~~ "She has so many aliases, you'd think she was a spy!" ~~

Saturday, December 14, 2013

Comfort books

I spent most of November reading for work—I was invited to pitch a story idea for an anthology in another author’s world, but I hadn’t read any of the books in that world since, ooh, 1995-ish?* I had thirteen on hand, plus I got one out of the library, although no, I didn’t read them all. I dipped in and out, asked questions, and eventually wrote a fully formed idea. I also had a vague idea that had been niggling in the back of my head, so I went ahead and pitched that as well…

Yeah. You know which one they picked. But it’ll be more fun to write because I don’t really know what it’s all about!

But that’s not what I wanted to ramble about. There are a lot of things I want to ramble about, actually, as I ponder how the holiday season affects me: ritual, family, darkness and light, spirituality, death, snow/cold. A dozen different blog posts float through my head. Many are interconnected.

Most come back to story. Which doesn’t surprise me in the least.

My usual traditional holiday reading is The Dark is Rising by Susan Cooper. Most years, I try to read all five books in the sequence, but that one is the most meaningful to me, set in a cold, snowy British winter. I remember finding these books in my school library; not sure if it was 8th or 9th grade. They built on Tolkien and Lloyd Alexander to solidify my fascination with Britain, especially Wales, and the deep magic there.

This year, though, I find myself drawn to other books. I’m not sure how to explain it except to call them comfort reading. Books that pull you down into the story and the characters and you’re there and they’re real, and it’s not so much that you can’t stop turning the pages as you’re not even aware of turning the pages. Magic, yes, but often a more subtle magic.

I moved my office upstairs at the beginning of the year, and as part of that created a wall of books (there are more bookcases on other walls, but one wall is all shelves), and in the process went through all of the fiction we have. I did get rid of a few things. I also found things I hadn’t really thought about, even though they were in a wall of bookshelves in my downstairs office, right there.

I’m reading Pamela Dean’s Tam Lin right now, because a few months ago I was staring at the shelves and it…called to me. I read at least the first chapter right there, as if under a spell. When I finished reading for work and looked around for the next book to read, that was the one I wanted. Not the 200+ books in my To Read bookcase in the upstairs landing, oh no. Tam Lin, dammit.

After that, I think it’ll be The Wood Wife by Terri Windling. I’ve been reading her blog for the past few months, so that seems…right.
 I’m not sure what I’ll choose after that. I find myself rejecting books I love as being “not right,” even as I can’t define what’s “right,” what’s “comfort.” Some, despite how I love them, are too dense. I don’t want dense or deep. (I don’t want fluff, either, really.) I just turned and stared at the shelves. Neverwhere (Gaiman), maybe? Kushner’s Swordspoint? (Why not both?)

I can’t quite put my finger on the common thread of these books. I can feel it, I can almost describe it, but then it slips away. Mythic fiction, maybe?

Do you have comfort books? What are they? What do they have in common, and why do you love them so?

--*Which is not to say the reading was arduous—I enjoy this author immensely. It’s just that if I’d had my way, I wouldn’t have necessarily binged on this author for a month straight.

No comments: