It's as if a hand has come out and taken yours
January 20, 2010 10:29 AM   Subscribe

Books or poems that are more like old friends?

Hi y'all,

I am a big word-nerd, and, as such, I rely on certain books and poems to keep me going. Literally - sometimes a read of The Little Prince is what gives me the courage to face a new day.

However, I'm always on the lookout for new gems. So, fellow bibliophiles: What are the books or poems that are more like friends than just favorites, that have kept you afloat through good times and bad? Whether it's fiction or non, short or long, as old as the Iliad or just came out last year - what are the books that still mean as much to you today as they did the first time you met, if not more so?
Perhaps it's not fair to group books and poems together so broadly, but I'm curious about both. Any era, any style - expand my literary horizons.
Thanks. :)
posted by bookgirl18 to Writing & Language (94 answers total) 75 users marked this as a favorite
Anything by L.M. Montgomery, especially the Emily of New Moon series and the first three Anne of Green Gables.
posted by something something at 10:34 AM on January 20, 2010 [6 favorites]


it's one of the very few books that i have read so much i almost have it memorized.
if you are like "yuck, scifi", please still give it a whirl. it's not like Star Trek.
i usually don't like to reread books or rewatch movies or tv shows because once i've seen it, i know what happens.

but Neuromancer, man, every time I read it... well, it's not like i'm reading it for the first time, but it is still captivating.
posted by sio42 at 10:34 AM on January 20, 2010 [1 favorite]

For me, it's Terry Pratchett's Small Gods or William Goldman's Princess Bride. If the day is crap and I want to curl up and hide from the world, the opening paragraphs of Small Gods makes the day automatically better. "One day a tortoise will learn how to fly."
posted by teleri025 at 10:34 AM on January 20, 2010

Probably have read some of these, but so what? I usually turn to one of the following when I'm in need of something comforting:

Where the Sidewalk Ends, Shel Silverstein
The Witch of Blackbird Pond, Elizabeth George Speare
The Chronicles of Narnia, C.S. Lewis
The Lorax, though just about any Dr. Seuss is acceptable

I have many other books I love, and other books I enjoy. But these are the ones when I'm in funk, experiencing an emotional crisis, or holed up on a snowy day by myself that I turn to.
posted by zizzle at 10:35 AM on January 20, 2010

Catcher In The Rye - J.D. Salinger
"The Love Song of J. Alfred Prufrock" - T.S. Eliot
posted by SisterHavana at 10:39 AM on January 20, 2010 [2 favorites]

Raymond Chandler- most of them
Patrick O'Brian- the first 10 or so
Jane Austen's Pride and Prejudice and Sense and Sensibility
Robin McKinley's The Blue Sword
CJ Cherryh's The Dreamstone
Diana Gabaldon's Outlander
posted by small_ruminant at 10:41 AM on January 20, 2010

Tolkien's Lord of the Rings series
Pratchett's Going Postal is becoming one of these books, too.
posted by small_ruminant at 10:43 AM on January 20, 2010

A Confederacy of Dunces - John Kennedy Toole
posted by torquemaniac at 10:44 AM on January 20, 2010

The Great Gatsby.
posted by Lobster Garden at 10:46 AM on January 20, 2010 [1 favorite]

I'm not a huge Robert Frost person, but for me Choose Something Like a Star has the effect you describe.

Also, Tolkien's Silmarillion, particularly the Ainulindalë.
posted by somanyamys at 10:46 AM on January 20, 2010

The books I've read most often are A Night in the Lonesome October by Roger Zelazny and the Enchanted Forest Chronicles, a series of four YA novels by Patricia C. Wrede, and those function very like you describe for me.

Most often though, when I'm after that feeling of comfort and ease, I look to short stories. My go to volumes are both of Neil Gaiman's short story collections, Frost and Fire, again by Roger Zelazny (and particularly the story "Night Kings" from that volume), the collection Devils and Demons edited by Marvin Kaye, and much of Lovecraft.
posted by Caduceus at 10:48 AM on January 20, 2010

American Gods, by Neil Gaiman
Mists of Avalon, by Marion Zimmer Bradley
Little House in the Big Woods, by Laura Ingalls Wilder
Little Women by Louisa May Alcott
Nthng Lord of the Rings and the Princess Bride

Good, comfortable books.
posted by ChuraChura at 10:49 AM on January 20, 2010 [1 favorite]

Fiction-wise, it's basically all the romantical books from my pre-teen years. Pride and Prejudice, the Anne of Green Gables series, the Little House on the Prairie series. Jane Eyre, to some extent, although right now I don't have a copy that's suitable to sigh over.
posted by muddgirl at 10:50 AM on January 20, 2010

Robert Heinlein - Stranger in a Strange Land

For better or worse, it has informed various parts of my worldview since I was a teenager.

