Old fashioned murder mysteries work miracles. Better still if they’re part of a series–a series whose first seventy or so volumes have already been written, so you don’t have to cope with any cliffhanger angst. Agatha Christie, Dick Francis, Deborah Crombie, Patricia Cornwell…and Martha Grimes, whose Richard Jury mysteries have soothed my frayed nerves twice in my life–once when I was lying low after a miscarriage, and again these past weeks. (It doesn’t matter that I’ve read them before, apparently. I don’t remember whodunit or why, and don’t really care. It’s just lovely to be among the characters–Melrose Plant, Vivian Rivington, Jury himself, Wiggins–again.)
Rereading, always a joy, is a practical necessity when feeling undone. AJ Jacobs’s first book, The Know-It-All, saved me during several insomniac nights during my divorce. I also tend to gravitate toward Mark Helprin–his combination of earnestness and loveliness and old-fashioned writerly brilliance is, when one needs to be buoyed, the very thing. (You don’t feel like an ass tearing up at the end of a Helprin story.) I have a friend who swears that Dickens and Trollope got him through the end of his marriage.
Rereading one’s childhood and adolescent favorites is a balm to the soul. I Capture the Castle. A Little Princess. The Once and Future King. Anything by Mary Renault. Anna Karenina.
And then there are the books I’ve effectively worn out by too much rereading–Somerset Maugham’s collected stories, ditto those of Roald Dahl, most of Daphne du Maurier (one of my grandmother’s favorites), all of Edith Wharton. Possession, by A. S. Byatt. The Name of the Rose. All of Salinger. Howards End. Maybe, if I leave them long enough, my failing memory will erode their plots and characters enough to make them feel like old familiar friends again.
What do you read when you are feeling lower than low?