Sep 16, 2010

Comfort Reading: A Guest Post by Renay

Note from Ana: Today's guest post is by one of the funniest, smartest and awesomemest bloggers around, Renay at subverting the text. Renay always speaks up about the things she cares about, and she's someone who manages to make me laugh, nod in agreement, and think about things in ways I hadn't considered before about three hundred times per post. But instead of trying to convince you of the truth of this statement, I'll let you discover it for yourself. I hope you're having a great Book Blogger Appreciation Week, by the way!

When Ana asked me to do a guest post, my first thought was, "I AM NOT WORTHY!" followed by crippling indecision and self-loathing. That's just how I roll when my critic-idols come ask me to put my words in their space. I have dreams about posting terrible, error-ridden screeds about chickens, teriyaki sauce and the merits of lawn checkers that no one but me cares about.

I couldn't decide what to write, at all, and then my cat died.

It's very sad, of course. I miss my grumpy ass cat and her snubbing me. I would give a lot to be snubbed by her again. But, life goes on, and now everyone has emotional whiplash from the transition from Paragraph #1 to #2 which speaks volumes about this entire post. Welcome to my head! It is like this all the time!

I am not sure if anything good can come out of my cat's death, but in the end I got an idea of what to post, though the means were inherently negative and often leave me in tears. I mourned, and I read and I mourned. I did a lot of comfort reading the last few weeks. I buried myself in it, like a drowning person in the ocean clings to the giant sea turtle that's just happened to be in the neighborhood. Life is hard and full of woe, and when tragedy strikes, it's hard to know how to move forward. It's hard to know how to continue with the day to day momentum when a piece of your life has been ripped out, when you're at a loss, when you sit down and finally realize that something irreplaceable is gone forever. I dealt by returning to words, because words (at least in English) offer me the grace and the stillness of body, the ability to lie back and go, do, be whatever I want. The Reading Rainbow theme song wasn't lying. LeVar Burton would never lead anyone astray, give me a break.

What do we talk about when talking about comfort reading? It's different for everyone.

I know mine is different, because I don't tend to read books, I tend to sink into fanfiction, which is exactly what I did this time. I dived into the Inception fandom, took a giant swig of the Arthur/Eames kool-aid and never looked back. Really, you could read this which will break you and then put you back together or this which is full of delicious, delicious angst and sexy times, or you could read this which makes me want to EXPLODE FROM HAPPINESS. Except you can't read ANY of them without seeing Inception, so feel free to get on that. This is what I did: I let fandom take me apart with their angst and woe skills and put me back together with their romance and cuddling and make outs. I read and I dealt and I read some more. I can't always manage it these days with books, because it's hard to find the right combination. I can do it with rereading, but it's harder to lose myself, harder to let go. It's better if I don't have a perfectly clear picture of where I'm going. Sometimes there are no maps in mourning.

But then, I used to do it with books and probably will again, because sometimes re-reading is what Dr. Heartbreak ordered, and Ana isn't running A Blog For Wayward Fangirls here, so I suppose I need to stop hijacking her space to promote my boys kissing!!!111 agenda, whether it works for me or not.

I flip and I flop between tones and themes. I break myself and then find something so ridiculously happy that it's like the sun busted up into my apartment to hand deliver some vitamin D and cheer. The last time I fell into The Doldrums, I made a list, and I followed that list until I felt like my heart had stopped revolting. Sharing them almost seems counter-productive, because, as has been established, comfort reading is different for everyone. However, in the interests of full disclosure and to round out this entry as ALL ABOUT RENAY YES ME ME ME ME, AND DID I MENTION, MYSELF?, why not?

I didn't expect The Lies of Locke Lamora to be one of THOSE books. You know the ones. You take an innocent trip into a new fantasy series and then the author PUNCHES YOU IN THE SOUL. That's a good way to describe what Lynch does. I think it's totally worth it, except for a chaser something nice and fluffy had to follow or I would have just sobbed into my pillow for three weeks. That's where Howl's Moving Castle comes in. I am a sucker for some nice, antagonistic romance with bonus plot.

Of course, I don't have to introduce Diana Wynne Jones to anyone here, because Ana is awesome and has done all the legwork for me and I will just take shameless advantage of her. Howl's Moving Castle, if you like the style, will seriously make everything sparkle and the world look just a little brighter. It might also bring you some tissues and given you a hug. Maybe.

Perhaps you are now sensing a theme here, where I blatantly appropriate Ana's reviews for my own nefarious ends. She reviewed Looking for Alaska way back in 2008 (has it really been that long? Wow.), but when I need to sink into the Swamps of Sadness, it's pretty much a guarantee that I will pick up this book and allow Green to tug me into the complicated world of a Southern boarding school, let his words roll over me like waves on a far shore, my eyes full of sky and let the end of this book fill my heart, because what's gone is not forever lost.

