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Comfort Reads

It’s two weeks into the new year – the time when those of us who regularly went to the gym in December can now go back, as the tide of resolutionistas has receded. How are you doing on your resolutions, goals, and milestones? We’re not; we’re sick.

In our house, we’re about three weeks behind schedule. The Tiny Town Medical Outpost (Not just EMTs! We have a NP!) receptionist eyed my husband as he dragged in, and likely had not only his file and his copay pulled up before he got the window, but also the “and it’s ANOTHER flu patient who’s not getting better.” He dragged home, and I went the next day, and got mildly upbraided for not coming in at the same time so we could be seen together, as they’re swamped with folks catching bronchitis, pneumonia, and strep as secondary infections to go with the flu.

The Tiny Town Nurse proved that she understands that adults revert to childish ways when they’re not feeling well, and put everything right in my world by rewarding me not fussing about the shot with a lollipop. Some things are just sacred, and some rituals must be observed!

While I’ve been under the weather (and still remain), I’ve not felt creative. Neither has Peter – he’s barely up to editing what he’s written. I owe Margaret Ball a blurb for a book, and while I’m feeling terrible about not producing it, I’m not up to producing anything worth reading. (When she releases these, try not to have bronchitis when reading, because the way they’ll get you laughing sets off the coughing.)

So I’ve gone back to reading old favourites. The Tough Guide to Fantasyland is a great one, because all the guidebook entries are short, funny, and it doesn’t even require picking up where you left off. Emma Bull’s Finder, Lois Bujold’s The Paladin of Souls – books I know well enough that if I doze off and pick up somewhere other than where I left off, I still enjoy the story.

When I’m better, I’m still not going to want to read anything that’s heavy going for a while, because I’ll have a house to clean up, my job to get back into, and twice the work of normal to catch up. So I’m going to be reading fun fantasy and science fiction, stuff that is worth spending my beer money on to let me escape the crushing press of chores and customers and life.

Robert Kaplan’s Earning The Rockies will just have to wait.

When will I feel up to reading message fiction? Well, actually, never. I tried reading some Daniel Keyes Moran, because I remembered him as fun SciFi, but right about the point in The Last Dancer where he started on the inevitability of the UN taking over the shattered remnants of Occupied America, and yay socialism, and the book got tossed to the floor under the growing pile of Kleenexes. It may go out with the Kleenex. I’m sick; I don’t have time or energy for that.

After the last two years, even before the flu and bronchitis, I was already sick of politics. When the glitterati tried to use some ceremony to name a talk-show host as the next president, my only thought was “Dear G-d no; 2016 was bad enough for the year-long election season, followed by 2017’s year-long temper tantrum. Leave that nonsense to 2020.” Don’t try to raise my consciousness, or protest issue of the minute, or inform my politics, brow-beat me or exude smug sanctimony. Just entertain me.

In the meantime, if you can promise me a fun read, a pleasant escape from the hours between medication doses and the way my chest hurts every time I draw a breath, I will meander through your book, enjoy it, and return for more.

What are your comfort reads?

46 Comments Post a comment
  1. Well, not my books – but I mentioned E. M. Foner’s Earthcent series (13 so far) on another post. The only (very mild) messagy stuff that I’ve noted so far is a distaste for fiat currency.

    January 14, 2018
  2. Heritage Mars Trilogy by Ian Douglas, pseudonym of William Keith, is one of my go to books, along with Larry Correia’s Monster Hunter series.

    January 14, 2018
  3. Comfort reads. Those would have to be the Narnia series, Tolkien, Heinlein, and Asimov. Old dear friends that I like catching up with on occasion. Probably a few others in there I just have so many that I like reading again and again.

    January 14, 2018
  4. Draven #

    the temper tantrum has thus far not stopped, from my observation.

    January 14, 2018
  5. Daniel Keys Moran. Great writer, goodish family man, huge twit. When he was a libertarian Buddhist, he was fun. Now he is some kind of liberal fanatic, and he barely writes. (I hate to say that it is his wife Amy Stout’s influence, but it seems like it.) Good for him personally, being married, but not great artistically.

