A collective of bibliophiles talking about books. Book Fox (vulpes libris): small bibliovorous mammal of overactive imagination and uncommonly large bookshop expenses. Habitat: anywhere the rustle of pages can be heard.
The appalling U.S. election and some sad events in our personal lives have left the Book Foxes looking for diversions and of course, our main method would involve books. We recently shared our favorite kinds of books that distract us and I was surprised at the variety, though I probably shouldn’t have been.
First up was Kate, “When I’m waiting for someone to arrive, or the pan to boil, and can’t go off and do something in a different room, I pull out a Heavy Art Book and start looking through it. We used to have a shelf of them in the living-room, long-since migrated to a different floor when board games and fiction became too numerous, but I still keep some on a deep window-sill. My favourite is the English Heritage book of 19th-century photographs of London buildings long since destroyed. Then there’s the fabulous exhibition catalogue of British art from a Belgian exhibition ten or more years ago, British Vision: it’s almost a catalogue of all the great British artists from the past 300 years. And there are some large books of fashion illustrations and photography from Vogue, because there is nothing that will distract me more than studying how Balenciaga got that dress to fasten, or how Mesdames Grés and Vionnet cut their fabric. Pictures don’t count as reading, but I can stay absorbed in pictures for hours. It depends how long the pan takes to boil.”
Moira said “My distraction books are gardening books. When I moved house last spring, I ditched 1500 books but none of them were gardening books, and in the last six months the collection has grown even larger. They’re divided into two categories – information books and ‘pretties’. The former are reassuringly down-to-earth (literally) about potatoes, runner beans and mildew on your roses while the latter feed my inner Gertrude Jekyll. I think they soothe and distract me because … to be a gardener is to be an optimist. When summer has gone, and winter is in the wings, the books tell you to plant your bulbs and spring bedding plants, reseed the bare patches in your grass and give your sweet peas an early start, ready for the following year. Whatever my present worries, the books tell me, spring will come, so I’d better bloody well make sure I plant that azalea in the right place.”
KirstyD chimed in, “When I need to be distracted, I usually find that I either need humour or trivia. I have a stock of books that are either made up of small, funny stories, such as Weird Things Customers Say in Bookshops by Jen Campbell, or Annus Horribilis: A Chronicle of Comic Mishaps by Sam Jordison. They never fail to raise a snort. If laughter isn’t the best medicine on a particular day, then I turn to one of the many books of facts I’ve accumulated (several years of co-writing a pub quiz means I have quite a number of trivia books). I can easily divert myself with a QI book, for instance: did you know that nobody has ever really slid down a bannister? Factual distraction is the way forward.”
Original Kirsty piped up, “When I want (or outright need) distraction, I almost always go for the short and humorous. Thurber, le Petit Nicolas, molesworth, Jerome (J.K., not Saint), and the redoubtable H*Y*M*A*N K*A*P*L*A*N — these are to me what Red Dwarf and The Phil Silvers Show are to my television-watching life: a manageable, reassuring, and always fresh source of entertainment, a thing that never gets old or tired. In short, these people are my friends, and I’ve yet to find a situation they haven’t managed to improve.”
Like Moira, Hilary also turns to the practical, “My favourite distraction reading consists of cookery books, mainly vintage ones. I reach for Elizabeth David’s French Provincial Cooking, or Florence White’s Good Things in England, because I know they are books I can pick up and open at any page to find something pleasurable and distracting, and easy to put down again when I have to. The best cookery books for distraction reading are the ones that are as much about the pleasure of eating as the joys of cooking. The recipes are written with love and care, the preambles to them with wit and knowledge. As well as those two favourites, I recommend Edouard de Pomiane’s Cooking in Ten Minutes, and The Alice B Toklas Cookbook. Many more recent cookery writers are brilliant prose stylists as well, so add Nigel Slater, Yotam Ottolenghi, or Sophie Grigson to the list. I’m a much better reader than I am a cook, and of course I rejoice that there are no calories in reading recipes.”
Jackie agrees with Kate on picture books, “Books full of photos of dogs and/or puppies are an immediate stress relief, this is a holdover from childhood, only now I have more books to choose from. For more in-depth distraction, the novels of Sophie Kinsella are what works best, the Shopaholic books rescued me from panic attacks a few years ago, thankfully. It’s a startling choice for someone who doesn’t shop much herself.”
In times of sadness, Lisa avoids novels altogether and, like Kate, turns to art books: “I recently bid farewell to two beloved pets, my dog and my cat, both lost to cancer in a space of little more than a week. In the days afterwards I couldn’t concentrate well enough to read a novel, so I turned instead to my favourite art book, Andy Goldsworthy: A Collaboration With Nature. I discovered Goldsworthy’s work when I was at secondary school and have often thought of his sculptures, which are created solely from materials found in the great outdoors. I admired his commitment to his aesthetic, using thorns for pins and stripping bark from branches with his fingernails and teeth, and I have never tired of his art. There is something very stark and beautiful about his pieces and I feel somehow both awed and comforted when I look at photographs of them. I have always hoped to come across one of his sculptures in the wild, and this is now a shared hope, since I showed my two daughters this book and they were similarly entranced by the sculptures. They miss their dog and cat terribly, but when we look at this book together, they seem to forget the pain of loss, and see again the beauty of the world.”
Now we’d like to hear from our readers on what types of books they use as a distraction when life gets to be too much. You might give us some new ideas!