Wrapped Up in a Comforting BookJune 28th, 2012 by Alison Jean Ash
When I am tired, or sick, or depressed, or just want to relax for a while, I like to wrap myself up in a comforting book. My husband shares that habit, and early in our life together we knew we were a good match because we both like to read at the dinner table.
That may sound anti-social, but hey, it’s late in the day, a day in which we may have had too many stressful interactions with others, and we are winding down. We have plenty of conversation at other times, and indeed we often share interesting or humorous passages from our dinnertime reading.
Unless one of us is immersed in something absolutely unputdownable, we don’t usually choose intense or challenging reading matter to accompany a meal, or to take when curling up in an armchair or “sprawling” on the bed (as my husband likes to do) before sleep. At such times we go for comfort reading.
So what is comfort reading? I define it as reading that transports me from present uncertainty, pain or exhaustion into another realm. No matter how much a piece of comfort reading may teach us about science or history or life itself, it’s a still a vacation from our own lives.
For me such books are those that take me to a known and well-loved world, where bad things may happen but the rules are clear and good triumphs in the end. My old favorites include the novels of Jane Austen, or her lesser—but far more prolific—sister-writer Georgette Heyer; romantic adventure tales popular in my youth, by Mary Stewart, Joan Aiken and her sister Jane Aiken Hodge—or Aiken’s works for younger readers, especially Midnight is a Place, Saddle the Sea, etc. In fact, I’m still fond of a lot of so-called “juvenile fiction,” and well-written mysteries often bear rereading.
For my husband, it’s far less cosy stuff: thrillers by Tom Clancy or Robert Ludlum; Bill Bryson’s rambles through landscapes and/or language; Colleen McCullough’s novels of ancient Rome, with all their intrigues and treachery; and the Dune books. He loves Frank Herbert’s books, mourns Herbert’s untimely passing, and he makes scathing remarks on the inferiority of the many sequels and prequels co-authored by son Brian Herbert and Kevin J. Anderson—but he reads them anyway. Call them methadone for Dune addicts!
When I am most truly sick or sad or sorry, I often turn to Ursula Le Guin’s Earthsea books, especially the first trilogy, for their spiritual beauty, their moral compass, their honesty about the cycles of life and death.
My grandsons, seven-and-a-half and nine-and-a-half, suffered a terrible bereavement last fall and are still mourning. Both are impatient with cuddling or any form of “babying,” so there is no easy comfort for a grandmother to offer them, except to provide their favorite foods; they are determined, for the most part, to comfort themselves. The elder was a Harry Potter addict early in life, demanding endless repeats of the first movie before he could read, and then learning to read the books at an early age. He’s long since exhausted the Harry Potter books and moved on to other (often better-written) sagas of wizardry, making his way through heavy volumes at a speed that astounds even me—and I normally read hundreds of novels every year.
The younger boy is not such a reader himself, but his father reads aloud to him most evenings. He used to enjoy hearing me read as well, but on the first night and the second night of a recent visit he refused my offers to read him a story; that seems to fall into the category of “babying” he’ll no longer tolerate. But on the third and last night of their stay, he rummaged through my shelves and brought me a book he used to love: The Color Kittens. We’ve read it together so many times we know it by heart. So we curled up on the couch with a blanket and half-read, half-recited: “green as cats’ eyes, green as grass, by streams of water green as glass.” At the triumphant conclusion “all the colors in the world, and the Color Kittens had made them!” he hoisted his sleepy self off the couch, kissed me goodnight, and trundled upstairs to his father who was waiting to tuck him in.
Comfort reading still rules!
And what is your favorite comfort reading?