Comfort Reading in Times of Trauma (like a raging pandemic)
I am always deeply touched when people write to me to tell me how reading my books helped them through a troubling time–the illness or passing of a loved one, for example. It is lovely to read any sort of affirmative comments on my writing, but to know that I have brought comfort to someone experiencing great stress can reduce me to tears. If I can do that, I always think, then I have done at least something worthwhile with my life. Sometimes, though, we are all simultaneously confronted with a period of unprecedented distress. Although I was born in Wales during World War II and spent my early childhood in a city (Swansea, though it did not have city status at the time) that had been heavily bombed and largely reduced to rubble, I have no conscious memories of the mass suffering it caused. Now, however, I am living with everyone else in the world through the terrible pandemic of 2020, and it is not done with us yet. It affects us all and in every imaginable way. Because we are human and endlessly resilient, however, we have learned all sorts of coping mechanisms as we await mass vaccination and the return to a new version of normal life. Comfort reading is just one of those mechanisms. I have been so very thankful during the past year that I am a reader–and a writer.
If you had asked me a year ago what I liked to read, I would have told you that I read anything and everything, fiction and non-fiction alike, that could hold my attention through the first fifty pages or so. I would have added that I did have a particular partiality for mystery but that I read very little romance. Because I made my living by writing love stories, I looked for something different in my leisure reading. That all changed a year ago. I see when I look back on the list of books I read during 2020 that I finished the first Virgin River book by Robyn Carr in April. I had finished the whole series by October (22 books, I believe?). I read books by Pamela Morsi, Kristan Higgins, Georgette Heyer (rereads) and other romance authors. I read and laughed my way through the six books of the “Suds in Your Eye” series written by Mary Lasswell in the the 1940s. It took me a while to realize what was happening and why my reading choices had both changed and narrowed. I was looking for comfort. Normally I read for all sorts of reasons and purposes. In 2020 I wanted to relax with books. I wanted to lose myself in a world that was safe and attractive. I wanted to feel good about the world and life and love. And I did!
I have adored writing ever since I started it in earnest back in 1983. I loved it even more after I was able to quit my teaching job five years later to write full time. I thought there could be no better job in the world. During the past year I have thought so more than ever. For one thing, it worked with the solitude that was forced upon us. To continue doing my job I did not have to leave home or have company. There were adjustments to be made for the pandemic, of course–like so many of you, I have not seen my family for a year except on Zoom meetings. But the world of my writing continues without change–except that I have never before realized with quite such clarity how comforting it is. I create a world that is intended to transport readers into a somewhat glamorized version of history. I create characters who deal with their problems and their brokenness so that they can fall in love and establish lives in which there will be friendship and love and laughter and security. I write to entertain and to suggest that even in real life problems can be overcome and love can prevail–love in all its many manifestations. I did not fully understand until last year that I write to comfort and that one of the people I comfort is myself! In 2020 I finished a book I had started late in 2019 (SOMEONE TO CHERISH, Westcott series, Harry’s story, due out on June 29, 2021) and paused only long enough to catch my breath before diving into another book (SOMEONE PERFECT, a Westcott spinoff, Estelle Lamarr’s story, due out in November, 2021). My editor commented that it is perhaps my best book.
Has reading helped you in some way to cope with the pandemic? I would love to know. What have you been reading? How has it helped and comforted you? I look forward to reading your comments below. To one person who posts a comment by the end of Sunday, January 24, I will send a signed copy of SOMEONE TO CARE, a Westcott novel of a man and woman who met by chance when they were both stranded at a country inn and decided to run away together for a romantic fling as a temporary escape from the stresses of their lives which were threatening to overwhelm them. We cannot run away physically at the moment (at least, we ought not) but we can run away through our imagination and a good book.
[And the winner is KEVIN BOYER. Congratulations to him and thank you all for your comments. Unfortunately, most people who tried to comment were blocked as suspected bots! My web designer is working on fixing the problem so that I can post again and everyone will be free to comment]
I don’t like being complimentary, but you are and always will be the best for me, and I’m happy to know that writing is still important to you, tks God, as I still expect many more books written by you. Your books are a comfort for a lot of people, including me. I have read historical novels and I have also written a lot during the pandemic, in addition to studying. I am a teacher and this moment has not been easy for us.
I’m reading your Survivor series and Slightly series to get me through this pandemic. My sister got my hooked on your books.
Books have been an escape from sadness and fear my whole life, so I naturally turned to them this year. Books allow me to travel to new places and see things through someone else’s eyes. I think seeing the world through varying viewpoints helped me develop empathy.
I love following your page. The puns make me laugh out loud. I also love your books. “Only Enchanting” was the first book of yours I read, and I have reread it several times since. Thank you for creating such vivid characters and worlds I love to get lost inside.
Hi Mary, sorry i dont’t speak our writer in english, but i love your books, and im read The Bedwyns again, i love this family. Love you too.
Thank you for writing such wonderful stories full of humour and interesting characters. I will be watching for the next one to come out. Love them all but for some reason Matilda’s story stays with me. Having a good book to read is necessary for me, especially during the pandemic when socializing is limited. Must mention, your book covers are beautiful. 📚
Thank you for all the wonderful hours you have given me for the pass 20 yrs. You got me through some really tough times. Looking forward to the next 20 yrs of reading your books!!!
