reading as therapy

Sunday Salon: Saving Grace

“February is the beginning of my New Year,” one of my friends wrote the other day. “January was just a free trial month.”

Had January been a free trial month for me, I would have cancelled my subscription for the remainder of 2019. Thankfully we spent half of it in Florida, escaping the vicious Polar Vortex that slapped the midwest with a sharp, stinging hand. But this year has flattened me already, friends. I won’t go into details, but there are trials aplenty to contend with.


“What’s saving you right now?” another friend asked. A good question. I’ve been paying close attention, taking my emotional temperature often, taking note of times when my spirit seems to rise. You won’t be surprised to hear my most reliable saving grace is READING.

In fact, I can say with all sincerity that in the past month books have saved my life.

The notion had already crossed my mind, probably during one of the many sleepless nights I’ve had lately, where I wander from room to room, book in hand, trying to get comfortable somewhere. Losing myself in one good story after another kept the whirling dervish of nighttime anxiety at bay. It sounds melodramatic, but getting involved in the lives of other people, even fictitious people, helped me put my own problems in perspective.

Then, in one of those serendipitous moments, this essay appeared in the New York Times. Maura Kelly writes from the blackness of her own depression, writes of describing her abject despair to a counselor at a crisis hotline who asked her “Do you have something good to read?”

To anyone but a reader, that would sound like a completely ridiculous question in those circumstances. But Kelly, a writer, immediately got it.

“A good book,” she thinks. “Usually, that does help. A good novel is great company, less an escape from life than a different way to engage. A good novel is reassurance that other people have endured tragedies, long ordeals, bad odds. It’s evidence I’m not alone — not in the history of humanity, at least. A good novel often ends on an ambiguous note — yet every novel also implies a survivor still alive to tell the tale. A good novel is a form of hope.”


So I’m thankful for the titles I read in January - the novels and especially the memoirs. Books that helped me step aside from my own worries and concerns, helped me think about the way carefully crafted words can tame feelings gone dangerously wild.

In the novel I’m reading right now, (Gone So Long, by Andre DuBus), Susan Dunn writes of spending her life feeling “trapped” by her surroundings, her family history, and her “Enemy,” the name she has given to the anomie of depression, a “black hook that lifted her then hung her just out of reach of whatever it was she thought she loved.”

“What helps?” her husband wants to know.

“Books,” she answers. “Books always help.”

As I continue Reading Through the Year, it’s comforting to know books can be my saving grace.

How about you? What’s saving you these days?

Reading List, January 2019

Nine Perfect Strangers, Liane Moriarty

Becoming Mrs. Lewis, Patti Callahan

Virgil Wander, Leif Enger

A Spark of Light, Jodi Picoult

Good-bye and Amen, Beth Gutcheon

Inheritance, Dani Shapiro

Souvenir, Therese Ann Fowler

Without A Map, Meredith Hall

The Sunday Salon: Another Time

If you were to glance at my reading list for this year, you might think I was a student of history. So far this year I’ve read 23 books, and 10 of them were “historical novels.”  My trusty reading chair has become a virtual time machine, letting me explore England during the time periods of both World Wars, an artist’s atelier in late 18th century Paris, and midwifery in Appalachia during the 1950’s. Even my contemporary fiction choices have not brought me into the present day, but pushed me back into the late 20th century, with novels set in the 1960’s and 1990’s. 

This all has me thinking - why am I gravitating toward the past? 

Reading is more than my favorite pastime. Sometimes I think it’s almost like therapy...I read to learn about people, and how they conduct their lives and relationships. The characters in the novels I love most are those I can identify with, who are struggling with some of the same issues as I do as we go about our lives in general. Just this morning, I read the following paragraph in Jennifer Robson’s novel, After the War is Over that reminded me of similar sentiments which show up in my journal pages and on my blog:

“When had she ever spent an entire day having fun? She was thirty-three, and in the course of her adult life, she now realized she had never, not ever, allowed herself an entire day of fun without being overcome by guilt or anxiety or the rear that there were worthier things to do. Having fun was for other people - people who earned the right to be carefree.” 

I’ve sometimes felt as if I were born in the wrong era, as if I would have been happier growing up as my parents did in the 1930’s and 1940’s. Now that I’ve spent nearly six decades on earth, I begin to feel even more outside of time as the 21st century speeds past. I love my technology as much as the next person, but sometimes I get frightened at the way it seems to control our lives. I worry about a generation of children who depend on technology for entertainment, education, and interpersonal relationships. 

No matter what era they’re set in, the historical novels I read remind me of times when entertainment was gentler and life was slower, when communication was much more personal, when people were more mindful of the natural world and it’s cycles. 

This winter has been difficult for me. In addition to extreme cold and snow, I’ve been ill off and on all winter, and I’m still feeling fragile, as if I’m on a precipice and just one misstep from plunging over.

So I lose myself in these novels of other times and places to forget those things in modern life that seem threatening, but also to remind myself of the common ground we all share in this life in general, no matter what time period we’re living in.

These are the historical novels I’ve read since January:

Romancing Miss Bronte


The Paying Guests

In This House of Brede

The Visitors

The Secret Life of Violet Grant

The Midwife of Hope River

Secrets of  A Charmed LIfe

Rodin’s Lover

After the War is Over