So you’re stuck in the hospital, preparing for or recovering from this or that procedure—what books do you bring along to keep yourself busy? Canadian author Alberto Manguel tackles the question in the new issue of Geist, describing his careful process for selecting hospital reading during a couple of recent stays.
During his first trip to the hospital, Manguel decides against a number of genres, including recent fiction ("too risky because unproven") and biographies ("too crowded: hooked to a tangle of drips, I found other people's presence annoying"). Ultimately, he opts for “the equivalent of comfort food, something I’d once enjoyed and could endlessly and effortlessly revisit,” he writes. “I asked my friend to bring me my two volumes of Don Quixote.”
Because I’ve kept going back to it ever since my adolescence, I knew I wasn’t going to be tripped by the surprises of its plot; and since it’s a book that I could read just for the pleasure of its invention, without having to delve into its erudite conundrums, I could allow myself to drift peacefully away in the story’s flow, in the wake of the noble knight and his faithful sidekick. To my first high school reading of Don Quixote, guided by Professor Isaias Lerner, I have added many other readings over the years, undertaken in all sorts of places and moods. To those I can now add a medicinal Don Quixote, both a balm and a consolation.
Approaching his second hospital stay, Manguel works out a formula of sorts to assure a “companionable variety” of books, drawing from each of four categories: “a miscellany,” “a meditative work,” “a book to make me smile,” and “a collection of poetry.” It's a lovely way to approach a down-time reading list, though I might have to add a fifth category: "trashy mystery novel."