Comfort Reading

10th April 2012

I hope you guys had a great weekend. If it was anything like mine, it was busy busy busy. My students are beginning a big research project and had an annotated bibliography due. I had a rush editing job. There was church to be attended with the fam. And massive quantities of food to be eaten yesterday. All that to say, by yesterday evening, I was exhausted. Like, in bed at 8 p.m. exhausted, but I gave up sweets for Lent, which WHOA. So I think having dessert and eating meat (which I normally do only rarely) made for a not-so-happy stomach.

I grabbed Ian Rankin’s latest book, The Impossible Dead, and read for hours. My history with Ian Rankin: I adore his writing. I know I’ve mentioned it before, but when I finished my Master’s thesis and didn’t want to write anything ever again (fail: I started this blog), I turned to Rankin’s Inspector Rebus series….and promptly fell in love. In fact, Rebus probably deserves his own “Series Obsession” post. That summer after graduation, I read every Rebus novel and probably not much else.

Rankin ended the Rebus series in the last novel of the series Exit Music, and I was kind of devastated. Ok, a lot devastated. So when Rankin wrote The Complaints a couple of years ago, I knew I would pick it up but was determined I wouldn’t love it. I didn’t. In fact, I didn’t even review it because it just. wasn’t. the same. But that isn’t Rankin’s fault. I can’t imagine how difficult it is to follow up such a well-loved series. So, last night. The Impossible Dead. It’s a sequel to The Complaints, and I was glad to come home to Rankin. So happy I stayed up most of the night to read it, start to finish.

What struck me, after this long, long, long-winded introduction was Rankin’s ability to pull me in to his narrative and make me feel at home. It’s not even something I think I can articulate all that well. The prose is clean and clear but without bells and whistles, but there is an elegance to the writing and to the characters that I love.

Because this is a new series, I know it isn’t the characters that feel so familiar, though. Unlike the Miss Silver series by Patricia Wentworth, it isn’t the promise of the same names coming up. Rankin is also not formulaic, and I don’t want to imply that by saying “comfort.” Mac and cheese is a comfort food, but I don’t really go in for the Kraft Mac & Cheese. Homemade, though, I’ll take any day.

So what are the characteristics of a comfort read:

  • Familiarity – this might be the writing, the characters, the author, the setting, or the genre.
  • Engagement – even if it’s your absolute favorite author, if it isn’t engaging, it won’t work

And I kind of think, for me, those are the only two qualities I’m looking for. What do you think? Are there additional requirements for a comfort read? And what are the books you turn to for comfort?


P.S. Have you heard about the Independent Book Blogger Awards? It’s on Goodreads, and it’s a contest for book bloggers to win a trip to NYC and Book Expo America. The Picky Girl is on the list, and if you like the blog, I’d be honored if you’d vote for me and the blog. Thank you so much! tpg

  • I rarely reread entire books. Generally I just skim over my favorite passages. Of the few that I do, it has to do with the characters. I can’t remember the last time I reread a plot-based book.

    • Oh no, I don’t reread either. I feel like there are too many books to read to do that. That’s not what I mean so much. But like you, I do have favorite passages, particularly in Jane Eyre. That’s one I’ve reread multiple times, mostly when I was much younger. Now I just turn to my favorite parts.

  • Smf85

    I always go back to Harry Potter for a good comfort read. Although, it was totally The Babysitters Club when I was a kid. ๐Ÿ™‚

    • Ahh, Babysitters’ Club. Loved ’em. Still own ’em.

  • heidenkind

    I love rereading books. I think most of my comfort reads are from my teen or pre-teen years, like Elizabeth Peters, Mary Stewart, Emilie Loring, and LJ Smith. Harry Potter is definitely a comfort read, too, although I usually just get my fix by watching the movies; and honestly, I love reading Twilight as a comfort read.

    All my comfort reads are romantic, hopeful, and fun. I don’t need to read nihilistic existentialism when I’m spiraling. ๐Ÿ˜›

    • Nihilistic existentialism….yeah, I don’t need that on an everyday basis but especially not when I need a pick me up. ๐Ÿ™‚

      I don’t know a lot of the writers you mention, so now I’m curious…

  • I’ve had a draft post for months about comfort movies. I LOVE comfort movies but I don’t really look for them in my reading. I guess like we were talking about on twitter the other day, I need the variety so I try to space out my genres, space out books by an author, and definitely don’t read a lot of series. But give me Hugh Grant any day of the week and I’m in heaven.

    • Ahhh, the drafts folder.

      I love comfort movies, too, but mine are usually classics or comedies. I love Hugh Grant so much, though. I need to get Bridget Jones on DVD. I miss watching that on occasion.

  • Oh and I LOOOOOOOOOOOURVE your header. ๐Ÿ™‚

    • You just put a HUGE smile on my face. Thank you! I am really pleased with how it turned out.

  • Joanna McNeal

    I just dove into Anne Rivers Siddons newest novel and finished it in a day and a half. I’ve read all of her books, and even those I don’t particularly love feel like “home.” I need to read Rankin; for some reason I haven’t, although I love mystery series — Patricia Cornwell and Sara Paretsky are two of my other comfort reads. Often, for me, comfort reads are about precisely that — feeling comfortable. Often it is in characters, as in a series, but just as often it is in the place. That’s why I return to southern lit time and again — as a southerner born and bred, all well-written tales about the south feel like home. (And, of course, there’s usually mac & cheese!)

    • Mmm. Mac and cheese. And you’re right about the place. It’s just odd that (as a Texan) my comfort place is Scotland, particularly Edinburgh. Don’t know how that happened. ๐Ÿ˜‰