Tuesday, December 29, 2015

Comfort Novels When Times are Hard--Or Not!

                                                             By Michelle Ule

When the world is falling apart around you, what do you like to read? How about a comfort novel?

Image result for the morning gift ibbotson
Many folks say the Bible, and that's a great answer, but what do you read to escape the crisis of the moment?

Many people like mysteries because they know the story will resolve with the bad guy getting caught and the questions answered. That can be encouraging when you're in the midst of confusion and the ending doesn't look happy.

 (Of course some of us cheat and read the last pages to make sure the story has a happening ending . . . )

During a time in my life when my submariner husband had been gone too long and one too many trials had hit, I spent my evenings rereading all the romantic suspense novels written by Mary Stewart

Image result for airs above the ground mary stewartOne in particular, Airs Above the Ground, featured a husband called away from home by government duties who appears to his wife in a disguise. The meeting was so charged with the familiar give and take of people who love each other , that I read it over and over again. 

The rational husband sounded a lot like how I remembered my husband, and I missed my guy a lot.

It's hard for me to put a finger on what makes a novel a comfort novel beyond the fact I've read it and enjoyed it. One novel I reread on a regular basis--usually on the night before a trip when I can't sleep--is Eva Ibbotson's The Morning Gift

Something about that World War II story flavored with unusual characters and a touch of Viennese charm, lulls me and helps take my mind off troubles.

Comfort books, for me, are always novels. 

I read them when I need a distracting story to immerse myself in a different time and place; to leave behind the everyday world. 

I need clever women pushing their way through difficult circumstances to happy endings. 

I don't want my heart revved with guns, bullets and fear. 

I don't want an imaginary land of magical characters with fantastic gifts.

I don't want a dystopia of misery and gloom.

I need some sort of redemption, something to feel good about when I finish.

I want to read about "normal" women confronting difficulties with verve and charm and having a happy ending.

Is that too much to ask?

I recently examined a list of the best sellers of the 1930-1944 time period because I suspect our country is in a similar emotional place. 

We're confronting challenging times with little money and many people are dispirited. They need comfort novels.

It's an interesting list and you can see both the fiction and nonfiction best-sellers here.

comfort novelHistorical fiction in far off lands was a major draw, from Pearl Buck's The Good Earth to various volumes in John Galsworthy's The Forsythe Saga. It amused me to see melodramas, trash novels (Back Street, anyone?) and books made into movies: How Green Was My Valley, Mrs. Miniver, The Grapes of Wrath and The Song of Bernadette.

Religious themed novels appear on the list nearly every year, from those mentioned above and including The Keys of the Kingdom and The Robe.

What conclusions can you draw from such a list? What do people like to read when their world is turned upside down?

Obviously, a well-written story is the first need, but it looks to me like people want to read about folks like themselves confronting challenges and getting through them. 

Mrs. Miniver handled a German flyer in her garden, all the while wondering about her roses. The Joads pushed across the western US for hope in the California vegetable fields. The Chinese family in The Good Earth lived through draconian circumstances and had to make hard choices, but were a family still at the end of their book and lives.

Maybe that's the unifying theme-- when all is said and done, when you've met the enemy and sometimes it was us, when the challenges of life frightened and tried to tear you apart--the people you love are the most important thing and because of that, life may have been difficult, but it was good.

It's raining today and I'm not feeling well. I'm going to pull one of my comfort novels off the shelf, find a blanket and wrap myself up in both the blanket and a good story.

A little resolution is always good for the soul.

What books do you like to read when the world feels out of control?
Make some suggestions for the rest of us!  :-)

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NY Times and ECPA bestselling author Michelle Ule reads from her (hopefully rainy this
winter) home in Northern California. You can learn more about her, and examine her twice-weekly blog, at www.michelleule.com.

7 comments:

Kathy Anderson said...

I like to read comedies. Something along the line of "Columbo" which starred Peter Falk. I like how no matter how inept the suspects think he is, he always solves the case.

Michelle Ule said...

THen you can laugh AND feel good when you get to the end!

Mysteries are good when the world is falling apart--they have a beginning and a satisfying ending--someone obviously did it and the world is righted again!

Thanks for reading!

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