Why You Should Read for Comfort

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Comfort food usually invokes visions of radioactive orange mac and cheese and hot buttered toast.  (I know, it’s not healthy, but it’s delicious and warm and comforting).  Similarly, sometimes what I need is to curl up with an old favourite book that allows me to escape into a fictional world that I know well, giving my brain the comfort food it needs.

One of my favourite go-to series is Tamora Pierce’s Wild Magic quartet.  I can remember reading about Daine, the protagonist, and feeling like we were kindred spirits. Although I  lack Daine’s ability to talk with animals, I have always admired her plucky nature and her epic archery skills. Throughout the series, Daine learns to use her gift while traveling to remote locations and fighting epic battles.  It’s an awesome and inventive read if you’re looking for a unique twist on a coming of age story.

The Nostalgia Factor

What does nostalgia do for us anyway?  Through scents, music, food, and even our favourite stories we are reminded of our connection to other people.  It’s even been known to counteract depression and give our lives meaning.

In a TIME Magazine article, Alexandra Sifferlin writes that “comfort foods remind us of our social ties, which means they may help us feel less lonesome when we feel isolated.”

Similarly, escaping into a fictional world can create a sense of community, which makes us feel just a little less alone.  It’s possible that just like eating comfort food or listening to a song that reminds us of good times, a good comfort read can entirely change our moods.  At least, that’s the way it feels for me each time I crack the spine on one of Pierce’s books, or start reading the Harry Potter series for the millionth time.  (A recent article in Psychologies talks more about what sorts of books most people like when it comes to comfort reading, but I prefer a good old fantasy read where good always wins).

Here’s a thought: if comfort reading is so good for us, why do people see it as a “just for fun?”  And why is it that “fun” and “education” can’t mix? 

The Issue

One recent article suggests that reading too many comfort books actually hurts young readers’ development.  As an English teacher, this bugs me a whole lot.  Obviously I would like students to be totally in love with To Kill a Mockingbird and Shakespeare, BUT, I also love it when I see a student reading a book that they just enjoy. I like it even better if that student is having a rough day and the book they are reading makes them feel better.  The best part about young readers is that when they love a book, they want to read more like it.  And you know what?

READING IS GREAT FOR YOUR BRAIN! (Like broccoli? Maybe?)

Better than Broccoli!

If reading links us to a larger community and makes us draw connections about the world around us, the act of reading,even for pleasure, is helping readers to become more socially aware. Also, I could blah blah on for a while about building vocabulary and making inferences and stuff, but I won’t, because I’m not in the classroom now.

Read what you want to read, because unlike mac and cheese, reading of any kind is actually good for you.

What are your favourite comfort books? Do you think that comfort reading has value?

 

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