Ever have reading cravings? I have them all the time, especially under duress.
Last month, I felt like picking up certain books and holding them to my chest like papery teddy bears (or, in my case, miniature plague doctors.)
Some of the books I craved surprised me. They weren’t my usual go-tos and most of them weren’t particularly uplifting.
I guess I’m a different person now.
It’s a new year and I have new preferred comfort reads.
Something New: Tales From a Makeshift Bride
by Lucy Knisley
Subgenre: graphic marital memoir
Though I’ve cycled through various favorites over the last few years, Something New remains one of my favorite books of all time.
I’ve seen this book criticized for being messy, stressful, and self-focused. There’s a happy ending, though not without a few strings.
I appreciate the messiness as much as it freaks me out.
Something New showed me that love can come out of nowhere and change your life.
It showed me that I don’t have to set aside my identity when planning a wedding ceremony.
It gave me some really excellent wedding menu ideas. (Hear me out: lemon bars and homemade mozzarella.)
I have hope because of this book and that can’t be discounted.
In the Dream House
by Carmen Maria Machado
Subgenre: multi-genre memoir (with an emphasis on horror)
Confession: I tend to stereotype sapphic relationships as soft, idyllic, misogyny-free utopias.
Reality: all kinds of abuse can occur in sapphic relationships.
While a lot of the books on this list creatively explore trauma, In the Dream House outshines all of them.
A truth: abuse is complex, so much so that it can take an entire book and multiple genres to make sense of a past experience.
Another fact: abuse in queer relationships is underresearched, underreported, and very, very real.
Machado writes in the second person to distance herself from the person she used to be and the choices she made then. She writes as if taking a sidelong look at her abuse is the only way she can process it.
I think she’s brave for writing about it at all.
by Leigh Bardugo
Subgenre: dark academia
Did you know Yale is run by secret magical societies?
Not into that idea? What if I told you this book concerns a murder investigated by an unlikely sleuth who uses her past trauma to solve crimes?
This is the brand of goth I am: I love fish-out-of-water stories about weird scholarship kids who go to spooky colleges with spoiled, murderous rich people.
Ninth House is 100% my jam.
It’s gritty, pretty, spooky, and satisfying.
It’s so good I’m willing to read the sequel (which I rarely do for duologies.)
I’m almost on board with the canon ship. Not quite, but almost.
For what it’s worth, my ambivalence about Darlington doesn’t detract from my utter enjoyment of this book.
Watch your back and don’t buy drugs from the occult.
The Best Party of Our Lives: Stories of Gay Weddings and True Love to Inspire Us All
by Sarah Galvin
Subgenre: feel-good queer love stories
I reread Best Party of Our Lives at least three times a year.
The book was written in honor of the Obergefell v. Hodges ruling. I wanted to celebrate the ruling with everyone else, so I grabbed this very queer, very sparkly rainbow book and started reading.
I was thrilled to learn that many of the weddings in the book were held in the Seattle area. I started imagining what a city wedding of my own might look like. (Because most of my friends got married in barns, I didn’t realize a city wedding was an option.)
I also appreciated the variety of love stories. I’d been conditioned to expect traditional “boy meets girl” narratives and was relieved to read less-typical love stories – one of my favorites sees Tom and Garth reconnect years after Garth canceled their first date and Tom LEFT THE COUNTRY.
Because of this book, I’ve come around to the idea of a Thanksgiving wedding (as long as we can have mac and cheese instead of turkey and tacos instead of vegetables.)
Aw man, I just remembered that David Schmader and his brand-new boyfriend stayed together after Dave’s unexpected HIV diagnosis and then they got MARRIED and EVERYONE SERENADED THEM WITH KAZOOS.
I’m crying. I love this book.
by Weike Wang
Subgenre: disastrous grad school coming-of-age
I’ve written before about discovering this book while on a “date?” (I’m still not sure what happened there.)
I finally picked it up during a time of intense burnout in which I was surrounded by insufferable PhDs. (You know who you are.)
Everyone around me seemed to be doing well. I would often ask myself, “Am I the only one struggling?”
I read Chemistry and found a protagonist spiraling just like I was.
This book helped me realize that it’s okay to fail, that sometimes our lives take a different path than we planned and it’s not always our fault when that happens.
I’m inclined to pick Chemistry back up now that many of my personal goals have stalled thanks to a GLOBAL PANDEMIC.
I know it sounds like a downer, but the book’s tone hits just right.