"Man is the animal that laughs at himself"
posted by rocketpup at 10:51 AM on January 20, 2010 [1 favorite]

I find Al Purdy's poems very comforting, no matter what mood I'm in. He wrote with a simplicity and sense of humour that few other people can match without seeming frivolous.

On the Flood Plain - Al Purdy
posted by ripley_ at 10:51 AM on January 20, 2010 [1 favorite]

I have never read a poem i loved so much as this priceless gem from a goofy $.25 used fantasy/sword and sorcery paperback from some long forgotten yard sale:
posted by Redhush at 10:53 AM on January 20, 2010

poem is at the bottom of the page
posted by Redhush at 10:54 AM on January 20, 2010

+1 for John Kennedy Toole's amazing "A Confederacy of Dunces". It's a once a year read that really lifts my spirits and reminds me to really appreciate all the various characters around me.

I'd also add John Irving's "A Prayer for Owen Meany". As a novelist, this is the book that showed me just how a writer could tie all the beautiful strings of various plots together into a beautiful tapestry at the end.

Both of these are incredibly important to me.
A few also rans:
"Dune" by Frank Herbert
"The Grapes of Wrath" by John Steinbeck
posted by willmize at 10:55 AM on January 20, 2010

"And Ladies of the Club" by Helen Hooven Santmyer

In This House of Brede by Rumer Godden
posted by jgirl at 10:55 AM on January 20, 2010

My many to choose from.

The Sherlock Holmes collected short stories
2nding The Lord of the Rings, O'Brian's Aubry-Maturin series, and the abovementioned Austen
Our Mutual Friend, by Dickens

The Everlasting Man by G.K. Chesterton
Godel, Escher and Bach by Hofstadter
The Histories of Herodotus (some great stories in there)

much of Yeats and Eliot
everything Edmund Spenser wrote
Seamus Heaney's Beowulf
Mandelbaum's translation of Ovid. There's more I could add to this list for sure.
posted by jquinby at 10:57 AM on January 20, 2010 [1 favorite]

The Book of Flying by Keith Miller. It fills you up and then systematically strips away every vestige of inhibition, scrubs you clean and sends you on your way.

Oh, and, The Tao of Pooh.
posted by Mizu at 11:00 AM on January 20, 2010

The Eyes of the Dragon

All Things Bright & Beautiful
All Creatures Great & Small
All Things Wise & Wonderful
The Lord God Made Them All
or pretty much anything by James Herriot
posted by carsonb at 11:04 AM on January 20, 2010 [2 favorites]

Books by Colette, especially the Claudine series and Julie de Carneihan.
posted by violette at 11:09 AM on January 20, 2010 [1 favorite]

Self-Reliance by Ralph Waldo Emerson
There is a time in every man's education when he arrives at the conviction that envy is ignorance; that imitation is suicide; that he must take himself for better, for worse, as his portion; that though the wide universe is full of good, no kernel of nourishing corn can come to him but through his toil bestowed on that plot of ground which is given to him to till. The power which resides in him is new in nature, and none but he knows what that is which he can do, nor does he know until he has tried.

"Song of Myself" by Walt Whitman

My sister has worn out three copies of The Catcher in the Rye.
posted by SamanthaK at 11:11 AM on January 20, 2010

I have copies of two cheap mass-market paperbacks that I only ever read under very specific circumstances, and no other times: I dig out Maeve Binchy's Circle of Friends when I'm recovering from a breakup, and Edward Rutherford's Sarum when I'm sick. Not because of any overarching literary expertise in either case,'s just a habit I got into and it just feels right.

As for poems: when I was still active in stage management I kept a copy of Yeats' poem The Fascination Of What's Difficult in my notebook at all times, because at some point in the rehearsal process, invariably either I or someone else would be having a hideous day, and I'd just take them aside during a break and give it to them to read. Without fail, whenever they got to the middle, and the line that went:

"My curse on plays
That have to be set up in fifty ways,
On the day's war with every knave and dolt,
Theater business, and the management of men."

