Literary Comfort Food/Mashed Potatoes for Your Mind/What to Read When You Feel Like Crap (Part 1)
Books have always been my biggest source of comfort. They’re a good friend, a much-needed vacation, a squishy cat, an endless bag of chocolate-covered pretzels, and a couple of Klonopin, all wrapped up in a super-sized, soft blanket. Books are the best place to hide until you feel all ready to face that big, old mean world. Here’s Part 1 of my list of my favorite sources of literary comfort food. Librarians love lists, so here they are, in no particular order:
1. Weetzie Bat/Necklace of Kisses: Sick of me talking about Francesca Lia Block, yet? I love her. I should have read her when I was younger, since I probably needed Weetzie Bat when I was 17 more than I need her now, but I kind of skipped reading YA fiction as a teen. I had professors in library school that sang the praises of Weetzie Bat, but I somehow avoided reading it until fairly recently. Now I wonder how I managed without her for so long. Weetzie makes you believe that anything is possible, and everything can be full of magic and wonder if you just want it to be. She manages to do this without being cheesy or saccharine. Weetzie’s world is one I always wanted to run away to, if only for a little while: “Fifi’s house was a Hollywood cottage with one of those fairy-tale roofs that look like someone has spilled silly sand. There were roses and lemon trees in the garden and two bedrooms inside the house—one painted rose and the other aqua. The house was filled with plaster Jesus statues, glass butterfly ashtrays, paintings of clowns, and many kinds of coasters.” I mean, I don’t even LIKE clowns and I want to be there. Weetzie says things like how she wishes she could sprinkle everybody with blue glitter to keep them sparkly and safe. Weetzie is the muse we all want in our lives.Necklace of Kisses contains Weetzie’s adventures as adult, because I bet Francesca Lia Block knows that even though we’re older, we haven’t outgrown her. We still need some Weetzie in our lives.
2. Sassafrass, Cypress, and Indigo: It begins, “Where there is a woman, there is magic.” I think people probably best know Ntzoke Shange for her play For Colored Who Have Considered Suicide/When the Rainbow is Enuf, but I was introduced to her through this novel. In high school, I was told to do a book report on a novel with an African American author, and I blindly chose this book without even cracking the spine. It was kind of serendipitous, because Sassafrass, Cypress, and Indigo has been one of my main literacy security blankets ever since. Shange’s writing is all-enveloping: overripe and fecund. When I first read it, I most identified with Indigo, the youngest of the three sisters. Indigo’s section of the book is fraught with fiddle-playing that speaks to the ancestors, recipes, and magic conjuring spells. When I reread the book in college, Cypress, the middle sister, was my go-to girl. Cypress’s choices took her down so many exciting and bizarre paths. I could really relate to her as a kind-of-lost 20-something. I’m definitely due for a reread now that I’m in my 30s. I’d love to see what Sassafrass, the oldest daughter, and I have in common.
3. Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland: Did every little blonde girl think she was Alice? I know I did. I have distinct memories of being in my Grandma’s living room, pretending to shrink down to a thimble, only to jump up, stand on my tippy-toes, and try to stretch my head into the clouds. I’m glad I kept reading Alice as I grew older, because I discover new things every time I read it, which is pretty often. I go to Alice whenever I feel a little lost or directionless. Alice is also a great mentor when you feel like everyone in a position of authority is a total idiot. The chapter that always speaks to me is “Pig and Pepper”, which was sadly left out of the Disney movie, which I also love. In this chapter, Alice is faced with the Cook and the Duchess, who are acting like terrifying little lunatics, screaming and throwing pots and pans and flinging pepper everywhere. In the midst of it all, there’s a baby Alice just has to rescue. Alice rallies her courage and saves the baby, but kind of all for naught. Once outside the cottage, the baby morphs into a pig and runs on off into the woods. Talk about rude. Talk about ungrateful! How many times do I feel just the same way, like all the hard work I do amounts to nothing? Lots. But does Alice cry or throw a tantrum or give up? Not our girl. She keeps on keeping on. Oh, to be as strong and brave as Alice.
4. Neil Gaiman’s Sandman Series: Though I read Archie comics as a kiddo, I lost my way as an adult and stopped reading comics all together. The Sandman Series got me back where I belong. These graphic novels require a well-versed reader. Gaiman is always cleverly referencing Shakespeare or folklore or the comic universe as a whole. There are so many multi-faceted characters in this series, most of which revolve around Dream, one of the seven Endless. The Endless are kind of like Gods, but not. Just read it. You’ll understand. While Death is the most charming and Desire is the most glamorous, my favorite has always been Delirium. Delirium looks a little like Cyndi Lauper, a little like Tori Amos. She used to be known as Delight, but the fates shifted and she became Delirium. She’s joyous, but always with that underlying sadness hinting at what was taken from her. Delirium is the ultimate little girl lost character. Don’t underestimate her though, because she’s powerful as hell. I been known to eat one of her go-to meals, which is raspberry-filled chocolate with mango juice (of course, her chocolate is people-shaped and prone to making out with each other). I want to be her. I want to take care of her. I try not to own too many books as I get buried pretty fast. The Sandman comics are a must-own, though. Beautiful, dark, tortured and magical.
5. Waiting for Godot: I was a theatre major in my undergrad, and, for a while, my only non-school assigned reading was plays. Stacks and stacks of them. I trolled used book stores for old musty copies of just any old play. I’ve gotten rid of most of what I acquired during that time of my life, but I’ll never get rid of Waiting for Godot, because it’s perfect reading material for when I’m feeling like my mental wheels are stuck in the mud. Estragon and Vladimir are, get this, waiting for a character named Godot. During the wait, they talk of suicide and repentance. It’s kind of a strange play to go to for comfort, but I’ve always been struck by Estragon and Vladimir’s refusal to leave each other. It’s not out of love, necessarily, probably more of an unhealthy co-dependence and/or the fear of change and the unknown. The play is absurd and tragic, and ends with the two main characters insisting they’re about to leave, but they never do. They’re stuck, fully aware of a situation that will only end in misery, but with an irrational need to stay. Samuel Beckett always intended the play to be performed by two men, but in my mind, I’ve been in a few romantic relationships that have felt just like this.
So ends Part 1 of Books to Read When You Feel Like Crap. I’ll write the second half when I’m good and ready. What is your literary security blanket?