Some people I know review every book they read, and I admire this so much. I love the idea of it — having a record of my thoughts about each book I read is appealing. But whenever I think about actually trying to do this, I become immediately anxious. I’ve even tried a few times, and the practice has never stuck, because every time, I come up against this simple truth: there are some books I simply have no interest in reviewing. I’m not even talking about public reviews, here. There are some books I don’t even want to write about in my journal, just for me. This is why I’ll never become a review-every-book-I-read person.
One of my favorite kinds of reading is comfort reading. It’s not the only kind of reading I do, but it’s absolutely one of the greatest joys of my reading life. Comfort reading means different things to different people. What it means to me has changed over the years, especially as I’ve become more immersed in the book world, and started reading more for work and reviewing more books professionally. These days, my comfort reading consists of books I read exclusively for myself. This isn’t to say that the other books I read aren’t for me. In fact, my favorite books and my comfort books are rarely the same. My most beloved books are often the ones I want to share with other people, the ones I want to shout about, have long conversations about, write essays about, and get all tangled up with. My comfort books are different. They’re books I love, but have no interest in engaging with beyond the joyful experience of reading them.
For me, these days, comfort books are mostly romance. I also love reading middle grade graphic novels, extremely silly sci-fi, and queer YA that is fun, heartwarming, and low on angst. When I can find a cozy mystery with a little queer romance on the side, I’m overjoyed. Some examples of recent comfort reads I have loved: Garlic and the Vampire and Garlic and the Witch by Bree Paulsen; American Christmas by Adriana Herrera; Friday I’m in Love by Camryn Garrett; and The Hellion’s Waltz by Olivia Waite.
Let me clear something up, before anyone gets the wrong idea: all of these books are deserving of thoughtful engagement. I have read dozens of incredible reviews of romance novels, both positive and critical, that are little works of work in their own right, like the best book reviews. I despise the idea that some books don’t deserve reviews because they are fun, fluffy, escapist, etc. There are a thousand ways to write a book review and to have a meaningful conversation about a book. Just because a book isn’t intense and heavy doesn’t mean you shouldn’t think about it critically. I am strongly in favor of everyone talking about and reviewing the books they love (and the books they do not love!), whether those books are fluffy romance, or complicated not-at-all fluffy romance, or space operas, or 19th century dramas, or slice-of-life comics, or sad contemporaries.
My choice not to review comfort books has nothing to do with their “literary merit” (ugh, what does it mean) or even whether or not I have something to say about them. I often have a lot of thoughts and feelings about these books. It has everything to do with setting boundaries. This is a boundary I have set that keeps one corner of my reading life purely joyful. Work doesn’t enter into it. What anyone else thinks doesn’t enter into it. Finding a way to articulate my feelings in a way that makes sense doesn’t enter into it. There are some books that I simply read and love and forget about. End of story. I don’t put any pressure on myself to reflect on them or analyze them. It’s not like I keep them a secret — I often recommend them, or mention I’m reading them, or include them in a roundup I’m doing. But I do give myself the space to read them unburdened by the expectation of giving any kind of performance. I mark them as read on Goodreads, and move on.
I am extremely grateful that so many people do review the kinds of books that I do not. I spend a lot of time on Bookstagram (a corner of the bookish internet I truly love), and while at times I get frustrated that many of the same books show up over and over again, I also think it’s kind of wonderful. It’s a place where books (especially queer ones) that are too often overlooked by mainstream media outlets are celebrated. It’s full of thoughtful reviews of romance and cozy mysteries and fluffy fantasy. I enjoy reading them. I love the passion, care, nuance, rigor, and joy that people put into them. It is obvious to me, after having scrolled through hundreds of these reviews, that many people love (and are very good at) reviewing the kinds of books I consider comfort books, that I keep safe behind my just-for-me boundary. This is as it should be. It’s one of the reasons I feel good about only reviewing some of the books I read. This is not a conversation that needs my voice.
It’s easy to feel like things aren’t real until we tell the world about them. Anyone who spends any time on social media knows this. I am (obviously) all for talking about books — every genre, every style. But it’s okay not to talk about them, too. It’s okay to keep some books for yourself.