    Every so often, I drive by his pages, and I always see a car wreck. He needed money, and started raising it for an effort to economically cut off the red states? He was one of the first authors to have ebooks, but has nothing in Amazon? It just goes on like that. I love him, but he is a twit.

    January 14, 2018
    • Anyway, he finally does have his books on Kindle, for reasonable prices, and mostly they are libertarian.

      January 14, 2018
  6. Early Mercedes Lackey, folk-tales and folk-sayings (Refranes y Cuentos), guide books to places I’ve been and enjoyed – they stir memories but don’t demand learning.

    And, oddly enough, well-written academic histories, because they take me away from being sick or hurting, but I don’t feel guilty about reading them on a work-day. *shrug* Too many Calvinists in my pedigree.

    January 14, 2018
  7. Margaret Ball #

    I started re-reading Georgett Heyer under similar circumstances and have discovered to my delight that I have not – quite – memorized her books. They’ve also given me some new (to me) ideas about plot and tension which I hope to share at a later date.

    Other comfort reads: Angela Thirkell, Diana Wynne Jones, Dorothy Dunnett.

    January 14, 2018
  8. Ben Yalow #

    I have an absurdly long list of comfort reads, depending on what it is I’m looking for at the time:

    At least annually, I find myself rereading:
    Zelazny, Lord of Light
    Tolkien, Lord of the Rings
    EE Smith, Lensmen series. And I read it the way it was conceived for the magazine versions, not the way it later appeared in book form, just to get the full impact Sometimes I reread it, therefore, from the original Astoundings — but most people don’t have that. But you can get pretty close to the experience by skipping the first two books, and starting with the third (Galactic Patrol), and skip the forwards on the next three, and start reading with the first regular chapter on each of them (there’s a little bit of useful, but not harmful, information in the forward for Children of the Lens, but it’s still better to skip reading it. Afterwards, you can see what Smith did by adding the other two novels, and the forwards — I think it’s not as good, since you know too much too soon, so you lose the impact. But the other two books are solid in their own right.

    But I need a lot more comfort reading than that, and here’s what I’m likely to be using. I’m not going to try to break it down by subgenre (especially since I hate the concept, and many of these stories cross the alleged boundaries anyhow). In any year, I’m likely to have reread at least a dozen of these.

    Anderson:
    Operation Chaos
    Tau Zero
    The High Crusade
    The Man Who Counts — if I really have time/need it, I’ll reread the entire Baen seven volume Future History set
    The Star Fox
    Three Hearts and Three Lions

    and, with Dickson, Earthman’s Burden, collected by Baen in Hoka with some addiitional stories)

    Asimov:
    The original robot stories, and the original Foundation stories, before they got expanded/merged

    Blish:
    Cities in Flight (4 novels, sometimes collected)
    Black Easter

    Brackett — The Sword of Rhiannon (and more Brackett is always worthwhile)

    Fredric Brown:
    I’m wildly prejudiced here, since I edited the two volume set that collects all his SF. His short stories are the closest the field has ever seen to O. Henry.

    Bull – War For the Oaks

    John W. Campbell — “Who Goes There” (and most of the other Don A. Stuart stories)

    Clarke :
    Superiority (which I realize is minor, but lots of fun)
    The Nine Billion Names of God
    The Star
    Against the Fall of Night (which I much prefer to The City and the Stars, but people differ

    Clement — Mission of Gravity (or more — the three volume NESFA Press collection of most of his works is a frequent companion)

    DeCamp:
    Lest Darkness Fall
    and, with Pratt, The Incompleat Enchanter

    Del Rey:
    “For I Am a Jealous People”
    Nerves — and the novella version is better than the novel, if you can find it.

