Classic Bildungsroman

Literary Excavations

Topical Tuesday: Comfort Books


I am the sort of person who really loves what they love. I will eat the same meal until I’m sick of it. I’ve watched the same episodes of The Office and Doctor Who a shameful amount of times. And my favorite items of clothing literally get worn out. Books are no different. So today I want to talk about Comfort Books. These are the books that I reread consistently, either because I can’t get enough, or I’m going through tough times. These books can ground me and bring me back to who I am. They make me feel good. Sometimes these are guilty pleasure reads–meaning I know they aren’t objectively good enough to stand the test of time or join “The Canon”, but I just can’t stay away. Other times these are books which demand to be read over and over–books that offer something new every time. These are the books that I love unconditionally. So without further ado, here is a list of my Comfort Books:

1. The Green Rider series by Kristen Britain

This is like Kraft mac n cheese in the blue box. I’ll readily admit that the first book is a little rough in terms of the level of writing and the cliche fantasy moments, but the story and the characters are still great. The second book is a huge improvement upon the writing and the series only gets better. The world is so cozy, and Karigan’s character is like a part of me after reading the series so many times. I love the pragmatism she presents in the face of challenges, and the strong sense of honor that is so rare in every day people. She is definitely a character that I look up to, but very human. Reading about her adventures is like sitting down to catch up with an old friend. When I’m going through a rough time or feeling down, this helps me remember who I am and what I value in myself and other people.

2. The Lord of the Rings by JRR Tolkien

This is classic high fantasy. I always reread this in the cooler seasons. Every time I notice something I missed before, or find a new passage or nuance to appreciate. This fulfills so many of my “reading senses”. There’s fantasy, travel, adventure, and great writing that could be studied in it’s own right. I get to read a great story while also learning and improving academically. If I’m really feeling the academic vibes, I’ll pair this with Tolkien’s letters and other supplemental material such as Corey Olsen’s “The Tolkien Professor” podcast and Tom Shippey’s book JRR Tolkien: Author of the Century. If you’ve never read these books–especially if you are a fan of fantasy and Middle or Old English literature. There is no way you will be disappointed. I read these books when I want to mentally “get away” and remind myself there is good in the world and questions worth pursuing.

3. John Koethe’s Falling Water

This is a book of poetry that I read when I’m feeling absolutely hopeless and need some perspective–usually at the end of the day in some dim lighting. My favorite poems are “Songs My Mother Taught Me” and “Argument in Isolation” (“Falling Water” gets an honorable mention). As a philosophy professor, Koethe presents really beautiful and thoughtful approaches to death, relationships, and reality. His writing has always resonated with me and helps me sort of reorient within myself. It reminds me how small and insignificant my own life is, which I actually find quite comforting. It also reminds me that life is painful for everyone–even an amazing, well-educated and aging poet. There is a Classical sense of tragedy in everything he writes which is very cathartic. Read this if you love poetry and need some “cosmic perspective”.

4. Wuthering Heights by Emily Bronte

If you are experiencing loneliness and heartache, this is the book for you. It’s beautifully miserable and a classic. There is so much to say about this book–and I pick up on more and more things I’d love to write a paper about every time I read it. First of all, this book is so out of its own time in terms of the themes. I can imagine so many young girls not being allowed to read this at the time. This is like Jane Austen meets Charles Dickens and absolute tragedy ensues. I also consider it to be something of a guilty pleasure. Catherine and Heathcliff frustrate me and break my heart every single time. It’s the best intense, passionate, doomed relationship to ever be written–so underrated compared to Romeo and Juliet or Lancelot and Guinevere. When I need to indulge the pangs of my heart, this book does it for me.

5. Absalom, Absalom! by William Faulkner

This may seem like a bit of a weird one for some, but this is a personal favorite. I first read this my junior year in college, and it is comforting to me on a very personal level. This book is a great exercise in skepticism with its many narrators and versions of the same story. It’s a really interesting look at narrative and how we write history. It makes you think about how relative our realities are–even shared realities. Faulkner himself once said he did not believe in facts, and this book will definitely test your confidence in them. The reason I say this is personal to me, is that many describe it as a defense of the South after the Civil War. Growing up in Texas with my dad’s family here, there were always country ways or biases I really did not agree with. In a way that is too difficult to explain here, this helped me to understand them a lot more, if not agree with them. Now that my dad is gone, I still go back to this book now and again.

6. The Kingkiller Chronicles by Patrick Rothfuss

This series is my honorable mention. I’ve only read through the second book, but I am pretty sure this will be another series I reread periodically. Probably in the summer. The world building is exceptional and the writing is great. This book also has a couple pov’s which change according to the point in time. It often makes me laugh and sometimes cry, and Kvothe’s character is absolutely magnetic. The audiobook is also great. I highly recommend if you’re looking for a different kind of adventure.


Join the discussion! I would love to hear about your Comfort Books!

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