Dept. of Speculation
by Jenny Offill
Subgenre: stream-of-consciousness marital crisis
For reasons I haven’t fully grasped, worst-case scenarios comfort me.
I’m almost always thinking about how things can go wrong, so I feel relieved when they do…at least when it comes to fiction.
I’ve also found that I prefer straight drama to tongue-in-cheek send-ups.
When I see a serious situation played for laughs, my anxiety skyrockets. (This is why I struggle with Gilmore Girls.)
The plot of Dept. of Speculation is dead serious and sends the unnamed narrator into a panic spiral.
She jumps from the present to the past, from science to literature, from rage to terror.
I have never related to a thought process more in my life.
I was dealing with a lot of uncertainty when I read this and was cheered by the bittersweet ending.
According to this book, uncertainty never goes away – you just deal with it the best you can.
The Raven Cycle
by Maggie Stiefvater
Subgenre: magical mythology-inspired forest adventures
A caveat: I consider the first three books in this series comfort reads and go out of my way to pretend the fourth book doesn’t exist.
I also have complicated feelings about the spin-off trilogy.
Regarding THE FIRST THREE BOOKS ONLY:
Maggie Stiefvater is an AMAZING writer.
I pick up on new plot and character details every time I read these books.
I consider the characters real people. At least a quarter of my heart is devoted to Adam (all of it is devoted to Ronan.)
I love that these characters make mistakes with real consequences.
I love that ordinary people do great things.
I love that kids go on forest adventures together and become best friends in spite of their differences.
I love that these books make me feel like a kid again.
The Raven Cycle contains a sense of wonder that I rarely see in YA.
The Priory of the Orange Tree
by Samantha Shannon
Subgenre: GAYme of thrones
I am still in the process of reading this book for the first time.
While things could go sideways, I’m 90% sure this book will become a favorite.
Every time I pick it up, I feel like I’m coming home.
Priory inspires in me the same feeling I used to get while reading fantasy books as a kid.
Reading Priory, I feel a powerful nostalgia for series like Rairarubia and The Unicorns of Balinor.
The world in Priory is vast and immersive.
Best of all, at least three of the main characters are queer.
Make way for the Gay Agenda.
by Noelle Stevenson
Subgenre: edgy fantastical dramedy
HEY, DID YOU KNOW A LOT OF BOOKS ON THIS LIST COULD BE DESCRIBED AS “SAD?”
I AM AWARE OF THIS AND I DON’T KNOW WHAT TO TELL YOU.
I’ve enjoyed Noelle Stevenson’s art for a while; reading his debut graphic novel made my year.
Stevenson starts with a great premise – villain hires bumbling shapeshifter sidekick – and takes it down some deeply emotional paths.
There’s queer subtext, a strong platonic relationship that drives the plot, and a bittersweet ending. If I wrote a fantasy, I would PROBABLY INCLUDE THESE VERY SAME THINGS because THEY ARE AWESOME.
Nimona made me belly laugh and cry in the same evening.
I wanted to reread it the moment I finished.
I want to reread it now.
The Fire Never Goes Out: A Memoir in Pictures
by Noelle Stevenson
Subgenre: queer pictorial mental illness memoir
Very few of my life experiences have been as straightforward as promised.
For me, the last five years have been a soup of mental health struggles, confusing dates, unfinished art projects, lateral career moves, and tiny apartments.
Regarding the “checklist” of adulthood, I’ve barely checked a box.
I don’t feel successful in the least.
It surprised me to learn that Noelle Stevenson, a person I consider VERY successful, feels similarly unaccomplished.
I love how they write about their experiences with religion, mental health, marriage, and coming out.
Stevenson has survived a whole lot and that inspires me to keep going.
I’m crossing my fingers that I get to the spouse-kitten-house-creative-satisfaction part of my life sooner rather than later.
Red, White, and Royal Blue
by Casey McQuiston
Subgenre: queer alternate history political fanfiction
If you keep up with American politics, it’s easy to get discouraged.
If you advocate for social justice, it’s even easier to burn out and lose hope.
Red, White, & Royal Blue gave me a jolt of optimism when I really needed it.
The protagonist comes out as bi and everyone accepts him!
The country celebrates two boys falling in love!
Texas flips blue!
It’s refreshing to read a HEA every once in a while and this book has one of my favorite endings in recent memory.
Those are my current comfort reads.
I did notice that many of these books are by queer white people.
Here’s to branching out in the future.