What do you read when your mind won’t shut off?


Last night I had the hardest time getting to sleep. I was plenty sleepy and did doze off for a bit, but then I woke up and couldn’t clear my mind long enough to fall back to sleep. Even before I went to bed I knew that I was stressed out when I couldn’t figure out what to read. Sometimes I can get a bit restless and have trouble picking something to read. But this was different. I wasn’t restless so much with my current reads but almost annoyed. Don’t get me wrong I like everything I am reading right now. But all of it seemed too complicated for my mood. I needed something deeply comforting.
The last 150 pages of The Golden Notebook weren’t going to help.
Margaret Drabble’s memoir wasn’t going to help either. It is kind of a comfort book, but alas too cerebral to fit my anxious mind last night.
I am in the final third of The Dud Avacado by Elaine Dundy, but I am a little unsympathetic to the main character so I wasn’t going to find much comfort there.
I am in the first third of Miss Hargreaves, which I am really liking, but the madcap crazy of that tale is hardly the thing to calm one down.
I ended up picking up and starting something new: The Birth of a Grandfather by May Sarton. I find her journals to be so comforting, even though they sometimes deal with big issues like her ongoing depression. At first The Birth of a Grandfather was doing the trick. The opening paragraphs describing the beginning of a gloriously long summer spent in a family cabin on private New England island seemed to be just the right level of calm for me. But then on page 3 marital complications popped up. Alas, a comforting read to help clear the stress from my mind was not to be.
In the past E.F. Benson’s Mapp and Lucia books were a sure fire way to calm me down and make me forget my troubles. But I don’t own any of those.
So in the end I just stared up into the dark worrying about the million things on my mind.
What do you read when you need your mind to shut off?

25 thoughts on “What do you read when your mind won’t shut off?

  1. Ti November 3, 2010 / 5:33 pm

    When my mind won't shut off I read my Persephone catty. I better buy something from them soon or I will get kicked off the mailing list. I always buy from The Book Despository instead. My bad.


  2. Mystica November 3, 2010 / 6:11 pm

    Always, always Pride and Prejudice!


  3. Susan in TX November 3, 2010 / 7:18 pm

    Actually, that's when I tend to do blog reading/surfing. Sometimes a Rex Stout novel will do it or a Du Maurier.


  4. sarahsbooks November 3, 2010 / 7:25 pm

    I do crossword puzzles. So orderly and calming.


  5. Mrs. B. November 3, 2010 / 7:31 pm

    I think I had the same problem last night. I picked up Agatha Christie but that didn't work and surprisingly nor did a Persephone I had on my bedside table…The New House. So I'm curious what your readers will recommend.
    I had the same problem with The Dud Avocado. I wanted to like it but just didn't.

    PS – Love all the NYRB pics you've taken. Is it ok if I use them during NYRB week. I'll credit you of course.


  6. Teresa November 3, 2010 / 7:32 pm

    I'll second Sarah's crossword puzzles (or Sudoku). Or sometimes I'll watch a favorite movie or an episode or two of a favorite TV show. Desperate situations call for a comforting children's book, usually These Happy Golden Years, but any of the Little House books will do.


  7. Margaret Evans Porter November 3, 2010 / 8:13 pm

    Coincidentally, I picked up a Mapp & Lucia 2 days ago, almost as if I knew I'd need it close to hand this week.
    I have all of them. Get the massive omnibus editions. You might be needing it a lot in coming weeks, months, years….


  8. StuckInABook November 3, 2010 / 8:39 pm

    My eyes shut off before my brain does, so I can never read anything in this state… so I do the worrying thing instead…


  9. music-books-steve November 3, 2010 / 8:45 pm

    Chunks of long Augustan poems (Pope; Johnson; Dryden) are good for this situation too.


  10. Kathleen November 3, 2010 / 9:02 pm

    Well I hate to say it but when my mind won't shut off I usually watch a movie!


  11. Thomas at My Porch November 3, 2010 / 9:28 pm

    Ti: I like ordering from Persephone directly because you get the bookmark with each book.

    Mystica: I think you are right, Jane Austen would have been a good thought.

    Susan: blog reading/surfing tends to just add to my anxiety if I am in that kind of mood.

    Sarahsbooks: I use crosswords for when I am in a regular reading slump. I am not sure if it would have worked last night.

    Mrs. B: Of course you can use any photo you like.

    Teresa: And I have been meaning to read Laura Ingalls as well.

    Margaret: I do need to get some in the house. I hope you have seen the PBS series of it.

    Simon: Mine normally do but last night was a different story.

    Steve: I can definitely see Pope helping.

    Kathleen: Cranford sure would have worked.


  12. C.B. James November 3, 2010 / 10:38 pm

    I've no particular book for such situation. I do have several sets of “complete seasons” on DVD that usually do the trick.