...They'd start nodding and chuckling, because they know EXACTLY what sort of mood Yeats must have been in when he wrote that.
posted by EmpressCallipygos at 11:14 AM on January 20, 2010 [1 favorite]

The Princess Bride by William Goldman
Candide by Voltaire
"Song of Myself" (or, alternately, all of the original 1855 edition of Leaves of Grass) by Walt Whitman
posted by oinopaponton at 11:15 AM on January 20, 2010

The Love Song of J. Alfred Prufrock is one of the few poems I've (mostly) memorized, which I never intended to do but which I came back to so many times it finally just happened. I also love much of A.E. Housman's A Shropshire Lad, like
Into my heart an air that kills	
  From yon far country blows:	
What are those blue remembered hills,	
  What spires, what farms are those?	
That is the land of lost content,
  I see it shining plain,	
The happy highways where I went	
  And cannot come again.
Not exactly cheerful, I suppose, but we can't always choose our friends.
posted by lex mercatoria at 11:15 AM on January 20, 2010 [3 favorites]

I never get tired of these poems:
Goethe's Gefunden
For me it represents any number of personal relationships as well as how we should treat each other and understand things.

Schiller's An Die Freude (which became the Ode to Joy)
Both the written poem and what Beethoven did with it are guaranteed to make me feel like there is a magical thread that connects us all and encourages me not to hide my light under a basket.

I think I have probably read How to Have a Lifestyle by Quentin Crisp so many times I practically have it memorized.

I also have found a good deal of peace and inspiration in Lucretius' On the Nature of Things lately - especially the approach to life and its end: When you are home after a lovely dinner you don't complain that it didn't last ten hours instead of four, you enjoy the dinner, then rest - if you spend the four hours wishing and worrying that it is too short you waste the time you do have and when you get home you are only bitter that it wasn't what it could have been.
posted by Tchad at 11:16 AM on January 20, 2010

I have read A Swiftly Tilting Planet once every three years or so since I was thirteen, and it remains perfect.
posted by PhoBWanKenobi at 11:19 AM on January 20, 2010 [2 favorites]

Kerouac's On the Road.
posted by pappy at 11:20 AM on January 20, 2010

The Last Herald-Mage series (Magic's Pawn, Magic's Promise, Magic's Price) by Mercedes Lackey. (I never really got into the rest of that universe although I did read a fair amount of the books from it.)

Children of the Night
, also by Mercedes Lackey, which as a passage that has stuck with me that I can't quote without the book in front of me, but it's about why the master fears an amateur more than a professional because amateur's are unpredictable.

"Uses of Poetry" by Lawrence Ferlinghetti was quite comforting while I was trying to do my capstone paper for my MSA:
"...For even bad poetry has relevance
for what it does not say
for what it leaves out
(ah but to free it still
from the word-processor of the mind!)"
posted by sperose at 11:21 AM on January 20, 2010 [1 favorite]

Cat's Cradle by Kurt Vonnegut
posted by barney_sap at 11:23 AM on January 20, 2010

Great question!

For me, the books that are like old friends are:

Cat's Cradle by Vonnegut
The Divine Comedy (all three books) by Dante Alighieri (Which counts as both a book and a poem! Yay!)
Foucault's Pendulum by Umberto Eco
Robinson Crusoe by Daniel Defoe
posted by The World Famous at 11:25 AM on January 20, 2010

William Carlos Williams' Paterson, ever since I found an old torn paperback copy in a Harvard Square used bookstore, for 95 cents.

—Say it, no ideas but in things—
nothing but the blank faces of the houses
and cylindrical trees
bent, forked by preconception and accident—
split, furrowed, creased, mottled, stained—
secret—into the body of the light!

posted by R. Mutt at 11:29 AM on January 20, 2010 [2 favorites]

Breakfast at Tiffany's [Truman Capote] does this for me.
And Franny and Zooey [JD Salinger].
posted by deadcrow at 11:32 AM on January 20, 2010 [1 favorite]

"Dune" by Frank Herbert
"The Sailor Who Fell From Grace With the Sea" by Yukio Mishima
"Lord of the Rings" by JRR Tolkein
posted by kaseijin at 11:38 AM on January 20, 2010

Jane Eyre (I find something new every time)
Pride and Prejudice
Diana Gabaldon's Outlander series

All of them are comfortable places to retreat to and to meet old friends.
posted by pised at 11:43 AM on January 20, 2010

"Days" by Philip Larkin:

What are days for?
Days are where we live.
They come, they wake us
Time and time over.
They are to be happy in:
Where can we live but days?

