Sunday, April 14, 2013

Reading as a Refuge

I've been reading since before I can remember. Actually I don't remember learning to read. I just read at some point. I know I was read to a lot by my parents (a very good and wise practice) and apparently I picked up my letters from watching Sesame Street.

Ever since I learned to read it's been impossible to pry a book out of my hand. I was given books for birthdays, Christmas, any other occasion. I remember being given The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe during a special trip to Tallahassee's mall and almost finishing it on the way home. I would have finished it with no problem but it's really hard to read by the headlights of other cars.

I read in the bathtub, in bed, on my lap at the dinner table (as long as I could get away with it), on the bus, while walking in between classes, you name it. I usually had three or four books scattered around the house in various stages so whatever room I wound up in I could just pick up where I left off. When I read I would completely disappear into the world inhabited by the book's characters, so much so that I didn't hear anyone calling me. When I emerged I was confused and blinking, as if having been woken suddenly from a dream.

Reading has always been a refuge for me. When I was sick, sad, upset, anything, I could climb into a book and escape for a while. Books were/are for me what drugs and alcohol are for other people. There are only a few times in my life when I could not be comforted with a book.

It would be possible to gauge just how upset I was just by my choice of books. Mild worry? Something non-fiction and interesting. Persistent worry? Fiction and nothing sad. The roll call continues through funny fiction and then children's books.

As I mentioned, there have been a few times when I could not be comforted by the usual methods. Primarily after losing the boys. Having the habit at reading at bedtime firmly established meant that I was at loose ends when choosing a book. I had stacks of books at the bedside so I could drop something ineffective and try something else. I would frequently read well past midnight, falling asleep with my glasses and the light on. The greatest evil to be avoided was time in the dark to think. I didn't want to think. 

At some point I stumbled upon the perfect thing when I was having a dark evening: astronomy. I started reading books about star charts, books with photographs of nebulae and galaxies. No history, no real science, no people, just stars. When I turned the lights out I could still see the expanding waves of superheated gasses, the extraordinary range of colors, the tiny pinpricks of light.

It was this week when I spent several worried days wondering if history were repeating itself that I realized was automatically reaching for the books about stars. Just the smell of the pages of my largest book of photographs was immediately comforting. I thought about this and wondered about the reasons behind it. I finally realized that stars and galaxies and pulsars and nebulae were nonthreatening, impersonal things. Such huge, magnificent entities that they seemed to have almost nothing to do with me. So vast that they dwarfed my own problems and worries. And yet, part of God's creation, just like my babies.

What do you reach for when you're looking for refuge?


  1. I either read at fiction book or watch episodes of either "The Office" or "Psych". Those are my go-to shows when I need to just laugh and try not to focus on whatever is troubling me.

    I really like reading mysteries when I need to keep my mind off of worry because they engage me very easily and I want to keep reading to find out the ending. :)

  2. fiction, historical fiction is a favorite, but I usually go for anything award winning. I gave up fiction for lent this year and am reading a biography, which is good, but it certainly doesnt help me escape as much as my beloved fictrion

  3. I think I have lately used baking as my way to deal with stress; knitting at times and blog reading... I am thinking that I would like some more easy reads for the Bright Season...

  4. I'm not sure if I'm looking for refuge but reading pioneer womens' diaries is a great way to learn how the women who made this country great lived and to help me appreciate all the conveniences I take for granted everyday.

    Hearts West and the Diary of Martha Farnsworth are two great books to read. In Hearts West read about mail order brides who traveled by ship from Maryland all the way around the tip of South America to then come back up to Oregon to marry men they'd never met! So brave!

  5. My short list of restorative fiction - not in any particular order - often read yearly:

    For the Time Being by Annie Dillard
    The Brothers Karamazov by Dostoyevsky
    Kristin Lavransdatter by Sigrid Undset
    In this House of Brede by Rumor Godden

    Dillard I read while I was pregnant, and waiting to lose my twins. I like my theodicy straight up - like a shot of vodka on Pascha - yes, that is meant to be humorous!

    Right now - Phillip Ball's books on structure and pattern in nature...all the better to appreciate Dostoyevsky's sticky little leaves in spring...

    Your blog is a tonic for me today - so, I guess I read really good blogs too!

  6. What a lovely post. I'm a life-long bookworm, too, but for me music seems to be the first thing I reach for in times of stress. It's so cathartic, powerful, comforting, and energizing...depending on what's needed. I also took up knitting and crochet after a long hiatus (and learned nalbinding) because I desperately needed something to calm my nerves while we were preparing for seminary.

    These things all continue to be great comforts, along with prayer and the support of loved ones!

  7. I am also a voracious reader - I'd say that my comfort books are probably re-reads of favorites - like the Little House books.

  8. I would like to say the name of something deeply spiritual, preferably by one of the Fathers, but in truth, it's usually been Lord of the Rings. Or Harry Potter.
    L.G. - I have had Kristin on the shelf glaring at me for over a year; you've given me a little push in her direction.

  9. I love hearing what other people turn to! LV, I too am somewhat chagrined to have to admit to having no spiritual books on that list, but I try my best to be honest on this blog, so there it is.

  10. LV - I suggest reading the Tina Nunnally translation. I have read both - and I love the old translation too - but I'm told that the newer translation is faithful to the way Undset wrote.

    Kristin is honestly one of those books I'd like every high school girl to read - it's that good, and so wonderfully human.

    Matushka I'm so glad you're feeling the happy tired of a thriving baby. Prayers daily from this corner, too.

  11. I'm a little late, but I'd like to chime in with my own list of "comfort reading."

    Clouds of Witness, Gaudy Night, or Busman's Honeymoon (OK, ANY of Dorothy Sayers's Lord Peter Wimsey books - I have a special affection for Clouds of Witness.)

    Ngaio Marsh's Inspector Alleyn books. Even if I remember the outcome, the characters are like old friends to me.

    I'm partial to classic mysteries, as you can tell, but I also love reading Miss Read (pen name of Dora Jesse Saint) books when I need something soothing: Thrush Green, Return To Thrush Green, Village Diary, etc.

    As you can see, nothing remotely serious, no great "Literature," and alas, nothing spiritual, just literary macaroni and cheese. But sometimes I need a big bowl of mac and cheese. :) (Oh, maybe I shouldn't mention M&C during Lent!)

    By the way Matushka, you may be interested to know that my Baptism is coming up on Palm Sunday!

  12. Carlyn, thanks for chiming in! And what wonderful news!!! Many Years!!!


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