Have you ever found yourself searching for a specific kind of book to suit the mood or place in which you’ve found yourself? Certain times call for certain books, my friends, and you can’t waste those dreamy situations on shitty weird reads. I’ve picked out ten really awesome weird times and paired them with a fitting book for your reading pleasure.
1. On a cold winter night, wrapped in your coziest of cozy clothes, with a roaring fire and maybe some mulled cider or a hot toddy: O Pioneers! by Willa Cather
I know My Ántonia gets all the press for Cather, but I’m telling y’all, you gotta branch out and read O Pioneers! too. In the absolute dead of winter, when you walk outside and the actual snot in your nose freezes immediately, it’s totally unfair to read something all beachy and happy and sunny, right? Coming in for the night, when you get settled in your pajamas and grandma slippers with a bellyful of some delicious braised meat stew thing, grab your copy of O Pioneers! The beauty in Cather’s descriptions of the icy fields and breathtaking cold are gorgeous, and from the warmth of your pile of blankets it’s easy to appreciate the beauty of winter. In fact, reading Cather’s words just might help you get through the next morning when you’re digging your car out from under three feet of snow (I’m kidding, bitch about that all you want because it sucks…but the book really is lovely, so read it anyway).
2. When you’re in the airport, bloated from eating a $28 Burger King cheeseburger and marinating in a persistent thirty-minute delay: Waiting for Godot by Samuel Beckett
You know when people are all cramped and shoved into hard plastic airport seats, their luggage jammed in between their knees while they crumble expensive cookies and chips all into the spine of a People magazine? Yeah, if you’re there, you are going to need some kind of literary relief. You might be tempted to read something fun and light-hearted from the twirly stand beside the trail mix and Twizzlers, but word of caution: I’ve been in that situation and been kind of ANNOYED AT THE WORLD when the characters in the book are happy. I know, it’s a shitty thing to admit, but it can feel unrealistic when you’re in this vortex of suck. So, what better to read as you wait and wait and WAIT for the plane to come in from its unexpected delays than Waiting for Godot, Beckett’s play about the man who never comes. Take some much-needed solace in how crazy you are NOT being, unlike Vladimir and Estragon, and how your plane WILL eventually show up, unlike Godot.
3. In bed at 2 AM after a string of super-busy days and mentally screaming GO TO SLEEP, YOU JERK to yourself: any of the books from the Xanth series by Piers Anthony
Sometimes on nights like this, when I need to sleep but stressing about needing sleep is making me more and more awake, I watch junky Netflix and that works. More often, though, those laugh tracks, formula plots, and bad outfits (AMIRIGHT) keep me awake longer. The Xanth series is kind of like literary junk food in that it’s so ridiculous and childish and fun, but Anthony also builds this entire world with generations of interconnected stories that play off history and mythology. In this respect, the Xanth books are more like the fancy pseudo-healthy junk food from Trader Joe’s: sugary/fatty/salty goodness, but with plenty of justification on the label. That balance between pure hilarity and slight brain activity requirement puts me to sleep everytime. And, bonus, there are like 27 books in the series! I still haven’t read them all (I have this hang-up about these particular books in that I want to run across them in dusty thrift stores, not order them on Abebooks because it’s just too easy), but I have reread the ones I have so many times the spines on half are taped together. So. Much. Fun.
It’s best not to think too hard with all that gorgeous sun and those dazzling waves crashing ten feet from your towel, but that’s not to say you shouldn’t be highly entertained while reading on vacation. Lamb is a perfect beach read because it requires such minimal effort; it’s just damn funny, and all you have to do is follow along with Jesus’s forgotten friend Biff as he retells Biblical stories of Jesus’s life. If you really want to be, like, THINKING at the beach, question whether or not Moore gets sacrilegious at all in the text; one of the aspects of this work I like the best is Moore’s delicacy in handling this topic combined with his absolute willingness to make fun of a pretty heavy subject. But mostly, you know, you just should read and enjoy.
I don’t know a single person who’s read this book that didn’t love it. I also don’t know that many people that have read it, though. It’s a somewhat overlooked bit of brilliance from an author who never published in his lifetime; Toole’s mother and Walker Percy, who had to fight to get it accepted at all, posthumously published the rather dense work that eventually won a Pulitzer. It’s the perfect kind of work for reading alone in public because it’s not very difficult to follow, but you get totally absorbed into the complicated, hilariously backward logic of Ignatius J. Reilly.
6. Sitting outside, dreamily sighing and reading and thinking about the gorgeous sunset and lovely birds and sweet little flowers blooming because you’re so newly, totally, completely in love: The Time-Traveler’s Wife by Audrey Niffenegger
No, this story isn’t one of sappy googly-eyes and perfect endings, but that is kind of why I think it would be a great one to read when you’ve got those new-love butterflies in your stomach: it’s a rather sad story because it’s based on the deep love between the two main characters. One of the best love affairs of my life was tempered by the foreknowledge we had of its ending (summer fling, le sigh), and I know there was a special element of romance in the wistfulness inherent in that time. Similarly, the undertone of wanting and fleeting time spent together makes Clare and Henry’s romance that much more real and desirable. Whether you’re just crushing really hard on someone or you guys have just said those three little words, the love Clare and Henry share despite (or maybe, in part, because of) their inability to control their time together will leave you hoping YOUR new love will have half their fortitude. That kind of bittersweet love is really the best, isn’t it?
7. After that love falls apart and you’re in bed with fuzzy slippers and a half-eaten gallon pint of Ben & Jerry’s, alternating between sad crying and mad crying: The French Lieutenant’s Woman by John Fowles
Similarly to The Time-Traveler’s Wife, Fowles’s narrative perhaps isn’t an obvious choice for this kind of situation; it’s not about revenge, or some dude getting totally screwed over, or a bitter break-up. What I think appeals about this book for the newly burned is Charles’s second-guessing nature and Sarah’s ultimate control over the text. There are critics who will disagree with me on this, but I read this book with Sarah as being the one character who seems beyond the scope of the narrator’s power. She always seems mysterious, even dips out apparently without the narrator’s consent, and in the famous double ending she wields all the power, leaving Charles mad and confused and defensive, even. That unattainability and emotional mystery is a GOOD THING to be reminded of at the sucky end of a relationship, because people, you don’t want to be the one screaming your ex’s name under their window in the dark while it’s raining, you know?
8. Hanging at your local coffee spot, drinking fair trade out of a recycled plastic reusable travel mug while your canvas bag full of farmer’s market produce chills in the seat beside you: My Life in France by Julia Child
Child is one of those authors who is so charming and sincere in her joie de vive that even a cynical asshole like me falls under her spell and doesn’t hate her for it. In My Life in France Child recalls entire MEALS she and Paul shared years ago during their first adventures in the new country, a fact that just proves how intensely that woman loved food. And her relationship with Paul is so endearing and sweet. Really, this book is a love story between Child and her husband, her adopted country, and its lovely food.
I couldn’t decide between these two, but I do know this: parks and poetry go together better than cocaine and waffles. There’s something to be said, too, for reading entertaining, fun language that trips along just for the sake of enjoying it. Going back to something like Silverstein or this volume from Eliot, which I’m willing to bet most of us haven’t read since we were kids, is a guaranteed nostalgia trip that will bring a smile to your face.
This is absolutely the ONLY situation in which I will read this doorstop again, and when I turn that 1000th page, I’ll sigh and tell the devil, “Now THAT was the perfect time to read this malarkey.”
Have there been times when you guys have read the perfect book at the most perfect time?
Tell me about it!