“There was a boy in her room.”First line in Fangirl by Rainbow Rowell
This post has been inspired by a number of different things, but especially by a tweet I saw a while ago now (I forgot to like it so it’s gone now, sorry). It was a response to the growing opinion that after the cursed years of 2020 and 2021, we need more happy and uplifting books to comfort us. Now, the tweet in question made the very excellent point that what is a comfort book for one person, doesn’t need to be a comfort book for someone else. Those feel-good books aren’t necessarily what some readers connect with comfort. And I’m one of those readers. For a book to bring me comfort, it needs to be depressing and hard-hitting. Of course, I started to wonder why.
I have come to the conclusion that my own life plays a huge part in this question. I suffer from depression and social anxiety, so those happy books can often be a reminder of what I don’t have and probably can’t ever have. For example, I see a character having a loving relationship with their parents and automatically I can’t connect with that character. Yes, I’m super jealous, but there’s also a part of me that finds it unrealistic. Logically, I know it isn’t, but because it is so unrealistic in my world, I think I have some subconscious aversion to it in books.
What I consider to be a comfort book is one that makes me feel less alone in my struggles. One that shows characters having a hard time and finding ways to deal with it or not deal with it. It’s not even that I take inspiration from them, although that has happened in a few rare cases, but it’s more that I relate to life not being easy. And I can often remind myself that at least my life isn’t that bad. At least I’m not Jude from A Little Life or Fitz from The Farseer Trilogy. That is what I connect with a comfort book. Seeing characters being strong or even giving up because of hardships that are harder than my own makes me forget about my own problems and makes it much easier for me to connect with the characters.
All of this of course begs the question: do I hate happy endings then? Short answer: no. BUT they do need to be earned. Characters need to go through something, and that something needs to leave some kind of scar whether physical or mental. A lot of the feel-good books I’ve read seems to have invented a problem for their character just because it’s a book and it needs conflict. That’s rarely good enough for me because it never gets deep enough. I’m just waiting for that happy ending I know is going to come. Maybe that’s why I read so much fantasy where authors can properly make their characters suffer (I’m horrible, I know). High school drama or romance drama just doesn’t do it for me, although there are hard-hitting books set in school out there. Here I’m thinking of books such as We Are the Ants by Shaun David Hutchinson, The Perks of Being a Wallflower by Stephan Chbosky and A Monster Calls by Patrick Ness.
I also feel that I should clarify that I do read and enjoy less hard-hitting books from time to time, but they just aren’t what I consider comfort books. They serve a different purpose. However, there is one great exception that I need to mention: Fangirl by Rainbow Rowell is probably my ultimate comfort book, but I wouldn’t go ahead and label that as hard-hitting or inherently depressing. But it’s about social anxiety, so we’re back to that thing about feeling less alone. Still, if a feel-good book isn’t specifically about social anxiety, then it isn’t a comfort book to me.
I didn’t mean for this to get so personal when I started writing but here we are. I hope you found it interesting or maybe relatable. Please let me know what you think of as a comfort book. What kind of book do you turn to when you feel a bit down? Do you even have comfort books or are you in the I-will-reread-all-my-childhood-favorites-right-this-second category?