What are your comfort reads?

19:10, Nov 22 2012

My comfort eats consist of anything carb-based. I have a savoury rather than sweet tooth and whereas I can turn down even the most elaborate chocolate truffle desserts, I can't resist a bowl of pasta, a creamy risotto or potato wedges - death by white starch.

Along that same vein, I have "comfort reads" too, books that I know from the blurb or sometimes even just the cover and title that I will instantly bond with. As Mrs Teapot sang in Disney's Beauty and the Beast, these are tales as old as time, with familiar plots and characters and sometimes even similar language. 

Comfort reads can also be old books that you have read before. It's a little like revisiting places where you've had a great time in your youth - you know where all the secret spots are, and can travel old, familiar routes. There are a couple of dozen books that hold that honour on my bookshelf, ones I've comfort-read so often I can probably recite whole passages in my sleep.

It got me to thinking about the qualities that make a book a good comfort read...

Just like comfort food, comfort reads thrive on being, well, comfortable and predictable. Safe, if you will. These are books in the genre you are most familiar with, novels you have read a thousand times before, childhood tales. Something you know will evoke certain pleasurable emotions in you.

I read Mitch Albom when I need something completely schmaltzy, when I want to feel rather than think. I know that Albom unashamedly tugs at the heartstrings. And much like a bowl of really, really good Kohu Rd ice cream can make you feel as if you've eaten sunshine, his books are like that for me too, my equivalent of the Chicken Soup series.


Intellectually un-stimulating
Comfort reads are the opposite of intellectual reads. I can find postmodernist stuff a struggle to get into, depending on the author. To me, books that make comfort reading are less concerned with ideas than they are with characterisation and plot. There are themes in any novel, of course, but the ones in comfort reads are so obvious they might as well be tattooed on the cover - and sometimes they are!

I love Charlotte's Web and Watership Down, two books I read as a child, and if I had copies of those, I would read them over again now, just for nostalgia's sake. Comfort reads bring back fond memories of the setting where you first encountered the story or author. They are often linked to whimsical memories from real life. The books themselves may not have dated well, but hey, memories last forever.

We have covered cheesiness and predictability, but I am placing the "feelgood" factor in a separate category because, ultimately, comfort reading is about comfortable feelings. This isn't to mean that comfort reads have fairytale-like happy endings. It just means that you will walk away from the read feeling good, knowing that everything is okay with the world. One of my favourite high school comfort reads was The Diary of Anne Frank. We all know how that turned out, but to me it was a comfort to know that there was life after the holocaust, even if not for Anne.

What are some of your favourite comfort reads and why?

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