On the complete opposite side, My Most Excellent Year is a recent addition to my comfort read shelf and I have found it really compliments bittersweet, angst-filled books that renew teenage suffering and melodrama. It is so sweet and earnest that it is cavity inducing, the best combination of first love, friendship and family I have found in a book. It is shamelessly happy and wants you to be happy, too. It will never give up in its attempts to make you a melted pile of happiness on the floor. This book is not just a spoon full of sugar, it is the entire sugar cane field distilled into the form of a book. Your dentist advises caution.

Again, anyone familiar with Ana's work knows of her love of Palimpsest. I have not read it yet, but I have read this duology by the same author, and it is so beautiful. In the Night Garden was a surprise find. Unlike the other books in the pairs, this book is more melancholy, and heartbreaking in subtle ways. If ever I have found a book that so neatly takes me away from my problems and my personal sadness, it is this one.

When I finally picked up In the Cities of Coin and Spice, it was like coming home during a snowstorm and finding the cocoa already piping hot with delicious marshmallows and a blanket ready on the couch for snuggling. The second book closes the journey, makes sense out of tangled threads. Its pages were a smile and nimble fingers that sent me twirling back down where the first book had twisted me tight without me realizing it, and when it was done I was dizzy as hell but wow, what a ride.

We're all so different, and have so may varied ways of dealing with sorrow. The stories I have linked to and talked about are my way. As active participants in reading and this community we have an escape always waiting to wrap us in words and sweep us up or down, and possibly sideways. What do you read when sad? What's your comfort reading? Books? Blogs? Maybe you don't read fiction at all, but escape to facts and nonfiction. Maybe you spend some time in a different genre, or like me, go dig up some fanfiction. Perhaps you find the labels of cleaning product the best catharsis ever, hell yeah, scrubbing bubbles, take me away. As always in our journey as readers, it's the way we all find different paths to get to the same end that's the most fascinating; the way we can use words to find peace.


  1. Renay - your post blew me away! Please tell me that you write for a living as I felt as though I soaked up everything you wrote.
    I am sorry to hear about your cat. My cat is not bad ass, more like a leech that is with me whereever I go in the house. In fact, hubby has suggested I just buy a baby sling for him, to save him actually have to move, but that would be just plain weird.
    I love that you have a comfort reading list and I do think this is something I need to organise for myself.
    I loved Looking For Alaska and I can totally understand that being one of your choices.

  2. @Vivienne Wow. That sound you heard was my ego exploding all over you. Let me get you a towel.

    I don't write for a living, no, not yet. It's a dream of mine, perhaps one day I'll get there. :) I keep a journal of dubious quality, though!

    Your cat sounds like a keeper! None of my cats are big on cuddles. More like, "why are you touching me, you pathetic human?" Take advantage of him while you can. :)

    I am happy you've read Looking for Alaska! I love that book, it's my most favorite work by him to date, although I haven't managed to read any of his short story work, yet. I wish more people would give it a shot. It could almost be the book that breaks my heart and the book that comforts me. That ending. That ending. Almost, though. Not quite. ;)

  3. Wonderful guest post, so well written. I don't have a comfort reading list that helps me to cope with sorrow and loss. But while reading yours I immediately thought about Norwegian Wood by Haruki Murakami (if you liked Looking for Alaska then I think you'll love Norgewian Wood)...and I also love Howl and Sophie


  5. Renay, you have an amazing way with word and thoughts, and where has your blog been all my life? I am really sorry to hear about your cat. We have a couple of kitties around here that sound just as disdainful as yours, and despite their prickliness, I know I would be heartbroken if they were gone. I can't say I have much of a selection of comfort reads, because usually when something devastating happens in my life, I spend lots of time in my head and worrying. Your way sounds much more productive, so I am going to have to remember that. Also, thanks for posting all those links to the Inception fan fiction. I loved that movie and am going to love reading that!

  6. Ahhhh I have way been looking forward to this guest post! Your approach to comfort reading really makes sense as at times there is a kind of a need to take emotions to extremes through reading or listening to music maybe to feel like emotions are valid and you're allowed to feel them - here is this book which agrees about the sadness and hardness of life. Then something at the opposite end is needed to soothe and help you try to readjust to life, or to remind that there is variety in life, or just dustract from the knowledge of the extreme sadness that exists....I went emo there didn't I. Anyway I will be picking up The Lies of Locke Lamore because a book that punches you in the soul and is worth it must be a good bet.

