ISO: Comfort Reads Slice of Life 26/31 #sol20

When you search for images of comfort reads, there are books, yes, but there are also beds and duvets and cozy blankets, coffee and tea and pillows, cats and bathrobes and slippers.

There is a certain kind of novel that appears on lists of recommended comfort reads as well. And it is almost always a novel, though memoir can also be comforting. It has a good chance of being British too. I’m not sure what it is about America that isn’t comforting (well, actually I do know: individualism, capitalism, inequity, and the cult of productivity don’t make for comfort reads, and what else is any Great American Novel about? People are rightly appalled by 45’s embrace of economy over humanity, but what is more quintessentially and fundamentally American than the sacrifice of human beings for economic gain?), but American novels tend not to fit the bill.

My own list of comfort reading certainly skews British. There’s Jane Austen, of course, and Nancy Mitford and Barbara Pym. I Capture the Castle is prime comfort reading, as is another longtime Virago favorite, Rachel Ferguson’s The Brontes Went to Woolworths (another novel I would very much love to live in for a bit). The Enchanted April and Hilary McKay’s Casson family series and Terry Pratchett’s series about Tiffany Aching. Virginia Woolf’s Diaries and Helene Hanff’s 84 Charing Cross Road.

But I have also reread Meghan Whalen Turner’s Queen’s Thief series several times (and feel ready for another reread soon) and have practically memorized Robin McKinley’s Beauty and The Outlaws of Sherwood. Laurie Colwin’s collection of essays, Home Cooking, is a reliable comfort read. In fact, I just picked up Home Cooking last night and reread the first two essays. Her good teachings about the pleasures of being a homebody feel very current.

There is comfort in the close acquaintance we develop with characters and setting in a series and with the patterns of genre writing. I don’t read mystery anymore, but it was prime comfort reading throughout grad school, when I couldn’t read British novels for pleasure because I was reading them for study. I made my way through all of Tony Hillerman and Sue Grafton and Elizabeth George and Elizabeth Peters and Laura Lippman and Marcia Muller. My son is never not rereading Harry Potter (as narrated so marvelously by Jim Dale on audio.) “I would give up everything, even basketball, to go to Hogwarts,” he said wistfully the other day. And I understood just what he meant.

Mostly, I think, there is comfort in familiarity. My comfort reads are rereads, and there is a sense of coming back home when I open their covers. They are the literary equivalent of the cozy blanket and the warm cup of tea and the purring lap of cat. And they feel very necessary right now.

11 thoughts on “ISO: Comfort Reads Slice of Life 26/31 #sol20

  1. “Mostly, I think, there is comfort in familiarity. My comfort reads are rereads, and there is a sense of coming back home when I open their covers. They are the literary equivalent of the cozy blanket and the warm cup of tea and the purring lap of cat. And they feel very necessary right now.”
    So much truth right here. I’m with your son. I’d also give anything to be at Hogwarts. But also setting is key to a comfort read for me. My Slice today was aiming toward how grateful I was that I thought to pick up my comfort read last night. I credit fixing that place firmly in my mind wit( allowing me the first good night’s sleep in weeks. Very necessary. Great post.

  2. What we all need now is a little comfort. You’ve inspired me to reread my favorites for a bit of comfort. I’ve been feeling a bit out of sorts today. Thanks for the inspiration!

  3. Comfort food and comfort reads just go together. My comfort reads still are mysteries. I am a big fan of David Baldacci and Gregg Hurwitz. Of course, one of my favorite rereads is Bram Stoker’s Dracula. So, what does that say about me?

  4. I have picked up and stopped reading so many books because I think I was looking for a comfort read. I love to reread Pride and Prejudice when I need the ultimate comfort. Right now I’m reading The Ten Thousand Doors of January and it’s working for me. Happy reading!

  5. I’ve struggled reading the past couple weeks but find comfort in reading and writing poetry. Maybe I should reread some of my favorite novels that have given me comfort. I think you’re on to something about American novels. It’s hard to imaging naturalism as comforting. I’m asking a rhetorical question: “What makes a book a comfort read?” I think I’ll be a little uncomfortable until I answer this question for myself.

  6. Oh, these lines are so true, “Mostly, I think, there is comfort in familiarity. My comfort reads are rereads, and there is a sense of coming back home when I open their covers. They are the literary equivalent of the cozy blanket and the warm cup of tea and the purring lap of cat. And they feel very necessary right now.”

    Thank you for sharing this! for me, I think that the comfort read is something that I can return to.

  7. There is definitely a reason we get along – your books are my books, for sure. I thought I was the only one who remembered Enchanted April, and I just recommended 84, Charing Cross Rd to someone today. Sigh. And, while I’ve never read The Brontes Went to Woolworths (immediately putting this on my list), I’ve pretty nearly memorized McKinley’s The Hero and the Crown as well as The Blue Sword; Beauty and Robin Hood are among my faves, too. I’m really taken by your thoughts about why there aren’t more American comfort reads. Going to have to consider that. Have you read any Marilynne Robinson? I think you might like her if you haven’t. Sigh. Now I want to stop commenting and go read.

  8. Well said. I just started listening to Emma by Jane Austen and I am in awe of how long they converse about being proper or someone writing a very “handsome” letter- like pages where nothing happens except people having a conversation about punctuality. Like we are so far from that… that is the reason I appreciated it so much today- our current situation is so fast, I was ready for the slowdown.

  9. Comfort found in the pages of familiar books–yes! I encouraged my students to find the very same thing this week in my library book blog (which is hard to write, without a library…sigh). These past few days have been busy with prepping for possible distance learning; I’m hoping that once a routine settles in (again), that I will spend more time with my own favorite books!

  10. Comfort sounds so good right now. It’s funny, I should feel comfortable I’m in my pajama pants here in my own house. I can get a snack, a drink, or take walk almost whenever I want. Yet I feel restless and uncomfortable. Thanks for this post. I love thinking about comfort reads. Definitely an upcoming mentor.

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