I went to the library yesterday to get some comfort reading. You probably know about comfort food. After 9/11, even fancy restaurants began serving mashed potatoes, chocolate pudding and other common staples of childhood. As people were reeling from the ominous events that shook the world, eating simple old-fashioned favorites emotionally connected them with a safer time and place. Don’t most of us have a food or drink that we associate with feelings of security and protection?
Comfort reading is similar to comfort eating though it has the advantage of being calorie-free. I went searching for, and found, books that I had previously read, ensuring that there would be no unpleasant surprises. They weren’t necessarily my favorite books, simply decently written and rather undramatic ones; books with only happy events. Or at least the problems that do occur are minor, reparable and not stress-inducing to me as a reader. Books like Mrs. Mike or Little Women, as wonderful as they are, don’t fall into this category. Quite frankly, (spoiler alert) one or more beloved character dies in each one. Since getting older seems to correspond with my becoming more of a blubbery mess as I read those scenes, those books clearly won’t serve my purpose.
I didn’t write this Musing as a plea for sympathy. By God’s grace, my life is wonderful. But I’m a little more tired than usual after a bout with a severe cold and a number of people I love are going through tough times. I don’t need to tell you that the United States and the world are facing enormous challenges. Add increasingly cold weather and darkness falling earlier each day and it all adds up to a pretty normal and blessed winter life. But it has been evoking in me a desire to curl up with a book that engrosses while making no demands. Sort of like My-T-Fine chocolate pudding.
My other, more important, antidote to a slight case of “the downs” is Chanuka. Chanuka is the only Jewish holiday that straddles two months. It starts on the 25th of the month of Kislev as the moon almost disappears and concludes eight days later in the early days of the month of Tevet as the moon starts waxing. On the first night of Chanuka we light one candle but by the last evening eight lights burn merrily.
Like every special day in the Jewish calendar, layers of complex insights and intriguing byways reveal themselves to those who look at Chanuka more deeply. But even on the surface, each night is a reminder that times are sometimes dark, but will grow light again. We each have the ability to increase the light in our own lives and we are the most important person with the power to actually do so.
With a pile of comfort books next to me, as we head into the third night of Chanuka this evening, I think that over the next five days I’ll be ready once again for reading that stretches and challenges me rather than books that envelop me in a protective cocoon. I hope your winter is full of light.
54 thoughts on “Comfort Reading”
Everything But Money by Sam Levenson
Linda, my parents had that book on their shelves when I was a little girl. I’d love to read it again.
Comfort reading is not just for women. I have read and reread all of the Father Tim books. Both All things Great and Small and my wife and I watch Hallmark Channel all year long. One of my favorite books was Ann of Green Gable. We we’re even fortunate enough to visit the place in Nova Scotia where it was filmed.
The James Heriott (sp?) books are wonderful and would definitely be comfort books. I love the Anne of Green Gables series, but somehow they are relaxing reading in my book but not comfort books. I think this is a very subjective decision.
Alan Bradley mysteries. Here are the first three. Must be read in order or will be lost.
Cosy Mysteries are relaxing. Good always wins. These are lots of fun. Very well done.
Adult not 5th grade level like so much written today.
Flavia de Luce Mystery
1. The Sweetness At the Bottom of the Pie (2009)
2. The Weed That Strings the Hangman’s Bag (2010)
3. A Red Herring Without Mustard (2011)
As I said, I’m not a big mystery fan. But I have added Alan Bradley to my “order from the library” list on your recommendation.
Hey, thanks for your ‘comfort Musing!’ Many folks are in the same boat. For comfort and regeneration I read and re-read The Hobbit + The Lord of the Rings. I belong among the Eldar, the original Tolkienites (since 1966) who were into Tolkien long before Tolkien was ‘cool.’ I lost track of re-readings at 21 times. Otherwise I remain since adolescence a great fan of Sherlock Holmes. happy and blessed Chanukah!
Gosh, I haven’t read Tolkien since I was in high school. I like Sherlock Holmes but I need to think too much for it to be comfort reading in my book.
Your authenticity is refreshing. I meet a lot of folks in ministry who seem to believe it is never okay to be vulnerable. I met a lady recently who was struggling to continue to believe in God. When I said, I’ve been there as well, she seemed surprised, then comforted. Sharing the reality of experiencing darkness and your methods for inviting the light in and how to care for oneself better is an inspiring example. Thank you.
