Comfort Reads: Why Do We Read for Comfort?

By Ella Bramhall

This week, as part of ‘Libraries Week’, ILE has been celebrating the power of reading for wellbeing. As the week draws to a close, Ella Bramhall asks: Why do we read for comfort anyway?

The act of reading for many people including myself, is a way of escaping reality by settling into a piece of literature such as a fictional tale or eye-opening thriller just a few pages away from the hectic lives which we all lead. Trying to decide on one particular piece of literature which I would deem a ‘comfort read’ is an impossible task when the whole experience of entering a bookshop, browsing the shelves and picking a title is an act of pleasure in itself. Book shops and charity shops can become forgotten and replaced for the high-speed ease of Amazon Prime, and the soft pages of a used book replaced by the bright lights of the Amazon Kindle. Despite the ease of the internet and technology, personally, nothing can quite replicate the pleasure and comfort experienced reading a real book or replicate the wealth of emotion felt upon reading the last few lines a well enjoyed novel.

Studying English Literature at York St John has opened my mind to the possibility of enjoying texts which initially I had drawn away from. From starting the course two years ago and believing that we may only focus on canonical texts, it has outlived all expectations. I have read and experienced a range of texts from writing on the Spanish Civil war from the likes of Orwell and Gelhorn, to the Slave narratives of Fredericks and Jacobs in my American Literature module. The reading of all the texts throughout my course; although have been challenging at times, have made me realise I can gain comfort from a range of literature, not just the contemporary classic ‘holiday read’ or crime thriller. This is especially prevalent in canonical texts where I once believed that they lacked excitement due to their canonical nature, however this preconception has been destroyed through the enjoyment and pleasure that I gained from reading Charles Dickens’ Great Expectations.

From being read a bed time story, to choosing my own literature to read, I have always found comfort in fantastical and fictional novels. Famous Five and Malory Towers novels were at the core of my childhood, and the Divergent and Hunger Games series dominated my younger teenage years. As I became more experimental with my reading, I developed a love for complicated plots, twisted narratives and gritty crime drama; my favourite of which is The Killing Hour by Lisa Gardener. The narrative voice of the novel is read through the experience of two kidnapped girls with an unsuspecting narrative twist towards the end of the novel, which I believe truly demonstrates the skill of Gardener as an author.

Different types of literature and texts can be comforting to particular people at different times in their lives. Although I don’t have a particular text I would deem as a recurrent ‘comfort read’ I find comfort in escaping reality through a text which is either relatable to this period my life, or a fictional novel. Reading can make the world seem a little less daunting, and make you feel a little less alone. Experience a high of happiness, or empathize with a torrent of sadness and remorse. The ability to read and draw from the literature around us is an empowering and comforting experience, so read more, read widely, and find comfort and solace in Literature.

Libraries Week may be drawing to a close for 2018, but we still want to hear about your comfort reads! If you’d like to share the books you go back to time and again, get in touch with one of our sub-editors: Adam Cummins, Charlotte Stevenson or Ellie Anderson-Ingham.