Don't think Mrs. Dalloway is going to work here
November 1, 2011 5:14 AM   Subscribe

Nice, comforting stores to read out loud to an elderly individual?

Sort of a followup to this question. I've been volunteering at a nursing home by reading to residents. That question garnered some great answers, but unfortunately, most of the suggestions were too long and complicated for me to really read aloud. I've ended up just talking most of the time with him.

This time, my resident is an almost-70 year-old-woman who is blind and had a stroke some years ago. She enjoys having the Bible read to her (especially Psalms), but really misses being able to read herself. She said she used to like "romances." She grew up in Alabama and had 10 siblings I believe.

Unfortunately, most of what is on my bookshelf is stuff from college classes or more contemporary "literary" fiction, not really good stuff to read aloud. Is there anything I can access online that is simple, easy-to-follow, and not too depressing? (I'm seeing her after work today!)
posted by leedly to Writing & Language (28 answers total) 6 users marked this as a favorite
Project Gutenberg is going to have a lot for you. It is ENTIRELY public-domain stuff, which also means that it may appeal to someone with a more genteel taste.

Stephen Leacock's "Sunshine Sketches Of A Little Town" is a light, sweet collection of short stories about "life in a small town"; Leacock was Canadian, but it's not going to sound very different at all from American small-town life. You may find it a bit sentimental, but I think she'd dig it.

Edith Wharton also had some short fiction that could work - some of her stuff is depressing and some would come across as shocking; but some of her stuff is WONDERFULLY witty. I loved Wharton's story "Xingu" so much I turned it into a play a few years ago; it's about how the woman who doesn't quite fit in at a small-town book club finally gets her comeuppance against the others, entirely by using her wits.
posted by EmpressCallipygos at 5:26 AM on November 1, 2011

Oh -- Sarah Orne Jewett may have a couple things here and there too. She's got a lot of stories; I kind of dug The Flight of Betsey Lane, which is about a little old lady in a smalltown New England poorhouse suddenly getting an unexpected financial gift from the grown-up daughter of the family she used to keep house for; and she decides to blow it all on a vacation and gifts for her friends. It's actually pretty cute.

This seems to be a font of Jewett's short stories; she did a lot of "sentimental depictions of small-town New England life" kinds of things.
posted by EmpressCallipygos at 5:39 AM on November 1, 2011

Best answer: A Christmas Memory - Truman Capote.

I'm thinking so hard for others! I'll report back (I hope).
posted by h00py at 5:47 AM on November 1, 2011 [1 favorite]

Not just looking for old lady stories either. Looking for classic, short form love stories from the 50/60's. I know there's some good ones out there.
posted by h00py at 5:48 AM on November 1, 2011

Back issues of the Saturday Evening Post?
posted by TWinbrook8 at 5:55 AM on November 1, 2011

Romance plus Bible? I suggest Grace Livingston Hill. She has several books on Project Gutenberg. She also has books of short stories, but I don't see any available online.

Of the stuff on Project Gutenburg, I'd start with Cloudy Jewel; it's long but episodic and could work as a chapter-at-a-time book.
posted by pie ninja at 5:57 AM on November 1, 2011

There is (for better or worse) a busy, busy sub-genre of Christian romance these days. (I know this because they cross-contaminate the listings for every other kind of digital book. I think it's a plot.) Anyway, there must be blogs for that sort of thing. Given the popularity, your library's desk can probably assist you here as well.

Do you have a Kindle? One of the very first things I picked up was The Mill River Recluse, because it was highly rated and 99 cents and I completely didn't understand how shopping for Kindle stuff worked. It's actually a charming, well-written, nostalgic and positive novel and one I'd pick to read to my grandmother.

