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Unpro’s Guide to Comfort Reading

I’ve been thinking a lot lately about comfort. It’s been a rough month for ol’ Unpro: various physical and emotional ailments have had me at the doctor and the pharmacy more times than I can count, and without my voice for three agonizing days. When I haven’t been apologizing to my understanding boss or throwing a tantrum in the ER, I’ve been seeking comfort in food (roasted broccoli and scrambled eggs), TV (Archer, RuPaul’s Drag Race and my secret weapon: reruns of Full House‘s stellar second season) and the loves of my life: my books.

For those of you having a similarly long winter, behold Unpro’s Criteria for Comfort Reading:

No Nooks is Good Nooks.

I’m no possession hound, but I love my Nook like no other. I read extremely fast and am extremely cheap, so the prospect of excellent ebooks at reasonable prices 24/7 is like catnip. And it’s fantastic for travel. (Barnes and Noble, if you’re reading this I’d love one of those tablets. Thanks in advance.)

However, when I’m sick or stressed I prefer what Smart Bitches Trashy Books refers to as “dead tree books.” There’s something nostalgic about holding a book, feeling its weight and turning the pages. My mom read to me every night until I was seven or eight, even though by that point I’d been reading on my own for several years. My first job was at the public library. Throughout my twenties I’d walk around Borders if I needed to clear my head, and last week after a grueling day at the office I found myself at the library next door to my apartment. Something about holding a book just calms me – it’s like a touchstone beaming its magical healing powers straight to my exhausted, overwhelmed mind.

The Power of Repeat Reading.

Last May after the movers hauled all my worldly goods into my new apartment, the first thing my exhausted self did was unpack my books. And this month I’ve been pulling many of them off the shelf for another go-round. Though I tear through new stuff like nobody’s business, I’m a big fan of “repeat reading” when I’m dealing with mind/body negativity, whether unfamiliar (pinkeye) or all too familiar (yet another sinus infection or the good old anxiety/depression combo platter making a return visit). I take comfort in knowing what’s going on, what’s going to happen and that it’ll all be okay in the end. Which brings me to my next Comfort Reading Criteria…

Lower Than Low Stakes.

I’m going to sound like a total hipster here and say I was reading young adult fiction long before it was socially acceptable for a grown woman to be prowling the shelves marked “Teens.” (Just ask my ex-boyfriend, who used to tease me mercilessly about my Sarah Dessen habit.) And I find the Hunger Games trilogy brilliant and disturbing, ditto the Harry Potter series. In other words, I’m all about the weighty, substantial YA.

Except when I’m sick or stressed. When my brain is full of mucus and/or bad thoughts, I want light prose and funny dialogue. I want little problems. I want happy endings with some kissing thrown in for good measure. I want YA where a girl likes a boy and that’s the biggest problem she has. If I’m feeling a little more grown-up, I want anything by Emily Giffin or from the old imprint Red Dress Ink (the latter is where Repeat Reading comes in handy). It’s no coincidence I converted to romance novel fandom while laid up with bronchitis.

(And in the interest of full disclosure, I read a ton of contemporary YA and romance when I’m not sick. At a book signing with three YA authors last June, I was the oldest person there without a teenage offspring in tow. And I brought cupcakes.)

What do you read for comfort? Leave a comment!

By The Unprofessional Critic

Lauren Whalen is a freelance writer living in Chicago. She reviews plays for Chicago Theater Beat ( and talks about movies on The Film Yap ( Lauren's young adult novel is represented by Chalberg & Sussman Literary Agency. Say hi to her at maybeimamazed02(at)gmail(dot)com. (Photo by Greg Inda)

48 replies on “Unpro’s Guide to Comfort Reading”

I went through a phase of reading Alexander McCall-Smith’s “Number One Ladies Detective Agency” series during a period of pretty dark mental activity, and I’m pretty sure I owe my sanity to them. Comfort food for the soul :)

Oh, Murder Mysteries hands down. They’re all plot driven, have nifty descriptions (“she could tell my the catch of his breath that he was lying….”) and if you’ve not been paying enough attention to figure out why it was the butler or whatever, they summarize it all for you at the end!

So yeah, murder mysteries with a strong sense of place: Nevada Barr, Michael Connolly, PD James, Peter Robinson….

Oh, comfort reading…my most favorite activity ever. I am a teacher who also has a degree in literary science and you wouldn’t believe the amount of critique I get from my peers regarding my choice of reading material. I love trashy romance books and I really like supernatural YA-books. For me, it’s all about being able to escape into a world you already know, that you feel certain isn’t going to shove any surprises in your face. It’s safe, secure and it gives me reprieve from the outside world.

Reading all these responses, I’m sort of surprised that I don’t have a go-to specific book I read when I’m down. I like a lot of YA and supernatural fictions — I wrote in a post last year that I read a number of horrible books while trying to find new writers in the vein of 80’s Stephen King — so I guess I just read more of it when I’m stressed.

However, I do have a mind palate cleanser. When I’ve read too many trashy books or my writing has gone off the rails, I like to read Raymond Chandler. His prose is like a fine wine. That’s the kind of writing I’d like to do, and I guess I find some comfort in retreating into it. (I’m a big hard-boiled fan in general.)

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