Autumn is upon us, and with it comes the usual onslaught of ear, nose and throat infections. Alas, I have fallen prey to one such infection. I don’t get sick often, but when I do, man, do I milk it. Tea by the boatload, pajamas all day, OJ (premium, no less), homemade chicken noodle soup, Ugly Betty marathons on Netflix—I do it all.
However around hour five or so of TV watching I tend to get bored. My foggy head prevents “heavy” reading, but I have a list of old favorites I return to on a regular basis when my nose starts running. I present them here for your perusal. If you like, you can look at the list as ranging from itty bitty cold (#8) to full blown, Last-Rites-needed plague (#1).
8. Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban, J.K. Rowling. This one places low on the list only because it is a pretty long book. Unless you’ve managed to take off work/school on a Friday and plan to keep to your bed until Monday morning, you probably won’t get through it. But a little Harry Potter never hurt anyone. I like Prisoner of Azkaban in particular because it has such a neat, satisfying conclusion. Upon finishing it, you can lean back into your pillows and feel good. Well plotted stories like this one set a nice pace that will keep you interested through the hours but won’t overtire you. Plus you can pretend that your Robitussin is one of Madam Pomfrey’s healing potions.
7. Wintersmith, Terry Pratchett. Like most people I tend to get sick when it starts turning cold. And here we have a book all about defeating winter! Furthermore it features the Nac Mac Feegles, my favorite literary creations in all of Discworld. In the words of Pratchett, they are like “Smurfs who have seen Braveheart one too many times.” How can you not love that? Plus, Wintersmith‘s heroine Tiffany Aching is decidedly cuddly. She’s brave, clever and a little insecure—the perfect character to root for. For Pratchett neophytes, the book takes place in Discworld, a fantasy land resting on the back of four elephants which in turn ride a giant turtle through space. Tiffany is a recurring character. Like Harry Potter, she is a trainee magic user, but unlike the bespectacled boy she isn’t plagued by any pesky “Chosen One” complex. Like Prisoner of Azkaban, Wintersmith is a deeply satisfying book. It places higher because it doesn’t have all the twists and turns of the Harry Potter universe. There also aren’t any dementors, which I for one don’t want to think about when I have a fever. Instead this story about a teenage girl who does the best she can (and then some) when Winter falls in love with her will make you grin a little and snuggle up in the covers.
6. The Witch of Blackbird Pond, Elizabeth George Speare. As we get sicker, the books get shorter! The Witch of Blackbird Pond isn’t much longer than a novella. It is concise, has a limited cast of characters and a fast-moving plot. In fact, depending on your age, you may have already read it in middle-school. The Witch of Blackbird Pond is about Kit, a young woman who grew up on her grandfather’s plantation in Barbados only to be forced to move to Puritan New England. There she finds: Witches! Romance! Helpful historical details about corn husking rituals! And a cat. I still like to read it when I’m feeling ill because it’s an easy read. The only problem is that it was written for school children in 1958. So the overall tone of the book is, “Education is GOOD. Disrespecting other cultures is BAD. Here’s some corn husking!” All fine messages to be sure but a little one note. However I continue to rank Nat, Kit’s sailor friend, as one of my favorite snarky love interests of all time.
5. The Wolves of Willoughby Chase, Joan Aiken. Another one from my childhood! The Wolves of Willoughby Chase is a bit fairy tale with a bit of Dickens. It’s about Bonnie and Sylvia, two cousins left in the power of the eeeeevil governess Miss Slighcarp and her man friend Josiah Grimshaw after Bonnie’s ridiculously wealthy parents go on a cruise. They are aided by Bonnie’s friend Simon the gooseboy (seriously) who can do helpful things like make biscuits out of chestnut flour. He is also apparently in possession of a TARDIS since he can show up at will to save the girls from their many predicaments. Oh, and there are wolves that will eat you if you go into the woods after dark. How eeeeevil are our villains? Miss Slighcarp’s first words to her equally maniacal friend Mrs. Brisket are: “Gertrude. It is I. Our plans are going excellently.” It takes balls to be that much of a baddie. I took this book very seriously when I was young, but now I love it because it is so over the top. Perfect for a day in bed with the flu.
4. The Perilous Gard, Elizabeth Marie Pope. If you can’t finish this book in time for your afternoon chicken noodle soup, you are probably too sick to read. Weighing in at an easy-going 280 pages (with pictures!) The Perilous Gard will keep you entertained for at least an hour or two. Like The Witch of Blackbird Pond and The Wolves of Willoughby Chase, it was written before 1980, but it has aged better than either—probably because it doesn’t try to pound home some moral message. It’s a retelling of Tam Lin/Thomas the Rhymer, a folk story from the British Isles about a heroine who must rescue her love, a musician named Tam/Tom after he is taken by the Faerie Queen for nefarious purposes. How dark the story is depends on the author’s interpretation of why the Faerie Queen wants Tam/Tom. In the case of The Perilous Gard she wants to sacrifice the young man, here named Christopher Heron, to save her People Under the Hill. But heroine Kate Sutton is not having any of that. She’s a lot of fun, that Kate. The romance between Christopher and Kate is by turns cuddly and heroic, as Kate struggles to save him while also facing her own insecurities. The ending confrontation between the Faerie Queen and Kate is masterful. I love this book at any time. Short, clever and romantic, it’s a good choice for a sick day.
3. The Savage Damsel and the Dwarf, Gerald Morris. I have a weakness for romances, especially when I’m feeling down, and this one’s a doozy. Third in Gerald Morris’s delightful series about Arthurian England, this features a love triangle between damsel-NOT-in-distress Lynet, kitchen boy turned knight Beaumains and snarky dwarf Roger. If you know the story of Sir Gareth and the Knight of the Redlands, you’ll know how this story goes. Morris has a serious talent for taking the Arthurian tales and injecting Monty Python-esque humor. His first book The Squire’s Tale is one of my favorite books ever, but this one is more feel good. Morris’ humor is perfect for those who are going in and out of a fever (“Arthurian knights battling over the correct conjugation of the word ‘cleave’? Did I hallucinate that?”), and you’ll feel a warm, non-drug-induced glow at the book’s conclusion. Also, as is becoming a trend in this list, it’s nice and short.
2. Seven Strange and Ghostly Tales, Brian Jacques. I am particularly invested in this entry because it’s what I wanted to read yesterday when I was at my worst physically. Unfortunately my copy is still at my parents’ house two states away. Tragedy! I have read this short story collection many, many times. A fan of Jacques’ Redwall series in junior high, I received this slim collection for Christmas one year and immediately read it three times in succession. The stories won’t frighten anyone of the Saw generation, but there are a few that might send a chill down your spine. “Allie Alma”, the story of a girl who steals from the wrong lady, is particularly disturbing. Others are sillier, like “Jamie and the Vampires” and “The Lies of Henry Mawdsley”. My favorite is the good old-fashioned ghost story “R.S.B Limited”. The real reason why I place Seven Strange and Ghostly Tales so high on the list though is because if you find yourself too tired or ill to continue reading, you can just finish the story you’re on and then put the collection down, no harm done.
1. The Princess Bride, William Golding. Skip the introduction. Skip the passages in italics. Just read the goofy story of Inigo Montoya and Fezzik the Giant with costars Wesley and Buttercup. And when the fever overtakes you, when the chills start and you seem to have four hands, put down the book and turn on the movie. Enough said.
So. . . what are your tried and true feel-good books?
Wesley’s here to smite any illness that might come your way.