Comfort Reads for Troubled Times

Some days it feels like the world is really going downhill. Natural disasters (as I write this, Texas and India are still recovering from massive floods, large chunks of western North America are on fire, and another hurricane is gearing up to hit some vulnerable islands on the way to Florida), politics (’nuff said), bad days on a personal level…and if they all combine, watch out!

On days like this, one of the best cures is a comfort read. Simply defined: it’s a book you pick up because you know it will make you feel better. It’s by a favourite and trusted author. You’ve probably read it before (perhaps many times), or else you’ve been looking forward to reading it (maybe it’s a new installment in a series you love). Maybe you discovered it at an impressionable age and love it beyond all reason even though you know it’s not objectively the best book ever. It has stood the test of time…at least for you.

What books qualify as comfort reads? Obviously, the answer to that is very personal. Some people might crave works that are light and funny, or sweet and romantic, or even dark, so that they feel less alone.

Here are some of mine…

The Lord of the Rings

Yup, I’m one of those people. *grins* I’ve read the books multiple times. Most of those times were long ago, but I’m slowly rereading them now, and let me tell you, it’s a bit weird revisiting them for the first time after seeing the films (also multiple times). You can quibble with the lack of female characters, weaknesses in the worldbuilding (geology, trade), the sheer wordiness, and so on. But still, there’s something so definitive and real — and at the same time so mythical — about Middle-Earth.

Anne of Green Gables

This goes beyond a comfort read for me. It’s in my readerly DNA. I’ve read the first book in particular so many times I can practically recite it. I was a bookish, precocious, redheaded Canadian girl…you can see where this is going. I’ve been lucky enough to visit some of the locations on Prince Edward Island that L.M. Montgomery based the books on, and it felt like coming home.

Lois McMaster Bujold, The Vorkosigan Series

Miles is the best, am I right? Short, disabled, easily underestimated, and can talk his way out of (or into) anything. (Case in point: the short story “The Borders of Infinity”, where he starts out literally naked in an open-air prison and ends up…well, you’ll have to read it to find out.) He’s kinda like Tyrion Lannister from Game of Thrones, except more cheerful and less bitter. (Also, Bujold’s Paladin of Souls — book 2 in her Chalion/Five Gods series — is a thing of beauty and utter perfection, but I wouldn’t call it a comfort read.)

Discworld

Okay, I know Pratchett fills this role for a lot of people. His thoughtful, incisive comedy definitely filled a niche for me at one time, but lately I’ve been drifting away in favour of some newer discoveries…

Jennifer Crusie

Basically, everything she writes is a rom-com movie in book form, full of dialogue that zings off the page. My favourite so far is Agnes and the Hitman (co-written with Bob Mayer), about a cranky food writer and, um, a hitman hired to protect her (long story). But she’s written a lot that I haven’t gotten to yet, so that may change!

Connie Willis, To Say Nothing of the Dog

Basically Jennifer Crusie, but set in Victorian England. Well, there’s also time travel and madcap comedy, but mostly it’s a love letter to Oxford and boating and English country estates. The first chapter or two are a tad confusing, but they’re supposed to be (the main character is suffering from time lag, which is like jet lag but worse) and then it gets off and running and just doesn’t stop. And yes, there’s a dog. He’s adorkable.

Georgette Heyer

More English period settings, romantic comedy, madcap, and mysteries. (In fact the only one I’ve read so far is Cousin Kate, which is more Gothic, but I’m told that’s a weird place to start with Heyer.) Are you sensing a trend yet? This seems to be my new favourite type of comfort read. Recommendations happily received.

 

Over to you! What do you turn to when you need a comfort read?

 

2 Comments:

  1. Mercedes Lackey, the Last Herald-Mage. I angst thoroughly with Vanyel, sniffle and ache and sometimes weep at certain points, then I follow along as he rises above (but still angsts.)

    Me too on Miles! Warrior’s Apprentice if I just want to feel better. Memory if I want the catharsis. Or, you know, all of the books, to keep me out of this world a good long time.

    The Beastmaster, Andre Norton
    It’s about a young Navajo man, leader of a special ops team made up of animals, trying to settle into peace on a frontier planet after a war destroyed the Earth. Lots of angst, tons of coolness, and seriously awesome.

    Merchanter’s Luck, C.J. Cherryh
    Sandy has nothing but a spaceship, its living quarters full of the belongings of his dead family and its main computer programmed with the voice and advice of his now-dead uncle. He’s doing it all because he has to, flat broke with false papers, because what else is there? And then he meets a girl.

    Rimrunners, C.J. Cherryh
    Another “protag has lost everything” book! Bet is slowly starving to death, stuck on a space station in the middle of nowhere then she lands in the middle of an attempt to re-boot the war.

    Looking at this list, it’s rather heavy on the sci-fi, which surprises me. There has been many a fantasy I have known and loved! It’s also full of women writers which, same.

    Interesting. Perhaps there’s a future blog post in that.

    Also interesting, I came across this today and it gave me hope as well as making me strongly consider going for an HP comfort-reread (also a woman writer, ha!)

    “People talk a lot about how Harry Potter taught them about friendship and bravery and love overcoming evil etc and of course I think that’s very important but like…

    Harry Potter also taught an entire generation of kids that the news media can’t always be trusted to tell the truth, that the government can often be corrupt or incompetent, that the legal system isn’t always right, that the people in power don’t always have your best interests at heart. That bad things sometimes happen to good people, that your heroes aren’t always as perfect as you think they are, that even those with the best intentions can be wrong, that everyone can make mistakes and that often in order to make things right it takes a lot of hard work and sacrifice.

    …and I think in a way that’s every bit as important as the more positive messages.” –Tumblr user EnigmaticAgentAlice

    http://enigmaticagentalice.tumblr.com/post/118557232890/people-talk-a-lot-about-how-harry-potter-taught

  2. Ah, Vanyel…my first gay fantasy!

    I haven’t read nearly enough of Cherryh — just Rider at the Gate and Cloud’s Rider (the carnivorous horse duology), which were amazing. What would you recommend starting with? *wiggles fingers in an acquisitive manner*

    “Harry Potter also taught an entire generation of kids that the news media can’t always be trusted to tell the truth […]”

    Isn’t that part of the problem? :-/ I mean, critical thinking = good, but not believing anything CNN says = bad. Can’t argue with the rest of it, though!

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