    And that last paragraph is just so lovely. It makes me happy that you're blogging and words like that just makes the world better.

  7. Yeesh, thanks for the warning about The Lies of Locke Lamora! Cause I am definitely planning on reading it, and I was expecting it to be nonstop jollity and chicanery. Forewarned is forearmed. I will purchase some body armor for my soul prior to reading it.

    Loved your post! And I totally identified with the first part cause I had that exact same reaction when she asked me to do a guest post. In fact I am still sort of having that reaction. :p

  8. Great post! I loved Looking For Alaska, John Green's writing is the kind I continually want to return to.

  9. I totally understand everything in this post. After my grandmother died suddenly in 2008, I was paralyzed. I couldn't read, I couldn't do anything. No book was good enough to bring me out of that sadness, but then suddenly it was the one book that reminded me of all my sorrow that really became a comfort read for me: A Tree Grows in Brooklyn. Everything about that book made me believe in life again, that even when things are so damn sad that you can't move, there's still something beautiful to hold onto. So that is the book I recommend for when you are sad. Sometimes you need something to validate your sorrow and it basically said to me, "Yes, you can be said, life is tragic, but it's beautiful, too. Don't forget that part."

  10. I love how half of the books you recommended are on my owned-TBR: Lies of Locke Lamora, My Most Excellent Year, Howl's Moving Castle...

    I did love Looking For Alaska and have it quoted all up on my facebook, which is like, sacred territory. Nothing insipid on there for me. (insipid is my word of the day!)

    Another thing I love about these recommendations, besides that I already own them, is that RENAY is recommending them, so I bet the relationships won't be full of fail and asshattery and they will genuinely be good, cuz Renay does not strike me as a bullshitter.

    You rock Renay and are totally deserving of your space on Ana's blog today!

  11. Awesome books... I think. I can't really comment because I haven't read any. Isn't that terrible?? I must add some to my wish list immediately.

    Two of the books I read over and over when in a blue mood are A Little Princess and The Blue Castle :)

  12. I'm so sorry about your cat. I remember how terrible it was when my grumpy dog died. :(

    I also turn to books to deal with sorrow and loss. Time and again, I've come back to Lloyd Alexander's Chronicles of Prydain. I recently reread them when I wasn't deeply upset, and it felt kind of strange.

  13. You are such a brilliant writer, Renay. I have not read a single one of your comfort reads, nor do I know what my comfort reads would be. I hope I don't have to find out anytime soon.

  14. Renay - I have not discovered your blog before, but thanks to your guest post here, I'm subscribed! :) I haven't read any of your comfort reads, but I'll definitely be checking out The Lies of Locke Lomora and The Orphan's Tales pair.

  15. I'm still so sorry about your kitty, Renay :( I wish I knew more to say. I'm glad you were able to find some comfort though in the sexy times :D I totally need to see Inception so I can enjoy these things too.

    And why I still haven't gotten a copy of Lies of Locke Lamora I do not know *shakes head in shame*. I swear I'm going to get it soon!!! And I still haven't read any DWJ either!! I have to duck both you AND Ana for that one.

    I do have to tell you how much I absolutely adored this post :) I swear, Renay, I could just read you writing about big bird taking a shit and be happy. Have you written about that? >> Love you!

  16. Lovely guest post.

    I'm sorry for the loss of your cat. My cat died a few months ago and I am still grieving but it does grow easier. What didn't help me was randomly choosing books that just happened to have dead cats in their pages...

    Comfort reading for me includes Terry Pratchett, Jane Austen and L.M. Montgomery, books I know and that soothe me. I foresee John Green joining the selection of books I turn to for comforst, thanks to Ana.

  17. I need some comfort reading after this week, so this is a most timely post--thanks.
    It is hard to lose a cat; we usually reread Viorst's The Tenth Good Thing About Barney when that happens at my house.
    And poetry is usually what I go to when I need comforting. Auden hardly ever fails. I found a new poet named Tad Davis who has been a comfort to me this week.

  18. sorry, Todd Davis (not "Tad")

  19. I'm really sorry to hear about your cat. I'm a big fan of young adult fiction for comfort reading, as well as some oldies, like Pride and Prejudice, and The Blue Castle. But more than anything, I just like to fall back into familiar books - could be something by Robertson Davies or Laura Ingalls Wilder - just something that I've read enough times that it's become instantly satisfying.

  20. I really hope that for your sake and for ours your writing career takes off. Awesome writing, awesome post.

  21. Wow - this is a brilliant moving and tremendously helpful post. I'm marking it for future reference. Thank you.


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