The books that heal us
The books that drag us up and out of the pits we’ve fallen into are not always pulitzer prize worthy
Everyone had been telling us to visit Ojai since we first moved to Pasadena three years ago, yet somehow we never made our way there until this past weekend. It was a simple drive, simpler than I imagined since Los Angeles traffic is never predictable, also never friendly. But we drove along the coast and into the hills with ease, the wild grasses dotted with bright flowers from all the rain this past winter.
Our hotel, with a saltwater pool and summer camp aesthetic, had one room still available. Room fifteen. I felt nostalgic when I saw the piney log bed frame, like the one from my childhood bedroom, made by a local logger. At least I think. Elsewhere in the hotel, burnt yellow and pink tiles decorated the bathroom walls and floor, a nod to past generations with more interesting styles. A cute kitchen. Dimly lit scone lights. Outside our window, a circle of motorcycles parked next to the small shack that housed a late-night bar and fire pit.
I was sick for most of the weekend with whatever hellish cold is going around, which meant sleeping in the room or sitting out by the pool on what felt like the first hot weekend of the year. We spent too much money on coffee and food and not enough time at the famous bookstore. But the weekend felt healing, nonetheless—a moment to get away and see the sky differently. Most hours were spent reading a new novel, letting my skin burn, and downing dayquil with liter bottles of carbonated water. Not a terrible weekend if you ask me.
The book I read—which is really what I want to write about—takes place at a creepy Adirondacks estate in the coldest of winter. A group of women is selected to attend a prestigious writing retreat, and the story quickly becomes strange and intimate and also sexual. It’s dark and interesting, and the relationships and characters are tangled and complicated. The writing element makes it feel personal, of course. It’s also very much a pool read, which is to say, it was easy to focus on the story despite the harsh sun and loud conversations.
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I haven’t finished the book yet (I hope to tonight), but it’s had me thinking about the books that heal us. While this novel isn’t transformative or introspective by any means, it’s found me at just the right time in my creative life. I’ve been desperate for a story that reels me in and doesn’t let go, something to bring me back to the eleven-year-old girl reading her grandmother’s copies of Mary Higgins Clark and Christopher Pike paperbacks on the kitchen floor at two in the morning. I needed something that would be easy to fall in love with. I’ve needed to remember that writing and storytelling can be, above all else, entertaining.
The books that drag us up and out of the pits we’ve fallen into are not always profound or Pulitzer Prize worthy (though sometimes they are). Sometimes, a book finds us at the right moment in time and etches itself in our memory because of the writing and story, sure, but also because the book itself offers comfort. And that is enough. Whether juicy novels or experimental essays, whether self-help books or deeply honest memoirs, the stories come to us when we need them most. Perhaps on life-changing trips, or to scary doctor appointments, or to keep our minds distracted at night when worry wants to get the best of us.
And so I’ve been thinking about the books in my stack that feel healing, the ones that remind me of why I love to read, and also create. There is no rhyme or reason to the genres or titles; they are the books that mean something to me, regardless of the story, regardless of the why. They just do. The magic of reading, I suppose.
Here are a few books I can think of off the top of my head that found me at just the right place and time in the last few years, and thus they’ve stuck with me, or I’ve found myself talking about them too frequently.
Ghost Wall, Sarah Moss
How Far The Light Reaches, Sabrina Imbler
Writers & Lovers, Lily King
In The Dream House, Carmen Maria Machado
Heartbroke, Chelsea Bieker
The Girls, Emma Cline
Call Me By Your Name, André Aciman
Animal, Lisa Taddeo
The Writing Life, Annie Dillard
The Water Cure, Sophia Mackintosh
I want to hear about the books that have healed you or meant something at a certain time for whatever reason. Drop your list in the comments below so I can start placing holds at my library. :p
Hello Kayti! I loved this edition of the newsletter!
My brilliant friend - Elena Ferrante
Girl, woman, other - Bernardine Evaristo (which is actually a UK Booker Prize so not sure if it counts! But it was there when I needed it)
Eat pray love - E. Gilbert (a given)
Unorthodox - Deborah Feldman
Island beneath the sea - Isabel Allende (pure escapism...)
Quiet - Susan Cain (changed my life)
The Leopard - Giuseppe Tomasi di Lampedusa
The pillars of the earth - Ken Follett
The time in between - Maria Duenas
One day - David Nicholls
Auntie Mame - Patrick Dennis
A Hat Full of Cherries - Oriana Fallaci
I really loved Enchantment by Katherine May. I read it at a time when I was trying to find more to enjoy in the everyday. Also really loved Unlikely Animals by Annie Hartnett