Rush-That-Speaks (rushthatspeaks) wrote,
Rush-That-Speaks
rushthatspeaks

Comfort Reading

Since I've been violently ill, I've been doing a little comfort reading, which in this case specifically means that I am about a quarter of the way through Queen's Play by Dorothy Dunnett for the umpteenth time, and will probably go on to finish the entire series. And this gets me thinking about comfort reading, and what it is and what it does, because I could be wrong, but I don't think that Dunnett traditionally is comfort reading, and until this illness she hadn't been for me.

A lot of the things I read for comfort are things that I have seen others mention as comfort reading as well, things that seem to have some soothing or helpful quality in general: Georgette Heyer, James Herriot, portions of Lois McMaster Bujold and Terry Pratchett, Bridge of Birds, and so on. On the other hand, there are some things I know other people read for comfort that I am absolutely incapable of thinking of in that way-- Dorothy Sayers, for instance; Gaudy Night always puts me back together again, but only after emotionally taking me apart to an extent I can't really deal with very frequently. And there are some things I find intensely comforting and soothing that I get odd reactions from other people about, such as the fact that if I am having a very bad day indeed nothing will put me right faster than a good dose of back-catalogue Lovecraft. 'The Horror at the Museum' was instrumental in getting me through my paternal grandmother's funeral.

So, what does comfort reading do? What makes it comforting?

I think the most important factor of it, for me, is familiarity. A book cannot be comfort reading on first go-through. Even if it is acting that way in mid-swing, it might do something at or near the end to totally destroy its usefulness in that regard, and so on first reading I do not trust a book enough to put it into the comfort reading category. So: no surprises, or at least no really shocking ones-- I may not have read a book recently enough to remember all the details, but I know I won't find them objectionable.

Secondly: a certain distancing from the cares and worries of my everyday life. This is why I cannot read Gaudy Night for comfort-- I have enough trouble with, I worry enough about sexism and gender presentation and the philosophical ideology of womens' colleges and the existence of roles in marriage etc. on a day-to-day basis that that book is flicking me on the raw points. But with Heyer, for example, I am hopefully never again going to be eighteen and stupid, and I am certainly never going to be eighteen and stupid in a delightfully non-existent version of Regency England. I am also never going to be a country vet, involved in sixteenth-century Scottish intrigue, or Number Ten Ox. I mean, anymore than one is when one reads the books, which is certainly quite a lot, but not in an entirety.

In addition, I am never going to be the doomed protagonist in a Lovecraftian universe, and that particular piece of knowledge is by itself so reassuring that it has lifted me out of many slumps.

Thirdly: characters or situations I can care about despite the aforesaid distancing. See Dunnett: I am not personally or professionally involved with sixteenth-century Scottish intrigue, but I certainly find it fascinating, and I love her people, as an aggregate, the chivalry and the pragmatism and the acceptance of mortality in places that modernity no longer expects it; and of course I have always had a weakness for bishounen (god Lymond would look good in an anime). And I care about the welfare of animals, and, somehow, for Lovecraft's poor doomed protagonists, and about Number Ten Ox.

Fourth and lastly: a certain intricacy or depth of worldbuilding. I have to be able to read the thing over and over and still get something different out of it. This is one reason Lovecraft is so good, as the meta-game of tracing the interconnections of the various names of nasties and the various references to non-existent books and what-have-you is an unending delight. Solidity in a book provides something for the mind to lean against in times of trouble.

So, what do you all read for comfort? Why? And, most particularly, what do you read for comfort that you don't think other people would expect to be comforting?
Tags: book recommendations
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  • because the to-be-read pile is not large enough

    Well, actually it is-- if I had an actual pile as opposed to a list full of objects I do not necessarily own, the pile would be constantly…

  • a book meme

    There's been a meme going around in which people take the list of most widely unread books on LibraryThing, and mark which ones they've read. I'm…

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