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Somnambulism

I wish to share a passage from Hotel Du Lac that rings some truth at least for me as a fiction lover. I ponder at it this morning over coffee, against the boisterous symphony of the rain, which came down hard in sheets like a squall and impinged upon the window of the cafe.

“Embroiled in her fictional plot, the main purpose of which was to distance those all too real circumstances over which she could exert on control, she felt a weariness that seemed to preclude any enthusiasm, any initiative, any relaxation. Fiction, the time-honoured resource of the ill-at-ease, would have to come to her aid, but the choice of a book presented some difficulties, since when she was writing she could only read something she had read before, and in her exhausted state, a febrile agitation, invisible to the naked eye, tended to distance even the very familiar.” (66)

I read for comfort, letting the book extract me from reality of my world to the author’s realm, which is a temporary refuge of all the daily circumstances that demand of me. Reading world/translated literature is like traveling, in which I can choose the desirable destinations. Drowning in unfamiliar settings of books delivers the same kind of curious sensation of traveling to a new country. The more unfamiliar the better–as if knowing the place the book describes too well might give me presence some reality and validity. That is the reason for digging books that set in Tibet (Seven Years in Tibet and Lost Horizon), Egypt (The Egyptian), and off-the-beaten-path places like the Sahara. These foreign terrains and landscape possess that power to snap me out of my element, and that is, when I look straight ahead at some distant focal point without actually seeing things. Because I’m off to a somnambulent journey. What is your comfort read? How is it comforting you?

7 Responses

  1. I have two main comfort reads: like you, I love to read world lit and be taken away to a completely different place (if you like Egypt, and you’ve never read Naguib Mahfouz, you should try out Palace Walk!) and then mysteries. Mainly, British mysteries. And even more particularly, either historical or Golden Age. Lately, the two have been blending-I really loved the first book of Donna Leon’s series, which is set in modern-day Venice and Boris Akunin’s, which is set in Imperial Russia.

    Oh, and my other comfort read is Jane Austen. She lets me relax into a cozy world where, no matter how awful things are for a little bit, they’re always going to turn out right. And people are always witty, even if they’re scoundrels!

  2. My comfort reads? Probably travelogues of the old school — a lone traveller setting out in a foreign land, the self trimmed down to its bare essentials because of the journey.

    Or poetry or literature of a contemplative kind. Mary Oliver, Jane Hirshfield.

    Right now I’m reading Patrick Leigh Fermor’s “A Time to Keep Silence”, where he stays at various monasteries in Europe. The idea of a meditative life comforts me.

  3. Wonderful passage. Thanks for sharing.

    As for comfort reads, it’s hard to say. I suppose I find comfort in literary fiction and classics because my first purpose in reading seems to be to learn. I learn to feel something new, experience a new concept, etc. And learning is where I’ve always felt the most comfort.

  4. Oh I love this book! A good comfort read is such a saving grace when you want to briefly escape everyday matters. I tend to turn to a lot of mysteries for some reason. Probably because you know the hero will save the day 🙂

  5. I have to admit that my comfort reads are the pocket mysteries that you probably won’t even look into. I also like to drown myself in Agatha Christie. I have read Lost Horizon and just thoroughly imagined myself looking for that shangri-la somewhere in the folds of Himalayas. Seven Years in Tibet I haven’t read but the film is quite memorable.

  6. Eva:
    Great comment! Looks like we have much in common as far as reading taste goes. I have read Palace Walk but not the other two in the trilogy. I also read The Beginning and the End, The Beggar, and The Day the Leader was Killed. 🙂

    Dark Orpheus:
    Travelogues are easily many people’s comfort reads. They simply take you to a foreign landscape and unlike fiction you don’t have to analyze them,. I’ll have to check out “A Time to Keep Silence”, sounds like something I would like to do when I travel, visit monasteries. 🙂

  7. Andi:
    Great answer. I think reading can be the key to the treasure of wisdom and knowledge because it’s a limitless sea of ideas waiting to be unlocked. Whether you might agree with the author’s perspective or not, you have become wiser simply because you have gone through the journey. 🙂

    iliana:
    Good mysteries are always fun and addictive. I always include a mystery or two when I travel or feel like drowning in books for the weekend. 🙂

    John:
    There’s nothing wrong with Agatha Christie. The whole point is to comfort yourself. While the cinematography is breath-taking (rumor has it that part of it was filmed in South America, not Tibet), Heinrich Harrer’s writing–his whole experience of escaping from the concentration camp in India and trekking his way over the pass and terrains to Tibet, is very intense.

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