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Tuesday, July 19, 2011

The Comfort Read

Unpacking this weekend I found a sight that brought tears to my eyes. Books. A whole box of books that I packed in December and haven't read since.

Dresden, Jason Wander, Lost fleet, Anne Bishop, and Vorkosigan clan... four layers of neatly stacked books. The bottom two layers were devoted solely to the Discworld books by Terry Pratchett. It feels so good to have them back, like someone finally gave me back my long lost security blanket.

Why is that, exactly?

I read a few hundred books a year. Sometimes rereading, many times reading new titles. I rarely go a day without reading a book. There are books I will never read again, and books I'll only pick up when bored, and then there are books that I read so much I have them virtually memorized.

When I opened this box I started searching for LOST CONTINENT by Terry Pratchett. I'd read an article about the ceremony at the Tower of London with the keys which Pratchett spoofs in the opening, and I missed the book. I curled up in a comfy chair with my big gray sweater, my fuzzy pink socks, and my book.

After a while, feeling much better, I stopped to analyze the situation.

What has a Comfort Read got that the other books don't?

Plot? No - if I finish a book it has a decent plot that moves you from A to B.

Voice? No - I probably won't pick up a book if it doesn't have Voice.

Layers and Meaning? That would make sense, but No - There are plenty of intelligent books on my shelf, but not all of them are comfort reads.

Great characters? Sort of - All my favorite books have characters I love. I'd invite them to dinner and could spend many happy hours in their company. But a great character is not enough to make the book a Comfort Read.

Great World? Oh! Yes! - That's it. Every time. For every book. All the Comfort Read books are ones where I want to visit the world. It's not the character's or plot that draw me back, it's the world. I want to escape into somewhere else.

I suspect that this is why so many books become classics, childhood favorites, and major phenomena. Look at the Harry Potter series. I'm not a fan of Harry, but the world J.K. Rowling created? Amazing.

The world, and Hogwarts in particular, draws people back. Look at the fan base. They aren't pulling a Team Harry/Team Draco, no, they choose houses for themselves, they try to insert themselves into the world of Harry Potter.

Likewise, what pulls me back to the Discworld books after a long day is the reassuring embrace of a setting that has become a character.

That, I think, is essential to a perfect book. The setting needs to be more than a series of flat prop screens painted in the background. If you can pick up the plot of a book and move it anywhere, the author has failed. There needs to be a reason why the story is set in that one particular place.

What do you think? What are your Comfort Reads and why?

1 comment:

  1. Love lost fleet!

    I think one of my favorite comfort reads is Druid of Shannara by Terry Brooks. It's older, the writing is a bit traditional.

    It's a wonderful story, easy to fall in love with. The writer doesn't make me hate him for stringing me along.

    It's image-rich and the ending is so very satisfying.