Comfort Reading

It’s time to Tackle Your TBR Pile! http://www.wishfulendings.com/2015/09/tackle-your-tbr-read-thon-its-kick-off.html

I admit it—my TBR pile is enormous. I buy a lot of books I fully intend to read sometime, honestly, or at the very least loan out to people, or keep on hand in case someone needs a book for a school assignment. So why do I so often, when I’m in need of something to read, return to old favorites instead of making a dent in the teetering pile?

Some days, when I’m tired or feeling a little low, reading is the perfect activity. But it’s those days when I’m least capable of tackling something new—when I really need an old favorite that’s worn grooves in my brain over the years. Sometimes it’s books I loved as a teen: Heir of Sea and Fire by Patricia McKillip, The Name of the Rose by Umberto Eco, Anne of Green Gables by L.M. Montgomery, The Perilous Gard by Elizabeth Marie Pope. Sometimes it’s more recent favorites, like Shades of Grey by Jasper Fforde (sequel coming out next year!), Crown Duel by Sherwood Smith, The Yiddish Policemen’s Union by Michael Chabon, Sylvester by Georgette Heyer. I can slip into those worlds easily, knowing what to expect and matching the book to my mood. Comforting, and restful.

But there’s more to it than that. I may be reaching for these old friends for comfort, but I’m not the same person I was when I read a book the first time, or even the fifth or the twentieth time. Every time, I see something new, and in that sense even an old favorite is a brand new book. Sometimes that backfires: I’ve gone back to a book only to discover I’ve changed enough that I no longer love it, and that’s a horrible feeling. But mostly I find my comfort reads don’t change much over the years, and I’m grateful for it.

So here’s my challenge: what are your comfort reads? What stories do you come back to even though you’ve got fresh, new, potentially wonderful books at your fingertips? Leave your comments below from now until September 23, and one random commenter will receive their choice of one of my books—Emissary, The Smoke-Scented Girl, or Servant of the Crown. I look forward to seeing your titles—and would love it if some of them are the same as mine.

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New Release!

servant experiment 2My latest book, SERVANT OF THE CROWN, is now available for purchase in print and as an e-book at Amazon.com, Barnes & Noble, Smashwords, Kobo, and more!

My Library Adventures

bookstackI used to work at the public library. When I told people this, they generally reacted with great enthusiasm, especially the readers, since I think there’s a tiny part of every reader’s soul that’s a librarian—“That would be so great, being surrounded by all those books!” When I explained that my job involved taking carts of books out, putting them back on the shelves, then returning for more carts, they became less enthusiastic. That part of my job was hard and sometimes unpleasant; there’s the problem of making room on the shelves that are already packed full, the problem of never having time to actually read the books you were putting away, the problem of constant sore feet and lower back pain. Having great co-workers was essential, because the job itself was often tedious.

As for the myth of the quiet, peaceful library, come around just before story time and see how quiet forty children are when they’re racing around the shelves while their parents ignore them. This happened ALL THE TIME. I saw moms with their heads bent down over their cell phones while their children were sobbing nearby, unattended. The only thing worse was the parents who told their kids to put books back after they’d yanked them off the shelves. As if three-year-olds remember where they got things or know the alphabet. (Fine. Some kids that age know the alphabet. I did. They still have no idea of shelving conventions.) Every one of the shelvers developed a cringe reaction to those words because the least pleasant job of all was going through the shelves looking for books that were out of place.

The real joy of working in a library is not having access to all those books, though that’s a bonus too. It’s seeing the sheer variety of human beings who come through its doors. No one is turned away. Even the grimy, unwashed man we all knew used the library as a shelter didn’t get worse treatment than being gently told he couldn’t sleep in the chairs. I saw people who came solely to use the Internet and others who bought piles of books from the book sale shelves and people who checked out fifty DVDs at a time as well as those who came for books.

And I got to know them. The young man with mental disabilities who came every Wednesday and checked out exactly five DVDs, then had us circle the date on the library calendar handout that they’d be due. The women who always came for story time on the same day and time with kids we knew were too young to appreciate it, just so they could spend time with other moms. The man in the wheelchair who couldn’t reach the floor outlet, who had the biggest power adapter for his computer I’d ever seen. The three boys who used the computers to play Minecraft together, two of whom tormented the third to tears and made me wish I was there as a mom rather than a library worker. The seventy-year-old man who hit on me as I showed him how to use the computer catalog. (That’s funny in hindsight, but at the time was just seriously awkward.)

But there’s one man I’m never going to forget. This encounter happened when I was putting away books in the middle grade section, which was near one bank of computers. I could clearly hear, but not see, a man having a conversation on his phone. (NOTE: Don’t have loud conversations on your phone in the library! Everyone can hear you! There’s a point at which it’s no longer eavesdropping and more a matter of pretending not to be interested in someone’s prostate problem.) He was talking to a potential employer and sounded enthusiastic and articulate. It became clear over the course of the conversation that this man really needed this job and was willing to put forth whatever effort was necessary to get it. Finally, he thanked the employer and hung up, but remained at the computer chair. I was really curious at this point to see who this guy was, so I hurried to finish my cart and then wheeled it out around the shelves so I’d pass him.

This is where I got a real shock. I’d built up this picture of a young man, not dressed up (the job was some kind of physical labor) but not a slob. And he pretty much matched that description. But he was also covered in tattoos. Both arms, down his neck into his shirt, and up into his scalp and under his hair. Intricate, colorful, beautiful tattoos. He looked like the cover of Ray Bradbury’s The Illustrated Man. And I immediately felt ashamed of myself for being startled and for having that instant’s reaction that someone who looked like him could sound like the stupid picture I’d built up in my head. My second reaction was Is that employer going to think what I did when he sees him? Is he going to forget about the enthusiastic, genuine guy he spoke to? Because I couldn’t imagine I would be the only one who’d have that reaction. And it made me a little sick to think he might lose out on something important because of that.

I’m not sure there’s a moral to that story, except that it taught me to be a little more careful about what I assumed, and because I wished I could have found out what happened with the job. I saw him again about a month later, at the same computer. This time he was there with his wife. We talked for a bit about children, and they both said how nice it was to have some time away from their young kids. They had a babysitter for about an hour and they spent it at the library. For all libraries these days are shifting focus toward their media collections and free Internet access, the public library never stops being a haven, even for non-readers. I think that’s wonderful. (Except for being hit on by the seventy-year-old man. I am never taking my wedding ring off again.)