Comfort books

By Legal Eagle

A couple of times lately I’ve had to explain to people how I have certain “comfort books” which I read in times of trial. If I’m really upset or stressed, and I think I won’t be able to sleep because I’m so het up, I get out a comfort book. A comfort book is one of those books which you’ve read multiple times, so it’s not a terrible brain strain, but it’s also fun and takes your mind off your troubles.

My original comfort book, of course, was Lord of the Rings, which I have read many, many times. I’m not sure how many. At least 50 times, if not more. I have difficulty reading it too often these days because I almost know it off by heart. I tend to find genre writing comforting, too. Detective novels, science fiction and fantasy are my favourite three genres. The comforting aspect is that authors must follow certain lineaments; the interesting aspect is how authors choose to invert or subvert the genre without ruining the novel. I think the other comforting thing about genre writing is that there is often some kind of a resolution: the murderer is unmasked, good triumphs over evil, the Empire falls, and there’s usually some romance which coalesces as the book continues too.

My sister and I have “comfort films” too. Among my personal favourites are the original Star Wars trilogy, The Princess Bride, the Indiana Jones series and Moonstruck. I’m afraid that I know certain chunks of these films off by heart, and sometimes I might even drop a quote into conversation expecting others to know the references (eg. Those were the droids you were looking for), but then sadly I find that other people are just not as nerdy as I am. Or that I’m getting old, and youngsters these days just don’t get the references. Sigh.

So – do you have comfort books or movies which you like to watch whenever you feel down or stressed or just like being perked up? If so, what are they? And why do you like them so much?


  1. Posted June 12, 2010 at 8:40 pm | Permalink

    I’m a Lord of the Rings tragic too, dating from my teenage years. Pre-teens, actually, when I started reading it. I can still quote great chunks of it. And of course, like every other New Zealander, I know people who were involved in the movies (husband was a extra before the gates of Mordor, cousin has a credit, friends of friends and children of friends in this scene and that).

    These days, when it comes to comfort books, I tend to go for substantial books. Middlemarch or Anna Karenina or A Suitable Boy or The Poisonwood Bible – something that will occupy and engage me for quite some time, taking my mind off my woes.

  2. Posted June 12, 2010 at 8:49 pm | Permalink

    Marcus Aurelius in times of trouble, because it helps keep me from hating the people that stress me… and because it comes in nice bite-sized chunks.

    As for comfort movies, and only discovered recently, “Hoodwinked” – a fractured fairytale version of Red Riding Hood.

  3. Posted June 12, 2010 at 8:49 pm | Permalink

    Middlemarch, yep. Also Our Mutual Friend and Villette. Persuasion and Possession. A. S. Byatt’s Potter family tetralogy and Margaret Drabble’s The Realms of Gold. Dorothy Dunnett’s Lymond saga. Oddly, The Silence of the Lambs, for the reasons you’ve given, I think. And if I’m feeling really pathetically reduced, Dorothy L. Sayers’ Lord Peter Wimsey books, especially Strong Poison and Gaudy Night.

  4. Posted June 12, 2010 at 9:15 pm | Permalink

    Any of the “Biggles” short stories.

  5. Posted June 12, 2010 at 10:22 pm | Permalink

    I confess to reading historical romances when I’m feeling down or blue or stressed. I have an embarrassingly large collection of mainly Regency romances, Part of it is the escapism into another world that is somehow much nicer than any real one – certainly most of them portray a very idealised version of history. Another is, oddly enough, their general predictability – I always know that there will be a happy ending, and everything turns out neatly and perfectly in the end, the way things don’t in real life. And as they tend to be stand-alone works, I know that I can set aside the hour or so it takes to read one as “me time” without the danger of it spreading into an entire weekend of reading an entire series, as sometimes happens with fantasy sagas ….

  6. Posted June 13, 2010 at 12:13 pm | Permalink

    Raymond Chandler. It’s A Wonderful Life. And, yeah, good generic storytelling. For example: sci-fi movies by Paul Verhoven.
    Weird ‘ey? I feel blue so to cheer me up I’ll watch a movie about a death struggle with a race of bugs. 🙂


  7. Posted June 13, 2010 at 2:35 pm | Permalink

    Marcus Aurelius in times of trouble, because it helps keep me from hating the people that stress me
    And the Book of Job. It’s funny because it’s true… Well God finds it funny. 🙂

    Clint Eastwood movies when I need to buck up. He teaches you how to be a man. 🙂

  8. Posted June 13, 2010 at 3:19 pm | Permalink

    [email protected] “Book of Job…well God finds it funny”.

