Have you ever had a particularly crappy day and needed something to read that would be familiar, give a cozy feeling, a sense of comfort to you? If sick, in bed or the hospital, are the books you crave of a nature to cheer you up?
These are called ‘comfort’ reads. Where the phrase comes from, I’ve no idea, nor do I know when it was coined. I’ve heard it used on various mystery lists like DorothyL, and people share the titles they have used for such a purpose. Many individuals prefer returning to loved titles; maybe childhood favorites, or a special book they’ve read again and again.
But others want something new to relieve anxiety or the blues, and booksellers might want to have a few reliable titles on hand for such a purpose.
From my experience in the mystery field, comfort reads tend to be of the softer boiled genre–meaning, less violence, more character and in many cases, humor. Typically a bookseller may point to a title from Agatha Christie, or Dorothy L. Sayers–but these two ladies are well read by most veteran aficionados. So Ngaio Marsh, Margery Allingham, and Patricia Wentworth, etc., the next level of polite drawing room mysteries are explored. And then choosing from myriad’s of titles honing it down to one best fitting the criteria offered by your customer, is essential. A person seeking a calming experience doesn’t want to expend time and energy choosing from piles of plot lines. I knew from past experience which title had a locked room puzzle, an elderly sleuth, a romantic amateur detective, or a funny narrative, etc.
For example; my godmother loves to read, and I’ve lent her various books over the years that I believed would appeal, but whenever there is a whiff of sex, even if the gentlest of story lines, it’s returned as a negative. I had to read the synoposis very carefully of titles that were iffy in certain areas for customers. Some aren’t interested in figuring out how Merlin The Magician solved the problem of body found inside a pentagram in a locked room with no possible way of entry or exit. They may have preferred Miss Silver knitting while explaining the crime. Or The Saint, gallantly stealing from the villain. Or a screwball dark comedy involving a black paw.
Naturally, the British classic crime novels are not the only choices. There are a slew of newer genteel murderers, finding those are trickier. The puzzle in today’s mysteries is almost extinct. Most soft boiled books are more character driven. However new amateur sleuths have interesting professions, wonderful humor, and fascinating themes. As a bookseller I had to narrow my choices down to a few specific authors and one or two titles. Otherwise, the choices are overwhelming. A couple that never missed: An Embarrassment of Corpses, by Alan Beechey; a Claire Mallory title from Joan Hess; or one of the Dead End Job series of books by Elaine Viets. All are clever, interesting mysteries, with wonderfully drawn characters and situations, but most important, they are filled to capacity with humorous situations and solutions.
In the end, only the customer can know if you’ve hit the comfort mark. For general booksellers, I would think the task even harder. Naturally, fiction vs. nonfiction would need to be addressed first. After that, well, good luck! That’s why thinking about this possibility before presented is a good idea. As a seller, you may never need to find a warm inspiring story for a recent cancer surviver, or pick out an charming title when a heartsick person asks, or an upbeat theme to counterbalance someone’s recent pet loss. But it doesn’t hurt to keep some of your personal favorite comfort books in mind, just in case.
Excuse me while sink into my plush chair and read Murder Between The Covers by Elaine Viets.