My favorite books for self-care and their comfort food pairings

peanut butter and jelly with a cold glass of milk go perfectly with Roald Dahl's book MatildaSynesthesia is the phenomenon where people have a mix of sensory experiences in response to a particular input. Numbers may have tastes, musical notes may sound like a specific color. Numbers and notes are pretty mono-sensorial for me, but when I’m reading I often associate books with kinds of food. Then again, I’m also hungry all the time so that might have something to do with it too…

Some books are total junk food. They make you feel good for an instant but leave you unsatisfied and slightly nauseous later. Reading Twilight was like eating too many Pixy Stix on Halloween. Some books are juicy. Some are like a spoonful of fish oil. And while it is important to make sure you have plenty of dark, leafy green books in your diet, sometimes curling up with a book purely for comfort is exactly what you need.

Here are a few of my comfort food favorites for when things get rough.

  1. Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone by JK Rowling – About a year after I moved to Amsterdam, some of the novelty of being an expat in a foreign country had begun to wear off. I was feeling alienated and homesick. Luckily, I had anticipated this very event and a year prior had spent a small fortune to ship my hardcover Harry Potter collection over the ocean. I eventually worked my way through the entire series (again), but opening to the first page of HP#1 was like being back in my mom’s kitchen, sitting on the counter and biting into a crispy, partially burnt, melty grilled cheese.
  2. Pride and Prejudice by Jane Austen – One of the qualifications for a good comfort food book is that it must be familiar. Returning to Lizzie’s clapbacks, Lydia’s insipid flirting, Lady Catherine’s side eye, and Darcy’s slow and steady burn is like being told your favorite fairy tale for the hundredth time over a steaming cup of hot chocolate with marshmallows.
  3. Me Talk Pretty One Day by David Sedaris – Sedaris’s stories about growing up in North Carolina (I’m from Kentucky) and then moving to Paris (I moved to Amsterdam) hit so close to home, it’s like he’s reaching across time and space through the pages of the book and handing me a fresh and flaky croissant.
  4. Into Thin Air by Jon Krakauer – Not to make light of the tragic events that take place in Krakauer’s Everest disaster book, but there’s something about his raw and thrilling storytelling that works like an almost-too-spicy Thai pizza and makes me feel grateful to be alive.
  5. Love Medicine by Louise Erdrich – The first time I read this book was for school, and it opened my eyes to the possibility that not every English assignment was going to be bland and joyless. The love affairs of Marie, Lulu and Nector make up the onion-carrot-celery base of Erdrich’s rich storytelling and everything builds up on them into a sumptuous vegetable soup of a novel.
  6. High Fidelity by Nick Hornby – When Rob digs into his top five most memorable split-ups, I can’t help but feel for the guy. I think we’ve all been Kevin Bannistered at some point in our lives and Hornby’s quirky comedy about love and music is the pint of rocky road I turn to whenever my heart is breaking.
  7. A Walk in the Woods by Bill Bryson – Sometimes things don’t work out exactly as you had planned. My fantasy of what it would be like to live in the Netherlands has been peppered with more than a few reality checks. Luckily, Bryson’s here with a plate of nachos to make me laugh and tell me to stop beating myself up about it.
  8. Matilda by Roald Dahl – In the end, everything goes back to Matilda. Whenever I’m feeling lonely and misunderstood, Matilda is like the perfect PB&J (preferably crunchy and strawberry, respectively) of my childhood. Sometimes I need a reminder that for every Trunchbull there is a Miss Honey, that I can always go back to the library for more books, and that the world is actually full of magic Matilda’s.

Whatever your poison – maybe bottomless Pixy Stix are exactly what you need right now – I hope you have a tall stack of books you can return to when times are tough. Eet smakelijk!

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