To be honest, right from the start, this post isn’t about food. It’s not about some amazing alternative to delectable, reliable staples that warm our hearts as well as our bellies. It has nothing to do with fried chicken, or mashed potatoes with gravy, or meatloaf, or chicken and dumplings, or… I think I just gained a few pounds.
There are books I read over and over again that give me great comfort. I’ve spent time wondering why I return to them, besides the fact that they are outstanding works of fiction. Why will I turn to them instead of reading something brand new? Why spend hours on secrets that have already been discovered, characters who’ve already revealed their true natures, battles that have already been decided? I do it because I crave the taste of those books like a warm piece of pie.
If an author delivers me a plot with a pace that pulls me and keeps me guessing, characters that seem alive or trick me into sympathizing with them, and vivid scenery that surrounds them, I will gorge myself on it with utter abandon. I haven’t met many other people who do this, but I’m sure I’m not alone. There are books that contain passages so meaningful, humorous, or heart-wrenching that I will flip (or scroll) back to read them again. It’s no wonder it takes me so long to read them.
The First Law Trilogy, by Joe Abercrombie, has moved with me several times. I feel a weight lift from my mind once I unpack and place these books on my bookshelf. This isn’t the first dark fantasy series I’ve read, but it is influenced by others I love, like Glen Cook’s Black Company series. It combines all the elements I mentioned above, along with some dark humor. The protagonists and plot have a foot in the comforting familiar and another firmly in original territory. The first in the trilogy, The Blade Itself, is the first novel I’ve ever read through once and then immediately started over again. They are examples of fantasy that I try to achieve when I write.
Dune, by Frank Herbert, is a benchmark for science fiction I love. While the royal intrigue of the second novel never solidly appealed to me, there was enough of it in the first novel to lend a welcome complexity to the rest of the exciting adventure I love. Part of me just loves the planet that seems like another character, one that presents such a challenge to people who have conquered space and the limits of the human mind. Wicked villains and heroic youths give all the charms of a fairy tale with the alien nature of humanity in the far future, and I want to be there riding sand worms and ‘thopters with them.
The Silver Spike, by Glen Cook (see Black Company above) is part of a longer series that can stand alone. I’ve read it more than any other novel in the series, I think because it magnifies my favorite elements in the other books. The main characters are bad people, but they pale in comparison to the evil working to be reborn into the world. The world contains people who do what they must to survive and always want more after they find what they need. Greed, jealousy, fear, and lust motivate characters that move the plot at a steady pace from one disaster to another, and it’s fun every time I read it.
The novels I mentioned above are those I will talk about to whomever will stand still to listen or find themselves trapped in a car with me. As a writer who has yet to see a novel published, maybe I’m reaching a bit too far when I want to write someone’s comfort food. I would love it every time someone bought one of my novels, but I would LOVE my books to join the dog-eared, underlined, cracked-spined (or the digital equivalent) staples of their regular reading. If my books could compel readers to rant about them to complete strangers at parties, on the bus, or in the supermarket aisle, then I will have written something I believe is truly spectacular.
Do you have some favorite books that satisfy you like comfort food? Let me know about them in a comment below!