  13. AnswerGirl November 3, 2010 / 10:55 pm

    I reread old favorites. Herman Wouk's YOUNGBLOOD HAWKE and MARJORIE MORNINGSTAR are standbys.


  14. Karen November 4, 2010 / 3:17 am

    It actually depends for me on why my mind won't shut off. If I am stressed from work I need a really great novel to take me away (I am reading Great House by Nicole Krauss at the moment and it is BRILLIANT!). But, if my mind is running around because of more personal reasons I usually need a comforting favourite like Jane Austen to calm me down.


  15. Stacy November 4, 2010 / 8:30 am

    If my mind won't stop, making sleep impossible, absolutely no book will do because my mind will just wander after a few seconds. At that point, I break out my ipod and listen to Bach or Handel. Classical music has equaled comfort since I was a little girl and it does the same now. Within seconds, I instantly relax and my mind will usually drift to a happy place.


  16. bookssnob November 4, 2010 / 9:12 am

    Jane Eyre. I know the story so well I just cosy on down into it and before I know it, I'm asleep. Many a time I've woken up with the imprint of a slightly crushed copy of Jane Eyre on my cheek!


  17. agoodstoppingpoint November 4, 2010 / 11:01 pm

    Oh, I can't read when I'm like that. I listen to music, maybe something like Nickel Creek, just let my pandora station run and fall to sleep.

    Sorry that it sounds like you're not enjoying The Dud Avocado! I really liked the narrator's voice a lot.

    – Christy


  18. Darlene November 5, 2010 / 8:50 am

    British Country Living magazine. Flipping through those calming pages has me daydreaming of a simpler life in the countryside and before I know it…zzzzz.


  19. Nan November 5, 2010 / 2:04 pm

    Maybe a Miss Read book, Thomas? or a Mrs. Malory mystery? I couldn't sleep last night because I was too enthralled in a book called Asleep: The Forgotten Epidemic! :<)


  20. Joy November 5, 2010 / 10:42 pm

    Food essays: M.F.K. Fisher, Laurie Colwin, Elizabeth David. Lately it's been Mrs. Appleyard's Cookbook. Cozy, satisfies an appetite, and I can drift off without wondering where I left off the night before.


  21. jane November 6, 2010 / 7:35 am

    Jane Eyre all the way! I love it so much, there aren't the words for it.

    Hope you are loving the Golden Notebook too, despite it not being relaxing readig! It's one of my absolute favourites – I only read it a couple of months ago but it instantly shot to the status of one of my all-time most-beloved novels. I found so many wonderful, beautiful passages in it. I found so much to identify with in Anna. I hope you'll be able to see a little of what she means about London when you are visiting. I enjoyed the novel so much I actually got the audiobook from Audible with a voucher I had, and am currently enjoying listening to Juliet Stevenson read it to me again, every time I am out wandering the streets of London. Looking forward to hearing what you think of it, too.


  22. Thomas at My Porch November 7, 2010 / 12:22 pm

    CB: I need to get more DVD collections of stuff I like to view repeatedly.

    AnswerGirl: I don't know either of those. I remember watching the miniseries of The Winds of War with Robert Mithcum when I was a kid. John and I rented it a few years ago and some of the acting (I am looking at you Ali McGraw) was not so good.

    Karen: I think something in the Jane Austen line would have been the right direction for me that night. I needed something that didn't come close to my real life.

    Stacy: I love classical music. Pretty much all I listen to, but it tends to get me riled up rather than calmed down.

    Rachel: I would have to think of which book would actually work for me like that.

    Christy: Finished Dud Avocado this morning. Ended up kind of liking it, but with lots of things to say about it.

    Darlene: Love that magazine but I think that would have reminded me of all the stuff I need to do before our trip to London. I know, I am a little uptight right now.

    Nan: Miss Read could definitely work, but I think the last one that I read had a lot about repairs to the school and a leady roof. That would have made me think too much about our money pit!

    Joy: I haven't read any of those, but I think you are right. Ruth Reichl's books would have been perfect.

    Jane: I read and LOVE a lot of “girl” books but I think Jane Eyre is one that really seems to resonate much more with the ladies than it does for those of us gentleman who read that kind of thing.


  23. Ash November 7, 2010 / 1:53 pm

    Graphic novels and comic books are great for when your mind won't shut off because it's a lot easier to read a little text and look at a picture when your mind is full than it is to simply read a lot of words. Otherwise I like something funny– like Nick Hornby.


  24. Lucille November 12, 2010 / 6:44 pm

    I'm going to try The Treasure Seekers by E. Nesbit tonight because I can tell I'm a bit stressy. Our Loving Duty (1936) by June and Doris Langley Moore usually works too.


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