Ah, solving that question
Brings the priest and the doctor
In their long coats
Running over the fields.
posted by jbickers at 11:45 AM on January 20, 2010 [2 favorites]

Lolita, Ulysses and American Tabloid (by James Ellroy) are three I go back to re-read again and again and again. I used to re-read the first volume of In Search of Lost Time, but we broke up.

Depending on what kind of comfort I need, sometimes I still return to early Dykes to Watch Out For (which is a comic, but so formative of my sensibilities) by Alison Bechdel and On Strike Against God by Joanna Russ.

In times of great sorrow, if my Annotated Lolita isn't around, I'll re-read Ruth Gordon's memoir My Side. Also some Little Golden Books, like The Poky Little Puppy and The Little Engine That Could.

My dad reads Moby Dick every year around his birthday. And Peter Drucker, which I think is a weird choice.
posted by S'Tella Fabula at 11:54 AM on January 20, 2010

From Wood to Ridge, collected poems of Sorley MacLean.
posted by Abiezer at 11:55 AM on January 20, 2010

Brideshead Revisited. Just the finest novel of the 20th century, breathtakingly ambitious, flawed in execution with its most wildly improbable feel-good ending, but all the better for it. I reread it once a year and always manage to lose myself in it it all over again. Two of my children are named after characters in the book - Julia and Alex. One day, I'll tell them...

Collected works of Robert Frost. Open at random at any page for instant inspiration.

(How anyone can read Prufrock to keep them "afloat through good times and bad", I dunno. Don't get me wrong, one of the greatest poems ever written, but if you suffer from the slightest bit of insecurity or self doubt, it's not a place to turn to recharge the batteries.) I will wear the bottoms of my trousers rolled....
posted by genesta at 11:57 AM on January 20, 2010 [1 favorite]

Diana Gabaldon's Outlander series

A thousand times yes. One of my favorite ways to spend an evening in is to haul the whole series off the shelf and spend a few hours re-reading my favorite passages from each book.
posted by something something at 12:00 PM on January 20, 2010

This is Water by David Foster Wallace
Philosophical Investigations Wittgenstein
A Very Easy Death Simone De Beauvoir
A Confederacy of Dunces by John Kennedy Toole
The Timetables of History by Bernard Grun
posted by Lutoslawski at 12:04 PM on January 20, 2010

Matilda by Roald Dahl, Little Women, Sense and Sensibility, The Secret Garden, A Little Princess, A Tree Grows in Brooklyn, Cynthia Voigt, Madeleine L'engle, Sophie's World, Tove Jansson, Hans Christian Andersen
Suddenly You by Lisa Kleypas (I should be ashamed, I know)
An Invisible Sign of My Own and The Girl in the Flammable Skirt by Aimee Bender
Amy Hempel's stories; they were collected recently with an intro by Rick Moody, IIRC
The Towers of Trebizond by Rose Macauley
Madame Bovary by Gustave Flaubert
If on a winter's night a traveler by Italo Calvino
Sam Kieth, Grant Morrison
Fernando Pessoa's poems
The Taste of Country Cooking by Edna Lewis
Swann's Way by Marcel Proust
I know this is messed up, but whatever: all of Mary Gaitskill's fiction, particularly the first two story collections and the first novel
a lot of Chinese and Japanese classics...Master Tung's Western Chamber Romance, The Plum in the Golden Vase, Peony Pavilion, the Three Kingdoms romance, those stories about wily women escaping from the clutches of invaders, Issa's poems, Shen Fu's account, Tu Fu's poems...
ee cummings
Dawn Powell, Carson McCullers
Oscar and Lucinda by Peter Carey
a lot of John Berger's fiction
Christina Stead
there's a sort of...retro hip, seemingly light-hearted dandy kind of fiction that is comforting for some reason to me. Max Beerbohm's Zuleika Dobson, Anita Loos' Gentlemen Prefer Blondes etc.
Opal Whiteley's diary
posted by ifjuly at 12:06 PM on January 20, 2010

Yet another Confederacy of Dunces fan here. I read it every three or four years. It's the only book I have like that. It's a wonderful mix of laugh out loud funny and chaos and, surprisingly, a sort of tender tragedy in various ways. The main character is like nothing you'll ever experience anywhere else and the cast of side characters are an absolute joy.
posted by Askr at 12:11 PM on January 20, 2010

The Wandering Unicorn by Manuel Mujica Lainez was the first book where I stopped, periodically, and reread entire pages to meditate on the poetry of the words themselves. I think I was 11. I now have multiple copies and it has borne several rereadings, primarily to learn more about French history and mythology, but also because it's amazing.

