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]