    Some jewish friends of mine find it hilarious that such a subtle book made it into the Xtian bible.

    Back OT, before “Hoodwinked”, my comfort movie was probably “The Lion in Winter”. No need to watch (it’s all dialog), and each scene a bite-sized titbit oozing with the sort of venom I’d dare not use but was sorely tempted to.

  9. AJ
    Posted June 13, 2010 at 3:38 pm | Permalink

    “For example: sci-fi movies by Paul Verhoven”

    I think all B movies are pretty great comfort films. The triple A standard being Die Hard, the Indiana Jones trilogy and Robocop.

  10. Aimee
    Posted June 13, 2010 at 6:17 pm | Permalink

    Mmm, comfort reading. Yummy.

    Yep, it’s generally genre I reach for – well-thumbed literature (Dickens, Austen or C Bronte), sci fi (LM Bujold), regency romances (Heyer), or childrens books (A Ransome, T Pierce or anyone really).

    Sadly, now that you’ve put the temptation in my mind, all three of my bookgroups are meeting this week so I will have to be good and keep reading these new books which I might not like, aware of the possibilty that when I finish them and I might wish instead I’d spent the time re-reading a Pratchett!

  11. Posted June 13, 2010 at 9:55 pm | Permalink

    Umm… Legal Eagle, I’m rather struggling with that confession. You’ve missed some very exciting children’s reading. (It isn’t quite the same when grown up)

    I’ve never read any Tolkien. I’ve tried, but just wasn’t able to maintain interest for more than a couple of pages. Went to sleep about 30 minutes into each of the LOTR movies. Wouldn’t know a LOTR reference if I heard it. (er.. I presume that is what your comment refers to?)

    Drugs inside chocolate? Hmm, this rings a bell, but I can’t place it. Now I’ll not have peace of mind until I find which book it is in. Stand by, it could take ages, there are 100 Biggles books.

  12. su
    Posted June 13, 2010 at 11:13 pm | Permalink

    PG Wodehouse for general comfort and if I’m thinking “my life is crap, it was so much better back in 19XX” then I read a book I first read in 19XX. I’m reading The Brazen Head at the moment because I’m feeling like 1990 was a pretty good year and my dad gave it to me then. Totally sooky moments see me reading Alan Garner. I wish I’d kept my Don Martin annuals because they would make excellent comfort reading too.

  13. Posted June 14, 2010 at 6:11 pm | Permalink

    I periodically re-read several books like the C S Lewis Chronicles of Narnia and periodically rediscover folk stories, generally of the European/Northern European variety, in various editions channeled through Ruth Manning-Saunders, the Brothers Grimm or others. Generic science fiction is oddly comforting too.

    Those are my favourite books of the Bible too LE. Oh, and maybe Revelations.

  14. Posted June 14, 2010 at 8:51 pm | Permalink

    [email protected] I always thought John 1:1 was “In the beginning was the Logos, and the Logos was with Theos, and the Logos was Theos”. “Wyrd” would be a more accurate rendering into a germanic language I reckon. It’s certainly my favorite bit of the NT to hit those evangelical door-knockers over the head with their own ignorance.

    As to Paul’s rants, maybe some comfort Vidal’s “Live from Golgotha” would give some comfort in the form of smartarse giggles.

  15. Posted June 15, 2010 at 4:55 am | Permalink

    And of course, like every other New Zealander, I know people who were involved in the movies (husband was a extra before the gates of Mordor, cousin has a credit, friends of friends and children of friends in this scene and that).

    This is exceptionally cool. Sorry, it just is.

  16. Posted June 15, 2010 at 2:32 pm | Permalink

    Lemme guess, you ate it right? 🙂

  17. Posted June 15, 2010 at 3:15 pm | Permalink

    When I’m feeling blue I like reading T.S. Eliot’s poetry because it makes me realise that there are people out there who are emotional wrecks.

  18. Posted June 15, 2010 at 4:40 pm | Permalink

    I’ve got a couple of bits from english newspaper competitions (¿TLS?, ¿Grauniad?) for extremely short smart versions of famous books’ which would probably be comfort reading for many of you. I think one is called “how to be extremely well read in a single evening”. My favorite treatment? “The Wind in the Wilows” by A(drian) Mole in diary style. Now, who did loan it to… Can’t find it.

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