Long ago, I clipped a quote from an article about Joan Didion. She told the journalist that when she was small and upset by something that happened in school, her parents would tell her to "go to literature" for help. They believed she would find answers in the classics. When I am unsettled, I also go to my shelves looking for, if not answers, comfort. My books remind me who I am, where I've been, and where I need to go.
Like old friends, my library is familiar and friendly. Sometimes just gazing at an image in one of my books takes me back to a version of myself that I may have forgotten. I am reminded that the person who looked upon that image, sometimes many years ago, still exists within. And if I can tap into her, I can tap into renewed strength.
I have favorite literature that offers me all kinds of inspiration but I thought I would give you some of the non-fiction books that I reach for in times of trouble. So, straight from my shelf:
Linda Dannenberg's The Paris Way of Beauty will always be my favorite beauty book. I purchased my copy in 1979 and as a young single working women, I learned how to care for myself and organize my beauty routine using its tried-and-true French methods. I still employ the Recipe for a Basic Makeup outlined in the book and the diet advice has stood the test of time. I still get a thrill when I crack it open and a shy but chic young woman meets me between the pages.
Romancing the Ordinary by Sarah Ban Breathnach is not unlike her blockbuster Simple Abundance but it is more concrete in its approach. I love both of Sarah's books but Romancing the Ordinary speaks to my soul. Reading a few chapters before bed is like a beloved great aunt tucking me in as she murmurs, "There, there dear". In times of stress or pain, Romancing the Ordinary provides the quiet comfort I crave.
When I need a good cry about life's heartbreaking tenderness, I reach for Nancy Lindemeyer's Jenny Walton's Packing for a Woman's Journey. Nancy's stories, drawn from her childhood to young womanhood are so poignantly written that it is one of the only books that can make me sob out loud. Her stirring essays about the grandmother who adopted her as a small child, tug at my heartstrings like a plaintive violin. I had the pleasure of having lunch with Nancy once and she told me that the only way to write the stories was to relive each one. It shows.
My Father by Judy Collins is illustrated by my favorite children's book artist, Jane Dyer. The story is about a daughter of a coal miner whose life is made radiant by her father's dreams for her. Dyer's colorful and gently realistic interpretations of what should have been a stark childhood come alive off the page. This book is perfect for a weary grown-up's lullaby.
I love the art of the Impressionists and so another book I turn to regularly aligns fashion with my favorite art movement. Dior Impressions: the Inspiration and Influence of Impressionism at the House of Dior is a beautiful volume that explores the relationship between Dior's designs and 19th century artists use of light, nature and color. Many of Dior's dresses appear to step right from the gilded frame. The text is engaging and the book is so spring-like, I can almost smell verdant grasses when I open it. Mesmerizing.