Kevin, your point is very valid, but I think you’re giving me too much credit. Having a bad cold and feeling a bit down is not extremely revealing. Real challenges are a conflict for people in ministry, or just in the public eye, partially because sharing in the wrong way can cause harm as well as that you can publicly breach confidences of those you love. It’s a sharp edge on which to balance.
I remember people’s surprise after Mother Theresa’s death when her diaries were made public, including struggles of faith. Maybe she shared with those closest to her (she certainly shared with God), but would it have been better to read these while she was still alive? I don’t know.
In the religious Jewish world, I think we veer too much to pretending that great people don’t have doubts and moments of weakness, even in biographies that appear after the person’s death. I agree with you that this causes harm, partially by not letting people know that these things are normal, can be overcome and don’t stop you from being a great person.
Susan Wittig Albert, who also writes “regular” mysteries, has a series , “The Cottage Tales of Beatrix Potter”, fictionalized light mysteries revolving around the events in the real Miss Potter’s life and including comments by various animals who observe the goings-on. They reflect a pleasant, slow-paced way of life and have the flavor of Miss Potter’s children’s books. Merry Christmas and a happy Hanukkah, however you spell it.
Oh, Deb, this sounds like a must read.
Thank you for sharing! I always enjoy your musings so much. I love seeing you and Rabbi Lapin on TCT and I catch his podcast every week. I truly feel connected to you!
I know that Rabbi Lapin doesn’t recommend books as a habit, but I have often thought how lovely it would be to have a section on the website about the books that you love or that you think are important. Might you consider that?
May your hope and strength grow with each newly lit candle this Chanukah. And may your gladness increase with each chapter of your comfort books. ❤
That’s a really interesting idea, Corinna. We will definitely discuss it. Wishing you a joyous Christmas.
Thank you, Susan, for yet another gut-level musing that is most encouraging. I would never have thought about ‘comfort’ reading. I love the concept and look forward to exploring the books mentioned, as they are new to me. The only title I can add is The Egg and I. While I have not read it, I understand it is a good ‘comfort’ book. I wish you a good Chanukah and pray your heaviness will soon be lifted.
I know The Egg and I, Crystal. It is a fun read.
Check out ‘Winter Solstice’ by Rosamunde Pilcher. Truly, a very pleasant comfort book for this time of year!
I’ve just added it to my, “books to look for” list, Lisa. Thank you.
Rosmond Pilcher’s “Coming Home” is one of my favorites. All of her books re fun reads. Bess Streeter Aldrich’s books are also wonderful. “Song of Years” is delightful.
Love seeing all these authors and titles.
Susan, I’ve been reading Jan Karon’s books this autumn too! When I read your musing I immediately thought that the Father Tim books had indeed been comforting to me. What a surprise to see you mention them in your comments. I’ve had some major life changes the last 5 months. Even though it’s been a positive change, it has been completely disruptive and I’ve found myself fighting negative emotions. I retired after 22 years at the same career, moving with my husband’s new job 800 miles away from family and friends. We call it our new adventure, but I think I have an inkling of how Sarah may have felt when Abraham announced they were leaving their home. The Father Tim books have definitely brought me some “comfort” and insight to my next chapter in life. I’d never thought of it as comfort reading, but your musings always “hit the nail on the head”.
Blessings to you.
A loyal fan,
What major changes, Shawn! There is some psychological scale that shows some effects of change and the interesting thing is that it doesn’t matter whether it is positive or negative change. Pamper yourself and may you soon delight in your new life.
Mrs. Mike was my favorite book in about the 5th or 6th grade. It’s out of print now, but several years ago I found a copy of it at Powell’s Books 🙂. One of these days when life isn’t quite so busy, I’m going to reread it…and encourage my granddaughters to read it, too.
I loved – and still do love – Mrs. Mike. There is a sequel that I just found a few years ago. I don’t remember the name and it isn’t as good, but it was great to find it. Oprah Magazine had an interview with the Freedmans (I think that’s the authors’ name) a few years ago that was wonderful as well.
As a mid-thirties, stay-at-home mom who loves to read and doesn’t watch TV – I really appreciate this musing as I find myself fighting the same heaviness. Thank you for sharing your heart – it helped mine!
What a lovely thing to say, Hilary. I hope your heart lightens soon.
After a busy, busy day reading professional and political materials I love to sink into a well written fiction or even historical fiction book…so relaxing with that herbal tea! Blessings this blessed season, Susan. K
And to you, Kristin.
Great way of describing favorite books. I have a series that would fit. (Karon’s Father Tim is a favorite also) I enjoy Jame Herriot’s All Creatures series.
