Comfort reading constitutes the books you pick up or re-read to soothe yourself. They may contribute to your intellectual development or ability to conduct a thrilling high-stakes debate with an Internet troll or they may not, but their primary purpose is to allow your mind to swath itself in a compelling and relaxing alternate world in which you’re not worrying about finances or medical issues or vexing crises of self-esteem. A surprising amount of my reading is tied up in this endeavor, but then I’m an anxious person, so administer comfort at your own discretion.
Please understand, I am not calling any of these authors’ works simplistic or vanilla or childish. On the contrary, a comfort book needs to be intricate and gripping. It has to hold your attention and allow you to be transported, or it’s not going to accomplish its purpose: to help you escape the present.
Alexander McCall Smith is a go-to. I read and re-read his Isabel Dalhousie and No. 1 Ladies’ Detective Agency perpetually. I cannot stand the 44 Scotland Street series, though, which is puzzling to me. I keep going back and giving them another shot but they always annoy me. Stupid Bertie.
Juliet Marillier‘s Sevenwaters series and her stand-alone novels (particularly Heart’s Blood, one of my favorites) are excellent comfort reading. J.K. Rowling is a stand-by. I keep a stack of Nancy Drew by my bedside (selections from the original 50 titles, naturally). In the YA vein, L.M. Montgomery is very reliable, as is John Bellairs.
Moving over to mysteries, Ross MacDonald’s Lew Archer series is a slam-dunk, as is Walter Mosley and nearly any novel by Elizabeth Peters/Barbara Michaels and Ann Perry. A series is always a good bet.
Jennifer Cruisie is terrific and so are Carol Goodman’s early novels (stay away from the Blythewood stuff; read The Lake of Dead Languages instead). Genre fiction has some similarity to potato chips, as described by David Mamet in Three Uses of a Knife (most definitely NOT comfort reading), though I don’t fully subscribe to that theory of genre as junk food. So there. I don’t care if he did win a Pulitzer.
My mom continually re-reads Dorothy Dunnett’s Lymond series but she’s a glutton for punishment.
In comfort reading, I am seeking the familiar and the engaging in equal measure. It’s a delicate balance; when I find an author whose work occupies that mysterious corner of the Venn diagram in my head, I hang on to them. (Literally: I buy the books and cart them around with me forever.)
Also, not to be a pest, but if you can, buy from independent bookstores! We have great ones in Seattle (Third Place Books, Elliott Bay Book Company, University Bookstore, among others), and it’s so worth it to seek them out in your town. The employees of independent bookstores are the best sources for book recommendations that you can find.
Speaking of recommendations, suggestions for comfort-reading books and/or authors are welcome!