Sunday, January 5, 2014

Cold Comfort

There is nothing interesting about a head-cold, however persistent, however preoccupying to the sufferer.  The common cold, it seems, is just... common.  Witness, for example, the paucity of interesting quotations to be found online or off on this subject.  Worse, in it's way, is this utterly banal entry under "Cold, Common" in the new book The Novel Cure: From Abandonment to Zestlessness: 751 Books to Cure What Ails You, by Ella Berthoud and Susan Elderkin:

"There is no cure for the common cold.  But it is an excellent excuse to wrap up with a blanket, a cup of hot tea, and a comforting, restorative read."

To begin, I can't imagine the person buying a book with the above title who would actually feel the need of an "excuse" -- however "excellent" -- for such behavior.  (And surely it would be better to wrap up in rather than with a blanket, or am I wrong?  Anyway, let that pass.)  Here then the recommended reading suggested, without further explanation, from our authors:

"The Ten Best Novels for When You've Got a Cold

A Study in Scarlet -- Arthur Conan Doyle
Jamaica Inn -- Daphne Du Maurier
The Princess Bride -- William Goldman
Journey to the River Sea -- Eva Ibbotson
Comet in Moominland -- Tove Jansson
The Secret Life of Bees -- Sue Monk Kidd
How Stella Got Her Groove Back -- Terry McMillan
The Lost Art of Keeping Secrets -- Eva Rice
The Devil Wears Prada -- Lauren Weisberger
The Age of Innocence -- Edith Wharton"

I am a great fan of lists, and of reading lists specially.  Always interesting to see what other people are reading and recommending.  Now, according to the jacket-flap, Ella Berthoud paints and "absorbs audiobooks intravenously," while her school-chum and co-author Susan Elderkin "regularly kayaks with a novel in hand," which is equally charming and improbable.  Together they run a "bibliotherapy service out of the School of Life in London" whatever that might mean.  Their book is arranged alphabetically by ailment and most entries seem to be a bit more thoughtful than this, but for the common cold there is but this truly arbitrary list.  (One of the buyers at the bookstore where I work decided to back this title for the Holidays and invested in multiple copies.  It did not prove a popular suggestion.  I thought the premise rather good and the design attractive.  I admit, I hadn't consulted it until I myself caught the post-Christmas-cold.  I begin to appreciate the book's failure to find the anticipated audience.)

Who is the list above intended to help or entertain?  Evidently, colds in England are caught primarily by youngish women, presumably with some undergraduate reading experience, a taste for popular sentimental fiction and happy memories of fairly recent childhood.  Nothing wrong there, other than the premise, I suppose, which doesn't seem statistically sound to me. And then, what to make of the suspiciously incongruous inclusion of Conan Doyle's first Holmes novel?  A token boy's book, do you think?  I can't imagine I'm alone in thinking that Wharton's masterpiece, coming in so late in the list, feels not only out of place in such otherwise relentlessly uplifting company, but possibly ill-remembered or even unread before being recommended here?  Not a light read, for any that might need reminding, and fair warning, it does not end happily ever after, that one.

Colds make me rather cranky, I admit. This most recent head-cold has refused to go away altogether, instead retreating during the day and harassing me at night like some minor marauding guerilla operation.  So let's blame sleeplessness and general disposition for my dislike of and disappointment with The Novel Cure.  Clearly, not the universal good for which I'd hoped.

Sugar pills.

I'd rather a shot of something stronger before bed.  I'm thinking I'll have a go at Timon of Athens tonight.  Self pity & whisky.  That's the ticket.

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