Comfort food. That’s a phrase that evokes pictures of hot soups, freshly baked bread, and a pint of ice cream (Ben and Jerry’s Strawberry Cheesecake for me). Yes, everyone has their own version of comfort food to pull out when they are feeling blue or ill. But what about comfort reads? What do you read when you’re under the weather?
This last week I’ve had a lot of time to ponder this question. Holed up in bed, with a large, unwieldy cast on my right leg and a pair of crutches that have left their imprints on my palms, and scuffs on my hard wood floors, I have had ample time to think about comfort. I’m fortunate enough to have stacks of unread books, both new and old lying about my bedroom, living room, garage, and car (this is what happens when you come from a family of book addicts). I have the new Audrey Niffeneger, Her Fearful Symmetry, sitting on my desk right next to an advanced copy of Christopher Moore’s Bite Me: A Love Story. I’ve been reading an amazing upcoming novel, The Postmistress by Sarah Blake, it’s one of those books that is just plain good, well told, moving, and a novel I can’t wait to introduce to readers when it’s released next year. You’d think I’d be sunk into those fantastic pages, but no. So, what is it I turn to? A stack of novels and stories I have read at least ten times each . . . go figure.
Yes, I turn to my comfort reads. Books that I’ve read so many times that I have memorized lines of dialogue, uttering them mentally like a movie freak shouting out the lines before the actor speaks them on screen. With characters who feel more like friends than words on a page, whose personalities are as well known as those of my co-workers. I can become engrossed, enter a familiar world, one where I don’t need two legs to dance, play, hike, explore an old eerie estate in Arabia, or solve a murder in Alabama. I ask myself, do other people turn to their comfortable favorites when they’re on house arrest? I think they do. Ask any person what food they like when feeling down, what movie they turn on when home with the flu, what book they’ve read so many times the pages have yellowed with age and the spine has creased from love. I guarantee you’ll have an answer almost immediately. Why? Because as humans we seek the familiar, especially when we are unable to act on or own, or need comfort when our brains just can’t handle the overload of information that is thrown at them all day. We seek the wealth of emotions that imprint themselves in our subconscious bringing us the stimulation we can’t find or are denied by circumstances. Books, loved books, give us that same satisfaction and endorphins that good food and good friends can provide, but unlike the others, books can be pulled off the shelf at any time, they are eager to be used, want to provide that wonderful cathartic release, and when you’re contagious, or, stuck on the couch with your foot elevated in a hot, uncomfortable cast, and everyone you know is working, the familiar ones can bring that perfect touch of joy, or sorrow, needed to connect you to the world and the people in it.
So, enjoy those comfort reads. Take pleasure in them. Take ownership of them, even if they’re silly romances, or cheesy detective stories. They bring you contentment and joy, and connect you when you just can’t connect. They’re your happiness and they relieve you from really bad daytime television . . . seriously. Now excuse me, but Mary Stewart’s The Ivy Tree is calling.