    DIckson — Dorsai! (sometimes, the entire series)

    Duane:
    Door series
    Young Wizards series (YA)

    Flynn — In the Country of the Blind

    John M. Ford — How Much For Just the Planet (media, but too much fun)

    Garrett — Lord Darcy series (I’m still trying to figure out all the references in Too Many Magicians)

    Heinlein — lots, but, in particular, Double Star and Citizen of the Galaxy

    Hubbard — “Fear” (but only if I’m seriously in a mood for horror)

    Kuttner/Moore (it’s impossible to know who wrote what once they got together, until he died)
    “Clash By Night” and Fury (same setting)
    Gallagher stories, mostly collected in
    Robots Have No Tails
    Shambleau
    Vintage Season

    Laumer — all the Retief stories, in particular, Retief’s War

    Leiber:
    Conjure Wife
    Changewar
    Our Lady of Darkness
    Any of the Fafhrd/Mouser stories

    Seanan McGuire — October Daye series

    Miller — A Canticle for Leibowitz

    Niven/Pournelle — The Mote in God’s Eye

    Norton — too many to call out

    Piper:
    At times, I use the whole TerroFuture History or Paratime series as comfort reading, but, if I had to limit myself
    “Omnilingual”
    Lord Kalvan of Otherwhen
    Space Viking

    Alastair Reynolds:
    Revelation Space
    The Prefect

    Russell — Wasp (and more, when I need fun)

    Schmitz (see if you can find the original versions, rather than the Flint edited ones; they’ve got some anachronisms, but read better)
    the Telzey stories
    Agent of Vega
    The Witches of Karres

    Simak:
    City
    Way Station

    Sturgeon:
    “It”
    “Microcosmic God”
    “Yesterday Was Monday”

    Turtledove — The Guns of the South

    Van Vogt:
    “Black Destroyer” (in Voyage of the Space Beagle
    Null-A — first two books
    Weapnn Makers (two books)

    Vance — The Dying Earth

    Vernor Vinge — A Fire Upon the Deep/A Deepness in the Sky

    David Weber — at least, the Honor Harrington series, but lots more

    James White — the Hospital Station series

    Williamson:
    Darker Than You Think
    The Reign of Wizardry
    The Seetee books
    “With Folded Hands”

    Zelazny:
    Jack of Shadows
    Nine Princes in Amber
    This Immortal

    January 14, 2018
    • Ben Yalow #

      I expect to be adding more to the comfort reading list in a few years. But y general feeling is that if it’s something I’ve first read in the last decade (not counting latest books in a series that I started a long time ago), then it’s much too soon to know if it’s going to be comfort reading.

      January 14, 2018
    • TRX #

      I was going to list my own selections, but after reading yours I can abbreviate that to “me too.”

      I’ll add Tim Powers’ “The Anubis Gates” and Eluki bes Shahar’s Hellflower trilogy, though.

      January 14, 2018
      • Ben Yalow #

        I knew I’d forget someone. And, in this case, it was Tim Powers. I can’t argue with The Anubis Gates, but, if I could only list one, it would be Declare, Of course, that’s today — whichever of the two I’ve reread most recently is his best work, and so that might well change, depending on when I next read The Anubis Gates, but I reread Declare a few months ago.

        Note that, although Powers got a credit (and, presumably, a bunch of money) for the Pirates of the Caribbean: On Stranger Tides movie, the resemblance between his novel and the movie is that they both involve pirates and the Fountain of Youth. Aside from that — not much.

        Also note that if you’re trying to read all of Powers, that you want to avoid the initial publications/editions of his first two novels — The Skies Discrowned and An Epitaph in Rust. Those came out from Laser Books, and the editing totally butchered the novels (they were too long, so the editor just chopped until they were the right length). The reissues as an omnibus edition (NESFA Press hardcover, and Open Media ebook) went back to the originally submitted manuscripts, so they’re unedited — but they’re better than the butchery that Laser Books required (all the books in the line had to be exactly the same length, uniform covers, etc, and it didn’t matter if it took more words to tell the story properly — they got cut to fit).

        January 14, 2018
        • TRX #

          I might try Declare again, though. Most of his later stuff seemed to plod and then end without resolution, or maybe I was so bored I kept losing track.

          The Anubis Gates, though… it’s long, but it’s plotted *tight*, and there’s almost nothing in the book that isn’t referenced somewhere else. It moves from “jumbled bunch of unconnected WTF” to “well, of course, how could it have been otherwise?” so smoothly that I’m
          gobsmacked.

          It’s one fo the books I pick up extra copies of, to give away. Of maybe eight people I’ve given them to, only two claimed they’d read it, and they thought it was “okay.”