The poetry of Wallace Stevens.

Anything by Rainer Maria Rilke, in German or English.

When I need instant meditation, I go to the bee-loud glade that only Yeats could conjure. His genius is everlasting. This poem is, for me, the equivalent of Henry David Thoreau's Walden in a few concise, image-saturated verses.
posted by Unicorn on the cob at 12:13 PM on January 20, 2010

The Spell of the Yukon and Other Verses by Robert W. Service, which includes the immortal poems The Shooting of Dan McGrew and The Cremation of Sam McGee:
There are strange things done in the midnight sun
By the men who moil for gold;
The Arctic trails have their secret tales
That would make your blood run cold;
The Northern Lights have seen queer sights,
But the queerest they ever did see
Was that night on the marge of Lake Lebarge
I cremated Sam McGee.
posted by scalefree at 12:17 PM on January 20, 2010 [1 favorite]

Little Big Man

"I am a white man and never forgot it..."

I have major chunks of this memorized, and read sections often. I've been reading the whole thing at least once a year for the last 25 years.


Second in the Space Trilogy, CS Lewis' defense of Paradise.
"If I did not save it, it would not be saved."

Cat's Cradle

"See the cat? See the cradle?"


"Tell me how your father died."
posted by Calibandage at 12:18 PM on January 20, 2010

nthing anything by Robert Service, especially when the weather outside is especially bad.

nthing all three of CS Lewis' Space Trilogy, especially Perelandra.
posted by eleslie at 12:43 PM on January 20, 2010

Wind-Up Bird Chronicle Haruki Murakami
Wrinkle in Time, and it's sequels, Madeleine L'Engle

If on a Winter's Night a Traveler and Invisible Cities by Italo Calvino once filled this role as well, but then I spent a year in school writing a thesis partly on them... and haven't read them since.
posted by grapesaresour at 12:47 PM on January 20, 2010

If by Rudyard Kipling (poem)
Watership Down by Richard Adams
Escape from Hell by Niven & Pournelle
Anything that GK Chesterton ever wrote
The Last Unicorn by Peter S. Beagle (which also has its share of poetry and songs)
The Chaos Trilogy by John C. Wright
Till We Have Faces by CS Lewis
posted by _cave at 1:10 PM on January 20, 2010

The book that I can always read no matter what mood I'm in is The Master and Margarita, by Mikhail Bulgakov.

If I'm feeling especially pity-party-ish, I can wallow in its extremely (and sometimes comically) Soviet nihilism. If I'm feeling chipper, its contents provide me talking cats with machine guns, and flying pigs that once were witches.

I can't even imagine how many copies I've lost, given away, had stolen, or trashed.
posted by functionequalsform at 1:14 PM on January 20, 2010

William Gibson's Neuromancer (and the first few chapters of Pattern Recognition)
Thomas Harris' Hannibal
William Empson's poem "Missing Dates"
posted by transporter accident amy at 1:14 PM on January 20, 2010

also nthing Princess Bride and Pratchett novels, although Lords and Ladies & Wee Free Men are my personal favorites
posted by _cave at 1:15 PM on January 20, 2010

It's not just the stories, but the physical book itself, a worn out paperback, with dog eared corners.

Frank Herbert's Dune, I read every year in the summer when the heat get's unbearable. I first read it during a drought here in Sydney, I was very conscious of the water restrictions in place at the time.

Ursula Le Guin's Earthsea trilogy, although my copy has the 3 novels in one paperback. The cover's falling off, and it keeps getting swapped back and forth between my brother and I.

Eiji Yoshikawa's Musashi - epic samurai adventure story. I've got it in hard-cover, and it was one of the best Christmas presents I've ever received. I must've read it a dozen times.
posted by robotot at 1:20 PM on January 20, 2010

The History of Love: A Novel - Krauss
The Book Thief - Markus Zusak
Sirens of Titan - Vonnegut
Merle's Door - Ted Kerasote
posted by parakeetdog at 1:32 PM on January 20, 2010

