Stress Reading and Book Hugs

Reading has been a source of comfort for me for as long as I can remember. I use it to explore worlds I know and those I was first introduced to within the pages of someone else’s imagination. Through books I learn new things and gain insight into the lives of people who experience the world differently than I do. I escape my reality and confirm I’m not alone in whatever I am currently facing.

Lately I’ve been thinking more about my reading habits when I’m stressed out and wondering what stress reading looks like for other readers. It seems like my approach to stress reading boils down to either compulsively reading anything I can get my hands on, hopelessly staring at the page or reverting back to childhood.

These books gave Matilda a hopeful and comforting message: You are not alone.

Matilda by Roald Dahl

My first approach is easy to figure out: if I can lose myself in a story that is not my own, even if that story mirrors mine to a degree, I can pretend that whatever is taking up space in the anxious/depressed/sad/scared/angry part of my mind doesn’t exist for a little while. It’s respite from reality and that’s something we all need from time to time.

The second approach is not so much an approach but a reader’s nightmare. You desperately want to be reading and may even be nearing a deadline for finishing that particular book, but your brain simply won’t cooperate. You have the best of intentions, yet when you look at a page the words lose all meaning. You might read the same paragraph over and over, not taking in anything you’ve read.

Maybe you are able to comprehend what you’ve read but your life outside the page intrudes and you find yourself bored or unable to connect with the characters. Yesterday you were loving this book and you couldn’t wait to book evangelise to everyone who you can find. The book hasn’t changed; your experience of it has, and it’s not the book’s fault. When this happens to me I usually default to my final approach: children’s books.

Growing up I was always eager to be seen to be reading above my age group. I don’t know what I thought I was proving to anyone. I still had some age appropriate reads along the way but because I tended to wander aimlessly through different genres even then, I’d wind up with some pretty strange combinations. One of my weirdest reading combos that readily comes to mind happened when I was about twelve – whatever number the The Baby-Sitters Club was up to at the time collided with Flowers in the Attic.

In my rush to jump ahead to books written with adult audiences in mind (yes, I do partially blame my love of Matilda for planting the seed of this idea), I became a book snob. My book snobbery, which had been bubbling along privately, became more entrenched and seemingly socially acceptable (it wasn’t!) when I became friends with someone whose monthly reading mostly consisted of whatever their book club was currently reading.

While I wasn’t a member of their book club, I wanted to read and discuss each book my friend was reading. Connection through shared experiences and all that. For whatever reason, the books that were selected each month became more and more hoity toity and I began convincing myself that if you couldn’t have important, philosophical discussions about a book after reading it then it was not real literature. Ugh! I’m embarrassed to admit that the book snob from a couple of decades ago and who I am today are the same person. I renounce this snob and everything they stood for!

Which brings me to what I was actually trying to say … One of my defaults now when I’m stressed is to snuggle up in the warm hug that is children’s books. I only figured out how comforting they could be, even sans child, a couple of years ago when I rediscovered my local library. Now I scour through their acquisitions lists seeking out new board books and picture books, and I’ve found some absolute gems along the way. I read many more than you will ever hear about but whenever I find a new one in a series I’m following or a particular story has had an impact on me, you’re going to hear all about it.

I’ve grown to love almost every genre but you’ll probably see more reviews for books written with your children or grandchildren in mind here than on other blogs. Sometimes it will mean that a bunch of them are almost due back at the library and if I don’t review them now I know I probably never will. However, there will also be times that, for whatever reason, life has lost some of its spark and I’m doing what I can to recapture some of the wide eyed wonder of childhood, the joy of discovery and the hope that tomorrow will be a better day.

What do you read when you need the book equivalent of a hug?

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