Join Prism Book Alliance® as Kaje Harper goes Outside the Margins today.
Hi everyone. I’m Kaje (pronounced “cage” by the way.)
I’m not new to Prism Book Alliance, but this is the first time I’ve been invited to do a post for Outside the Margins. I’m an M/M author, and I’m also a big reader. Especially now.
Books have always been my comfort food. Well, books and chocolate, but they go well together. In these stressful times, I often find myself reaching for a favorite story to get me though the day. I’ve done that since I was a kid. (Which is one reason I also run the Young Adult LGBT books group on Goodreads – to connect people, especially teens, with stories that will resonate.)
Of course, some people don’t reread much. My husband is a big proponent of reading a book once, slowly and deeply, and moving on. But for me, there’s nothing better than grabbing an old favorite story to get lost in all over again, safe in knowing what – or more often whom – I will find there.
It’s always interesting seeing what other people pick for their comfort reads. For some, it’s a book with lightness and warmth. Something like Avon Gale’s Breakaway about a delightfully awkward Canadian hockey player. Or Lisa Henry’s Adulting 101 featuring a smart, scatterbrained and obsessive young man, with really crappy impulse control, and a good heart. Fun and sweet.
I have some of those on my comfort rereads shelf. But when I need a book to lose myself into, I find that, ironically, I often go for something angsty. I was trying to figure out why. And I came up with three reasons.
For one, the deeper emotions in the story give me an excuse to feel what I’m suppressing. To put anger and pain and frustration and fear into a different place, in a story. And one that ends well. For my comfort reading I like the pain in the middle, but I do want that happy ending. A confirmation that we can be a little broken, or a lot broken, and come through okay.
Secondly, those stories pull me under deeper. I can be distracted from the light, sweet reads more easily. While some readers may be engaged by the fun and warmth, I find that hurt-comfort is what pulls me in and glues me to the page. That’s why you’ll find books like Amy Lane’s Chase in Shadow, or My Cowboy Heart by Z.A. Maxfield, or Glitterland by Alexis Hall, on my comforts list. When I’m there, in the story with Chase, staring at that red door inside his head, then for the span of that book, I’m nowhere else in the universe.
And I think a third reason is the type of characters who populate the angsty stories. Because what reassures me in tough times is the reminder that the world contains good people. No, not just good – extraordinary people, with compassion and integrity that goes bone deep. Yeah, fictional characters, but created out of the ideals of the writers, to remind me of what we humans strive for. It’s in the darker books that the main characters are really tested. Here is where they are damaged, bent, and broken, and here is where they hold onto the essential decent core of their personalities, and rise again.
I love a character with flaws, but I also like to see, underneath those, that human ideal. Men like Axel and Bayden, in Kim Dare’s Axel’s Pup, who find trust despite their differences, and build a relationship. Men like Joe in Amy Lane’s Sidecar, who may be damned slow to see what Casey really needs, but whose big hands and bigger heart have room for lost boys and abandoned babies. Women like Ista in Lois McMaster Bujold’s fantasy novel Paladin of Souls, who is one of the most whole and well-rounded and strong women I’ve met on any pages. Men like Terrance in The Butterfly King by Edmond Manning – a man who has sacrificed so much to do the right thing, and who has the poison of resentment and fear to purge, before his true heart can shine out.
My comfort rereading is rarely about the plot. It’s about spending time with beloved characters like those. About refreshing my soul with a belief in integrity, equality, strength, and love, brought to me by the words of authors who believe in those qualities too.
My rereads shelf is over 200 books long. Some are lighter, but many are these favorites that hurt so good. I’m grateful to all the authors who’ve created for me a source of light, in dark times. I hope, for some readers, that my own stories will be the same kind of comfort. And that outside the books, we will come together as a community, and support each other,
I’ll be here on the 29th of each month this year, sharing thoughts and favorite books, and whatever else comes my way. This time, I’d love to hear about your own comfort reads. Light? Dark? Cute kids? First responders? Other worlds? What book do you open when the skies are dark and the rain falls? What author can give your heart a moment of sanctuary in their stories?
- Kaje Harper
Jan 29, 2017
About Kaje Harper
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