Tuesday, May 4, 2010

Comfort Read!

Recently, a book-loving-librarian-in-training friend pondered the idea of bibliotherapy. Apparently, bibliotherapy is used to help you overcome your problems by becoming absorbed in the problems of people in books. I like this idea. But I think I'm not so much a practitioner of bibliotherapy as I am a practitioner of comfort reading. Comfort reading is simply the reading of well-loved books that help me de-stress and live inside someone else's head for awhile.

For me, comfort reads are always books I've read more than twice, books that can have happy or sad endings but which all must have the ability to put me inside a little cocoon outside my own existence. Admittedly, I'm pretty choosy about my comfort reads. Just because something is a comfort read doesn't mean it's a great book. And just because I've read a book half a dozen times does not make it a comfort read. For example, my all-time favorite novel, The Great Gatsby, is not a comfort read even though I've read it a bajillion times (probably because it's so genius that I have to concentrate too hard on the language, the themes, and the structure to get too comfortable too fast). Conversely, Katherine Mosby's forgettable novel The Season of Lillian Dawes is nowhere near one of my favorite books, but it's one of the first books I go to for comfort. I've read it so often I feel like I actually live in its world.

Anyway, the point of all this is simple. I love me some comfort reads, and lately I haven't indulged in them enough. I remedied that problem this week by picking up one of my most comforting-est comfort books: S.E. Hinton's Tex. By now, you all know how much I love S.E. Hinton. I loved her when I was young, and I still love her now. Without a doubt, Tex is my favorite Hinton novel. Tex is the narrator, a fifteen-year-old small town kid who can't seem to avoid trouble and who's pretty happy-go-lucky. He has a best friend, Johnny, from a rich family that lives down the road, and he's in love with Johnny's sister, Jamie. Hijinks ensue. But the real heart of the story lies in Tex's relationship with his older brother, Mason. Mason, a basketball whiz busy winning scholarships and adoration, is the de-facto parent in the household, since their father is always gone on the rodeo circuit. Mason is something of a control freak, and with a mean streak to boot. But he's trying his best, so much so that he ends up with an ulcer halfway through the book. Some family secrets get unearthed towards the end of the book that really kick things into gear, and the book's ending is wonderfully bittersweet. Overall, it's a pretty basic story.

But Hinton goes beyond the easy punches to create a really wonderful world here. Tex's narration is charming and not always reliable, as the reader sometimes has to come up with her own conclusions about things. Meanwhile, Mason is an absolutely perfect creation. So much so that I might harbor a bit of a crush on the guy. He's not an angel by any stretch of the imagination. He beats the shit out of Tex at the very beginning of the book, and he can kind of be a bastard. Yet, he tries so hard and gets so little credit that you can't help but feel sorry for him. And he totally makes up for it at the end by being a great big brother. Really, the characters are what make this book worth reading over and over again. Hinton is ridiculously good at making even peripheral characters seem alive. Everyone in Tex is capable of good and evil. No one's really a hero, but no one's a flat-out villain either. Instead, people just come across as completely realistic. Even at its most "extreme" moments, it's simply a book about people trying their best, with mixed results. Tex sums up the whole book pretty well in one of its final paragraphs: "I remembered what Jamie had said, that love doesn't solve anything. Maybe. But it helps."

Anyway, I'm done ranting. This is probably my fifth or sixth time reading Tex, and it never gets old for me, even if I've outgrown its intended age-group. I love the characters, I love the setting, and I love Hinton's worldview. When I'm reading this book, I have no time for the real world, which is all I want from a comfort read.

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