Against Anxiety: Beat Your Reading Slump with Three Fun Tomes

In all probability, the “reading slump” was invented by a non-reader. “I can’t read Proust, baby;  I’m in a reading slump.”  Someone must have tweeted it, and then everybody had the syndrome.  Pity the poor person with retro-major depression.

Here’s what we know:  honey,  you’re not in a reading slump.  You are (a) lazy, (b) anxious and depressed, or (c) having a full-fledged nervous breakdown.  The reading slump is not in the DSM!

At the hospital I don’t read Proust.  I sit beside my husband’s bed, trying to persuade him to sit on it. He is on the floor picking up the phone charger he dropped.   And he wants to go to the Starbucks down the hall, though his robe is untied–he can’t use one of his arms–and he has no money.  I rush out and stand in a long, long line to get us coffee and tea.  When I get back, he’s pacing.

It is hard to get much reading done, period, because people are in and out of the hospital room.  Blood pressure, menus, the whole bit.  Between trying to get him to take it easy and my own selfish existential crisis (I never knew his existence was fragile!),  I metaphorically chewed my fingernails,

He’s almost cured–a few more weeks, they think–and now everything is back to normal.  But I’ve done a lot of escape readings, and here are three fun books to help you beat anxiety, though I shall never call it a reading slump!

1. Daphne du Maurier’s The Parasites. Yes, du Maurier’s Rebecca is a classic, but The Parasites is almost equally brilliant.  This fascinating story of three siblings, Maria, an actress, Niall, a songwriter, and mousy Celia, who has a  talent for drawing,  begins on a Sunday in the country when Maria’s husband explodes with rage and calls them parasites. As du Maurier tells the story of the tight-knit talented brother and half-sisters, who are the children of an actress and singer, we have our own opportunity to judge.  Du Maurier narrates the novel in the first-person plural–and we never know quite who  the “we” is!

2.  Elizabeth Goudge’s The White Witch.  Goudge’s writing is sometimes breathtaking, other times sentimental, and I love her vivid Dickensian characters.  I recently reread The White Witch, a historical novel set in England in the 17th century, during the English civil war between Charles I and the Puritans.  Most of the novel is set in a village temporarily left to its own peaceful ways since the not-very-bright Puritan convert Squire, Robert Haselwood, has gone to war.  In the opening chapters, we meet his cousin  Froniga, who is half-gypsy and a white witch with healing powers and benign spells;   the Haselwood twins, Will, a very ordinary little boy, and his unusually percepitve sister, Jenny; Francis Leland, a traveling artist who paints the twins and is secretly one of the king’s men; Yoben, Froniga’s long-time boyfriend and a gypsy with  a mysterious past; and the eccentric, very wise village priest, so kind he tries to help the black witch in the village, an evil soul who digs up graves and casts obscene spells.  How will they all come together?  This is not her absolute best, but I enjoyed it very much and some people love it.

3. Mary McCarthy’s Birds of America.  This 1971 satire, set in New England, Paris, and Rome in the 1960s, skewers American innocence and hypocrisy, and I think it’s McCarthy’s best work.   You don’t have to know about the 1960s to be amused by her mockery of frozen foods, a pious Thanksgiving abroad (which the hero calls “a harvest fest”), the faux-historicism of New England villages, and tourism in Europe (the protagonist thinks tourists should be licensed to go to art museums).

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