Comfort reading

Anyone with writer’s block will totally lack sympathy, but I am having to stop myself from doing any writing. I have two outlines on the go, but truly, seriously, no time to get caught up in it. I know, that’s the ‘modern sickness’, isn’t it, being ‘too busy’? It can end up defining us, the stress of our lives become a boast, even a competition. But I am not saying I am in the state of ‘too busy’ all the time, simply this is one of those points where life matters are at a nexus of having a lot to do across work, domestic, and family areas. To put that in perspective, I am off on holiday in less than two weeks, so how bad can it be? Still, something has had to give.

Instead, I have been finding a pleasant distraction in choosing and downloading or ordering (I am, capriciously, both e-reader user and paper enthusiast), the books I’ll take on holiday (I can do one a day on a vacation, easy). It’s a judicious balance between locating bargains (which I want to read) and deciding when to splurge a bit (on books I want to read even more).

And in the meantime, whilst I wearily ride out the current period of competing demands, I turn to comfort reading.

To me, the ‘comfort read’ has two main types with one common characteristic: that of predictability. It is, of course, from that predictability that the reassurance, i.e. comfort, derives. And it can come from either something you have read before and are returning to (or in some cases keep returning to), or from ‘knowing what to expect’, such as genre fiction, or a writer with a specific style or narrow range.

Re-reading books is not for everyone. I get that – so little time, so many books to read, and I rarely return to the same book twice myself. However, when I do, it can be more than once. It may not be everyone’s idea of a comfort read, but every few years I have returned to Emily Brontë’s Wuthering Heights (1847). Perhaps, in a way, there is familiarity for me as I grew up a few miles away from its setting; I know, and I love, the dark moorland and rugged hills. Then again, I first read and loved it in my teens, and still have that same teen-age copy, so no wonder it feels like home. The plot is so wonderfully preposterous—there really hasn’t been a successful film or TV adaptation (go on then, name it). Anyway, it beats thinking about my first boyfriend (yuck).

Another book I have returned to several times is Margaret Atwood’s The Robber Bride (1993) – and I really don’t know why. She’s a favourite writer, yes, I admire the book, but there must be something else.  Why that one? Perhaps it’s the comfort and consolation of female friendship depicted, or perhaps a sense of resolution at the end. A further example is Daphne du Maurier’s Rebecca (1938), a slice of melodrama that’s wonderfully written (I have met several people that keep returning to this one). Finally, as I have mentioned in a previous blog (here) I have returned several times over the years (again, since my teens, when I took a tattered Penguin edition from the shelf) to Stella Gibbons’s hilarious and enduring Cold Comfort Farm (1932).

One of the second type of comfort reading for me is Anne Tyler. Don’t get me wrong, she rarely fails to please, her studies of interpersonal relationships, family eco-systems, and human drives are second to none; her common themes of times passage, love, loss and loneliness are wistful and deeply moving—and certainly not un-demanding. But with her favoured settings in terms of location, class, and ‘dysfunctional’ family set-up, I do feel I know what I am getting.

In terms of genre reading, I had never particularly been attracted to thrillers before. Until last summer, that is. It was an emotionally challenging time, and I gobbled down one after another of those ‘twisty thrillers’ that continue to proliferate (paranoia about the people next door, across the road, the nanny, brother-in-law, teacher; dreadful and hidden secret in the past, etc…). Some were very good, some less so, but there was an odd, dark escapism, and they were undemanding. A sort of literary fast food. Not that I am knocking genre fiction! It may be fairer to say, like something simple and home-cooked, of the ‘bangers and mash’ or ‘mac and cheese’ variety.

So, comfort reading: fewer calories than pizza…

Because they have something in common, comfort reading and comfort eating, don’t they? They are something we turn to in times of stress and tiredness, and perhaps emotion, seeking reassurance, familiarity. In comfort eating, we’re not likely to turn to that new edgy and experimental fusion restaurant. No, it’s good old pizza, tomato soup, ice-cream (vanilla or chocolate, that is, not snail and tonka bean). Like those homespun and often childhood favourite dishes, our comfort reads never let us down.

