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Comfort and Joy


It seems that the winter holiday season began the first week in November this year. Have you noticed this, too?

In my neighborhood, it wasn’t just the typical one or two forward thinking neighbors who take advantage of a temperate day in mid-November to string lights. Instead, it was as if everyone determined that we were doing this. Right. Now. Without speaking about it, we collectively determined that if we were going down, we were going to do it with icicle lights, blow up reindeer, and some freakin’ holiday spirit. As my neighbor explained, we’re not going anywhere so we might as well enjoy some lights. Indeed.

Generally, I tend to be a purist about decorations. No Christmas until after Thanksgiving, and Christmas lasts through Epiphany. This year, I’m here for all of your early decorations. I especially love the neighbors who decided that they couldn’t be bothered to clear off their corn stalks and gourds before surrounding their porch with lights and candy canes. You do you, neighbors! We take comfort and joy where we can these days, including our reading material.

And since we have universally declared it the holiday season, I’m also declaring it comfort reading season. I’m not sure how you define a comfort read, and I’m sure there are as many definitions as there are readers. When I think about books that have been most comforting to me, they generally have one or more of the following qualities. 

  • A gradual, deliberate pace that allows me to savor the story
  • A strong sense of place
  • Lyrical writing
  • Humor
  • Authentic characters who may have flaws but are decent and honorable
  • An underlying theme of human connection, community, or family

If you’re looking for something to read while you sip on mulled cider and listen the Clare College choir, here are a few suggestions:

Plainsong by Kent Haruf Set in the fictional town of Holt, Colorado, Plainsong is the story of disparate people creating an unlikely community. Told from the perspectives of Guthrie, a high school teacher raising two sons alone, Victoria, a high school student who is pregnant and recently homeless, and two elderly ranchers, brothers who are set in their routines. Haruf’s prose if graceful and austere, much like the high plains landscape in which his characters live.

Gilead by Marilynne Robinson I recently re-read Robinson’s Pulitzer Prize winning novel, and it was the perfect companion for these days. Gilead is written in the form of a letter from the ailing Reverend John Ames to his son. It tells the story of loss and grief, fathers and sons, marriage and families. In short, it is a book made up of reflections on our existence, which is “the essential thing and the holy thing.” Make time for this one; it’s a slow burn with prose that will stop you in your tracks.

Southernmost by Silas House Southernmost is a book I recommend frequently. After a devastating flood that displaces many of his neighbors, evangelical preacher Asher Sharp offers shelter to a gay couple. This simple act of hospitality reveals the fractures in Asher’s marriage, church, and community, causing him to set across the country with his son to try to discover what he truly believes about grace and love. A quietly elegant gem of a book.

I hope you find some literary comfort this season—whether it is one of these titles or the any number from this list (you knew I’d have a list, right?). 

When you read a book, you enter a different world. But the act of reading does more than broaden our world-view; it creates empathy, and nurtures civility.
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