypically female in this sense, aren't I? No fast-paced action -- give me a relationship story! I feel the same way about movies; I'll watch action movies, but I can get bored in the middle of them and sometimes fall asleep. But give me an interesting character, and even if that nothing happens to that character, I'll be happy. There are exceptions -- I loved the Phillip Pullman trilogy, His Dark Materials, which has a lot of plot, but it also has a lot of ideas, which is another thing that draws me to a novel. I liked Neal Stephenson's novel Quicksilver, which has lots of plot and ideas, but I wasn't so enchanted that I felt the need to pick up the next book in the trilogy. I got a little frustrated trying to keep the details straight in that book. Perhaps it's my bad memory; I do better analyzing relationships and character than keeping plot details straight in my head.

I liked your suggestions for comfort reading from yesterday's post very much; I would have picked up Anne of Green Gables immediately if I'd had a copy at home. I made the silly mistake of leaving them with my parents years ago, thinking they were children's books that I'd outgrown. Oh, no. And I very nearly picked up a mystery novel. We have a ton of Dorothy Sayers books around. I've read a couple and liked them. And Jane Austen is the perfect comfort read for me; familiar but never dull. I was tempted to look around to see if we have any Louisa May Alcott, which would have worked very well. But I was scanning the shelves yesterday and came across an Elizabeth Taylor novel I haven't read, The Sleeping Beauty, and it struck me as just the thing. I've read Taylor recently, In a Summer Season, and so I knew what to expect, and that I'd like it. And it's perfect -- set on the seashore and evoking a mysterious atmosphere, with complex characters whose lives seem quiet and serene but as the novel goes along the deeper levels of unhappiness reveal themselves. I like the slow movement of Taylor's novels, the careful attention to tone and mood and gesture. This sort of thing is much more absorbing to me than something fast-paced. Looking around online I see that Taylor has at least a dozen novels. I'll have to collect some more to have on hand for the next time I'll need something comforting.