The traditional answer may be “the top shelf” and whatever liquourous substance there looks up for the job. Alternatively, scrambling around for the ghostbusters’ direct dial may seem like the right option. While I do not disregard either option, I have to confess that when the going gets really tough for me, I tend to go all out: I reach for the comfort read.
A comfort read comes from that space on the shelf (or I suppose—adopts grudging tone—contained within the recesses of the e-reader) reserved for books that are like old friends. I can just pick them up, put my feet up and enjoy. I know I am going to be entertained—I have, after all, known and loved these particular friends for many years—and there is something deeply relaxing about spending quality time in company with a story like that. Sure, a new release or new-to-me book may be just as good. But then again, it may not. And when the going gets tough, I like to know I’m turning to friends I can rely on.
The other great thing about the comfort read is that, like any other old friend, it does not demand time and energy in the way that new books often do. Too often, the new book insists on being read into the wee small hours if need be—and to the exclusion of looming deadlines, meals, family commitments … The comfort read, on the other hand, is happy to be worked in around the rest of the schedule and be called on as more pressing commitments permit …
So what are some of my comfort reads, those books that restore and sustain? Just about anything by Georgette Heyer has to be right up there. I find her often absurd—but dashing—heroes, madcap heroines and their humorous entanglements in Georgian England enduringly entertaining. I tend to like the adventurous stories best, in part because of the adventure but also because they are often the most romantic stories as well. I’m talking These Old Shades, The Masqueraders, The Talisman Ring—although some of the more madcap tales, like The Grand Sophy, Friday’s Child and Cotillion are also longstanding favorites.
In the Fantasy realm, books such as Robin McKinley’s Beauty, The Blue Sword, and Sunshine, as well as Patricia McKillip’s The Riddlemaster of Hed trilogy or The Changeling Sea have all stood the test of time. Their characters are interesting, the magical landscapes absorbing, there’s also adventure and romance to be found within the pages—and with both these writers I find a gentleness, intelligence and beauty to the stories that draw me back again and again. And every time I find something new within the pages.
And, of course, Pride and Prejudice is always there in pride of place. Wit, irony and the path of true love realized—I’m really not surprised this book has endured for two hundred years.
These are only a small sample of the works that reside on my "comfort read shelf", but all the books thereon share two ingredients (besides being fine entertaining stories and very well told) that I suspect are essential for any comfort read. They all end (more or less, but mostly more) happily ever after—and when the reader comes to the final line, the world of the tale is left “as it should be.”
So how about you, Supernatural Underground readers? When the going gets tough, do you ever reach for the comfort read? And if so, what are some of your favorites?
Supernatural Underground author Helen Lowe is a novelist, poet and interviewer. Her latest novel, The Heir of Night, the first of THE WALL OF NIGHT quartet, is recently published in the USA, UK, Australia & NZ. Her first novel, Thornspell, (Knopf, 2008) won the 2009 Sir Julius Vogel Award for “Best Novel, Young Adult.” Helen blogs every day on her Helen Lowe on Anything, Really site and on the 1st of every month right here on the Supernatural Underground.