I have always found a friend in reading. In the last few years I have used audio books a lot. A little over 5 years ago I was in great emotional pain when my husband asked for a divorce. My mind was in turmoil. It was hard to relax without thinking of things that upset me. My books helped to go away for a bit & relax. Whether reading or listening, I was able to come back to deal with my life. Now with the pandemic, I spend many evenings with the television off & enjoying a book. Depending on my mood I go from mystery to romance. I have revisited my friends from the Slightly series, the Survivors, and the Simply books. Nora Roberts & JD Robb, Georgette Heyer, Leigh Greenwood, and David Baldaci are also favorites. I recently started reading Robyn Carr and am enjoying her series. A big thanks to you and all the great authors whose stories give us a break from the crazy world we live in.
I’m seriously not tying to suck up or play favorites, but Someone to Romance has been a total comfort read for the last several months for me. The spine is looking horribly creased and the edges of the pages is already dark from finger smudging. Love Jessica and Gabriel’s story 🙂
I have watched the Virgin River series on Netflix and decided that I need to read the books. Here lately, I’ve been working my way through Lexi Blake’s books. I started this summer on her Masters and Mercenaries series and have just continued on. I’m fairly certain I’ve read all of your books. Winning a signed copy would be remarkable! I hope 2021 brings you nothing but joy and happiness!
Reading has helped me get away from the boredom oof being cooped up during the pandemic. I not only have to be careful because of covid, but i am also on maintenance chemo because of a stem cell transplant so i need to be doubly diligent.
Thank you so much for this blog post. I’ve never thought of my reading as “comfort reading”, but that’s exactly what it is for me. Reading is my respite from whatever is going on in my life. Reading can take me anywhere and allow me to be anyone. Even during a pandemic. Especially during a pandemic.
I always read your books as soon as I get them. I love to visit your English settings, it is quite different from Kentucky where I live. I also enjoy Fern Michaels and Danielle Steel among others.
Reading has always been my comfort, traumatic time or not. Love your stories!
I have always found reading to be a source of comfort. Growing up I was a loner and reading enabled me to have many friends as well as travel far off lands. It’s the same today, I can always find a friend within the pages of a book
Spent the weekend with the Bedwyns and Lauren (A Summer to Remember). It helps me get through all the other stuff going on in the world. I just ordered 25 or so of your books and will enjoy the respite from the world your words will bring me.
I reread a lot last year… I have so much trouble trying new to me authors, beloved authors that had new books were easier, but still a problem 🙂
I have been rereading some of my favorite books lately. I recently read A Matter of Class and Silent Melody which are two of my all time favorites.
I definitely use your books as a form of stress release / mental escapism.
Please keep writing!
Mary, I ALWAYS turn to your books when I am need of comfort, and it’s why I insist on owning almost your entire library in paper. Thank you. But coincidentally, I, too, made my way through the entire Virgin River collection this year. Something about the predictability of each volume combined with the plain old decency of the town’s inhabitants.
So very glad you have more books coming!
My comfort books are a refuge that lift my spirits in difficult times. They are friends who never let me down.
I love the Westcott series and love rereading all your books. Can’t wait to read Harry’s story.
Comfort food to me is anything pasta. Comfort reads are anything Mary Balogh. I’m not on facebook, so I’m glad you got this thing fixed!
My reading subjects haven’t changed much during the pandemic. Before, during and in the future I like to read anything that doesn’t want to change the world. Reading is for pleasure and not mulling over (everyday) problems. What has changed is where I get my reading material. The number of paperbacks has declined and the books I borrowed from my local online library skyrocketed…
Greetings from Germany,
Hello, Mary…I enjoyed your post.
What a lovely blog, Mary. Books – our friends, our comforters, our “transporters” to places and times we cannot see (particularly now) when we’re unable to see people and places we love… Books can help define us as they sometimes lead us in unexpected directors; they also connect us in so many ways. Thank you so much for your literary “tickets” that help expand my world!
I too read for comfort but also a nudge to examine other world views especially now when my world is so very tiny due to the Public Health Restrictions to keep us safe. I can tend to fall back into old habits of narrow thinking because I’m not being challenged. And like a comfortable pair of slippers those embedded thoughts can become too comfortable.
I find your books challenge my views Mary even though they are set in a different time.
I had never read romance novels until the pandemic. I am imminently grateful a friend suggested them to me to try – I read Julia Quinn and liked them, but fell HARD in love for your books. They have a great depth of characters and have actually felt healing to me. I’ve able to see parallels with my own life and own love story, and they have been deeply therapeutic in this very challenging time. They’ve brought me so much joy – I cannot express it enough! Thank you thank you.
I am a non-fiction who NEVER reads fiction. That said, in the early days of the pandemic and isolation, I remember surfing Netflix and stumbling upon Outlander. Binge watching that series led to reading Diana Galbadon’s books. Then back to surfing Netflix and stumbling upon Bridgerton, which led to watching season 1 and reading all of Julia Quinn’s books. Who to read next? A stroke-of-luck web search pointed to Mary Balogh and the Bedwyn Saga. Now, a year later, I have read all of your series and most of your standalones—95 books total—and look forward to knowing your newest family, the Wares. Until then, it may be time to re-read your books and revisit your memorable characters, whose stories I’ve come to love. Thank you for providing such captivating escapism and distraction from this troubled world. I am now a proud, unapologetic Regency Romance reader who is particularly partial your wonderful books!