          January 15, 2018
          • Ben Yalow #

            A lot of Powers work is hard for many people to read. Much of it — not just The Anubis Gates — shares that tight plotting. You’re never sure exactly what’s happening — until everything falls into place. I heard a description once of a Powers plot (I wish I remembered where) as, “He throws a bunch of random bits of glass and metal into the air, and, somehow, they fall down in the shape of a running clock, telling the right time.”

            And, since he’s been doing that since his third book (I really don’t count the two Laser ones), I trust him to do that, and don’t get stopped by not understanding what’s going on. And he hasn’t failed me, so I keep trusting him.

            For somebody trying to read SFF, there’s often that kind of problem. If you read a lot of it, and like it, you get used to the idea of having plots which, at least for a while, have pieces you don’t understand, until later in the book. And, if the reader is comfortable with reading that way, then it can be very rewarding, as everything clicks. But if not, the book gets airmailed.

            For example, the first chapter of Lord of Light makes no sense. You’ve got all these characters in settings you don’t understand, with past events that are clearly important left hanging. I loved it when I first read it (and it, for me, gets better with rereading). But I don’t mind that first chapter, because it pulls me in, and then it starts resolving with the events in the second chapter on forward, until you eventually get to the time when that first chapter’s events take place, and then move forward from there — and it’s all just perfect. But I read lots of SFF that has that quality — you have to be willing to defer understanding until things fall into place. And that’s one reason that many people find SFF hard to read — because they don’t have that willingness (or skill).

            You can get great books that way, if the author has the skill to make it all fit.
            It’s also easy to write really bad books using that technique. If you abuse the readers’ trust — if the pieces don’t all fall into place, and stay a jumble of unconnected plot lines — then it’s airmail time.

            January 15, 2018
    • I haven’t read the latest Young Wizards novel, mostly due to reviews pointing out that it’s continuing in the same direction the last few have gone. It’s a shame she seems to have lost the view of what made the books nice to read.

      January 14, 2018
      • Ben Yalow #

        I did prefer the earlier ones to the latest one. I also assume that you’r referring to the mainline YW stream, and not the Feline Wizards stream (the third one in that stream, The Big Meow, is available, but I’ve only seen it on her site. And the fourth Door novel (which I’ve been hearing about from her for almost 40 years) looks like she’s working on it again.

        January 14, 2018
    • Christopher M. Chupik #

      This is an impressive list.

      January 14, 2018
    • Dorothy Grant #

      How much for just the Planet’s a good one – I must admit, the John M Ford that’s rubber–banded to stay together on my shelf is a well-read copy of Growing Up Weightless. I lost my copy of The Final Reflection – I may get that again.

      January 14, 2018
      • Ben Yalow #

        I generally don’t think of Mike Ford’s stuff as comfort reading, simply because it’s among the densest reading I encounter. Every word means something, and, if you miss even the slightest thing, you might suddenly find yourself wondering what’s going on.

        It’s brilliant writing, and pretty much everything is worth rereading.

        January 14, 2018
  9. Loyd Jenkins #

    *sigh* the old friends that leave me feeling better, no matter how often I have read it.
    Lord of the Rings
    Lee Child’s Jack Reacher novels
    Louis L’Amour, especially his short stories
    early Mercedes Lackey Valdemar series
    Sue Grafton’s Alphabet series

    I’m sure there are others, but this is all that comes to mind now.

    I love the mix of genres. How my mind runs.

    January 14, 2018
  10. Have become weirder than usual. My old comfort reads were short stories by writers like Asimov and Heinlein. Last year was surprised by Fredric Brown’s short stories. They may all not be great, but the structure is worth studying. Then there’s Pratchett.

    Alas, I’ve gone away from comfort reads. Lately it’s been comfort equations. I kiddest thee not. Last night found myself calculating the square inches of a slightly opened window (ventilation for heating), and then what that would be in an actual square opening by doing an “Eh, close enough” square root of the square inches of the opening in my head. This is weird. The weirdest part is I’m not a math whiz – just ask my old teachers. But there it is.

