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Catherine Milne on Comfort Reading as Self Care

March 5, 2018

Words || Catherine Milne 

At stressful times, when you’re down, or when you just want an instant pick-me-up or escape from reality, do you often find yourself reaching – along with the chocolate/tea/wine (name your addiction of choice) – for a book that you’ve read many times before? 

Because I do.  All the time.  So much so, I feel guilty about it, going back to a book (some might say, ‘wasting time’ on a book) that I’ve read so many times before.  I rationalise it to myself that this re-reading is a kind of self-care.  As a publisher, I have to read and make judgement calls on so many manuscripts, that sometimes I need the safety valve of a book that is familiar to me, a book that quiets my mind, a book where I know exactly what to expect (although still delighting in anticipating a scene I know is just around the corner, or enjoying a much-loved character or a wondrous turn of phrase…).  Comfort reading, I call it.  I read, therefore I re-read, is my twist on Descartes.


Is it just me?

But as I found myself recently reaching for one of my old favourites – say, Ben Aaronovitch’sRivers of London series – to re-read for, oh, approximately the fifth time, I wondered if other people did the same.  I put out the question in a call to our General Books team here at HarperCollins, and I was surprised and delighted by the deluge of responses. It’s extraordinary how many people (Yes! It’s not just me!) who re-read books.  And it’s remarkable how often people’s comfort reading are books that they read in childhood, though there are quite a few of classics, as well.  As you’d expect, Jane Austen comes up a lot (my mother rereads all the Janes, every single year), To Kill a Mockingbird and Jane Eyre were also mentioned quite often too. And Philip Pullman and Harry Potter (of course).

Our crack fiction marketing manager, Sarah, revealed that her rereads include ‘Rebecca when I need a killer mystery, To Kill a Mockingbird when I need the perfect book and Anne of Green Gables when I’m feeling nostalgic and because Anne is just the best.’  Our Digital Content Producer, Andrea nominated I Capture the Castle as ‘it provides a lot of comfort mostly due to first reading it at the impressionable age of fifteen. I also love to reread the first three Harry Potter books at Christmas time.’

And I adored something one of our editors, Shannon, wrote to me about comfort reading: ‘I know I should say an old classic like Jane Austen or Aldous Huxley, but my comfort reading has always been my guilty pleasure books. They aren’t masterworks of writing; they’re the familiar easy books that I always go back to when I have read enough books that I have forgotten their words. The first is an old threadbare hardback of The Redemption of Althalus by David & Leigh Eddings that I’ve read so many times I’ve had to use clear laminate to hold the cover together. Inside it is a bookmark that I made the Christmas that I got the book – a bookmark that I have only ever used for that book. It’s the only ‘Christmas Present’ book I have that has stood the test of time … I guess, writing that out, my comfort reading books are the ones I have a lot of memories attached to. They’re the ones I’d be sad to lose, I’d never lend to anyone, and I’d remember to grab in a fire.’

Do you re-read?

I love the idea of a book so loved and well read that it has to be covered in clear laminate, to hold it together…  Do you comfort read?  What books would you grab from your shelves, if there was a fire?


This post originally appeared on HarperCollins Australia’s blog [linked:] and is published here with permission’

Photo by Annie Spratt on Unsplash 


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