Comfort books, comfort writers and Junot Diaz’s Drown

indexUsually Red Brick Reads will focus on promising debuts and new releases from our favorite writers but sometimes you need to treat yo’self and that is why we’re talking about Junot Diaz and Drown, his 1996 collection of short stories. Just for today, let’s talk about comfort books.

The way I see it, there are two types of comfort books. There are mashed potatoes; for when you’re sad or sick and don’t want to think about anything but the familiar cadence of words on a page. Judy Blume’s Summer Sisters is a mashed potatoes book for me and I don’t mean that in a way that diminishes her work. I think it’s wonderful and I need books like Summer Sisters in my life.


But. There’s another type of comfort the soul needs. Sometimes you don’t need mashed potatoes to feel better about the world. Sometimes you need to go to the best French cafe you can find, and you need to each macarons for breakfast. Knowing that there are things out there that are perfect and beautiful; that’s comforting. No one can eat macarons for breakfast every morning, but it’s nice to know they’re there. Junot Diaz’s books are those macarons. His stories are perfectly formed, his dialogue is like the bass on an exceptional piece of music.

While Diaz’s work is lauded and award-winning it’s also a pleasure to read. We’re not talking about James Joyce here. I read Drown in an afternoon. Couldn’t, didn’t want to, put it down. Diaz doesn’t weigh down his text with flowery description, he just lets event unfold for his characters. He out-Hemingways Hemingway.

While you’re reading anything by Diaz (like Drown, which you should read because it’s excellent thought not as well known as his later work) you’re having such a good time rolling the word abuelo around in your mouth that you may forget that you’re reading one of the most important writers of your generation. This man’s story of Dominican immigrants in New York has, and will continue to, shape the way that we tell stories.

I feel about Diaz the way I do about Kanye West or Kendrick Lamar. Theirs will be the voices that are left. They are how history will understand our generation as different from the ones before and after (sorry Lena Dunham). There’s no navel-gazing here and these stories are about real people and their real problems; not about thirty-year old white girls living in lofts in Dumbo with rent sponsored by their upper-middle class parents.

This is a post about comfort so we’re not going to talk about the treatment of race or class or family or sexuality in Diaz’s work, though I encourage you do consider how Diaz handles these ideas as you’re reading, whether you’re doing it with your serious face on or just for comfort.

What are you comfort books? Your mashed potatoes? Your macarons at breakfast? I’m not sure I’ll ever be talked out of reaching for Summer Sisters though I’d love to hear what everyone else is reading.


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