Books. They have saved me from boredom, as a child, on those incredibly loooooong trips. You know the ones I’m talking about. Whether as a child you remember asking, “Are we there yet?” Or as a parent now telling your children, “If you all don’t stop teasing each other, I’m goin’ to pull over and we’re going to sit there until I say so.” Books have entertained me from the time my parents read bedtime stories to me until the present day. Books have educated me, led me to places where I have longed to travel to, made me cry and frustrated. Essentially, books have been the mainstay of my life since I could speak my first words: “Maman.”
Why I Read
When my multiple sclerosis and trigeminal neuralgia (TN) started deteriorating, despite surgeries and medications for the TN, it turned out that I had the next six years to read because it was essentially all I could do because my pain and MS were barely tolerable. Reading maintained my sanity. I read anything: the classics, interesting vampire stories (yes, I read the Twilight series. Good, but not my favorite), historical fiction, travel memoirs, biographies, history, Shakespeare sonnets, etc.
But I didn’t read simply because I had the time. I read for many reasons:
- Temporary escape from my own reality;
- Realizing my situation could be worse;
- Learning at my own pace;
- Helping me to learn to cope with pain and difficult times. (Books help me experiment with ways of coping other than my own methods);
- Living vicariously through others
- Strength – especially books about strong (physical, mentally, emotionally) women
- Humor – Some of the vampire books I read were hilarious like Bloodsucking Fiends by Christopher Moore or Charlaine Harris’ series on Sookie Stackhouse (which are so different and better than the HBO series True Blood);
- Length of book – This allows me to not only escape into another place, but also to become part of the characters’ lives for a while. I miss the characters when the books ended.
Some Books I Read While I was Sick:
Barefoot Sisters Southbound by Lucy Lechter & Susan Lechter (480 pgs.)
Two sisters travel the Appalachian Trail from Maine to Georgia. And they hiked about 90% of that trail in…You Guessed It…their bare feet!! This book was a huge escape for me, and a way to live vicariously through these women. I was very outdoorsy before I got sick: trail runner, hiker, camping, canoeing, snow-shoeing, cross-county skiing, etc. Also, it was a dream of mine to hike the trail with my dog Akea. The book also was also quite amusing with odd people and creative trail names (ex: Blue Skies, Bugbiter).
Les Miserables by Victor Hugo (1,488 pgs.)
Many of you have probably seen the on-stage production. But 2 hours does not translate into almost 1,500 pages! There are NUMEROUS subplots. I didn’t read this book in college, and reading it while I was sick was a perfect opportunity. I could take as long as I wanted and discover for myself what made this book so important. Also, I have always loved European historical fiction. I got sucked into the lives of all the characters and Hugo’s understanding of how society shapes people’s lives. This book reinforced some of my own values and challenged others. This is truly the classic that this book ought to be.
The Iliad by Homer (476 pgs.)
I had some trepidation about reading this long, very old poem. However, I was so familiar with the characters and the story from excerpts, I read during high school, and movies. (You know, the movie Troy – hunky Brad Pitt! Need I say more?) I read this book as slow as I wanted and studied the parts that I wanted to study. I found help, online and through a video lecture series I rented, to help understand the subplots. This book, also, was an escapism book: it was during a fantastic time when the gods and goddesses interfered with the lives of men, the men had super-human strength, and the women were just as powerful.
Letters And Papers From Prison by Dietrich Bonhoeffer (448 pgs.)
I studied theology in college and in my first graduate degree and, thus, am familiar with Bonhoeffer. He was a German theologian during the 1920s-1945. Bonhoeffer was first detained in a prison in 1943, and then moved to the Flossenburg concentration camp because he was believed to be involved in an assassination attempt on Hitler. I have always wanted to finish this book about an amazing man and his beliefs in social justice. Reading his letters, I realized that my situation greatly paled in comparison to his and most other people in this world. He was murdered by the Gestapo by hanging on April 9, 1945 at the age of 39.
Beyond the Sky and the Earth: A Journey to Bhutan by Jamie Zeppa. (303 pgs.)
In this travel memoir, Jamie is a young writer who wants something different before she attends a doctoral program in English. So, she applies for a teaching job in Bhutan, located halfway around the world from her home in Toronto, Canada. She ends up in a small village with zero modern amenities and in a culture in which Buddhism infuses every aspect of life. Jamie (and I) were so amazed by the tranquility of the land, the openness of the people, and their joy of living. This book let me escape to another place that seemed to be in another time, and also reminded me of my values of peace and loving kindness – including accepting and being kind to my body, which I believed had betrayed me.
Let The Right One In by John Ajvide Lindqvist (472 pgs.)
A young girl, Eli, and an older man move to town in the dead of winter, in the same apartment complex as Oskar. Eli and Oskar become friends quickly: Eli the vampire, that is! They become each other’s protector, especially Eli over Oskar from the bullies. The older man that lives with Eli, serves as Eli’s helper (you’ll have to read the book to see how he helps her!). You’re probably asking yourself, “She reads both Bonhoeffer and scary vampire books? What the heck?” Yes, I do like a good vampire book – I warned you. Despite Eli’s paranormal state, she still is a strong female character who can protect herself and the lives of her friends, and kills everyone else who stands in her way. How can you not love it?
Time Traveler’s Wife by Audrey Niffenegger (546 pgs.)
This book is written creatively from the perspective of Claire and Henry at different ages in their lives. Henry has the ability to travel through time. However, he cannot control when he travels, for how long he travels or when he will return to the “present.” You can imagine the complications this adds to the lives of these two people! I adored this book filled with adventure and a beautiful love story between Claire and Henry. I read this book for the escape it provided and also for the fantastic adventure of a love story.
The Count of Monte Cristo by Alexandre Dumas. (1,276 pgs.)
Talk about the perfect novel! This story has everything: love, mystery, trickery, adventure, social satire and more! This was another literary, mid-19th century book I had wanted to read; but definitely not in a course where I would be rushed through it. I wanted to savor this book – and that’s exactly what I did! Being whisked away for over 1,200 pages, with amazing characters and sub-plots, I couldn’t help but reflect on themes of: revenge; and how malicious actions against others and self-blame affect a person and the people around them. So much happens in every chapter, because the Count is intelligent, scheming, and creative – and bent on absolute revenge.
Discovery of Witches by Deborah Harkness. (592 pgs.)
Witches, vampires, demons, and Oxford, England? Oh yes! This one is a fascinating tale in which young Diana Bishop, Ph.D. tries everything to escape her family heritage as a witch; and at the same time searches for a powerful book that can change the world of humans and the paranormal alike. What I loved about this book was all the literary references it had, and that it takes place in my favorite city, where I have family: Oxford. This was an absolute joy to read, with a fantastically strong woman at its center and amazing other creatures – I mean characters!
But Wait! There’s More…
The book I am reading now is Defending Hope by Natalie Proudfoot. Natalie has breast cancer and just had her mastectomy on Monday, April 30th – the same day she became a published author with this book. Before she was diagnosed with cancer, she wrote this book in which 13 year old Hope struggles with a grown up problem: her father being sick with cancer. I just received my copy of Natalie’s book on Friday the 4th and I just finished chapter one! I’m looking forward to reading some more during lunch. Half of the proceeds of the book will go to theAmerican Cancer Association.
I am a member of Goodreads. If you, too, are a member, I would enjoy getting to know you and seeing your reading list.
I wonder – What you do to get through challenging/troubling times in your life? If you like to read, what are your favorite books? I read for many reasons, as you read above. What are some of your reasons for reading?
I can’t wait to hear from you!