Reading what makes you feel good: what are your comfort reads?

Last week I finally had my sinus procedure, and while it went well, it hasn’t been as quick a recovery as I expected.  I’ll spare you the details, but the pressure in my head has left me grumpy and unable to concentrate on much (my husband has been very patient).  After finishing one book, I realized two things: 1) I have about ten library books that will be due in the next few weeks and I’m going to have to scramble to read them; and 2) they’re all heavy, award-winner types like Milkman, The Idiot, Gilead, and I’ll Be Gone in the Dark.

None of which are sounding good right now.  Irritable plus can’t breathe equals not feeling like reading a Booker Prize winner or a book about death.

My husband gets a little frustrated with all my reading challenges and my insistence on taking a lot of the fun out of reading.  On a good day, I call it challenging myself, and I often find that my favorite books are the challenging ones, where the lighter ones aren’t even memorable.

But, this being a not-so-good day, he asked me this question: what could I read that would make me happy?

Not having a simple answer to that question, I started thinking about what books would “spark joy” for me (to borrow the words of Marie Kondo).  I came up with a few possibilities: a romance novel, a vintage mystery, a re-read of Harry Potter, or one of the many fantasy series I’m in the middle of.  I wanted something fast-paced that wouldn’t take a lot of concentration. But I also wanted something new and different.

The trouble is, I always feel I have to put my library books first because they have due dates, and I can’t control when they come to me because they’re all wait-listed. But I told myself, I can just send those library books back.

I picked up Trail of Lightning by Rebecca Roanhorse.  It’s a new-ish fantasy novel I’ve heard great things about, and it’s by a Native American author and focuses on Native American culture. It may be your standard-issue fantasy series about a bad-ass heroine with magical powers –but at least it’s coming at the genre from a new perspective. Plus one of the characters is Coyote, so it reminds me of my favorite Patricia Briggs series (and is maybe more authentic).

So far, it’s a win on all counts.  It takes place in a post-apocalyptic but still recognizable Southwest, on what was the Navajo reservation (the rest of the country is underwater).  It’s violent and creepy but in a good way — that might not sound comforting but it works for me.  It’s also cheesy enough that I don’t need to take it too seriously.

I often think about whether I read too many books I’ve “assigned myself” rather than reading what I want, but I do feel good about reading challenging books, and I do get more out of them. The world of book blogging makes me constantly want to read more, and better, books.  But I may have gone a bit overboard, with my two library accounts and my long list of challenges (despite saying at the beginning of the year I wasn’t going to do that).  The Read Harder challenge in particular has me scouring Goodreads to find really obscure titles.  And right now, that’s too much for this swollen head of mine.

We all have times we need comfort reads, right?  Just like we need comfort food, our favorite sweater, a warm kitty, a day by the beach, or whatever gets you through a rough patch.

What are the books you turn to?  Is it something funny, or romantic, or a favorite childhood re-read?  Or do you need to put the books down altogether and do something else?

It’ll be spring soon, I’ll be feeling better, and I can get back to my power-reading.  But I also need to get better at reading for comfort when I need it.

14 Comments on “Reading what makes you feel good: what are your comfort reads?

  1. Comfort reads for me are certainly books that don’t make me work too hard, though not necessarily ones that deal in light subject matter. I love mysteries, like Ruth Rendell’s Inspector Wexford series, the No. 1 Ladies’ Detective Agency series, and Robert B. Parker’s Spencer novels. Stephen King is also comfort reading, again not so much because of the subject matter but because he’s such a transparent storyteller it’s easy to get lost in the tale.

    Hope you are feeling more like yourself soon.

    • Thanks Audrey! I was thinking about Stephen King as I wrote this. I read him a lot when I was young (I love his older work) and I always felt like he took me completely away from whatever I was worrying about. You’ve described that perfectly. Plus his stuff is so scary it makes you feel like your life is easy in comparison. I do find mysteries to be nice comfort reads – they keep you thinking but you don’t have to work too hard.

  2. I’d be inclined to go for a reread of Jane Austen and then historical crime fiction.. nothing too taxing for the brain like modern day graphic crime.

    • It sounds like re-reads are a top choice for comfort reading. Jane Austen is a really nice choice. I know you read a lot of the Booker prize books — how did you like Milkman?

  3. It’s always a re-read for me, just so that it doesn’t put too much pressure on the already tortured little grey cells. And, if things are really bad I almost always return to Helene Hanff’s 84 Charing Cross Road. Short letters that don’t take extended concentration and spending time in the company of another book nerd.

  4. For me, it can be a variety, anything from a favorite kid’s book to literature, but always a re-read. I have turned to Elizabeth Goudge, easy fantasy series like C. Dale Britain’s Yurt series, Golden Age mysteries, or someone like Barbara Pym. There’s almost always an element of humor and friendships.

    • Those are interesting recommendations, thank you for sharing! I haven’t read Goudge or Pym (though I know big fans of theirs) and I haven’t heard of the Yurt series. I’m digging into an Agatha Christie mystery right now.

  5. My favorite comfort reads (all rereads) are somewhat old-fashioned books with humor and romance — stuff like L.M. Montgomery’s The Blue Castle, Eva Ibbotson’s A Countess below Stairs, and Winifred Watson’s Miss Pettigrew Lives for a Day.

  6. Oh sorry to hear you’re not feeling well.
    When things get too busy or I’m feeling a bit down, I turn to comfort reads. For me, they tend to be light fantasy novels or middle grade fantasy novels or a reread of childhood favorites, usually Harry Potter 🙂 .

  7. Pingback: My February Reading Wrap-up | The Book Stop

  8. Pingback: 12 Things This Week –

  9. I would say my comfort read of choice would have to be ‘Calvin and Hobbes.’ Me and both my siblings learned to read off of it and it’s one of those things that remains a classic no matter how long it’s been since the cartoonist retired. 🙂

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