Comfort books: Sucking your thumb and reaching for your blankie

2010 is five-sixths of the way over, and already it’s the kind of year that has me counting toward its demise in fractions.

It’s been the toughest year of my adult life.

Not everything that’s happened this year has been awful. In fact, I’ve made lots of new friendships, developed new skills, and invested time in my dreams.

But combine all that excitement with managing The World’s Toughest Project at the day job (a project that had me working at least six days a week for a several months), and trying to comfort and distract my husband while his mother suffered through months of cancer treatment, and it all adds up to stress and exhaustion.

Mum-in-law’s now recovering well, and work has become manageable again, so it’s time to be thankful for all the people who helped me through – whether they knew they were doing so or not.

There are loads of friends I could thank here, but since I try to regularly let them know what they mean to me, I thought it’d be better to thank the authors I’ve never spoken to, who helped distract me without knowing it.
During the worst weeks, at the end of each day I had just enough energy left to drag myself into bed with a book. And it couldn’t be any old book—it had to be one I’ve read dozens of times. One that I already knew was good enough to distract me but, because I’ve read and re-read it, wouldn’t keep me awake all night.

The novel equivalent of meeting your best friend for coffee instead of going on a blind date.

A comfort book.

And when my eyes were drooping but my mind was still whirring with family worries and visions of my to-do list, I wouldn’t re-read the whole novel—just particular scenes that lifted my spirits.

These are some of my favorites, and I can’t thank the authors enough for writing them.

When I needed to feel a sense of triumph, even if it wasn’t my own

I love everything about Laura Kinsale’s Flowers from the Storm—from the way the characters speak to the incredibly sexy way the heroine is drawn to the hero, despite their vast differences.

But mostly I love it because they both have to overcome much bigger obstacles than most characters do.

Jervaulx is an unrepentant rake who has a stroke and, because he can’t communicate, is put in an asylum. Maddy is a Quaker who takes care of him—the only one who believes there may be something organic wrong with him as opposed to him being insane.

In one scene, Maddy holds a letter that was written to her on greasy pie wrapping paper. She asks Jervaulx if he can read it, and he manages to triumphantly pick out a few words.

Since she’s helping him dress at the time, she says:

“Wilt thou not bring thy cufflinks to me?”

With a brief nod, he pushed away from the table and walked out of the hall. Maddie looked after him. She pressed her lips together. A week ago—a day ago—he would not have understood such a long and complicated sentence, especially not as she’d deliberately spoken it at a normal pace.

He returned, carrying the studs. Maddy accepted them. As she fastened his cuffs, she said, “What dost thou think we ought to do for breakfast?”

He picked up the grease-stained paper between his thumb and forefinger. With a little grunt, he let it drop. “Pie.”

“Jervaulx,” she said, “thou art getting better.”

He gave her a pirate grin.

When I need to laugh

Susan Elizabeth Phillips is my go-to girl for a good laugh. Her characters deliver one-liners that make me jade with jealousy.

When I need cheering up, I crack open Natural Born Charmer—pretty much anywhere will do. In it, Dean Robillard is a quarterback who’s so physically beautiful that women are actually jealous of his perfection. The heroine, Blue Bailey, pays no attention to her appearance and wears baggy t-shirts with slogans like “Body by beer”.

Here’s what Blue thinks of Dean as he walks down for breakfast with her and his rockstar father Jack, whom Blue had a teenage crush on:

Dean sauntered in, all scruffy high style, his jock stubble as rugged as his father’s rocker stubble. Maybe it was genetic. The perfect number of wrinkles creased his periwinkle T-shirt, and his khaki cargo shorts fell on his hips at exactly the right point. He didn’t look at Jack. Instead, he took her in from head to toe before he settled on her face. “Makeup? What happened? You look almost female.”

“Thanks. You look almost straight.”

I love a woman who can get the last word in.

What are your comfort books? Are there scenes you read over and over, or do you prefer to gamble on a new book rather than reach for a guaranteed good time?


  1. Kat, you’re always so upbeat I’d never have known you were going through so much. You need to kvetch and whine more like the rest of us! Great post, though. My fallback “comfort reads” are either my favorite Stephen King book, The Stand, or–if I’m REALLY stressed–some of the old Susan Howatch books I grew up reading, especially Cashelmara, Penmarric, and The Wheel of Fortune. Absolutely loved those books–I think they’re what made a closet romantic out of me. More gothic than romance in today’s sense of the word, but soooo good.

    1. Suz, you must be the only person I know who reads Stephen King for comfort. It’s one of the things that makes you fantastic.

      And don’t worry – I whine a lot. I just save it all for my husband. And colleagues. And people in the grocery store…

  2. I’m sorry to hear you’ve had a tough year. I think times like those just make us stronger and help us appreciate what we have. I don’t think I’d have said that 15 years ago, but I can say that now. The last two years have been VERY, VERY tough for me, but somehow I’ve managed to live through them with enough dignity and poise that even I’m surprised. I’m glad things have settled down for you.

    I’ve always read a lot and through the years I’ve picked up and left off romance reading for (at times) years at a time, depending on what was going on, if I even had money to buy books (at one time in my life, I was so poor that I sold all my most loved books and my comic book collection). I’m back to reading my romances now and loving it. Just loving the warmth and positivity I get from it. I’ve never thought about the books I’ve read, just read them to enjoy them and never analysed them – themes, likes, dislikes, character traits, character development, etc., but I’m starting to learn to do that a little now and being more circumspect about what I buy. There are certain themes that I don’t like – reconciliation stories for instance. Even a little negativity before the big make up and HEA is too much for me when I’m reading a romance.

    To answer your question, after all that rambling, I cut my teeth of romance reading with Johanna Lindsey and I always look forward to her Regency / Mallory series. It’s like visiting with an old friend. When I want a laugh, I read Julia Quinn because she just gets it right. When I was breath taking, I read Meredith Duran or Laura Lee Guhrke. There are others I love, of course, and there are new ones I’m discovering on a daily basis, but these are a few.

    1. Daz, thank you for your extremely thoughful comment. I’m sorry you’ve been going through difficult times too, but glad you’re feeling stronger as a result.

      I think you said it beautifully – reading books by some authors is like visiting with an old friend. They rarely disappoint, but even if they do I love them so much I’m willing to forgive. And the wonderful thing about romance as a genre is that it’s vibrant – there are always new authors to try out and fall in love with. I’m discovering new favorites who will help me get through difficult times in the future.

      Wishing you endless hours of happy reading, Daz!

Leave a comment

Your email address will not be published.