The Riddle Master of Hed trilogy by Patricia McKillip
My Family and Other Animals by Gerald Durrell
Harriet the Spy by Louise Fitzhugh
The Hero and the Crown by Robin McKinley
A Proud Taste For Scarlet and Miniver by E.L. Konigsburg
When We Were Very Young and Now We Are Six by A.A. Milne
The Bat Poet by Randall Jarrell
The Bean Trees by Barbara Kingsolver
A Star Called Henry by Roddy Doyle
Pride and Prejudice by Jane Austen
The Anne Of Green Gables series by LM Montgomery
Box Office Poison by Alex Robinson
Pretty much everything by Adrian Tomine
Nearly everything by Shelby Hearon
posted by Brody's chum at 1:36 PM on January 20, 2010

LeGuin's The Other Wind (book 4? of the Earthsea "trilogy")
posted by small_ruminant at 1:49 PM on January 20, 2010

George Saunders, "Sea Oak."
posted by gnomeloaf at 1:54 PM on January 20, 2010

Neverending Story, by Michael Ende. I've probably read it about 20 times.
posted by sarahsynonymous at 2:00 PM on January 20, 2010

Vast swathes of Mary Oliver's poetry (in particular "Mindful", which rests above my desk at home and at work), but also Barbara Ras' You Can't Have It All.
posted by Stacey at 2:36 PM on January 20, 2010

Jack and Stephen (in Patrick O'Brian's books); Lord Peter (in Dorothy Sayers'). If I'm running out the door and need to grab something to read, I know I'll always be happy with them.
posted by The corpse in the library at 2:47 PM on January 20, 2010

What a Great Question!
When I was a kid I had a book shelf headboard that always had several books on it. For years they were just there, more like decorations than anything. I used to look at the pictures before I could read them. Eventually I got old enough that The Thirteen Clocks by James Thurber made sense to me and I thought "Oh my God, now that's a fairy tale" I still have it and loan it out to a special few and now I'll have to go dig it out and read it again. I don't read it often, I think it's still packed away from my last move, but it's definitely a magical book for me. The first Amazon page I found had it in paperback and the idea of reading it in paperback just seemed wrong. Mine is an old, old, old hardback and I don't usually care but It just seems like it has to be read in hardbound.
Monster Rally by Charles Adams was another book that just hung out in my room and I was always fascinated by it. I didn't understand most of the jokes at first but over the years I would look through it and one by one they all became clear. I'm not even sure I still have it, the last I remember it was in pieces and held together by an old rubber band. The link above has the whole book. When ever I see one of the cartoons from the book it feels like it grounds me a little bit. I guess it also explains my odd sense of humor.
I have had this poem by Maya Angelou posted by my back door for several years (I'm pretty sure I found it through an AskMeFi thread). I love the part about the diamonds at the meeting of her thighs.
posted by BoscosMom at 2:51 PM on January 20, 2010

I think many people's answers will necessarily depend on when they read these books and poems. Literary value gets entangled with personal meaning and growth. For example, rereading both Gatsby and Prufrock creates that "old friend" experience for me, but so does Smashed by Koren Zailckas, which is a pretty average modern-day memoir about alcoholism.
posted by tantivy at 3:27 PM on January 20, 2010

OK, two more:

New Seeds of Contemplation by Thomas Merton
The Outermost House by Henry Beston, about which I made a FPP.
posted by jquinby at 4:41 PM on January 20, 2010 [1 favorite]

Pride and Predjudice, and other Jane Austen, Hitchiker's Guide to the Galaxy (all of them), and other Douglas Adams, American Gods, Neil Gaiman, Jane Eyre
posted by 5_13_23_42_69_666 at 4:46 PM on January 20, 2010

Calvin and Hobbes, by Bill Watterson. Any of them.

Life in Hell, by Matt Groening. Any of them except the most recent few.
posted by Ndwright at 7:49 PM on January 20, 2010 [2 favorites]

If you take Watership Down, cross it with Lord of the Rings, season with some flavoring from the Bible & populate the result with moles you'll get William Horwood's six volume Duncton Wood series of novels. It's an extraordinary work, well worth the effort.
posted by scalefree at 8:24 PM on January 20, 2010

Oh god, seconding Calvin & Hobbes. One of my friends recently got the hardbound set, and described it as "the first thing I've owned that I know I'll pass down to my kids."

For me, the classic would be the Wild Magic series by Tamora Pierce (I think I've read them about once a year for the last... I don't know, ten years? I basically know them by heart).

Also, it's a more recent find, but To Say Nothing of the Dog by Connie Willis absolutely fits this bill (as does the novelette Fire Watch, though not the short story collection it's bound with). That's what I'd want to read if I was really stressed out or sad.

Also, Nabokov's Speak, Memory.

