Sunday, May 1, 2011

When the Going Gets Tough—What’re You Gonna Reach For?

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?

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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.

14 comments:

Sharon S. said...

Hey Helen! (thinking of you and Christchurch often :)

I don't have a particular comfort read. I see reading in general as my comfort. I can probably count on one hand the number of books I have reread. There are *so many new books out there I want to read.

I have recently developed a love for novellas. They are short enough to easily read in a day and long enough to give the character development I crave. So I would say, a good novella would be my comfort read.

Recently, I read a novella, and it was so good it made me giddy

Lindsay, TheBookVlogger said...

When the going gets tough, I generally watch my favorite movies or hold a TV show marathon. I don't often reread books and for a very specific reason-- I try to forget them. I want the love to stay intense, the jokes to stay funny, and the sorrow to make me cry. If I read a book too many times, I fear that I will lose all of that. So I try to go for as long as possible without picking up an old book. Now, that being said, the one book I have picked up in the past to reread and found myself safe within its pages is Harry Potter and The Sorcerer's Stone. I imagine that seems funny to some people, but it really is just a safe and happy place for me to go. Within minutes of starting it, I am transported from my bedroom and worries to the little cupboard under the stairs with Harry.

Katie Dalton said...

I would say I grab one of two books:

First Drop of Crimson by Jeanine Frost
OR
Gosh I can't think of the title but it's Vischous story by J.R Ward

and if those don't work I head down to the store to get some half baked Ben and Jerrys! :P

robsad79 said...

I would have to say anything Jane Austen. It's always either the books or the movies. Whichever I'm in the mood for.

Helen Lowe said...

Sharon: I have read some good novellas recently, too, and at 137 pages Patricia McKillip's "the Changeling Sea" is 'almost' a novella. And in the Hugo award finalists last year was really impressed by the novelets as a category.

Helen Lowe said...

Lindsay: I definitely have comfort movies as well, often about food I guiltily confess, but the combination of romance and adventure often appeals as well. I love 'Ever After' for example, and 'Ladyhawke' as well as 'Chocolat.' And 'Harry Potter and The Sorcerer's Stone' is definitely there on my "comfort shelf." After all, it's got it all--fun, adventure, magic, friendship "and" food (he he.) I've always loved those Hogwarts feasts. :)

Helen Lowe said...

Katie, I don't know the JR Ward story--will have to check it out some more. And we don't have Ben and Jerrys in this part of the world but I'm suspecting comfort food. Anything with chocolate orange or chocolate mint tends to do it for me. :)

Helen Lowe said...

robsad79: Jane Austen definitely rules! Pride & Prejudice is my favourite but I adore the film version of Persuasion that came out and there've been some very good film versions of Emma and Sense & Sensibility, too.

Lindsay, TheBookVlogger said...

Helen: I love 'Ever After' and 'chocolat', but I haven't seen 'Ladyhawke'. I'm definitely looking into that one. I'm always looking for a good fantasy movie. There are far too few of those in the world.

Speaking of comfort food, mine is definitely Ben & Jerry's Karamel Sutra Ice Cream. Here you just buy pints of it in the frozen food section at the grocers. Now that's some feel good food :)

Helen Lowe said...

Mmmm, hungry already ...

Ladyhawke is probably not as 'good' as Chocolat or Ever After, but it is both romantic and adventurous, as well as being quite humorous in places--and in the overall 'verse of Fantasy films (where quality traditionally ranges from 'bad' to 'appalling') Ladyhawke is "stellar." :)

sable grace - H said...

Julie Garwood. Every time.

Sharon S. said...

OMG, I am such a Ladyhawk fan. I didn't know there was another out there . I crush hard on Rutger Hauer in that movie ;) I love the scene where she drops the hawk bindings. And that young Matthew Brodrick is adorable.

Helen Lowe said...

Julie Garwood sounds great, SableGrace, but I don't think I've ever seen her books here: I may have to try an "all-libraries" search!

Helen Lowe said...

SharonS--despite my 'quibbles', I am definitely a Ladyhawke fan--I got very excited when Guy Gavriel Kay's "Ysabel" came out, thinking it might be a take on the same story (ie that the story might be 'traditional') but it wasn't, alas. And I agree with you about Rutger Hauer, that and Blade Runner are definitely my two favorite of his roles. And yes, Matthew Broderick is amazingly young; but then so too is Michele Pfieffer--and beautiful!

Btw, thank you for thinking of us in Christchurch. I must admit, there hasn't been a lot of time for sitting in the sun or reading, but when I do, I want my old friends! :)