books · life

How reading is an emotional thermometer


My oldest son left for college this month. It has been a huge change for our family, and even as we’re all adjusting well, my own coping strategy has been to read Robert Crais novels the way I stress-eat carbs: by the fistful, late at night, one after another.

Robert Crais writes a series of books about Elvis Cole, an ex-Army Ranger who conquered his childhood demons by joining the Army, and subsequently conquers his post-Vietnam demons with a charming combination of wry humor, martial arts, and hunting down bad guys. He’s an old-style Hollywood private investigator with a tall, dark and silent side-kick named Pike whose demons require even more yoga, more martial arts, and more hunting.

Cole and Pike are complex characters with credible emotional lives, and the books have good plots. But the reason they are the right reading for my current emotional instability is that their world never changes. While there is always an emotional consequence to the trauma of the plot, it’s never permanently damaging.  After one book wraps up, I can pick up the next with full confidence that the clever PI and his superhuman sidekick will deliver the same satisfying punch.

During other seasons of my life, I want series or stand-alone novels that challenge my comfort with the status quo. I want the events of the plot to transform the characters, and by extension, me. I want my assumptions to be challenged, and I want to grow.

But not today. There’s too much growth in the rest of my life to seek it in my reading.

I have learned to recognize my own emotions through the books I choose.  When I’m having vocational angst, I read Dorothy Sayers’s Gaudy Night. If I’m feeling stuck and want adventure, I read Robin McKinley. When I am craving more romance in my life, I reread Elswyth Thane. When I am dissatisfied with my own humanity, I read literary works, usually ones new to me, by people with different life experiences and perspectives.

How does your emotional temperature regulate your reading?


2 thoughts on “How reading is an emotional thermometer

  1. When interpersonal life if rich and confusing; read non-fiction. Preferably involving textiles and a lot of charts. When life is tricky, get all the books on the topic out of the library. When sad pull out L. M. Montgomery or Madeleine L’Engle.

    Liked by 1 person

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