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Editorial November 2001
Comfort Foods, Comfort Books

By Hilary Williamson

It's that time of year again, when summer salads and fasting give way to fall feasting. The deepening chill outdoors sends us inside in search of comfort foods - savory soups and stews followed by decadent desserts. This year, many of us are also in search of books that bring us spiritual comfort, provide a better understanding of what is happening in the wider world, or simply are escapist reads as temporary distractions from the incessant, distressing news. Here are some suggestions.

Start with the Dalai Lama's explanation of how to cultivate compassion and wisdom in daily life, An Open Heart. Then try Nicholas Sparks' latest, A Bend in the Road, for a thoughtful love story about moving on after tragedy. Joanne Harris' Blackberry Wine sends the same encouraging message as Chocolat, that 'Even a single person can make a difference.' For tales of supportive communities, try Fannie Flagg's endearing Fried Green Tomatoes at the Whistle Stop Cafe, or read about a heartwarming circle of family and friends in Tony Earley's Jim the Boy.

Looking for material to help you to understand Islam and Muslim societies? Stephen Kinzer, once Istanbul bureau chief for the NY Times, has written Crescent & Star : Turkey Between Two Worlds, arguing the potential of Turkey to make a difference in a region ruled by tyrants. Alison Wearing's Honeymoon in Purdah tells of her Iranian Journey, in an attempt to conquer her own fear. Or read a brief BookLoons account of A Day in Herat, where I met some very anxious Afghans at the onset of the 1978 Russian invasion.

If you are in search of books on the effects and aftermath of war, there are several excellent fictional choices. Try Marly Youmans' The Wolf Pit for a haunting portrayal of the American Civil War or Joseph Kanon's The Good German, set amidst the rubble of 1945 Berlin. In the recent past, Brian Haig's Secret Sanction reveals the complex environment of peacekeepers on the fringes of atrocities in Bosnia

If those are a little too close to reality, try speculative fiction. Terry Pratchett takes a satiric look at the media in Discworld. Ian Douglas has fun with space Marine action in his Heritage Trilogy. Robert Heinlein's Moon is a Harsh Mistress gives a blueprint for revolution on Mars; Eric Frank Russell's Wasp is a Terran undercover on Sirian worlds; Sharon Shinn covers biological terrorism between races in Heart of Gold; and Iain Banks takes us to the far, far future for a multi-layered tale of societal intervention and responsibility, love and vengeance in Look to Windward.

Fantasy series can provide long-running escapes - try Michelle West's superb Sun Sword epic, Ian Irvine's fast-paced View from the Mirror, Elizabeth Haydon's romantic Prophecy trilogy, or dive back into J. R. R. Tolkien's struggle with ultimate evil in Lord of the Rings. Cozy mysteries also make perfect escapist reads. Laugh along with the regulars of Lochdubh, Scotland in M. C. Beaton's Death of a Dustman; split your sides in Arkansas with Maggody and the Moonbeams; or chuckle as you nibble on Diane Mott Davidson's Tough Cookie, set in Colorado.

But as we indulge in comfort books and foods with our families, let's take a moment to think about those who lack any comfort in this time of feast and famine - victims of terrorist acts in North America, and also the countless families in Afghanistan who have been deprived by terror of their own homes and comforts. It's a time to give thanks, and to give.
American Liberty Partnership
Contribute to disaster relief efforts in the United States.
Humanitarian Response for Afghanistan
More than 7 million Afghan citizens face famine - help to provide relief.
Oxfam International
Read about Afghanistan, help to make a more equitable world.
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