A horrendous bout of bronchitis has plagued me for weeks, going from bad to worse. I’m talking about coughing so long, hard, and often that my entire ribcage ached. I’m talking about such congestion that every time I changed positions, I could hear as well as feel fluids sloshing around in my lungs and sinuses, and would cough all the more. I’m talking about flushed face and frigid fingers. I’m talking about no energy, and sleeping (albeit poorly) twenty hours a day, till my whole body felt stiff and sore from lack of movement. (Yes, oh, poor me!)
At times like these, I like cold drinks, something warm and cozy to wrap up in, and no body bugging me with, “How are you feeling?” And as I sleep less and ache less, I like comfort reads.
A prime requirement for my sickbed reading is familiarity. Hence, Jane Austen is a go-to choice. I know what’s going to happen and that all anguish will come to naught. I can even get this sort of read with a Jane Austen fan fiction variation. The characters remain the same and the action is still low-key. Which brinks me to another criterion for sickbed reading…
A second criterion for my good sickbed read is that it be low-key. Absolutely no action/adventure here. Consider Markham and Bryson. I want the emotion to be relatively mild and generally upbeat.
I’m not alone in these criteria. I have a granddaughter who recently reread Harry Potter while ill, and her sister reread the Wings of Fire series. Various friends and acquaintances go off in various directions. Here are some of the most popular, returned to again and again.
I’ve turned the corner on this bronchitis—I hope and trust. I’m ready to rebuild my sickbed shelf for next time. What do you read when you’re sick? I’d love to know.
Yes, great non-fiction is a broad topic. Everything falls in there, from memoir to cookbooks to investigative reporting! I loved West With the Night, The Glass Castle, and The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks.
But I’m not going to deal with that sort of non-fiction. I don’t know how to classify my sub-genre, so I’ll just put the exemplars out there!
Mary Roach makes science reader-friendly. She writes about everything from sex research (Bonk) to human cadavers (Stiff). Without Roach, I’d never have stopped to wonder how crash dummies are calibrated—etc., etc., etc. Pick up any of her books.
Charles Panati is a master of what I call “grouped trivia.” His titles say it all. Choose any one and you’ll get what you expect—except that you’ll likely enjoy it more! I consider Panati’s books reference works—for, as you may know, I often write weird stories (cf. Different Drummer: a collection of off-beat fiction).
In the same category, I treasure The Best, Worst, and Most Unusual. How else would I know that in Hong Kong, cricket fighting (although illegal) is very popular, inspires heavy betting, and has much in common with cockfighting. Or that if you eat bananas, your skin will exude an odor that attracts mosquitoes?
I’m also a fan of Bill Bryson. I became hooked on Mother Tongue: English and How It Got That Way. His tracing of language evolution actually made me more tolerant of “prioritize” as a replacement for “set priorities”—though I still don’t like it!
Last but far from least, I recommend John McPhee. The first book I read was Coming Into The Country, which left me with a dream of traveling to Alaska—a dream as yet unfulfilled, but hope springs eternal. This man can make anything interesting. As a result of his writing, even I know how Bill Bradley was able to make baskets while facing the opposite end of the court: you just have to have a sense of where you are.
I recommend these non-fiction books and authors to readers for pleasure and to writers for enlightenment!
Some books seem to get better every day—or at least year by year. I find that many books I first read for entertainment have grown over time—or maybe I have! Into this category I put anything by Jane Austen.
Her observations of human behaviors, foibles, and motivations are timeless. And I smile at the humor, even when re-reading.
Then there are Mary Renault’s books. She brings history to life and dealt with delicate issues of sexuality long before most mainstream authors.
I first approached Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland and Through the Looking-Glassas children’s books. Indeed, my elementary-school granddaughter read them recently. But reading them with an adult eye and understanding, I find the plot line and magical realism rich and the writing superb.
Waverley Root & Richard de Rochemont
I’ve had Eating in America: A History by Waverley Root and Richard de Rochemont on my shelf of unread books for years. But recently, The Food of Italy by Waverley Root turned up on a list of recommended reads for people planning a trip to Italy, and having started that book, I turned to Eating in America. It starts with seafarers and Native Americans and continues through refrigeration and the modern American sweet tooth. Why did I let it languish so long?
And that segues into cookbooks. Of all my book loves, cookbook loves are the most fickle. I’ve had my low-calorie, low-fat, low-glycemic-index, low-carb, pressure-cooking, microwaving, slow-cooking, blending, cooking-for-one-or-two infatuations. But two cookbooks have held steady in my heart: The Doubleday Cookbook—the best encyclopedic cookbook out there—and Culinary Classics and Improvisations—the best leftovers cookbook in the world!
Memoir & biography
As a category, I’m coming to a greater appreciation of memoir and biography. For example, The Glass Castleby Jannette Walls, West With the Night by Beryl Markham, and at the recent Gaithersburg Book Festival, I bought “Most Blessed of the Patriarchs” by Annette Gordon Reed and Peter S. Onuf, a recent and atypical biography of Thomas Jefferson—which is still untested but very promising.
When it comes to books about which my feelings have undergone a sea-change, the Bible is in a category by itself. Once upon a time, I believed it was literally the word of God. Now I don’t. Enough said.
As I’ve become a writer, my interest in the mystery genre has waned. I lost interest in Patricia Cornwell early on because her protagonist, Kate Scarpetta, didn’t grow or develop. But former favorites from Sue Grafton to Rex Stout just don’t grab me anymore.
And last but not least, I’m no longer in love with the six volumes of The Dictionary of American Regional English. I really regret it. But being able to look up a word and find out where it’s used isn’t nearly as useful as it would be if I could look up a region and get typical word usage!
What books are waxing, waning, or shifting ground in you heart?