    January 14, 2018
  11. You can try out mine and my daughter’s Luna City series – small-town Texas, mild comedy and escapism, a little local history, and the shenanigans that only small towns can get away with. They’re all on Kindle – and I am working on the sixth installment even as we speak. The local HS football team is the Mighty Fighting Moths, two-thirds of the residents have the surname of Gonzales-with-an-s or Gonzalez-with-a-z, the town founders missed out on having the railway come through because the richest potential investor’s daughter ran away with a handsome railway engineer back in the day, there is a small hippy colony remaining from the 60s … and a fugitive celebrity chef has just arrived in town …

    January 14, 2018
  12. I really like Charlotte MacLeod. Rest You Merry is set during and just after Christmas.

    When I feel down, I tend to turn to funny stuff. Temporary Insanity by Jay Johnstone is a hilarious baseball book. How much For Just the Planet is a quite funny Star Trek book (yes I know many people hate it because it’s so far from the normal ST story, but I like it).

    January 14, 2018
    • I have never heard of anyone hating HMFJTP.

      If such people exist, they are sad people.

      January 14, 2018
      • Randy Wilde #

        I don’t hate it, but I didn’t particularly like it.

        January 14, 2018
      • Don’t ever look at the GoodReads reviews

        January 14, 2018
        • Is there anything GoodReads actually LIKES?

          January 15, 2018
          • Probably the stuff I’m not reading

            January 15, 2018
    • It’s far from the usual plotline, but I actually enjoyed how it managed somehow to keep EVERYONE in character, to comedic effect (Kirk, strut, that is all) and how the solution was a fascinating gambit for the planet’s inhabitants. I really, really liked it for that (without spoiling it for anyone else.)

      The person who I recommended it to (as he put away a bunch of ST books to the ‘free to take pile’) never did give it back to me (it was his originally, but I said it was fun so he’d give it a chance…)

      January 14, 2018
  13. sam57l0 #

    Dave Duncan’s “The Seventh Sword” series; which I’m overdue for, they being in storage for well over a year.

    January 14, 2018
  14. P.C. Hodgell’s God Stalk series. Although they’ve gone a bit off the rails in the latest few, the early ones are high on my comfort list.

    Lawrence Watt-Evans’ Ethshar novels; I can pretty much grab any of them off the shelf and start reading.

    The Liavek shared-world series, finally available on Kindle.

    Jim Butcher’s Dresden Files, mostly book 5 and up.

    Steven Brust’s Dragaera novels, including the Dumas-inspired ones, although the author-connection conceit is annoying in the more recent Vlad books.

    Anything by Doris Piserchia; Spaceling is one of my most battered paperbacks.

    The first half-dozen or so of Diane Duane’s Young Wizards series.

    Hal Clement’s Mesklin novels and stories, collected in Heavy Planet.

    John Blaine’s Rick Brant series.

    E.E. “Doc” Smith. ’nuff said.

    And a truly guilty pleasure, Gerry Turner’s Stranger From The Depths (Scholastic “edited and abridged” edition; the real thing is rare as hen’s teeth).

    -j

    January 14, 2018
  15. The first nine Mary Stewart thrillers for comfort reads: Thunder in the Right, Airs above the Ground, My Brother Michael, The Moonspinners, The Ivy Tree, Madam Will You Talk, Nine Coaches Waiting, This Rough Magic, Wildfire at Midnight. Stewart wrote a lot more but I haven’t read them. Also, I love The Icarus Hunt by Timothy Zahn. I haven’t read his Star Wars stuff but The Icarus Hunt is straight sci-fi and a nice tale.

    January 14, 2018
  16. Mary #

    I go for children’s books for comfort reads. 13 Clocks by James Thurber is good. Also Ursula [book:The Lost Plot|31690144] by [author:Genevieve Cogman|119888]’s Castle Hangnail.

    As for resolution, the only day this month where I did not put in work on one of the three things I resolved to work on this month was the one where I had a bright idea for an anthology I had heard of since the month began, and outlined it and began to write instead.

    January 14, 2018
    • Mary #

      Huh. Some really random text in there. Let’s try:

      I go for children’s books for comfort reads. 13 Clocks by James Thurber is good. Also Ursula Vernon’s Castle Hangnail.

