Craving Those Comfort Reads

No doubt about it: I have Book Lust Syndrome. I already have far too many books on my “to-read” list. But that doesn’t keep me from adding new ones to my shelf when something catches my eye, or a trusted friend makes a reading recommendation (talking about you, Courtney!) In short, I’m a textbook (pun intended) victim of this adage:

 

Leona, 7, poses inside a labyrinth installation made up of 250,000 books titled "aMAZEme" at the Royal Festival Hall in central London
Photo credit: Olivia Harris/Reuters.

But as giddy as I get over cracking a new book’s spine and exploring the possibility contained within, there are times when a familiar read offers much-needed comfort. These comfort books aren’t always the most refined or revolutionary. But there’s something in their familiarity, in their resonance of a simpler time, that is soothing.

Life at this moment is definitely making me want to hide in some well-worn pages. The deadline for my massive, months-long work project is approaching with terrifying rapidity. I’m still juggling my writing and my full-time “real” job at the Embassy, along with all my other responsibilities, my relationships. It’s all I can do to get in my lap-swimming sessions. I haven’t picked up a paintbrush in months and that makes me sad.

But I know certain books will provide at least temporary reprieve from the rushing. So here’s a line-up of my rough-times-comfort-reads:

Ella EnchantedElla Enchanted, Gail Carson Levin. I have a distinct memory of reading this book… several times. I was in 4th grade the first time I picked it up… and it’s never since lost its hold. The only other literary bit that still clings from that time is my love for Greek mythology. I don’t know if it’s the plucky heroine, the highly-intriguing premise (If you aren’t familiar, Ella is magically “gifted” with obedience–an inability to deny any order.), the beautifully imagined world, or the part-way-through revelation that I was reading a revamp of Cinderella, but this is a book I still can’t stop picking up.

Blood and ChocolateBlood and Chocolate, Annette Curtis Klause. Post-Twilight craze, it feels clichéd to have a werewolf-themed book on my comfort reads list. But this book, published in 1997, came out before all things supernatural-y were cool. For 8th grade me, this read was a little dark, a little romantic, a little edgy, a little mysterious… all things that hit my teenaged heart just right. I loved the way Klause developed her werewolf society and culture; it lent the book a fullness it would’ve lacked otherwise. A nugget of a book–just 264 pages–it’s also tightly plotted with twists and turns a younger me didn’t see coming.

Garden SpellsGarden Spells, Sarah Addison Allen. If Ella Enchanted marked my discovery of fairytale retellings and Blood and Chocolate marked my foray into urban fantasy, Garden Spells was my intro to magical realism, one of my favorite genres for its hazy divide between magic and reality.  Garden Spells offered my college-self a more finessed view of how magic might infuse reality in a novel, lending it an ethereal quality. And since I attended college in Indiana–far from my Texas homeland–the southern vibe of Allen’s work soothed my homesick soul (though debates abound about whether or not Texas is the true South… or a separate creature all together).

DraculaDracula, Bram Stoker. I know… a creepy choice for a “comfort read.” But this epistolary novel–another college-era read–caught me hard. It can occasionally border on campy, but it also has a strong gothic factor, a woman playing a hero-esque role (not a guarantee in Victorian literature), intriguing cultural clashes, and glimpses into that late-Victorian moment when an amazing array of early-stage technology and a cultural pre-occupation with the supernatural (here was an era in which even the wealthy and well-educated indulged in séances) created a fascinating zeitgeist. The subject of my master’s thesis–“Knowing the Stakes: Epistemology and Power in Bram Stoker’s Dracula” (sue me: j’adore puns!)–this novel offers something new every time I flip through its eerie pages. Plus, a Texan features among the heroic cast. What’s not to love?

Jane EyreJane Eyre, Charlotte Brontë. This is scandalous for a literature nerd,  but I made it to graduate school before I cracked open Jane Eyre. But then I couldn’t get enough. Nuanced, expansive, and honest with a touch of the gothic, the book is a unique blend of atmosphere and incisiveness. Its most revolutionary feature, of course, is its view of womanhood, highly progressive for its time… and still relevant for my modern life. I still require occasional reminding that whatever may attempt to persuade me otherwise, I must hold to my principles and my sense of self above all. But of course, the book’s charm isn’t just its philosophy or insight into the Victorian age. The story’s also darn good. I remembered finishing it while sitting in an ice-cold bubble bath, because I couldn’t rip myself away from the last pages long enough to towel off.

What are you comfort reads? Throw a few titles in the comments section below so I know what to read next!

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2 thoughts on “Craving Those Comfort Reads

  1. The Princess Bride! Why? “Fencing. Fighting. Torture. Poison. True love. Hate. Revenge. Giants. Hunters. Bad men. Good men. Beautifulest ladies. Snakes. Spiders. Beasts of all natures and descriptions. Pain. Death. Brave men. Coward men. Strongest men. Chases. Escapes. Lies. Truths. Passion. Miracles.” Better in print than on film!!

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