I’m going to serve on a panel at Bouchercon that seeks to answer this thought-provoking question: Why are some traditional mysteries comfort reads?
I haven’t answered that question yet, but it made me think about what I read when I need a break from work or worry or want the stimulation of a good story well told. I realized that I’ve been reading for comfort since the second half of first grade. Probably most people who bother to come to this blog can say the same.
The writers I’ve gone back to repeatedly over the decades include the following.
Mark Twain—The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn gets my vote for the great American novel. Twain offers great characters, vivid settings, and multiple layers that appeal to readers of every generation. Almost no one equals the humor and bite of his social commentary in this novel and many other novels and nonfiction writings.
Jane Austen—Pride and Prejudice is my favorite. In a much softer way, Austen presents a humorous but pointed social commentary
George Eliot—Adam Bed gets my nod. I love the flow of her prose, which editors would probably break into simple and less subtle sentences today.
Charles Dickens—Tale of Two Cities, which I taught as a practice teacher, is a favorite. His thumbnail sketches of characters are superb.
William Shakespeare—I don’t have a favorite play or sonnet, but he astonishes with the beauty of his words and the depths of his thought even in his weakest work.
Emily Dickinson—She says so much is so few words, and her imagery, often taken from nature, delights me.
Ursula K. Le Guin—She’s one of the most thoughtful, inventive, and skilled writers of the late 20th century. Her short stories are among the best I’ve every read, and I love her novels. My favorite novels are The Wizard of Earthsea (the first of a terrific trilogy), The Dispossessed, and The Left Hand of Darkness.
When I became interested in writing for young readers, I enjoyed well-written books by Katherine Paterson, M. E. Kerr, Judy Blume, Beverly Cleary, and others. You can read their books in two to four hours. Again, these writers tend to make points with humor. If I feel a deep need to read something good but have little time, I may go to the juvenile lit section and pick up a Newbery winner.
As to the panel’s question, I’ll be talking that over with Beverly Allen, Rhys Bowen (one of my comfort mystery reads), Jennifer Kincheloe, and Greg Lilly at the international mystery conference at 10 a.m., Sunday, October 11.