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Comfort In Times Of Sadness

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Comfort in Times of Sadness

Everyone has endured trying times in recent weeks.  From the international scene to the local, we have experienced horror, loss, and sadness, perhaps a vague sense of depression.  We have witnessed the tragedy of Haiti which, of all places, should not have to absorb more pain.  We have recoiled at senseless violence, most recently at the University of Alabama.  Closer to home, we have sadly lost two former staff, Charlotte Horton Sayers and Dave Mahone, and current staff have experienced individual losses and anxieties.  In our community, we mourn the passing of Kelly Combs Necessary, an irrepressible champion for advocacy for our own health.  And nearly everyone (perhaps even school children?) is weary of seemingly endless days of snow and gray skies.  We are in need of comfort.

Did you know that the simple act of reading brings calm?  We have written in this column before about the health benefits of reading, including the slowing of physical processes (respiration, heart rate, skin temperature), and the ease of mental stress.  Reading is healthful.

Short and Sweet
When attention spans and ability to concentrate are limited, short selections are the obvious first choice.  Two favorites are “Listening Is an Act of Love” collected by the Story Corps Project, and “I Thought My Father Was God”, edited by Paul Auster.  Both of these are collections of true stories submitted by ordinary people, illustrating the range of experiences of the American people.  All have aired on NPR.  The “Chicken Soup for the Soul” series by Jack Canfield fills a need for quick pick-me-up inspiration.

The soothing rhythm and rhyme of poetry comforts and relaxes.  Two among many choices are “Best Loved Poems of the American People” collected by Hazel Felleman and “Julie Andrews’ Collection of Poems, Songs, and Lullabies”.

Gentle Tales
Gentle reads are another perfect choice for comfort.  Miss Read wrote many warm stories set in the English villages of Fairacre and Thrush Green.  Barbara Pym’s stories, also set in English villages, revolve around the church, and poke gentle fun at human foibles.  She is thought of as the “twentieth century’s answer to Jane Austen”.  The books of Austen herself, as comedic novels of manners of Regency England, are delightful comfort reading.  Georgette Heyer’s classic Regency romances are also charming.  Contemporary tales of small town American life are the territory of writers such as Philip Gulley, Jan Karon, Debbie Macomber, Joan Medlicott, and Ann B. Ross.

Stories of coming of age on the frontier in days gone by, in which characters successfully negotiate challenges and adversities, offer nostalgia, reassurance and hope.  Ralph Moody’s memoirs, beginning with “Little Britches”, are delightful.  Hal Borland’s “High, Wide and Lonesome”, about his childhood on the Colorado plateau is another good choice, as is “Little Heathens”, Mildred Armstrong Kalish’s memoir of her 1930s childhood on a farm in Iowa.  “Here’s To the Ladies: stories of the frontier army” by Carla Kelly is a collection of stories about soldiers’ wives.

Books about nature, especially featuring animals, can bring a sense of warmth, comfort, and pleasure.  Favorite writers include Paul Gallico, James Herriot, Jack London, Roger Tory Peterson, Elizabeth Marshall Thomas, Jon Katz, and John Grogan.  For delightful portraits of birds, read Joanna Burger’s “The Parrot Who Owns Me”, “Alex and Me” by Irene Pepperberg, or “Corvus: My Life with Birds” by Esther Woolfson.

Childhood Favorites
It is always pleasant to revisit favorite books from childhood, no matter what our age.  Try “Little Women” by Louisa May Alcott, the Prydain series by Lloyd Alexander, “The Wonderful Wizard of Oz” by L. Frank Baum, the “Children of Green Knowe” series by L. M. Boston, Walter Brooks’ “Freddy the Pig” series, “The Secret Garden” by Frances Hodgson Burnett, Beverly Cleary’s “Ramona” series, Susan Cooper’s “The Dark Is Rising” series, the “Moffats” series by Eleanor Estes, Walter Farley’s “The Black Stallion” series, “Wind in the  Willows” by Kenneth Grahame, “Raggedy Ann and Andy” by Johnny Gruelle, the dog stories of Jim Kjelgaard or Albert Payson Terhune, the “Chronicles of Narnia” series by C. S. Lewis, the “Mrs. Piggle Wiggle” stories of Betty MacDonald, “The Borrowers” by Mary Norton, “Black Beauty” by Anna Sewell, “Encyclopedia Brown” by Donald J. Sobol, “Treasure Island” by Robert Louis Stevenson,  “Tom Sawyer” by Mark Twain, the “Boxcar Children” by Gertrude Chandler Warner, the “Little House” series by Laura Ingalls Wilder, “Charlotte’s Web” by E. B. White.

More Favorites
Among writers beloved by our parents, grandparents, and maybe us are A. J. Cronin, R. F. Delderfield, D. E. Stevenson, Angela Thirkell, Benedict Freedman, L. M. Montgomery, Gene Stratton Porter, Elswyth Thane, Effie Wilder, Kathryn Forbes, Thyra Bjorn, Rosamunde Pilcher, and Marcia Willett.

That special class of mystery known as “cozies” is akin to the gentle reads mentioned above in focusing on a small, closed community and in keeping violence and dastardly deeds off stage.  Agatha Christie is the prime example of a cozy mystery author.  Other favorites include Lillian Jackson Braun, author of “The Cat Who” series, Nancy Atherton, creator of the “Aunt Dimity” ghost mysteries, Dorothy Gilman, author of the “Mrs. Pollifax” series, and Alexander McCall Smith, whose Precious Ramotswe, Botswanan proprietor of “No. 1 Ladies’ Detective Agency”, has charmed legions of readers.  The new Chet and Bernie series by Spencer Quinn, about a private detective and his K-9 sidekick, is narrated by the dog from a fresh perspective on detective work, and is a real winner.

The old adage that “laughter is the best medicine” really is true.  Try these for a chuckle or a belly buster.  Anything by Bailey White, the Georgia kindergarten teacher turned NPR commentator, is good for a laugh.  “Mama Makes Up Her Mind” and “Sleeping at the Starlite Motel” are collections of short essays about her family and her teaching experiences that are especially funny.  “The Uncommon Reader” by Alan Bennett is a fable about what happens when a Very Important Person begins to think about what she reads.  Don Marquis’ tales of “Archy and Mehitabel” are classics of sly social commentary told by a typewriting cockroach and a cat reincarnated from the time of Cleopatra.  Richard Peck’s “A Long Way from Chicago” and “A Year Down Yonder” are hilarious tales set in the Depression.  Katherine Tucker Windham is a well-known storyteller from Alabama whose tales of growing up in the South will charm your socks off.  Clyde Edgerton’s “Raney” and “Walking Across Egypt” are laugh-out-loud funny.  And anything by Ferrol Sams (“Run with the Horsemen”)or Bill Bryson (“I’m A Stranger Here Myself”)may have you rolling in the floor.

There are so many more.  But try one or two or three of these, and by the time you have read them, spring will be here, and maybe we’ll all feel a little bit sunnier!  For these and more comfort reading, visit or call 988-2541.

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