Odd, perhaps, but The Elements of Style. Odder still, Purcell's Electricity and Magnetism.
posted by you're a kitty! at 10:02 PM on January 20, 2010

When I hate people: Harriet the Spy, Louise Fitzhugh
When my circumstances are beyond my coping ability: The History Boys, Alan Bennett
When I'm nostalgic: Microserfs, Douglas Coupland
When I'm in need of politics of hope/love/conviction: God of Small Things, Arundhati Roy
posted by dustyasymptotes at 10:56 PM on January 20, 2010

Mrs. Dalloway, by Virginia Woolf. I love it because it doesn't pull punches about the fear of death and unfulfilled dreams, yet it still manages to find joy and meaning in life despite those things. Here's my favorite excerpt:
"Such fools we are, she thought, crossing Victoria Street. For Heaven only knows why one loves it so, how one sees it so, making it up, building it round one, tumbling it, creating it every moment afresh; but the veriest frumps, the most dejected of miseries sitting on doorsteps (drink their downfall) do the same; can't be dealt with, she felt positive, by Acts of Parliament for that very reason: they love life. In people's eyes, in the swing, tramp and trudge; in the bellow and the uproar; the carriages, motor cars, omnibuses, vans, sandwich men shuffling and swinging; brass bands; barrel organs; in the triumph and the jingle and the strange high singing of some aeroplane overhead was what she loved; life; London; this moment of June."
posted by Solon and Thanks at 11:24 PM on January 20, 2010 [1 favorite]

Solaris, by Stanislaw Lem, has always been like that for me.
posted by Rinku at 12:19 AM on January 21, 2010

You mentioned The Little Prince. I read Wind, Sand, and Stars when I need to get going.
posted by jasondigitized at 6:24 AM on January 21, 2010

Poets which have gotten me through hard times:

Catullus (duh)
Anne Carson
Arthur Rimbaud
T. S. Eliot (specifically The Waste Land)
E. E. Cummings
Emily Dickinson
posted by Kattullus at 6:35 AM on January 21, 2010

John Varley's Titan Trilogy.
Pure escapism. I just LOVE everything about that planet Gaea and the (people) who live there.
The Day Lincoln Was Shot (Jim Bishop)
When I read this book, I am there and then. Think History Channel re-creation, but 4500X better.
posted by Pennyblack at 7:31 AM on January 21, 2010

Amazing. Thank you all. (Feel free to keep commenting!)
posted by bookgirl18 at 8:27 AM on January 21, 2010

A Little Princess by Frances Hodgson Burnett has been my go-to book for this for a long time. A little girl suffers through many kinds of adversity with no support that she can see, and she manages to get through it.
posted by Night_owl at 10:41 AM on January 21, 2010

Ooh, two more.

There are two things I read during the fall of 2001 which both preserved my sanity during a very hard time (I live in New York, so...yeah.)

* After 9/11, after 3 days of trying to do the stiff-upper-lip thing, I locked myself in my bedroom with the complete LORD OF THE RINGS trilogy. I did not answer the phone, I did not speak to my roommate, I did not even leave my room except when I needed to eat or pee (even so, I would usually take whatever I was eating back to my room and dive back into the book). When I finally emerged 68 hours later, I had finished reading the whole thing, and was much calmer.

I tried reading it again a couple years later, and was very surprised to see that there were entire sections that I just plain flat-out did not remember from the first reading (the whole section about Tom Bombadil, I just stared at it baffled, thinking, "wait, this was IN here? I don't remember this!"). I think the first time I wasn't so much reading as much as I was visiting somewhere that wasn't New York for a few days, and then when I was strong enough, I came back. So the second time was like reading it afresh -- and fortunately it still held up.

* I'd read Simon Wiesenthal's book THE SUNFLOWER a lot of times before, and I have read it a lot of times since. It has always been a profoundly thought-provoking book about the nature of forgiveness - and some of the essays in it state that sometimes, it's okay NOT to forgive someone right away, or ever. It was profound stuff to reflect on at that time, just as it's always been.
posted by EmpressCallipygos at 11:38 AM on January 21, 2010

Such a great question! But interesting, because I sort of split the kinds of books/poems you're talking about into two categories: the "old friends" who are easy to be with and give me comfort without being too ... grimly realistic (see: Jane Austen, LOTR, Jonathan Strange & Mr Norrell, A Tree Grows in Brooklyn, tons and tons of YA novels from my youth) and the sort of "take courage and face the world, despite its sorrows" kind of writing. I tend to look at poetry more for these:

