As I’ve been developing our “comfort read” tag, I’ve had time to reflect on the comfort read. Interestingly, while we at AAR label our top grades as “keepers,” I know I personally keep many books which didn’t get a DIK rating. Sometimes, these are books which excel at just one thing (I keep Susan Elizabeth Phillips’s Match Me If You Can entirely to reread the secondary romance). But most often, my keepers which aren’t Keepers (if that makes sense!) are the books I turn to when I need comfort.
Books are often in DIK territory because they’re doing something unexpected. While that’s exciting and valuable for the genre, it doesn’t make me feel cozy or soothed. A comfort read does exactly what you think it’s going to do, and usually just when you think it’s going to do it. Mary Balogh’s Slightly Dangerous is a comfort read much loved by AAR readers (it has placed as high as 7 on our Top 100 Romances). Our reviewer acknowledges how much it owes to the legendary Pride and Prejudice:
Wulfric much resemblance to Mr. Darcy in his dedication to his family, his extreme reserve, his omnipresent awareness of his responsibilities to his class and heritage, and – let’s call a spade a spade – the extreme Control Freak aspects of his personality. Equally, heroine Christine Derrick is lively, social, blessed with a pair of “fine eyes” and – just like Elizabeth Bennett – is most attractive when she is animated. And, while I don’t want to give too much away, the basic structure of the book does bear some resemblance to that beloved novel.
A comfort read is often comfortable because it’s familiar and delivers exactly what we want or expect. It’s reassuring and relaxing, two feelings heaven knows I’m short of these days.
One of the things that elevates a book to DIK status can be how “unputdownable” it is – which can also be a measure of the tension and the urgency we feel while reading it. While that’s (usually) a positive reading feeling, it’s certainly not what I’d call “comfortable.” (This may explain why romantic suspense thrillers are rarely labeled “comfort reads”). While I certainly get sucked into many of my favorite comfort reads, it’s generally because I’m so at peace reading them and I want to extend that feeling. In that way, the books themselves often echo their settings: places out of time where magic and romance are possible and other issues are held at bay. Judith McNaught’s Perfect features a hero and heroine snowed in at a Colorado cabin (after he kidnapped her while being on the run from prison!), and disappearing into that space with them always makes me feel calm.
Close communities can also create an immersive, cozy setting I’m pleased to share with the characters. While it’s more expected to find such communities in small towns, Kwana Jackson’s Real Men Knit creates a comfort space in the middle of New York City with her Harlem knitting community. The family-owned shop, which serves as a second home to the heroine, sponsors knitting circles and ever-expanding service projects to the neighborhood and gives as much as it gets from its community.
Comfort reads also usually have an overall sense of optimism about humanity. The authors seem to genuinely like people – even antagonists are often flawed instead of villainous. Pamela Morsi’s Simple Jess sets out two rivals for the heroine Althea – men the community is pressuring her to marry so her farm can stay viable. Yet both turn out to be decent men, and you end up rooting for their HEAs alongside that of Althea and Jess.
That doesn’t mean, however, that comfort reads can’t be spicy! In No More Mr. Nice Guy, by Amy Andrews. the main characters have explicit, well-written sex and start to fall in love despite their plans to just have a fling. It’s the genuine caring they show for each other that makes the book a comfort read alongside the hot rating. Spicy but comforting – it’s the Mexican hot chocolate of the romance world.
In her review of Jo Beverley’s Emily and the Dark Angel, our reviewer wrote:
“Comfort reads occupy an unusually clear-cut place on a reading shelf. These are the books of unconditional love. They may or may not be the best romances ever written, and I can count several comfort reads that do not qualify as such. But every year, or even more often, I go back to them for the comfort and pleasure of their company.”
There is no such thing as too many of these companionable, friendly books. If you have comfort reads not yet included on our tags, would you share them with me in the comments?
~ Caroline Russomanno
Interested in finding more books AAR Loves..?
Check out these posts:
AAR Loves… Partners to Lovers romances – Part One (Military, law enforcement etc.)
Visit our Amazon Storefront
I'm a history geek and educator, and I've lived in five different countries in North America, Asia, and Europe. In addition to the usual subgenres, I'm partial to YA, Sci-fi/Fantasy, and graphic novels. I love to cook.