I am looking for restful books, and I’d like your suggestions.
Nowhere in a restful book do I want to see detailed descriptions of the author’s sex life, unhappy childhood, or medical problems. Otherwise, I have an open mind.
Below are a few books I find restful. You will find these either charming or incomprehensible.
The only novels I find consistently restful are those written by Erle Stanley Gardner (with preference for the ones written in the 1930s, 1940s, and 1950s). I cannot explain this choice, though I tried in an earlier post, Erle Stanley Gardner’s Infinite Playlist.
My preferences for restful nonfiction reflect my fondness for illustrated books.
Books on this honored short list are strong on observation and detail. They are outer-directed. They are about something that gives the writer deep happiness, and often involve work and craft.
Goldfish Varieties and Tropical Aquarium Fishes
This deeply eccentric choice (I don’t own fish and don’t want to own fish) came from an easy-going book called All About House Plants, written in 1946 by a man with the unlikely name of Montague Free. Books like these are available for a song at abebooks.com.
Goldfish Varieties was written by William Innes and had gone through 14 editions by 1931. It is a physically beautiful book, with gilt edges and many photos and illustrations
Because William Innes comes across as a humorous, competent, satisfied man. He built his own aquariums and dug his own ponds, cooked up his own fish food, built heaters and pumps and nets, and cared for the small creatures with intelligent attention. The book also gives the gift of slow time. Where did Innes find time to do all this stuff?
This big book about American carousel art was written by William Manns, Peggy Shank, and Marianne Stevens. It is about craftsmen in the 19th and early 20th centuries who worked for money, love, and vocation. With a few exceptions, history does not record their names, but they surely did not expect to be remembered.
Because I did once see a carousel like the ones in this book. I was about eight, and the sight was magical. Now, I appreciate the art and craft that went into creation of these pieces, the devotion and the extravagance. They could have been built cheaply. They weren’t. And that is a wonder that persists to this day.
The Illustrated Lark Rise to Candleford
You have to be careful to get the right version of Lark Rise. The full name is The Illustrated Lark Rise to Candleford: A Trilogy by Flora Thompson (Bracken Books, London, 1983). These autobiographical tales of rural English life were published originally in 1939. Flora Thompson was born in 1878 and raised in poverty. One of her teachers called her a dunce.
Because Flora Thompson was not a dunce. She was brilliantly observant from an early age. The stories are crystal clear and are loving without being sentimental. The jacket copy calls Lark Rise “a gentle masterpiece.” That’s fair.
Here is one of many illustrations from Lark Rise: