I attended a presentation at FenCon in September on comfort books, titled “Too Close for Comfort.” I was thinking about the talk, remembering my own contributions to the discussion during the Q&A and went looking for my notes. Apparently I never put my notes up here about the panel, but I did have my “paper” version. I decided to post my notes, as I think it is an interesting topic.
Michelle Muenzler (cookie lady)—short story author, book with agent
J. Kathleen Cheney—1902 alternate history, Portugal, book
Michael Ashleigh Finn—short story author, working on superhero pastiche, consultant to Dresden Files comic books
Kim Antell—playwright, artist, trying to break into novels, ArmadilloCon chair
Comfort books = comfort books for eyes
What drives the phenomena? Why do we like?
Kim= anxiety, need something to calm me
Michael= same thing
Michelle= not anxiety, a little sad or really tired, you want something familiar
Kathleen= less pressure when you are reading a book you’ve read, you don’t have to finish the chapter, you don’t have to be worried, don’t have to stay up all night, maybe read just your favorite scenes… You don’t have to work at it. It’s easy.
Michael = read into the opposite that, Elephant book by Prachett, couldn’t find it, fell asleep looking for it
Can it be a style and not a book you’ve already read?
Kathleen = Yes. Can be a romance novel, pretty darn predictable. That is one of the attractions of the romance novels and watching romantic comedies. You’re in a safe relationship with it.
Kim = That’s why I don’t watch romantic comedies.
Michelle= I read picture books like that.
Michael= Want Tarantino to come out with romance novel.
Rob= cozy mysteries too, Nero Wolfe, Miss Marple, etc.
Kim = I heard romance pop-up novel. That would be brilliant!
Without naming the book, please tell me some of the characteristics.
Kathleen = esp w books read before, scenes between principals, like reading the dialogue, will skip the action scenes and read the dialogue, lots of dialogue. Sometimes this is not available in sf. I want to read the personal interactions.
Michelle = lean toward strong emotional scenes, makes me cry, already have the buildup in my head so I can go to middle or last third…
Rob = doesn’t work for me
Michael = stress hormones are in tears, when release them…
Rob = like this emotional impact, then do that
Kathleen = romantic comedies have “all hope is lost” moment about 2/3s of way through. You have this scene. You watch it. You cry. You’ve released your stress.
Michael = Read on Friday so will have 2 days to recover.
Michael = read at conversational speeds, and at bad age for reading, do a lot of audio books. For the audio books, it’s the reader. Sometimes the voice is the deal. If you have good wordsmithing in the novel, then it’s even better.
Kim = reading disability, can’t read large descriptions, need conversation; I choose books that feel more human. I’m weird. Grew up in RCC household in Houston. No one in family like me. Comfort to read about people like me.
Rob = another wrinkle for me, kind of like playing an old song, reminds me of a time when things were calmer, I can go back to that. Outside of SFF I go for Nero Wolfe, Dick Francis. Ties me back to a different time.
Michael = comedic aspect, but plays on heart and brain strings; laugh, laugh, make think, laugh, laugh, make think
What specific books or authors do you read for comfort?
Michael = Pratchett
Kim = The Sapphire Rose, well-written siege, romance, adventure…
Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy, high school read, Douglas Adams made me feel good.
Kathleen=sff, Martha Wells’ Fall of Ile-Rien trilogy, I love Tremaine so much. Madeline L’Engle first three novels in Wrinkle, Elizabeth Mansfield’s Regency Romances—like her better than Georgette Heyer…
Kim = I do read Regency Romance, but only the good ones.
Michelle = favorite Peter S. Beagle’s books—Innkeeper’s Song, The Last Unicorn… When I moved away from home, my mom was McCaffrey fan. But she had two extra books, so I took her extra copies. And her copy of The Hobbit. Linnea Sinclair is another author I like.
Michael = according to Romantic Times I’ve been reading romance forever, Lois McMaster Bujold… Tolkien didn’t write for reading, but for laying down a mythos.
Rob = David Eddings, Robert Aspirin, Anne McCaffrey.
Kim = Madeline L’Engle’s mainline fiction
Have you ever had any comfort books that stopped being comfort books?
Kim = The last time I read Hitchhiker’s Guide, it wasn’t as good as it used to be. Read it 50 times, but think I have finally read it too much.
Michael = haven’t had that with comfort books, but “That’s brilliant!” the phenomenal ideas. But the book is poorly written. So ideas good, but writing bad. Dresden Files used to be comfort, but now I am a Beta reader and it’s work. Books got dark for a while. Changes was dark. Later come back to the light, humor.
Rob = Piers Anthony. Loved the Xanth books when I was a kid. The punnier they got, the less I liked them. But the story, the magical world, everyone having a talent. As I got older, his writing wasn’t as good. Some was problematic. Myth Adventure series, Aspirin. I can re-read first 6, but after that… not.
Michael = Piers Anthony had brilliant ideas. Execution, not so much.
Kathleen = fallen off the list, not specific books; but series that I really loved and the author went somewhere I did not like, that spoils the series for me. Also another grinding to a halt on 7th book. Gotten tired of it.
Michael = Anita Blake. Don’t hate what she did, but ruined the series for me. Steven Brust books… wandered. First book he mentioned awesome stuff, but he never got back to it.
Kim = Anne Rice does that.
Michelle = high school, college, used to read a ton of Orson Scott Card… My copy of Ender’s Game is worn out. But as I started writing, I got too aware of political issues. Took away that comfort feeling. So I don’t go back and re-read them.
Michael = Cerebus comic series. Some of the giant volumes, absolutely amazing. But later, messed up. Misogynistic.
Michelle = Richard Adams’ book, re-read, heroine is as dumb as a stump. Loved secondary characters and world, but eventually couldn’t take the stupidity.
Rob = off comfort book, gore books… When I was a kid, these were the supermarket books. They were fantasy. First few were interesting. Book or two into it, really kind of messed up. Treatment of women is wrong on many levels.
Michael = gore kept me out of sff for a while.
Kim = when I originally saw title of panel, I thought of books that give us the heebie jeebies. There are a lot of misogynistic books, but I can’t read them. I like books that have strong men and women characters…
You said you were reading and liked the secondary characters. Does comfort reading lead to comfort writing?
Kathleen = I think I know what you are asking. A lot of times when you are reading, you find the secondary characters more interesting. A lot of readers will write fanfic because they like the minor characters. If you read romance novels, this is something you will see. They spin off entire novel series’ this way. Christine Feehan.
Kim = I don’t read or write fanfic. But what I will do, I have a very active imagination and I daydream. I will write off the books. I just don’t write them down. I daydream about them.
Kathleen = same thing. Loved this so much, I want to get involved in it.
Michael = don’t write fanfic… I do mushing. Play feature characters from the books…
Michelle = my writing is so dark. I can’t write about secondary characters. Not comforting when I kill them off.
Rob = wrote a Sherlock Holmes adventure, took characters that I loved… I like it, comfort… Writing is too hard to do as comfort. But what I write tends to be the kind of thing that tends to be what I would want to read. Going to have happy endings.
Can give them a tough ride, but won’t toss them in the grave at the end.
Touch back on secondary characters and wanting to give them spotlight. Didn’t make Watson the hero, but gave him a couple of moments when he was a badass.
Are any of our comfort books dark books?
Kim asked this question.
Michael = One, dark through a large portion of it…
Kim = one I read again and again, but “creepy-ass dark book”
Kathleen = one of my fav ss is dark by Tanith Lee. Loved this one story. Will re-read.
Michelle = like to read books that make me cry. I’m mining emotions out of comfort books, and then I take the emotions and write them down.
Prefer in grave or a happy ending?
Uncomfortable change or something in the middle? Something that speaks to a reader’s own issues in life…
Michelle = if it is a book that you connect with on a personal level, that would be a comfort book
Rob = feeling down, I might put in Return of the Jedi, xx is my favorite, but not watch when down
Kim = comfort books are the opposite of what I am going through
Michael = don’t find it comforting, shroedenfraude,
Kim = I want to be so far away from being me as comfort book. I want to be an adventurer.
Rob = comfort books are escapism.
Iron Druid audio books… That man can read. Luke Daniels. He is a one-man radio show, doing all the voices, completely different. If you like Jim Butcher would like Iron Druid. Friend’s brother kept bringing it up and I listened to it and I was addicted.
Jim Dale is also good at reading.
Serialized romance novels. See the same characters. Almost like I’m a part of the story. Outlander series, in fourth book—lot of rape in that series.
John Steinbeck and Grapes of Wrath.
Heir to the Empire, the whole series by Timothy Zahn
Not sure nostalgia, but watching characters grow up, YA books… Terry Brooks’ Shenarra series, RA Salvatore Forgotten Realms, and Anne McCaffrey’s xx series
My answers: Liad books, first three. Weber’s War God’s Own (esp Oath of Swords). Kate Daniels’ Magic Bleeds: Every time I read it, I am thankful again for my husband and how good our relationship is. The characters have a strong marriage. (Someone else in the audience asked me for the title of the book again because of that comment.)