It has been a stress-filled time of late, and when bad things happen, or sad news comes, or times are difficult, I turn to comfort reading to help me through.
Comfort reading, for me, means reliable authors, favorite books, fairly easygoing plots and at least some likable characters. I don’t want it too dark, or noir, gritty, or grim. I don’t want horror, or true crime or serial killers. If there’s a bad guy, I want him to get his just desserts. I don’t want to read about a dystopia.
That doesn’t mean it all has to be Farmer McFriendly of Happy Valley, but I like to have had a positive feeling upon reading the last page.
Some of the things I turn to for comfort reading are short stories, and my first go-to is Sherlock Holmes. They can be, often are, the canon – the stories written by Conan Doyle – but I’m fine with good pastiches as well. For other mystery comfort reading, I think of two things: softer mysteries and hard-boiled. For the former, I turn to Christie, Patricia Moyes, Peter Robinson, W.J. Burley (Wycliffe novels), Ian Rankin. For the latter I like Bill Pronzini, Jonathan Valin, Joe Gores, Rex Stout’s Nero Wolfe books, and both Ross Macdonald and John D. McDonald. Then of course there are the Mike Shayne books, and the ones featuring Shell Scott and Gardner’s Perry Mason novels. Somewhere between are favorite authors Louise Penny and William Kent Krueger. I find Krieger especially good for re-reading.
But as much as I like comfort mystery reading, it’s to science fiction and fantasy that I most frequently turn. As often as not I want old-fashioned science fiction stories by Arthur C. Clarke, Poul Anderson, Christopher Anvil and other favorites. If I’m reading novels, I like easy going such as Heinlein’s juveniles, and the Rolling Stones books, or something by Hal Clement or Isaac Asimov. I have to admit, though, that my first instinct, when I want to crawl inside a book and escape the world is to pick up one of the Pern book by Anne McCaffrey. I’ve read all the books several times, but never get tired of rejoining the characters and situations in them.
As for fantasy, The Hobbit and The Lord of the Rings can’t be beat, but I also am very fond of other fantasy series, including The Belgariad by David Eddings, the Redwall novels by Brian Jacques, the Fafhrd & The Gray Mouser books by Fritz Leiber, the Conan stories by Robert Howard, the Books of Swords by Fred Saberhagen, as well as his Empire of the East.
Last but certainly not least when it comes to comfort reading are some books that may be consider YA or young reader books. I gladly pick up Wind in the Willows, Duncton Wood by William Horwood, Tailchaser’s Song by Tad Williams and a host of others.
Right now? I’m reading some Sherlock Holmes stories, pastiches, and letting myself drift back to London in the mid 1890s. Ahhh.
How about you? What are your “comfort read” books and authors?
Like you, I turn to reliable writers when I’m in need of comfort reading. John Mortimer’s Rumpole stories, Jack Vance’s SF adventures, and mysteries by Bill Pronzini, Loren Estleman, Agatha Christie, and Erle Stanley Gardner. I also drop everything when Alastair Reynolds and Matthew Hughes bring out new books.
Mortimer is a good choice. I have the DVDs, too. I knew you’d list Vance, though for me he’s not exactly “comfort” reading.
I feel much the same way when things are going rough. I read but I want something that isn’t too graphic and in which the good guys win. I used to turn to Louis L’Amour often for this but I’ve read just about everything by him. I may reread a book or two when needed.
Good choices! Bill Crider is another excellent comfort read for his Sheriff Rhodes series.
Lately I’ve not been enjoying a lot of my reading. When I like a book I can race through it very quickly (exhibit A: the new Michael Connelly book, THE WRONG SIDE OF GOODBYE), where if a book is just OK (exhibit B: the Lee Child/Reacher prequel, NIGHT SCHOOL) I plod through it but with very little joy.
Actually, I’ve been thinking of some science fiction as I haven’t read any in a while, but was trying to get through these library books first. (I only have THE VINYL DETECTIVE left on the Kindle, and I’m 10% into that, plus the new Allen Eskens trade paperback.)
Other recent books I would recommend:
James Swain, JACKPOT
Brett Battles, THE COLLECTED (both were ebooks)
Craig Johnson, AN OBVIOUS FACT (Longmire)
Eric Beetner, RUN FOR THE MONEY (crazy thriller)
Yes, Crider, of course. Connelley is a little too stressful for me when I want comfort. The Swain and Johnson are authors I need to visit. “Crazy thriller” may not be comfort reading for me.
