Sick Books

Chestnut has strep throat. This used to happen all the time. One, or both, would be sick. It would start mid-October with school and colder weather, and then intensify through the winter—colds! Flus! Ear infections! One year, when they were both small, we went something like 49 days straight with at least one person sick enough to stay home every single day.

They are not little anymore. Chestnut is 16, Diana is 18, and children's literature has been pretty much absent from our house for a long while. But when people are sick, especially when they feel very terrible, comfort is essential.

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This is what gave Chestnut comfort today. It was, as she said, an almost perfect sick book, with sentences a person could glide through, a thrilling and playful momentum. She read it after the first dose of antibiotics and before the second, and then she said, "Do we have another book like that? One that's perfect to read when you're sick? I mean, no book could be as perfect for when you're sick as Shining Through."


That book, she believes, is the perfect book to read when you're sick: comforting and exciting and dreamy all at once. Me, I love to read Rich Men, Single Women. And I did post once on my belief that there is a book for every psychic ailment

But once she was done with Hill House, I was stuck. Somehow I couldn't think of the next one to offer—the perfect thing to get a person through until the antibiotics kick in. So I have to ask: what do you guys do?

How Magic Works*

We are still on some poor publicist's list of "hey, blogs might help marketing books!" list from 2008, and so we get a steady drip drip drip of books that…I would not have predicted we would get. A lot of them seem to be from a Christian imprint within HarperCollins, though that only shows up on the box? More copies than I can quite believe of Stick Dog, Stick Cat, Stick Whatever. The occasional adorable picture book. And, quite recently, this:


And, on the same day, this:


As happens nowadays, Chestnut read them both pretty much before I had my coat off. And then, she wanted me to read them. "Read them both," she said. "Together. They're kind of about the same thing, they're both about anxiety."

Well, we here at The Diamond in the Window know a thing or two about anxiety. So I promised.

But first I had to finish rereading a few other books, coincidentally also about anxiety (IT and The Handmaid's Tale), and then there was some stuff to take care of, and then I was busy—.

"READ THEM," Chestnut said. So I did.

And here's the weird thing. They are both about anxiety, at least a bit. They are both about a friendship between two girls. They are both about important summers. But even with all that, they are very different books—Bad Ideas is funny and romantic and silly, while Swing Sideways is more sad and dramatic. (Warning to those it may be an issue before: Swing Sideways also contains cancer and death.)

But the strangest thing about reading two different books so close together is that you get an up close and personal view of the weird magic that is reading. Because for me, the heroine of The Summer of Bad Ideas came to life—easily, clearly, no matter what was going on in the book. When she saw the cute boy, he seemed cute. When she got confused and overwhelmed, I felt it. I was there with her in that instantaneous and (sorry) magical way that books can make happen. And when I was reading You Make My Heart Swing Sideways—it didn't work that way.

Why is that? Is it the writing? The story? Is it even true for all readers? Probably not. But it was inescapable, and it made me think about it all over again—something I already think about quite a bit. Why does some fiction, why do some characters, spring to living breathing reality, making the words disappear and a new world open up and let you in? How exactly does that work?

I am not sure. But I would tell you, if you're looking for something for someone who is looking for a book to read, something fun and silly but also sweet and nerdy, you might consider getting that person The Summer of Bad Ideas—especially if that person happened to be a bit nervous about snakes, for instance (like myself). And in a small and interesting side note, there is a brief brush on special needs kids, and selective mutism, which is kind of great, I think.

And bear in mind that the greatest book on anxiety ever is, and always will be, Otherwise Known as Sheila the Great. Just so you know.


*I don't actually know how magic works.

Half-baked riddle: Which Mythic Greek Figure Is Like Your Mother? Or Maybe Your Father?

Here's the thing(s): I know my children. Also, I have read a fair number of books. I am fond of matching books to people, in the hopes that the book will bring the person in question joy.