      January 14, 2018
      • This is the first time I’ve seen James Thurber brought up in a literary context. The only other time I’ve see his name was, oddly enough, in a 1960 economic history by George Hilton and John Due, “The Electric Interurban Railways in America,” wherein the authors mention that much of the traffic on one of the Columbus, Urbana, and Western Railway was to the dam later made famous by Thurber in “The Day the Dam Broke”.

        January 15, 2018
    • LA May #

      Same here on children’s books (and I love 13 Clocks! Also his White Deer). Oz books, Diana Wynn Jones – especially the Chrestomancis, Deep Secrets and Eight Days of Luke. Lloyd Alexander’s Prydain series.

      Or adult writers who feel like children’s books – Terry Pratchett and Jim Butcher.

      Sometimes I’ll find a book I haven’t read since childhood and I’ll still get that excitement and catch in my throat I’d get back then – re-reading Andre Norton’s Crystal Gryphon, for example.

      Every so often, I just need to visit my old friends.

      January 15, 2018
  17. I have a great many, and they vary depending on time of year/my mood/current life circumstances. But the last several years, I’ve found myself reading the Paksenarrion series by Elizabeth Moon about once a year. (I’ve loved the original trilogy–the Deed of Paksenarrion–since I discovered it as a kid.)

    Also on the comfort read list: Georgette Heyer, Lois Bujold, and Elizabeth Peters/Barbara Michaels.

    January 14, 2018
  18. Randy Wilde #

    My ‘comfort food’ books:

    Starship Troopers
    Dragonsong, Dragonsinger

    Discussion of How Much For Just The Planet is making me think of adding a Star Trek book to the list… The Kobayashi Maru, essentially 4 short stories telling how Kirk, Chekov, Scotty, and Sulu approached the test, linked together to make a novel.

    January 14, 2018
    • See, I also really like The Kobayashi Maru for that; it’s essentially four officers telling stories. It’s not the usual ‘MUST SAVE X / KEEP GALAXY FROM DESTRUCTION’ plot; but more or less ‘talking about boot camp’ days.

      Some of my issues about writing are because a number of the stories I imagine aren’t big over arching plotlines, but small stories set within fantastic worlds. I don’t honestly know how that would go for sales or appeal with largely Western audiences, but they’re one of the main reasons why I enjoy anime/manga storytelling quite a lot. (example: Kino no Tabi – essentially following a person traveling through a world.)

      January 14, 2018
      • They’re things I’ve missed as well. I may start looking for them in Indie a bit more.

        January 15, 2018
  19. Zsuzsa #

    Agatha Christie is probably the biggest of mine. I enjoy visiting with Poirot and Marple no matter how I’m feeling. Plus, there are some things in Christie’s world (and mine) that are just eternal truths: human nature doesn’t change, friendship matters, and murder is wrong.

    When I’m feeling sick, I often like to read “The Case of the Caretaker.” There’s something that appeals to me about sitting sick in bed reading about Miss Marple sitting sick in bed reading about a murder…

    January 14, 2018
  20. Christopher M. Chupik #

    I’d add something, but you guys have mostly covered it.

    January 14, 2018
  21. Mysteries: Agatha Christie, Dorothy L. Sayers, and Marion Babson. (The last has a hilariously apt line in one of her stories about reading 1920s-30s detective novels about how you’ll be sailing along and then pow! Smacked in the face by anti-Semitism or racism. It’s true. It’s all good except then you see that.)

    Romance is pretty much Georgette Heyer, though I will read Kay Hooper for sheer mindless paranormal romance/thrillers. And skip the sex scenes.

    Fantasy: Mercedes Lackey, Lord McMaster Bujold, Steven Brust, a couple of others. Note that I have a large trove of fantasy, but I don’t, for example, read Robin Hobb for comfort. Very good books, but not comfort food.

    Science fiction: Bujold again, Connie Willis, The Big U by Neal Stephenson, a few others, but not as many in terms of comfort reading.

    History: The Age of Gold by H.W. Brands, The Island at the Center of the World by Russell Shorto (Dutch New Amsterdam/New York), The Devil in the White City, some biographies. Again, usually a bit dense for comfort reading.

    General fiction: Jane Austen, some Dickens, a few other classics.

    January 15, 2018
  22. emily61 #

    John Ringo Black Tide Rising series. Last Centurion.

    January 18, 2018

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