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A professor friend of mine at Notre Dame is working on a book about the British historian and MP Thomas Babington Macauley . When describing the book to me, he made special note of how the Classics replaced the Bible as the spiritual sustainance of many at that time. When Macauley’s beloved sister died, for example, he did not turn to the Bible or another spiritual work, but rather immersed himself in Thucydides. Thucydides, in this case, was what one might call Macauley’s “comfort book.”

The topic of comfort books—or more broadly of reading books to generate a specific feeling or atmosphere—came up between two colleagues yesterday. One said that she had read T.S. Eliot in England to help cope with being a stranger in a strange land—namely a strange British land with occasionally mean inhabitants, near-constant rain, and no sunlight. Another talked of reading Eliot on Ash Wednesday to put him in a contemplative and penitent mood.

I started to think about whether I had a comfort book. I have read excerpts of The Lord of the Rings or The Silmarillion for intended emotional effect at certain times. But by and large I don’t choose my books this way. Instead, I turn to music, and I imagine that most of my peers do as well. Given the rise of mp3s and playlists, you can easily evoke a mood or atmosphere for times of secular or sacred emotion with music without turning to literature. Hence we have a movie called Nick and Norah’s Infinite Playlist and not Nick and Norah’s Infinite Library , which, come to think of it, sounds rather 1950s.

Do any other blog contributors turn to particular books or music for consolation or jubilation? Do people find a generational difference between those who choose books or those who choose music? Any thoughts?



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