To a Friend Whose Work Has Come to Nothing (Yeats)

Antonio Machado's Wakes in the Sea

And lots of Kay Ryan.
posted by alleycat01 at 11:51 AM on January 21, 2010

alleycat01's links got confused - here's To a Friend whose Work has come to Nothing
posted by Solon and Thanks at 12:27 PM on January 21, 2010

1. H.L. Mencken's essays, collected in Prejudices and other various works. I never weary of his distinctively American facility with the language and his willingness to deploy it in shocking and hilarious constructions. Mencken is the greatest cultural critic I've ever read, not least because his criticism was itself an artistic acheivement. The grim humor of his political essays in particular is a great consolation and helpful reminder, when confronted by whatever fresh hell Fox News has unleashed, that it was ever thus. "Democracy is the theory that the common people know what they want, and deserve to get it good and hard."

2. P.G. Wodehouse's novels and short stories, particularly the Jeeves & Wooster material. I know all the sitcom-quality plots by heart, but the sheer mastery of execution remains eternally fresh. I often find myself pulling a book of the shelf and re-reading my favorite passages. For me, it's like the literary version of the Simpsons, full of classic quotable lines, ridiculous set pieces, and slapstick gags sandwiched between high literary and cultural references.
posted by Mendl at 2:49 PM on January 21, 2010 [1 favorite]

Someday Angeline

(nthng the first three Anne of Green Gables books and Dune)
posted by audacity at 10:40 AM on January 22, 2010

My Antonia, Willa Cather
posted by sulaine at 6:49 PM on January 24, 2010

Cyrano de Bergerac, Edmond Rostand
The Bridge of San Luis Rey, Thornton Wilder
The Dragon Waiting, John M. Ford
Anything by Shakespeare

And nthing Tolkien and LeGuin.
posted by Pallas Athena at 7:03 AM on January 25, 2010

The Hour and What is Dead, by Li-Young Lee.
posted by shakespeherian at 9:29 AM on January 25, 2010

Pattern Recognition by William Gibson, for escapism to a possible London
The Blind Assassin by Margaret Atwood
The First Duino Elegy by Rainer Maria Rilke: "for beauty is nothing but the beginning of terror"
The book of Isaiah from the Bible, NIV.
posted by nihraguk at 9:23 AM on January 26, 2010

Man's Search for Meaning by Viktor Frankl. I rediscover it every two years or so and every time it makes me a better person.
posted by kittyprecious at 2:08 PM on January 26, 2010

"Song of Myself," by Walt Whitman
I Capture the Castle, by Dodie Smith
Anything by Tracy Kidder
Anything by Alice Munro

and (nerd alert) Justice Blackmun's dissent to denial of cert in Callins v. Collins
posted by sallybrown at 9:09 PM on January 26, 2010

To kill a mockingbird by Harper Lee, the Nigel Molesworth books by Geoffrey Willans and Ronald Searle, (Whizz for atomms, How to be topp, Down with skool!, Back in the jug agane), My family and other animals by Gerald Durrell (and his other Corfu books). Three men in a boat by Jerome K Jerome, any of Fannie Flagg's books, Louis de Bernieres' trilogy set in South America (The Troublesome offspring of Cardinal Guzman, the War of Don Emmanuel's nether parts, Senor Vivo and the coca lord). EC Spykman's Terrible horrible Edie, the Wild angel, A Lemon and a Star, and Edie on the warpath - these four children's books are kind of hard to find, but lovely if you do.
Like Boscosmom I love the Thirteen Clocks by James Thurber, and my edition also includes another story, the Wonderful O, which is about pirates who invade an island and forbid the inhabitants to use the letter O, which makes for some charming and lyrical writing by Thurber.
All great rainy day books.
posted by k_tron at 2:49 AM on January 27, 2010

Totally agree with Jeeve and Wooster. Whenever I feel poor, and hate the upper class, I remember or re-read these. They diminish the twits.
posted by Pennyblack at 7:15 PM on January 28, 2010

I feel like sio42 about Neuromancer: Again and again I pick it up and marvel at the wonderful way Gibson has with words and descriptions. Mind you, it's probably because of nostalgia and my inclination for escapism but I easily immerse myself into the book's world and feel really good.
posted by Glow Bucket at 7:12 AM on January 29, 2010

« Older Building a turntable for actors   |   Trailer park sous vide? Newer »
This thread is closed to new comments.