Soul food, mind candy and comfort eating…

When I am under stress I turn to various forms of comfort.

I often return to books I have loved and read over and over again. For some, this can be children’s books. Many people return to books like the Harry Potter series, Lord of the Rings and various others. Books we know and love are safe and predictable in a changing world. I used to have nightmares that the makers of the film version of Lord of the Rings were going to change the story to fit Hollywood better; this is not so silly as it sounds. One of my favourite books is Practical Magic by Alice Hoffman; the film version was an utter travesty.

Some books I read at times like this are not fiction. I read Lark Rise to Candleford, my collection of herbals and even sometimes recipe books. I go back to poetry I haven’t read since I was an undergraduate, and to poetry that has been my constant companion much of my life. These books are part of my soul food collection. They feed my soul, to stop it starving. Other soul food books are ones that come my way from time to time and I rarely read again; they are the ones that spark thought and meditation and sometimes anger and upset. But the iron ration soul food books are the ones that are falling apart.

I also like mind candy. I like candy floss and seaside rock from time to time; and so my tastes in books and other entertainment can seem banal. I like a good “Boys’ Book”: you know the kind, the rollicking adventure with cardboard characters, high octane action, and implausible but compelling plot. Basically, beach reads for those who hate chick lit. They’re light and unsatisfying and after a few they all seem the same. But like candy floss, they don’t fill you up and they taste nice for a while. I wouldn’t recommend a diet of them; they don’t feed anything deeper and they rot your mental teeth.

Comfort eating is a harder one to describe; sometimes it’s books you have read before but usually it’s books by authors you like but haven’t read. I have read about half of all Dickens; but not all. Like Shakespeare, Dickens’ stories have become a part of national identity and have a comforting predictability running through. Jane Austen  novels  are comfort food too, though they stray into soul food too. You’ll know comfort books by their solidity; often great chunks of literature, swimming with a rich gravy of pithy wisdom, and laced with just enough spice to tempt a tired palate.  

I have a collection of books that I go back to and when they wear out, I buy another copy. I don’t put them all on the same shelves or even in the same room. They are different genres, different eras, different needs, but I know where they are. I recently misplaced my copy of TS Eliot’s The Four Quartets and I’m still mildly anxious about where it might be; thankfully I have a copy of the complete poems, but that neat little volume was so handy to stick in a bag.

If only I could get a handle on my real eating habits when under stress. When I am depressed, I eat for comfort, but when I am stressed enough, I stop eating  for days. There doesn’t seem to be a middle way. And since I am usually either stressed or depressed, my body doesn’t quite know which way is up sometimes.

There has to be a better way. Maybe I should start “eating” books more…

6 thoughts on “Soul food, mind candy and comfort eating…

    • Some, yes. I mainly read the gospels for comfort but Paul turns me cold and the Old Testament just freaks me out(with some exceptions). I read the Bible daily from the age of 11 to the age of 18 and stopped because I was treating it more as a literary text than a holy book. I bought a bible in French to stop me doing that!
      I also read classics like Revelations of Divine Love (Julian of Norwich) and a fair few others. Julian has always appealed to me because she was the first woman to write a book in English (which has been in print constantly since the 14th century) and also because I live quite near to where she lived.


  1. This is an interesting perspective and gives a whole new meaning for me when I think of “devouring” a book. I so enjoy reading, and have gone through periods of my life when I stopped reading altogether; giving my eyes a rest I guess. Now, the love for it is back in full force. Our house is laden with books, and it is the one pleasure that we never have any guilt about purchasing more of. I tend to have a few books going at once, since my reading mood varies from day to day, and it usually takes me several to finish a book. Right now, I am in a fiction, action mood; mind candy for sure, with the “Twilight” series. I also like to buy books that I have not yet read, but want to read, or reread someday.


    • Because we moved to a smaller house two years ago, and because even though we culled our collection by about a third, most of the shelves here are double parked with books and it looks chaotic! I too usually have a number of books on the go at any one time but because I have a very fast reading speed(born of necessity due to a joint honours degree 20 something years ago, where both subjects expected me to treat theirs as the ONLY one) I gobble up books too fast. If it’s good, I reread immediately. I read Twilight recently, taking it as my mind candy on a work trip to France shortly before Christmas, and while it was about all I was up to after travelling from 1am to 10pm, it sadly didn’t keep me awake! I guess I’m just the wrong age group to find it enthralling though it did earn me some cool points with the teenagers I was acting as courier for.
      If it comes to vampires, no one does it better than either the original Bram Stoker or Anne Rice!


  2. I enjoyed your post. You’re luckyyou can read for comfort. I’m also usually stressed or depressed and find concentrating on books an effort.
    I’m the opposite to you though. When I’m depressed I don’t eat and when I stressed I eat non-stop.
    My digestive system is completely screwed up!


  3. I have phases where I am too stressed or depressed to read but that’s where the old favourites come in handy; you point your eyes at them and your mind goes into autopilot and you just remember rather than read. It does help to kickstart things.
    I’d like to find a better balance food wise; my weight is about stable but while the winter is here, I don’t get out and get the exercise I need and so it starts to creep slowly upwards..


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