Odd. I wouldn’t consider Michael Connelly stressful. Now John Connolly is a different matter with some pretty creepy villains.
Thanks, Jeff. As for me, Alistair MacLean is always good, but I like a lot of SF, too. Clifford D. Simak comes to mind. P.G. Wodehouse is always a good choice, too.
I have a few unread McLean paperbacks here, I should try one. Also Wodehouse.
I do use comfort reading to try to maintain an even keel. Two writers I was introduced to in grade 9 Louis L’Amour and H.P Lovecraft are important. I like the Heinlein juveniles, but for SF Simak and Andre Norton are tops. For mysteries Sayers specially Gaudy Night, The Nine Tailors and Busman’s Holidays. And of course the Wind in the Willows.
All the best.
Guy, I’m not a western reader, nor horror. Andre Norton would work, at least some of hers. As for Sayers, the Lord Peter short stories and Nine Tailors.
Oh my goodness, am I big proponent of comfort reading. I’ve been doing a lot of that lately too. Sherlock Holmes is always a safe place to hide out. I also love Agatha Christie and Philip MacDonald and John Buchan and Angela Thirkell and D.E. Stevenson and Elizabeth Peters and Rex Stout and Laurie R. King (for a great Sherlock Holmes series begun with the classic: THE BEEKEEPER’S APPRENTICE. I’ve lost track of how many times I’ve read this.)
I know you are, Yvette, so I hoped for suggestions from you! I forgot about Stevenson, I have 3 and have read one of them. Buchan would be fine except I’m not much a one for spy stuff, Ian Flemming excepted. I like the Laurie King books a lot, but have only got through Locked Rooms so far.
Oh, try HUNTINGTOWER by John Buchan, Richard. It is not a spy novel. It is just pure adventure. The hero is a middle-aged grocer. Yes. I’ve read this book twice and will read it a third time at some point. I absolutely love and recommend it. Pure escapism.
On your recommendation, of course I’ll try it.
For comfort reading in mysteries-Ian Rankin, Michael Connolly, Timothy Hallinan, Ross MacDonald, Raymond Chandler, Arthur Lyons, Stephen Greenleaf, Jonathan Valin, Eric Ambler, Henning Menkell, Sjowall and Wahloo’s Martin Beck novels.
In SF/F-Jack Vance, Matthew Hughes, Ursula Le Guin, Christopher Priest, Peter Straub, Fritz Leiber(have reread his Fafhrd & Grey Mouser tales many times), Arthur C. Clarke, Alfred Bester.
Good list, Steve, many ones I also listed, as you saw. I’m a bit ify on Bester, but should have mentioned Niven, for short stories.
Writers I can re-read frequently, in part or in large part, or who I find reliably engaging: Avram Davidson, Damon Knight, Kate Wilhelm, Rex Stout, Joanna Russ, Ross Macdonald, John D. MacDonald, Ambrose Bierce, Algis Budrys, Marcia Muller, Bill Pronzini, Fritz Leiber, Robert Bloch, Dennis Etchison, Janet Fox, Lee Hoffman, Ed Gorman…among others.
…or even whom…
Wouldn’t accept my blog address! Still won’t.
Seems to accept it when I put it in, Todd. Nice list you gave, though for me not all would fall into my comfort read zone (Russ, Bloch, others)
Not even Bloch’s gentle fantasies, such as “The Movie People” or “All on a Golden Afternoon”? Russ, too, could be utterly charming and funny, as with “My Boat” or “Useful Phrases for the Tourist”…spikier work such as “Final Performance” or THE FEMALE MAN were not meant to be inherently comforting, no.
