11 August 2009

book musings: Good Night, Mister Tom

When I go to the library, I often just wander through a section, looking at titles, and I pick up what sounds interesting. Lately, that's been a lot of non-fiction. I re-read some Dan Savage recently, a David Sedaris book I hadn't read yet, a book on the history of nursery rhymes (a favourite song of mine turns out to probably be about marriage), and a number of others. I like memoirs--non-fiction with an element of story to it, books that would probably fall into the sociology genre, and history (especially the way Sarah Vowell tells it). I found a book that was sort of an ethnography of dating in New York. After finishing it, I found it difficult to believe that so many people could be so callous about love and so shallow. I hope the author has exaggerated matters.

So after reading that, I felt depressed. To cleanse my palate, so to speak, I went to my bookshelf to find another book to read. I have hundreds of books, and many could serve this purpose. Not being in the mood for Chesterton's What's Wrong With the World?, I ended up with Michelle Magorian's Good Night, Mister Tom. This has been one of my "comfort" books ever since I first read it, at eight. I've only read a few books by Magorian, but I keep coming back to this one. She's a brilliant writer and the story is compelling and a good read. And yet, given the content, I wonder sometimes why I read it to keep away the nightmares. There's war, death, and abuse in it. But then I remember: there's also hope, deliverance, joy, and healing. When I couldn't sleep for fear of nightmares and I needed something remind me that the night didn't last forever, I would read this.

It's set during WWII in the English countryside. An older man who had shut himself off from the world years before when his wife died is suddenly forced to take in an evacuee. He ends up with a frightened little boy who's been abused all his life. Each begins to heal and learns to see life in a completely new way. So in spite of the tragedy and grief in the book, there is so much hope in it. And that brings me back to it again and again.

So yesterday, unhappy with the book I'd read, sad about the world, I picked up this one. And remembered that though there is a great deal wrong with the world, there are also things that are right in it.

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