Because most philosophies that frown on reproduction don't survive.

Saturday, April 08, 2017

Comfort Fiction

I think for most dedicated readers, there is some particular genre from which they can enjoy reading even mediocre book.

It's not so different, I think, from comfort foods: foods which taste familiar and pleasurable even in their most basic forms. Grilled cheese sandwiches are a comfort food for me. They don't have to be made with great ingredients. I'll eat a grilled cheese sandwich made from processed American cheese singles and cheap white bread quite happily. Sure, a fancy grilled cheese can be fun. I had one with aged cheddar and asparagus on sour dough bread once which was very good. But a grilled cheese sandwich does not have be made with good ingredients to please me.

Comfort fiction is much the same: familiar, enjoyable, homelike. Even if the characterization is flat and the prose does not sparkle, you're prepared to enjoy it just for being part of the genre, so long as it fills its slot in the genre well.

I used to feel that way about science fiction and fantasy. I enjoyed the conventions of the genre enough (the world building, the imagery) that I was prepared to forgive a lot of fairly mediocre writing for a novel which did a good job of being genre.

All this was striking me because over the last decade or two my comfort tastes have changed. I'm no longer prepared to forgive flat characters, cliched dialog, or clunky prose because a novel has a really interesting take some new alien race or how the ability to skip in and out of hyperspace might affect ship to ship battle tactics. I still really enjoy some books in the the genre, and not only old favorites. But these days, when I enjoy a SF or F novel it's because it has the qualities which I otherwise find interesting in novels: good characterization, well written prose, and compelling depiction of the human condition in some particular set of circumstances.

I think if I have a new comfort genre it's probably older books. I enjoy the period feel and dialog of some older novels even if the plot is kind of plodding or the characterization indulges in period cliches.


Agnes said...

Interesting how one's tastes can change. What exactly do you mean by "older books"? How old do they have to be? Is it the historical setting (the description of the world in the past, the feeling of being immersed in some historical period)) or the author's viewpoint, rooting in/influenced by their own era that appeals to you?

Darwin said...


The "older" books I've been reading were mostly written between 1840 and 1940. I think the main draw is being immersed in a period, though I do also enjoy some of the narrative style techniques which have gone out of fashion since the 1960s. I also enjoy historical novels (written now but set in the past) but I find it particularly appealing to understand how the author thought about their own time, rather than how a modern author imagines the past.