Failing that, maybe Lake Wobegon Days?
posted by DarlingBri at 6:19 AM on November 1, 2011

James Herriot's All Creatures Great And Small and the other books in that series. They are so comforting that even I, a gloomy atheist anarchist, find them pretty cute. The guy was a country vet in England during the late thirties, served in the RAF and then returned to a long career of veterinarian-ing. I remember them as mostly not-screwed-up - like, there's one story in which a queer guy is sort of treated as a comic but sympathetic character, but there are other obvious queer people who are not treated comically; there's a trip to Istanbul in which there are some comic misunderstandings but not comic racialized misunderstandings. There's a little bit of "farmers sure are comic" in places, but all the comic farmers have tremendous social power, so Herriot may joke about them a little bit but takes them seriously as people. (I find it a huge non-comfort when books are racist, etc, so this is important to me.)

Anyway, they're mostly gently comic stories about his failures and successes as a vet. Each chapter is an anecdote, generally, and the first two books have a lot of parts about his courtship of his wife and the early days of his marriage - if your friend is looking for romance, those are very sweet. There are a few sad stories in the books, too, so skim ahead and skip those! Otherwise, lots of adorable puppies and kittens and animals making miraculous recoveries.
posted by Frowner at 6:20 AM on November 1, 2011 [5 favorites]

Jan Karon's Mitford series seems like it would be a possibility. Gentle positive stories following life in a small town in North Carolina as seen through the eyes of its Episcopal rector Father Tim. Delightful and with a Christian slant. Worth a look.
posted by Ginesthoi at 6:25 AM on November 1, 2011

My 97 year-old grandfather really enjoyed William Steig's books, Abel's Island, Dominic, and The Real Thief. They are short novels intended for children, but are oh so enjoyable at any age. I discovered them because a friend's child asked me to read to her while I was visiting them, and when I got home I went straight to the bookstore and bought them for myself, they then kind of circulated around the family and got to my grandfather who got such a kick out of them-- it made the whole family so happy to see him laughing so much.
posted by seriousmoonlight at 6:44 AM on November 1, 2011

Dude, she's 69, not 169. She's about the right age to have had a crush on Elvis. I would think you want Maeve Binchy, Nora Roberts, and possibly Danielle Steele or Jackie Collins or possibly Dame Barbara Cartland. Binchy is the best writer and less scandalous in content than the rest, I'd start with her. Your local library should have a giant shelf of this stuff.
posted by Diablevert at 6:53 AM on November 1, 2011 [1 favorite]

Dude, she's 69, not 169. She's about the right age to have had a crush on Elvis.

A fair point, but my mom's also in her 60's and dug Sarah Orne Jewett herself. Although I agree Maeve Binchy is a good choice.

(I know I started the "really old stuff" trend, but that was because the OP was asking about online sources for things and I know that Project Gutenberg is a damn WEALTH of literature.)
posted by EmpressCallipygos at 7:05 AM on November 1, 2011

Stuart McLean is kind of the Canadian equivalent of Garrison Keillor (except way better) and writes touching and funny stories of a fictional family. Any of his books would probably be suitable.
posted by hydrobatidae at 7:18 AM on November 1, 2011

How about reader's digest online? - do a search for love or romance, and you're sure to find lots of short, not-too-sexy or potentially offensive stories.
posted by lemniskate at 7:43 AM on November 1, 2011

Anything at all by Alice Munro.
posted by TryTheTilapia at 8:00 AM on November 1, 2011

if you're going to be using books from the library for your reading, talk to the readers' advisory librarian who should be able to recommend collections of shorter works that are appropriate.

I've a relation whom this could describe and she loved The Help, as well as most things by Eudora Welty and Katherine Anne Porter.
posted by crush-onastick at 8:31 AM on November 1, 2011

Just about every thrift store in the world has old copies of Guideposts. Those are full of articles and stories that would appeal to a bible-loving older person.

That and titles in the vein of "Chicken Soup for the ...."
posted by cross_impact at 8:50 AM on November 1, 2011

Response by poster: Thanks so much for these suggestions! I'll be sure to stop by the library later, and for now have a few stories I can happily print out for this evening.

Note re: The Help - I thought about that, but my resident is actually black and I don't know if that would be weird or uncomfortable to read out loud to her. I am not willing nor able to fake any kind of accent or dialect. (have not read the book myself) In fact, I worry that with some older fiction, I'll just have to just be a bit race-aware. Thoughts?
posted by leedly at 9:26 AM on November 1, 2011

Seconding Jan Karon's Mitford series --- just be sure you read the books in order, if possible, because the characters lives do progress as the series does.

