A quick Google search “reading for your soul” exhibits various articles regarding how to read our souls, but none on reading for your soul. There’s definitely a difference. While “reading your soul” describes self-reflection and a basic understanding of ourselves, I believe “reading for your soul” is the kind of reading that can soothe our very essence on those days that make us just want to pull our hair out and hide under the covers. We’re often told that we become the people we are because of our friends and families… I’d like to add that I think the very books we read can help shape ourselves, not just as writers and readers but as people. Books offer insights into worlds and understandings we might not have otherwise.
Thus, for your reading pleasure, I would like to offer you my top five books to soothe and inform the Peaceful Dumpling soul:
I’ll admit it: I’m a sucker for novels written from the point-of-view of children. To Kill A Mockingbird is my all-time favorite novel, with The Catcher in the Rye as a close second. Some would say I have the taste of a high-school freshman who has yet to discover The Hunger Games. I just remember how hard it was to be a child, and I particularly appreciate the study of adulthood as seen through the unflinchingly honest eyes of a child.
Tomorrow There Will Be Apricots is one such honest novel. Though fifty-percent of it is told from the point-of-view of the unbelievably smart yet timid (and incredibly talented chef) fourteen-year-old Lorca, Tomorrow There Will Be Apricots might just be one of the most adult books I’ve ever read. Lorca spends the novel trying to learn how to make the Middle Eastern dish masgouf in an effort to win over her emotionally distant (if not altogether emotionally abusive) mother. This search leads her to meet the elderly chef and recent widow Victoria. Together, the women form a strange bond that really makes you question the definition of family.
Tomorrow There Will Be Apricots includes some of the most particular and perfect prose I’ve read in years. A writer myself, I found myself envious of Jessica Soffer’s descriptions. This book will remind us all of the agonies of youth, while leaving us hopeful for youth’s promises– and salivating for some delicious (if not always vegan) Middle Eastern cooking.
I rely on my good friend Alice for most new vegan recipes. Alice recently admitted that she gets most of her favorite recipes from Isa Chandra Moskowitz’s vegan tome Vegan With A Vengeance. After parsing through its pages, I can safely say that this is a must-have for any vegan chef’s kitchen. I love Moskowitz’s rambling style, and I actually appreciate that she includes stories along with her recipes. In this modern age of blogs, I don’t believe there’s room for any standard, boring cookbooks. They need to have a personal touch. We all all want the story within the story. Vegan With A Vengeance isn’t your typical Julia Childs-style cookbook: and that’s what makes it great.
Full disclosure: I studied creative writing under the great Aimee Bender and consider her a friend and role-model, so maybe I’m biased. Nonetheless, Aimee Bender is a master of the magical realist prose, and what Peaceful Dumpling isn’t a little bit magical? While I can’t speak highly enough of Aimee Bender’s novel The Particular Sadness of Lemon Cake (about a young girl who can taste feelings in food), I believe the right place to start for all Bender-newbies is her second-most recent short story collection, Willful Creatures. (Aimee Bender recently released a new collection of short stories, but I have yet to read them so I cannot speak about them just yet. Of course, I’m sure they’re brilliant.) If you’ve never read magical realist prose before, you’re in for a treat. And if you have, no one addresses modern relationships and concerns with that magical realist twist like Aimee Bender. I wish I had her knack for sentence structure. She describes situations so beautifully; with just the barest of sentences she portrays a technicolor of emotions. Seriously, guys, check her out.
We’ve all met smug vegan yuppies. If we’re honest with ourselves, we might have even been a smug vegan yuppie at some point in our lives. Maria Semple’s fictional novel Where’d You Go, Bernadette? is a hilarious send-up of said smug yuppies, vegan or not. Taking place in Semple’s hometown of Seattle, the novel is written in mostly epistolary form from the point-of-view of gregarious Bee Fox, daughter of Bernadette. When her mother disappears one afternoon, Bee seeks answers from everyone, including her overworked father, her schoolmates’ self-involved parents, and even the black-hole of the internet.
Where’d You Go Bernadette? reminds us that taking ourselves too seriously can have negative impact
on our children and our community. But thankfully the book itself is ultimately a comedy that treads the fine line of laughs vs. lesson. This is a book you wouldn’t be embarrassed to give your significant other’s mother, or a close friend.
This book received a lot of notice with the arrival of Spike Jone’s popular movie back in 2009. But let’s not forget the base material, a children’s book that, at its heart, is about handling our anger. Max throws a tantrum, then returns home to his mom, only to find a hot supper waiting for him. In other words, the hot heat of anger can be dissipated with the love and support of family and friends. While all of us Peaceful Dumplings like to believe we’re peaceful, we all get angry at one time or another. Maurice Sendak encourages us to embrace our wild side, but not lose ourselves within it.
A glance out my window proves the curtain is setting on summer. The changing seasons –and the soon-to-be onslaught of cold weather– makes for ideal reading conditions. Light some soy candles. Heat up some green tea. Alone or with a loved one, curl up on your couch, and read not just for pleasure, but for yourself.
Also by Emily: How I Conquered My Fear of Heights and Climbed a Mountain
Photo: Madeline Tosh