Wednesday, December 30, 2015

Wrapped Up in a Good Book: Comfort Reading

When I am tired, or sick, or depressed, or just want to relax, I like to wrap myself up in a comforting book.  My husband shares that habit, and early in our life together we knew we were a good match because we both like to read at the dinner table. 

That may sound anti-social, but hey, it’s late in the day, a day in which we may have had too many stressful interactions with others, and we are winding down.  We have plenty of conversation at other times, and indeed we often share interesting or humorous passages from our dinnertime reading.

Unless one of us is immersed in something absolutely unputdownable, we don’t usually choose intense or challenging reading matter to accompany a meal, or to take when curling up in an armchair or “sprawling” on the bed (as my husband likes to do) before sleep. At such times we go for comfort reading.

So what is comfort reading?  For me it’s often an old favorite:  the novels of Jane Austen, or the lesser—but far more prolific—Georgette Heyer; romantic adventure tales popular in my youth, by Mary Stewart, Joan Aiken and her sister Jane Aiken Hodge—or Aiken’s works for younger readers, especially Midnight is a Place, Saddle the Sea, etc.  In fact, I’m still fond of a lot of so-called “juvenile fiction,” and well-written mysteries often bear rereading.  Jo Bannister's, for example - an extremely underrated author.

For my husband, it’s thrillers by Tom Clancy or Robert Ludlum; Colleen McCullough’s novels of ancient Rome; Bill Bryson’s rambles through landscapes and/or language; and the Dune books.  He loves Frank Herbert’s books, mourns Herbert’s untimely passing ,and makes scathing remarks on the inferiority of the many sequels and prequels co-authored by son Brian Herbert and Kevin J. Anderson—but he reads them anyway.  Call them methadone for Dune addicts!  

When I am truly sick or sad or sorry, I turn to Ursula Le Guin’s Earthsea books, especially the first trilogy, for their spiritual beauty, their moral compass, their honesty about the cycles of life and death.

Four years ago my grandsons, then seven-and-a-half and nine-and-a-half, suffered a terrible bereavement, and when they next came to visit, they were still mourning.  Both were impatient with cuddling or any form of “babying” so there was no easy comfort for a grandmother to offer them, except to provide their favorite foods. 

The elder was a Harry Potter addict early in life, demanding endless repeats of the first movie before he could read, and then learning to read at an early age.  He’s long since exhausted the Harry Potter books and moved on to other (often better-written) sagas of wizardry, making his way through heavy volumes at a speed that astounds even me—and I read hundreds of novels every year.

The younger boy is not such a reader himself, but his father reads aloud to him most evenings.  He used to enjoy hearing me read as well, but on the first night and the second night of that visit he refused my offers to read to him; that seemed to fall into the category of “babying” he’d no longer tolerate. 

But on the third and final night of their stay, he rummaged through my shelves and brought me a book he used to love:  The Color Kittens.  We’ve read it so many times we know it by heart:  So we curled up on the couch with a blanket and half-read, half-recited:  “green as cats eyes, green as grass, by streams of water green as glass.” At the triumphant conclusion “all the colors in the world, and the Color Kittens had made them!” he hoisted his sleepy self off the couch, kissed us goodnight, and trundled upstairs to his father who was waiting to tuck him in. Comfort reading still rules!

What is your favorite comfort reading?