Some books reach deep into your heart and get read over and over again, like literary comfort food. You know the ones I mean: these are the books that hang out semi-permanently next to the bed, the books you read when you're sick or sad or mad at the world. Every real reader has a few books they can't do without.
Recently I took stock of my special bedside library. Some of these books have been there so long that the shelves where they are "supposed to be" have closed up like healing tree bark. Here they are, in no particular order, my top three books that are like best friends and why I love them:
PASSAGE by Lois McMaster Bujold - This is book #3 in a fantasy series THE SHARING KNIFE. Now the whole series tends to drift over to the bedside book shelf: BEGUILEMENT, LEGACY, PASSAGE, and HORIZON. The series tells the adventures of Fawn, a young farmer woman and Dag, a much older Lakewalker, set in a world that sounds like the the Mississippi River valley in a frontier era back in the days when malices plagued humanity. PASSAGE is hands down my favorite because it describes the passage down the river in a flatboat. I love the characters, I love the setting and I enjoy spending time on that boat.
DEAD BEAT by Jim Butcher - This book is part of the fantasy series THE DRESDEN FILES, about Harry Dresden, the only wizard listed in the Chicago phone book. It may be one of the most perfect novels ever constructed on the scene-and-sequel method. The opening is a masterpiece: the author tells you everything you need to know about two of the main characters by describing the apartment they live in, and makes a passive catalog of items ring with tension. The pacing never lags; the plot is spellbinding. But the reason this is my favorite of this fine series? It's the dinosaur, pure and simple.
The third and last to share is TO THE HILT by Dick Francis. Not all of Dick Francis heroes were tough guy jockeys, schooled in the ways of enduring pain from breaking their bones in horse races. The tough guy hero in this is an artist who paints pictures of golf courses. A gang of four crooks descend on Alexander Kinloch's quiet bothy in the Highlands and beat him senseless. What are they after? In this perfect mystery, Dick Francis is at his very best. Aside from the riding scenes, I what I love is the private eye who teams up with Alex to bring the bad guys down. Master of disguise Chris Uttley is utter comic relief and a good man (or woman) to know in a pinch.
It's probably time for me to re-shelve these. The bedside table is a rough neighborhood for a book to hang out in and these favorite volumes are showing some wear plus the stories have become a little too familiar. But I know they won't be going far and there's other books waiting to drift in to take their place. My home library is full of such books and new books are a delight also. One never knows when one will fall in love with a new book.
It's interesting to look at all three of these books and realize what they have in common: characters trying to solve problems, romance, mystery, obsession and magic. That's what makes for a great story and a great book.
So which books are your best friends?