I note the only BlogSpot blogger who seems to have a hot link above is Yvette…WordPress has been known to play such games in the past. Meanwhile, you noted a desire for volumes drawn from THE SATURDAY EVENING POST in perhaps 5-year increments…they actually did offer annual volumes, not sure who was winnowing down from all the SEP fiction every year, starting no later than 1946 and running into the 1960s:
The Saturday Evening Post Stories 1946 ed. Anon. (New York: Random House, 1947, vi+326pp, hc)
[indexed by Denny Lien]
The Return · Noel Langley · ss The Saturday Evening Post Nov 16 1946
Tugboat Annie Wins Her Medal [Tugboat Annie] · Norman Reilly Raine · ss The Saturday Evening Post Jun 15 1946
The Murderer · Joel Townsley Rogers · ss The Saturday Evening Post Nov 23 1946
So Long, Joe · Win Brooks · ss The Saturday Evening Post Apr 27 1946
Command · James Warner Bellah · ss The Saturday Evening Post Jun 8 1946
Glencannon and the Ailing Cockroach [Colin Glencannon] · Guy Gilpatric · ss The Saturday Evening Post Nov 16 1946
Grandpa and the Miracle Grindstone · Joe David Brown · ss The Saturday Evening Post Mar 2 1946
Natives Are Sometimes People · Roderick Lull · ss The Saturday Evening Post Jul 13 1946
Old Professors Never Die · Wilbur Schramm · ss The Saturday Evening Post Aug 3 1946
Flood Burial · Shelby Foote · ss The Saturday Evening Post Sep 7 1946
Trouble with the Union · Dennis Harrington · ss The Saturday Evening Post Sep 28 1946
We Shall Live Again · Sophie Kerr · ss The Saturday Evening Post Nov 9 1946
Departure with Swords and Ashes · George Weller · ss The Saturday Evening Post Mar 23 1946
Sweet-Talk Me, Jackson · Douglass Welch · ss The Saturday Evening Post May 18 1946
Rebound · Robert Carson · ss The Saturday Evening Post Jun 1 1946
Grown-Up Wife · Muriel Bruce Hasbrouck · ss The Saturday Evening Post Sep 14 1946
Port of Call · Bud Hutton · ss The Saturday Evening Post Jul 6 1946
Memo on Kathy O’Rourke · Jack Sher · ss The Saturday Evening Post Nov 23 1946
Behind Locked Doors · Thomas Walsh · ss The Saturday Evening Post Nov 9 1946
Fire in the Night · Frank O’Rourke · ss The Saturday Evening Post Jan 12 1946
–see the Misc. Anthologies index and then onto your booksellers…I have some of these in ome box or another, http://www.philsp.com/homeville/anth/t13.htm#BOT
Ah…failed to look at the pre-war POST STORIES volumes dating back at least to 1935…
A comfort read to me is one where the narrative is linear, told from a single POV, the crime is not too bloody or sadistic, the prose is beautiful, there is a neat balance between dialog and description, the setting is new to me,
Sounds just right to me, Patti. What are your recommendations?
If I am stressed that badly I don’t read. I need to move around. BTW, have you ever read Patricia McKillip?
Can’t move around all the time, and YV has way too many commercials, so reading is my preference. Yes, I think I read something by her, fantasy, I think. Don’t recall anything about it, maybe it had dragons?
Yes, fantasy books with dragons are among her works.
My comfort reading authors over the years include John D. McDonald, Dick Francis (early period mostly), and F. van Wyck Mason’s Hugh North stories.
I also love to reread certain Alistair MacLean novels every year or two, though I’m not sure if that falls under the comfort reading category.
Oh, I also like the Bowdrie short stories by Louis L’Amour.
Another person mentioned McLean, so I might try his books.
My comfort reading is Rex Stout. I do like to reread other mystery authors like Josephine Tey and Margery Allingham. I love posts like these because I get lots of suggestions of authors to continue reading or start reading, both in your post and the comments.
Hope you’re getting some here, Tracy.
Richard, that’s a very interesting question and I liked your take on it. I’m with Macavityabc on P.G. Wodehouse and MacLean, to which I’ll add Jack Higgins, Edgar Rice Burroughs, Tom Sharpe and Don Pendleton’s Mack Bolan. A bit of action soothes the nerves. Above everything, I always turn to spiritual literature for comfort reading.
If I am REALLY in need of comfort reading I will almost always go back to Harry Harrison’s Stainless Steel Rat books, Brian Daley’s Han Solo novels, or A World Out of Time by Larry Niven. Those are the first SF books I read and I read them over and over in childhood and beyond.
Tolkien is good comfort reading, I agree, I’ve actually been turning to his book of letters off an on throughout the last several years as comfort reading.
The Fantagraphics Peanuts collections are also really good comfort reading to me and I often turn to them during these winter holidays.
Other than the Tolkien, which I’ve only read as an adult, all of my comfort reading turns back to things from my childhood.