However, I long ago reached the point at which any book I recommended was rejected out of hand by my children. Of course.

The same is true, also of course, with any knowledge, information, or advice I might be trying to offer them. Anything from "Oh, I think that charger cord doesn't work" to "I think finding someone to help you with your organization skills might help." Rejected!

Granted: These are annoying things to hear. I know that. I annoy myself when I say them. And they are always, always either ignored or more actively contested. My response, even internally, is understanding and acceptance. Because it is my fate, I realize, to be ignored/defied/shrugged off.

Which is when I realized who else is like that. That's right, Cassandra, baby. Fated to see the future, and have no one ever believe her. Do you know what Cassandra sounds like? She sounds like someone's mother. 

Problems With This Theory:

  1. It is possible that book recommendations for my kids are not the exact same as the gift of true prophecy.
  2. As far as I know, my (and every other parent's that I know) inability to be believed does not (probably) result from denying Apollo the pleasure of sex.

However, it is really, really annoying to try to (subtly!) foist a book (or belief system) on my child, only to be denied and denied and denied, until some other person comes along and toss off "Hey, have you checked this out?" upon which my child falls upon it hungrily.

Petty? Of course. Childish? You betcha. Inevitable? Apparently. And all of it makes me thing that Aeschylus was for sure writing about either his parents, or being one. Of course he was! He knew! He wrote like someone who knew the feeling, did he not?

And the bitter irony here, of course, is that no one will believe this. 

Half-Baked Theories: The Fear of Turning the Page

So, I've written here before about Being Susceptible to Fiction, and I still think it's true (it's not so easy to disabuse me of my half-baked notions!) but what's hitting me about it lately is how it affects reading tastes.

For me, there are certain intense books where I have to put the book down, repeatedly, because I can't take it. And what I think is, that it's just too easy for it to seem real to me. So if everything signals to me that, say, a person is about to make the most terrible choice possible (oh fictional characters, why must you always develop the story?), I have to look away. And the beautiful thing about a book (unlike a movie, say), is that I can.

But…is everyone like this? Is it like being a super-taster except with your mind instead of your tongue? I kind of think so, based on exactly no evidence! This post is, perhaps, the very epitome of half-baked theories: Gee, it's true for me, let me make a semi-grand extrapolation based on it!

So now, I must ask you: true for you too? As a reader, do you fall for it too much? Do you need to put down the book when it gets to intense? Or do you fall on the other end of the spectrum: are you impervious to the foibles of the fictional? Except, if that is true, is that maybe why some people don't like to read?

Help, I need answers!

Food, Children’s Books, and Does Anyone Have Any Yellow Cake?

I'm trying to remember how I got here. Part of it was—sob!—no doubt due to the news that Mary Berry is following suit with Mel and Sue and The Great British Bake-Off is no more.

And then I was thinking about Adopted Jane, in which a 12-year-old orphan is asked to visit two different families over one summer, and then has to choose which one to stay with. And (it could have been just me) but a large part of the experience seemed to revolve around the different foods at each home. With the lonely widow, she had a yellow cake mixed up in a bowl! And a floating island! With the farm-friendly family, she had biscuits and fried chicken!

And then theres the sausages Lucy has with Mr. Tumnus, as part of the very lovely tea. Or the hamper full of food that the beavers pack. Or, dear god, the Turkish delight!

I guess it's not just children's books, I mean Hemingway and his onion sandwiches are very compelling. But I feel like there is a particular and special connection children's books have with food, and I am not sure why that is. It's not just the candy, right—not all Charlie and the Chocolate Factory? Surely adults love food just as much. And yet…. For some reason right now it is making me both hungry and wistful.

Do you have a favorite children's book meal? I keep thinking of the box of chocolates in The Wolves of Willoughby Chase, the one that's tied up with the wide lavender ribbon. And if I could only taste that yellow cake, I feel sure I would know why Jane chose her.