On comfort reading

Inspired by New Kid on the Hallway's pair of posts about "comfort reading," I've been thinking about books to read in times of stress and worry, or general upheaval, or even just vague fits of the blahs. Comfort reading, for me, means going somewhere very much elsewhere for a little while. If the situation that prompted the need for comfort reading isn't too dire, P.G. Wodehouse always does the trick: in Wodehouse's world, nothing goes wrong that can't be put right with a little Jeevesian machination or a few cleverly baroque turns of the plot, and there is nothing so comforting as one of those famous sentences, unless it's a good long succession of those famous sentences. One ends up feeling, as Bertie Wooster would say, pretty well braced. (Can you guess what I'm reading right now?)

If I'm less in the mood for something to make me laugh,* I always come back to Patrick O'Brian's Aubrey-Maturin novels. (And if you haven't encountered them yet, go forth and start reading the series from the beginning. Right now. Seriously, why are you still here?) Reading them is like total immersion in another century, but they're very far from being escapist. And one's own problems tend to look insignificant when compared with, say, having one's ship catch on fire and sink, or being shot at by the Napoleonic fleet.

I'm also quite fond of the work of Robertson Davies, who wrote novels set in a Canada that feels both remote and oddly familiar to me, if only by reflection; my dad, who introduced me to Davies lo these many years ago, grew up in a small town in Ontario at around the same time that some of Davies' books are set. I feel rather similarly about Margaret Atwood; like New Kid, I loved Cat's Eye, though I think The Robber Bride is my all-time favorite.

And books that I read and loved as a child almost invariably make good comfort reading. Which reminds me, I think it's time I reread all of Joan Aiken's Wolves of Willoughby Chase series again.

I don't just have comfort books, though; I also have comfort movies. But that's matter for another post.

How about you, Reader? Feel free to spread the meme if you'd like!

* Not that Jack Aubrey's malapropisms don't slay me, not to mention his endearingly feeble puns.

2 Responses to “On comfort reading”

  1. dale says:

    The Hornblower books, definitely (O’Brian stole tons from them, and never would acknowledge the debt; the Hornblower books don’t have the richness or the historical perfect pitch, but they’re great adventure stories.) The Lord of the Rings. Narnia. Prydain. (I grew up reading fantasy, and I still read them with pleasure, and read them aloud to my kids.) Dickens’ novels are comfort books for me. I love all the books you mention, except I’ve never read Robertson Davies — maybe that’s what I should pick up next!

  2. brd says:

    How about the stuff by Alexander McCall Smith?