With Black Friday now extending from Halloween to New Year’s, the holiday season has become, if possible, even more overwhelming. In a rare demand for sanity, American consumers pressured some huge retail chains into closing on Thanksgiving Day, like they did way back when (two or three years ago). Well done, American consumers! But what can the rest of us do, right now, to keep our mental balance as the seasonal madness picks up speed?
My solution: Escape into a good book.
You've no doubt noticed that what you’re reading affects the way you feel about the world. Remember when you were deep into Gone Girl and found yourself eyeing everyone with suspicion? Can you ever forget sitting up alone, late at night, with that Stephen King thriller and jumping out of your skin when a tree branch tapped against the window? Reading The Man in the High Castle or The Diary of Anne Frank, didn’t you find yourself calculating ways to survive if the Nazis invaded your town? I’m not saying these books made me paranoid, but back in Ohio, Rich and I built a bookcase on hinges to hide a secret room in our attic. Because hey, you never know. My point is, books alter the way we think and feel. And much as I love the holidays, especially here in laid-back Seville, at times I find the hustle and bustle discombobulating.
“I think books are like people,” Emma Thompson once said. “In the sense that they’ll turn up in your life when you most need them.” Wise words. So what books do you most need right now? For recombobulating, I often start with a cozy read, the literary equivalent of a comfy armchair and a nice, hot cup of tea...
BOOKS THAT BRING COMFORT & JOY
Statistics show that in the USA the biggest complaints about the holidays center around stores being overcrowded and starting to play Christmas carols too early in the year. These are legitimate annoyances, to be sure, but they are far from the worst nightmares life can throw at us. I’ll never forget my stark terror at reading The Martian and imagining myself stranded in outer space with nothing between me and certain death but my math skills. Yikes! Stories like that really make us appreciate the little things, like food and air, and help us keep our daily worries in perspective.
STORIES ABOUT PEOPLE WHO SURVIVE STAGGERINGLY GHASTLY CHALLENGES
Long lines are another pet peeve about the holiday season. But I find that if I’m deep into a twisty-turny mystery novel, my mind is fully occupied trying to work out whether the fourth bathtub drowning is a copycat crime, how and when the widow’s twin sister disappeared, why the doctor burned that letter (if he really did), and what the author was thinking when she made the baby a hermaphrodite. Trying to unravel these kinds of knotty conundrums provides a pleasant pastime you can enjoy at your leisure while everyone around you is tapping their feet, snarling about sluggish lines, and glaring at the frazzled cashiers.
MYSTERIES TO UNRAVEL WHILE WAITING IN LINE
One of the toughest things about the holidays is their relentless insistence that you should be happy. I find Europeans are a bit more realistic on this point, but in the US, the pressure to be merry, to have one adorable Hallmark greeting card moment after another, can become exhausting and demoralizing. Sometimes the holidays aren’t about dreams coming true but about being alone, suffering through excruciating family dramas, going to grim office parties, and wishing desperately you were somewhere else.
ESCAPE WITH A TRAVEL MEMOIR
“To acquire the habit of reading,” W. Somerset Maugham once commented, “is to construct for yourself a refuge from almost all the miseries of life.” Stories help us weather life’s storms by transporting us out of ourselves. “Books are the plane, and the train, and the road,” said Anna Quindlen. “They are the destination and the journey. They are home.” And in that lovely sense, we can all take comfort, knowing that we truly will be home for the holidays.
I can't make your shopping list any shorter, liven up gruesome holiday gatherings, or stop department stores from playing that one Christmas carol that really drives you insane. But it occurred to me that I could drastically reduce the price on my e-book travel memoirs, in case you're looking for quick getaway to restore your sense of wellbeing. So right now, Dancing in the Fountain and Adventures of a Railway Nomad are just 99 cents each on Kindle. In some small way, I wanted to provide an antidote to the seasonal madness and say thanks for reading my blog. Good luck out there!
Unlike some of my better-organized and more practical blogger friends, I don't accept sponsorships of any kind. The books mentioned in this post are personal favorites I included because I thought you might enjoy them. My travel memoirs are available in paperback and e-book editions on Amazon worldwide.
Do you have books that you'd recommend as part of a holiday survival strategy? I'd love to hear about them!
I'm an American writer living in Seville, Spain and traveling the world with my husband, Rich. I make frequent trips to the USA, especially my native California, because America is something you have to stay in practice for, and I don't want to lose my touch.
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