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Our Reading Lives

December is for Comfort Reading

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A lot of book people I know feel a lot of pressure in December — that gnawing feeling that the year is almost over, and there’s only so much time left to meet that Goodreads goal or finish the Read Harder challenge. I know this feeling. I don’t set yearly (or even monthly) TBRs, but I do track my reading, and I like to meet the goals I set for myself. I, too, have perused lists of short books, looking for quick reads I can tackle in December. One year I made one of these lists myself. It’s so easy to get swept up in this feeling, the one that encourages us to cram more, more, more books into the last few weeks of the year.

In the last few years, however, I’ve stopped thinking of December as a month to “catch up” up on my reading. If I haven’t already completed the Read Harder challenge, I don’t make an effort to do so. I don’t scroll through my Libby holds, furiously calculating how to cram in just a few more of the buzzy 2021 releases I really meant to get to. I don’t look back over my reading spreadsheet, note that I didn’t read as many books in translation as I had hoped to, and then immediately rush to add several to my TBR. No. December is for comfort reading.

I’m not sure when this became a thing for me. It’s happened gradually. It grew out of my biannual Lord of the Rings reread. I started doing this without even realizing it. I’ve always loved starting a beloved book on Christmas Day, and so, for years, I’d pick up The Fellowship of the Ring as a Christmas treat, and then just read it all the way through. Between 2006 and 2014, I reread The Lord of the Rings every other year, without fail. I didn’t even notice the pattern until a few years after that, when I went to record that I’d reread it yet again, and saw how predictable this reread had become: every two years, always in December. It’s like I have an internal clock that goes off, reminding me it’s time to settle into a story that will never stop surprising and comforting me.

It’s such a relief to give yourself permission to just read something you love, especially a book you’ve already read dozens of times. There’s something luxurious and decadent about ignoring all those other books — so many! — and reading for pure joy. But for a long time, I only gave myself that permission for one week of the year, the week between Christmas and New Years — and only every other year, at that, when my internal Lord of the Rings reread clock went off.

Then, in 2016, I started reading romance. I read dozens and dozens of romance novels in December of that year. It got me out of a bad reading slump, and reinvigorated my love of reading in general. I went on to read some of my favorite reads of that year in late December, after I’d given myself permission to spend a few weeks reading nothing but romance, a genre I was fast falling in love with.

I am now a devoted romance reader, and I read it all year long. But there is something about the joy of those frenzied weeks in December 2016, when I was just discovering how glorious the genre was, that has stayed with me. These days, I pretty much always have a romance going, along with whatever else I’m reading. I like variety. But a seed grew out of my very first foray into romance, and blossomed into another December reading tradition: the permission to read romance after romance after romance.

For me, this is about joy. Few other genres give me the kind of joy I get from reading queer romances. I love lots of other kinds of books, and I need lots of kinds of books to keep me happy. I rarely want to read just fantasy, or just romance, or just contemporary fiction, or just memoir. But for the past few years, in December, I’ve let all of that go. I gobble up romances, lots of them, one after another after another. I don’t do it in order to speed through a lot of books quickly and catch up with (or exceed) my reading goal. I do it to slow down. I do it to settle in, to give my brain a break, to get cozy, to remind myself that joy reading is valid reading.

In 2017, I started listening to audiobooks, another form of reading that I would soon fall head-over-heels for. That December, when I started baking for my annual Cookie Extravaganza, I listened to audiobook after audiobook after audiobook while baking. At the time, I didn’t think of this as comfort reading. I was just listening to books while I baked, two things I loved. But the next year, I purposely decided to reread a beloved series on audio, The Raven Cycle by Maggie Stiefvater. I started dreaming about it over the summer. It didn’t consciously occur to me that I was saving this audio reread for December, but that’s exactly what I was doing. Instead of using all the time I was spending baking to tear through new audiobooks, I listened to four books I already knew I loved.

The next year in December, I listened to Circe by Madeline Miller, a book I’d already read twice. In 2020, I decided to listen to The Lord of the Rings, instead of rereading it in print. I’ve been planning this year’s audio reread for months: The Diviners by Libba Bray. I haven’t read the fourth book of the series yet because I’ve been wanting to reread the first three. So now I’m listening to them all again (January LaVoy’s narration is incredible), during my favorite time of year, the coziest month, while baking thousands of cookies to give away to friends and family.

It wasn’t until earlier this year that I realized that all of these reading traditions, which have evolved naturally over time, add up to something: December comfort reading. I can’t imagine my December now without a big audio reread, or my every-other-year reread of Lord of the Rings, or piles of romance novels. Sure, I read other books (if I feel like it, if I have the time), but I don’t prioritize them. I prioritize joy. I let all of my reading goals go. January is right around the corner, with a fresh reading spreadsheet waiting to be filled in, and all the exciting possibilities a new year of reading holds. New books can wait. Challenging books can wait.

Right now, I have Before the Devil Breaks You cued up on audio, and Adriana Herrera’s American Christmas cued up on my Kindle. I’m thinking of listening to The Charm Offensive by Alison Cochrun, too, even though I just read it for the first time a few months ago. I’ve been saving The Hellion’s Waltz by Olivia Waite and The Companion by E.E. Ottoman. Come December 25, I’ll be starting The Lord of the Rings, even though I reread it last year, too. It’s December, and December is for comfort reading.