Comfort Reads

The BBC’s recent 100 Books that Shaped our World has started me thinking about comfort reads. What are they? When do we want them? Maybe even need them, indeed. What do they do for us? And how do we find them in the first place?

And is comfort reading a Bad Thing?

Escapism, after all, has got a bad press ever since the word was first coined, apparently in thirties USA i.e. at the height of the Depression. The Oxford English Dictionary defines escapism as “the tendency to seek distraction and relief from unpleasant realities, especially by seeking entertainment or engaging in fantasy.”

Hmm.

Introducing Comfort Reads

The first time I heard the phrase, I must have been six or seven. Christmas was coming. I was wildly excited. My mother, facing the prospect of shoehorning seven adults (two of them imperious ladies of 80+ with a long history of skirmishing) into a small house of two and a half bedrooms, was less so.

At T–24 hours, she cast her notebook of lists away from her and said, “I need a comfort read.” Achilles before the walls of Troy could not have spoken with more feeling. The warrior, one felt, was preparing herself for the conflict to come.

My father – they were his relatives after all – made her a consoling cup of tea. Then he built up the fire, so she could toast her toes. And he and I tiptoed away to repair paper chains.

I concluded that a Comfort Read was what you gave yourself before going into battle.

What Are Comfort Reads?

My own feeling is that “When do we want them?” and “What are they?” are two sides of the same coin. Comfort Reads are those stories that break you out of a downward spiral.

They are mood changers. You come away from reading them them re-booted, as it were. They refresh your energies. Put a spring in your step. Restore balance.

Re-reading or New Reading

Dirty draft readerComfort reads are very personal. Nearly always they will be something you have read before.

Some people (at least one of the BBC’s 100 Books panel, for example) think re-reading a book is a waste of time. I don’t – but that’s personal too.

I feel re-reading one of my favourites is like visiting an old friend. I don’t have to do all the polite introductory things. I just stride straight in and warm myself at their fire. It’s like coming home.

But for those who feel differently – well, a novel is so much more than a plot. If you love Poirot or Brother Cadfael or Lesley Cookman’s Libby Sergeant, you will almost certainly get the same lift of mood from a new title as from the first one with which you fell in love.

For instance, I’m pretty certain that my mother’s Comfort Read that long-ago Christmas was a Ngaio Marsh detective novel. She liked Marsh’s world, of civilised people with imagination, careers and, generally, a conscience. And, of course, in Golden Age detective fiction, chaos always ends in a resolution.

Writing a Comfort Read?

Christmas is a lot of work. We aim for peace on earth, good will to all men. End up crazy. I speak as one who has, at various times:

  • served Christmas dinner three hours late because I forgot to switch the oven on
  • waltzed with a toppling Christmas tree while the fairy lights did the tango and I feared for the power circuits
  • sellotaped the cat*.

So when we set out to write a couple of Comfort Reads for Christmas, Joanna and I remembered all the tension, the disasters, the last minute salvage operations…. and the laughter.

And above all, that feeling of coming home.

Cover I Hate Christmas box set

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* And yes, the cat did forgive me. Eventually.

Sophie Weston AuthorSophie

10 thoughts on “Comfort Reads

  1. Elizabeth Bailey

    Latterly, undergoing oxygen bath treatment in Budapest, I have been comfort reading a stash of Georgette Heyer. Perfect, when your brain is half dead and you can’t take in the nuances of something new. I’ve set aside the antidote to Christmas until I get home and my head is brighter. Almost there now, thank goodness.

    Reply
    1. Joanna

      Yes, Heyer is a comfort read for me, too, Liz. Also I’m reminded by Sophie’s blog that, when I was ill a few years ago, I reread all the Cadfael books. Some are better than others, but as comfort reads, they hit the spot. Hope your treatment is hitting the spot too.

      Reply
  2. Sophie Post author

    Hope oxygen baths are going well, Liz.

    Some Heyer are comfort reads for me, but it will depend on my mood. Can’t do the early chapters of Sylvester in winter, for instance. They make me feel too cold.

    Reply
  3. lesley2cats

    I think I’m going to print and frame this post, Sophie. The best compliment I could ever have is that my books are a comfort read, and to be named alongside my inspiration, Ngaio Marsh, is more than I could ever hope for. Your own potential comfort reads are waiting for me on my Kindle as a treat when I have finished writing the cards and present buying. Thank you!

    Reply
    1. Sophie Post author

      You’re very welcome, Lesley. I love your little town and returning characters, where people are kind but not perfect and things work out in the end. Perfect comfort read.

      Reply
  4. gilliallan

    A few weeks ago – maybe because the of the stressful approach of Christmas – I began rereading old books. Something I never usually do. My choice was Ruth Rendell. I would class this as comfort reading, even though my favourites (the psychological thrillers) are weird, disturbing and chilling. But that is what I love about them. We’re all different!

    Reply
  5. Sophie Post author

    Yes, preparing for Christmas can be very stressful, can’t it, Gilli? Even if it’s ultimately in a good way.

    I think our comfort reads are as varied as we are. I used to know someone who loved to go back into Bleak House and wander round when life was getting him down. Now, I think it’s a great book. But comfort read? Not for me. Mind you, he was a lawyer. Maybe he was thinking: those were the days!

    Reply

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