Shannon Hale

Comfort Books


I was perusing some Reading Rainbow interviews with authors the other day (and by “authors” I mean “Neil Gaiman,” but I can’t let the internet know how out of hand the stalking has become.  Shhh, don’t tell).  They were talking in the interview about Comfort Books.  I had never heard of comfort books, but the second they mentioned them I knew exactly what they meant.  Those of us who are crazy voracious readers DO have books that we turn to when things are stressful, and we just need a little escape.

It’s so hard to tell people what your favorite book is.  As a reader, I seek for the life-changers; the books that tell me something about myself and my world that I didn’t know before.  I find enough of them that it’s worth it to slog through the things that aren’t as good.  And there is a definite place for things that are merely enjoyable with no Message (see Beach Smut for more info).  I could list off so many books that I found life-changing for you right now.  It’s impossible to pick a favorite, because a lot of them are mood-dependent.  Picking a favorite book is like picking a favorite child. You like them for different reasons, maybe, but better or worse?  No.

But a Comfort Book?  I can tell you my few comfort books right away.  They’re books where I love the world so much that I just want to be in that one instead of my own for a while.  They’re not always the life-changers, either.  It’s a different thing.  So in that spirit, I thought I would discuss mine.  They’ve changed quite a bit over the years, mostly because I can’t read some of the old ones anymore. I’ve read them so much I can recite passages by memory.  Things stop playing in your head like a movie when you can recite them along with the text.  So here are the books I turn to for comfort these days:

  • Howl’s Moving Castle, House of Many Ways, The Lives of Christopher Chant, Charmed Life, or Enchanted Glass by Diana Wynne Jones:  All feature great, zany people in worlds where you can mostly order things to be how you want with magic (although it usually doesn’t turn out how you think it will).  Laundry multiplies, stolen items call out who owns them, you can open the door on the city and then turn the handle and end up in a field of flowers, and the troll in the garden keeps outgrowing his clothes.
  • Austenland or Midnight in Austenland by Shannon Hale:  Austen’s great landscapes take a turn for the silly in both of these, where the line between fantasy and reality is really hard to see.  There are yummy, melt-worthy men.  But the books also contain some profound truths.  Like when Charlotte realizes that she was about to let a man kill her because she didn’t want to hurt his feelings.
  • The Blue Castle by L. M. Montgomery:  I love Valancy’s stodgy relatives so much.  And it gets even funnier when she gets the letter telling her she’s dying, because she doesn’t care at all about shocking them anymore.  There’s Roaring Able, the debauched and usually drunk carpenter, and Barney Snaith in his backwoods island home that is full of cats and firelight, and Uncle Benjamin’s horrible puns.
  • Emily Climbs by L.M. Montgomery: Emily is such a great girl, and the exploits she finds herself in are so funny.  You have to love the aunts at New Moon, and how mean Aunt Ruth is, and Ilse’s terrible behavior.  Add all of that to a realistic picture of life as a young writer, and you get something that’s just so lovely.
  • Little Town on the Prairie or These Happy Golden Years by Laura Ingalls Wilder: All the girls are old enough that they’re real people and their adventures are more interesting (to me, anyway).  It’s easy to imagine what it would be like to live in DeSmet, and it’s nice to have a coming of age story where everyone in the family still basically likes each other.  Plus, how can you not be head over heels for Almonzo?  You can’t.
  • Lake Wobegon, 1956 by Garrison Keillor: A charming, if sometimes crass, book about a boy’s experience in a small town in high school.  He terrorizes his sister, is secretly in love with his cousin Kate, is too dweeby to hang out with the local bad boys (who have a band), writes stories about dogs who can talk, and deals with Dad’s neuroticism.  It’s all funny.  Especially the baseball stuff.  And you have to love Kate too.  So much.

I have a feeling that Rainbow Rowell’s Attachments and Fangirl are going to be added to that list, although it’s really too early to tell.  Also, I never realized how many of them there were until now.  Yikes.  I don’t know what that all says about the inside of my head and what spaces I like to inhabit, but there it is.  Someone do some psychoanalysis. Quick.

Categories: Book Review, Comfort Books, Diana Wynne Jones, Garrison Keilor, L.M. Montgomery, Laura Ingalls Wilder, Shannon Hale | Tags: | Leave a comment

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