You could also try Charlotte Macleod, for "cozy" mysteries (she also wrote as Alisa Craig). Or perhaps Dorothy Gilman's Mrs. Pollifax books. My own mother loved Dick Francis's stuff, you might give some of those a try.
posted by easily confused at 10:07 AM on November 1, 2011

How about O. Henry?
posted by TooFewShoes at 10:19 AM on November 1, 2011

The "The No. 1 Ladies' Detective Agency" books by Alexander McCall Smith are delightful; funny and sweet without being maudlin. Like a breath of fresh air.
posted by LauraJ at 11:53 AM on November 1, 2011

When picking books, I think it might also help to keep in mind that 69 is not actually elderly. Your little old lady was 18 in the swingin' sixties, man! Regardless of her background, it is unlikely she has lead a sheltered Victorian life. How old people seem at different ages has a lot to do with how engaged they are with contemporary life and how small their world has become, but while she may seem quite old, her frame of reference and probity is probably not vastly far adrift of yours.
posted by DarlingBri at 2:23 PM on November 1, 2011 [1 favorite]

My mother is older than that and she loves Virginia Woolf (as per your title). You're being a bit condescending, unless there's information you haven't shared.

For romances: Georgette Heyer is great and easily found at any library. There won't be any smut, the books are funny and very well-written, and as far as I recall there won't be any race or dialect issues because, um, everybody's white and English.
posted by The corpse in the library at 2:32 PM on November 1, 2011

Anything by Laurie Colwin: Very funny (see story "Alone in the Kitchen with an Eggplant"), romantic (see "An Old-Fashioned Love Story"), and easy on the ears.
posted by caminovereda at 4:28 PM on November 1, 2011

A wonderful book that is kind of a romance and might totally appeal to the person you're describing is Enchanted April which you can get on Project Gutenberg. It's the beautifully written story of some women who go to Italy together and learn new things about themselves and/or their intimate relationships; it was written and takes place in the early part of the 20th century.
posted by gubenuj at 9:24 PM on November 1, 2011

my resident is actually black

Alice Walker's short story collection You Can't Keep A Good Woman Down is wonderful, easy to read and full of interesting stuff (starting with the first story, "1955," about a fictional meeting between Big Mama Thornton and Elvis). It fits the "not too long or complicated" requirement nicely.

You might want to ask casually if she'd prefer romances with black primary characters. Something like, "Would you prefer it if I found romances about black couples? That's no problem." Follow up with other questions to get a sense of what she'd like to listen to: "Do you want the classics or something more modern?" "Do you prefer there be an inspirational or religious message?" I'd also ask gently but directly if she wants to avoid any steaminess, or wouldn't mind a little, or maybe even a lot. Once you have a better handle on those few questions, you'll be able to bring your local librarian a much more useful set of requirements, e.g.,

Christian romances with Af-Am characters
Mildly steamy urban romances
Non-steamy classic fiction
Af-Am short story collections (Alice Walker has some great ones; her collection You Can't Keep A Good Woman Down starts with a fantastic riff on Big Mama Thornton and Elvis)

For romances, here's one group of suggestions from a quick search, which overlaps a bit with the suggestions in this blog post, but I know folks like Brenda Jackson tend to be steamy. Since you mention the Bible, she might prefer some of these, but the best thing to do is ask her a few simple questions to help narrow the search.
posted by mediareport at 7:36 PM on November 6, 2011

Walker's stories can get intense/heavy at times, but not always and there's tons of heart in them. You may want to read ahead, though, to avoid potentially uncomfortable darknesses.
posted by mediareport at 7:46 PM on November 6, 2011

Seconding Mitford series and Georgette Heyer (especially The Grand Sophy) for sweet old-fashioned romance (how about Jane Austen as well?)

There are a lot of PG rated Christian romances...a good one is Redeeming Love by Francine Rivers.

To Win Her Heart has gotten good reviews.
posted by lirael2008 at 11:42 PM on November 10, 2011

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