Now I get to learn about Ann Ross! Thank you so much!
James Herrit is a wonderful choice for comfort reading.
I may have to look up your list of comfort books. My favorite books for comfort reading are the “All Creatures Great and Small” series by James Herriot.
Would love to know the titles of the comfort books you’re reading. I could use a few myself.
Jan Karon’s Father Tim series; Ann Ross’ Miss Julia series. I’d love to hear other people’s as well. Those were the two authors I thought of when I ran into the library.
I love Alexander McCall Smith’s 44 Scotland Street Series, which are easy to read, intelligent, humorous, and insightful. He has written many series but this one is my favorite in the “comfort” category.
I’ll have to look for that, Judy. I have to admit that I don’t think I’d call my choices intelligent necessarily. That’s what makes them undemanding.
I never thought of it in terms of comfort reading, but I have done the same thing. My preference is murder mysteries. Even though someone dies, it’s not usually someone one has developed any depth of feeling for because, unless there are multiple homicides, the victim dies very early in the story. One of the more contemporary murder mysteries I’ve enjoyed is called ‘The Sweetness at the Bottom of the Pie’ by Alan Bradley. Truly quirky. In any case, happy reading as you recover from your cold and regain your equilibrium. Shalom and Chag Chanukah Sameach to you, Rabbi Daniel, and your whole family.
I’m not a big mystery fan, Joyce. I have been at times in my life, but not recently. Maybe I’ll give a look to the Bradley book. Thanks for your good wishes. Chag Sameach (or Merry Christmas?) to you.
The Bradley books are written by a Canadian author and they are a delightful easy read. He has written eight with the same characters. As I read your musing Susan that was the book (series) that came to me. I’m sitting at home sick too and I think I will pull them out. Blessings for a Happy Chanukah!
I don’t know these books, Janice. If you have a chance, please give one title or the author’s name.
I was just reading an article on a bronze coin found last year in Jerusalem, minted around the time of the Maccabean revolt. Not really light reading, but perfect for Chanukah and it got my imagination going.
I’ll have to look for that article, Susan.
What a wonderful idea – it’s escaping the difficulties of life through an uplifting story.
Would live to know your list of books.
Thank you for your Musings!! Happy Chanuka!
Heather, uplifting is too much work. These are pleasant books.
I would like to know the titles of these comfort books sitting next to you!
Jan Karon’s Father Tim series; Ann Ross’ Miss Julia series.
Father Tim is exactly the book that came to mind while reading your article. I’ve never heard of the other; I can’t wait to try it! I needed this post!
I forgot to mention one aspect of the Mitford series (Father Tim). I can doze off or go get a cup of tea at any point because there is no tension of “What’s going to happen.” Everything will work out and at a slow and leisurely pace.
Loved this series, but was a bit disappointed with the lack of details concerning the last sibling. He simply showed up at Fr. Tim’s door. Where had he been all those years?
I just take it as it comes, Janet. I can’t say that I ponder about details, but I’m glad someone is.
Thanks.. indeed cold winter. We didn’t do the Chanukah candles yet perhaps this year. I probably completely disobeyed the laws of Shabbat yet I lit one candle yesterday and spent time relaxing with family. We read the Tanach I’m in Psalms Carmen is in Torah Genesis I think. It is written totally different then the KJV, very difficult to discern true from not true yet at least the Hebrew lets me know Im going to the source material. Slowly but surely we will make it. Or Perhaps thats wishful thinking. Anyway have a great Chanukah you’se guys are the best… with love from Mr And Mrs Henderson!!!
I have read both series and you are 100% correct. Easy on the mind and eye. Comfort reading. Thank you
I hope you’re getting some new suggestions, as I am, from people here, Victoria.
What I love about you Susan, is how much we think alike. You are much smarter than me but I like that somethings you do I do too!
We made a move in September. During the packing and sorting I left the Father Tim books out and read them to fall asleep as I was stressed with all that needed to be done. They were a comfort and helped me relax when I needed it. I’m in Ventura County, CA now, helping my daughter with her children and new baby. The smoke is horrible and the winds have been fierce during the night. So Father Tim and Cynthia are comforting me again. Taking my mind off stress. Praying for all those firefighters in the wind and flames and all those who have had their homes lost to the fires.
Lynn, I have been amazed that the fires seem to be downplayed in the press. I hope your daughter’s home is safe and am sure you are enjoying the blessing of a new baby.
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