What are your comfort reads, whether a favourite author, genre, or book you keep returning to?


Main picture: Suzy Hazelwood; pizza photo by Muffin, both via Pexels

20 thoughts on “Comfort reading

  1. I see your point about comfort reads–rereading. I’ve started watching old favorite movies. Comfort food.

    Being overly busy–I just quit one of my biggest freelance clients. Rather than worry about the cut in income, I’m relieved to not have to rush so much.

    Liked by 2 people

    1. Ah, how could I forget the comfort movie! Now Voyager, now you’re talking. I admire you’re integrity on the client – I am in awe, always, of the self-employed, a constant juggle of taking on income versus quality, reputation, and life balance.


  2. I read from about every genre, but soft science fiction is my go to. I think I like the escapism of other worlds.

    Liked by 2 people

    1. Interesting point – I am not much into SF in literature but retain a fascination with other worlds – perhaps it comes out in enjoying historical fiction.

      Liked by 1 person

      1. Thank you…the past and the future are equally fascinating.

        Liked by 1 person

  3. I reread often, but mostly classics. For example I read O. Henry’s stories probably 14-16 times but I’m reading it again this summer 😂
    Comfort read – crime or mystery books 🙂 – I never reread them tho…
    & have fun! Enjoy 🌴🌴🌴

    Liked by 2 people

    1. Think that’s true – the books we return to are so rarely anything but classics that stand the test of time – including or own.

      Liked by 1 person

  4. and you had to mention pizza! Now it’s on my mind.
    I’ve seen Rebecca mentioned alot lately these days, though I never read it before. For me, any reading – that is good – is comfort, my means of escapism. I seldom reread, but I’ve done it before. My go to author when I’m in a slump, or don’t want to guess which book is good, is Nora Roberts.

    Liked by 2 people

    1. Brilliant escapism Nora Roberts – I agree we should not be concerned with what is ‘good’ in comfort reading – because ‘good’ means what we need to read right now.

      Liked by 1 person

  5. I like your selection, although I haven’t read The Robber Bride. I generally only read a book twice if I have forgotten it – that is one reason I now leave bookmarks in situ. 🙂

    Liked by 2 people

    1. I suppose I have thought of The Robber Bride as a ‘women’s book’. But then, what does that mean? It’s a silly categorisation really.

      Liked by 1 person

      1. As are children’s books

        Liked by 1 person

        1. True, I think of Philip Pullman, who refuses to have an age range or category on his books.

          Liked by 1 person

          1. Good for him. There are no such distinctions in my library


  6. What a novel way to look at that. Comfort reads. Hmm…
    First of all, I read “Wuthering Heights” when I was younger because I had to. For school. I hated it. It took A LOT for me to get through it. But I can understand how knowing the scenery aids in liking a book/ movie.

    I don’t re-read books, because I feel like it’s a bit of a waste of time. However, I am rethinking re-reading some classics which I read decades ago. I feel like I might “see” more now than I did then. But when it comes to favorite books, it seems to me that I don’t like reading them a second time, because knowing what happens when spoils the fun of reading. Also, weirdly enough, what I liked then does not always relate to what I like now.

    Liked by 2 people

    1. I can understand why some people don’t, or rarely, re-read – I do less of this myself than ever. The there are some things I loved that I would be almost fearful to approach, in case I didn’t love them as most as before. As you say, we change and don’t necessarily continue to relate to certain books in the same way as before.

      Liked by 1 person

  7. I read Wuthering Heights as a teenager and felt something has always changed within me forever – great selection and yeah – comfort read. And BTW you will never have writer’s block – I can guarantee​ that

    Liked by 1 person

  8. My mother used to misquote from Wuthering Heights, but I was imbued with the need to find a dark brooding man! When I first read it as a teenager I had only lived in London, Hampshire and flat dry Western Australia, but the moors still came alive for me. How amazing it must have been to know the moors.

    Liked by 1 person

  9. you’ve coined a great term – reading indeed brings me comfort 🙂


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