Daniel Ford: During our last Friday Morning Coffee, we voiced our frustrations about substandard fiction (but also how it helped us learn about the craft).
We do a lot of reading based on books we get in from publishers, as well as fiction and nonfiction we have on our "must-read" lists. But what books or movies do you go back to when you need a comfort read? Something that restores your love of reading and primes you to read the next chunk of your list?
For me, during the last year or two, it's been Craig Johnson's Walt Longmire series. Sure, I have a soft spot for him because he was one of our first interviews, but his lugubrious, warm writing style and earthy characters are more like old friends than literary devices. There's also enough of a plot that satisfies the thriller-genre lover in me. He's really taken the place of Clive Cussler and Nelson DeMille in my reading life.
Sean Tuohy: Normally I would spit out five titles that I return to, but right now I’m in this weird output mood. At the moment, I can’t take anything in or focus on anything new, even stuff I really like. I usually would go back to a Stephen King novel or a movie like “Bullitt” or “Die Hard.” Something I enjoy, something simple.
The other night, however, I felt like I needed to take a break from writing but the idea of reading didn’t seem to work. So I blew the dust off my copy of “The Punisher” from 2004 and popped it in. There is an amazing audio commentary from the film's writer and director, the great Jonathan Hensleigh. I have listened to it a dozen times before, but at that moment it felt perfect because I needed something familiar. Someone talking about the craft of screenwriting accompanied by flashy images.
Daniel: Oh, that's cool. I can totally see how that would be helpful and entertaining at the same time. It's not draining you like reading a screenplay or novel either; you're engaged with whatever movie you're watching. I dig it.
You worked in a video store, so you'll remember when DVDs first came out. Remember how cool it was having all of those "special features?" It blew my mind as a teenager. I think I may have enjoyed “The Lord of the Rings” special features more than the actual films. I would buy DVDs just for the extra stuff (which is why I think I ended up buying "15 Minutes").
I need my output mode to kick on. That's the other reason I've needed a comfort read. Great fiction can inspire for sure, but there's something about tapping into the genre and authors that made you a writer in the first place that gives you a creative boost.
Sean: Don't you wish there were book commentaries? After you read something you can play it, and it’s just the author talking about how he or she came up with scenes, characters, plot.
The special features on DVDs are the best things in the world. I’ve bought movies twice because one copy had more features than the other.
I like a good creative boost. You need it, but don't you also need downtime? As a writer, our minds are always racing from plot to character to research to the small details of a scene. Don't you need a little rest?
Daniel: Exactly. You hit the nail on the head. Reading a worn copy of one of your favorite novels or watching a movie you've seen hundreds of times gives you a mental break while at the same time still sharpening your creative katana (yeah, I stole your idea!). You don't have to worry about assessing the characters or keeping track of the plot. You know what happens already! You can just enjoy whatever it is about the novel you loved—whether it's the language, characters, or setting.
I try to read a portion of Gabriel Garcia Marquez's Love in the Time of Cholera every year. That book is just too beautifully written not to go back to it often. And I don't have to read it in order. I can just concentrate on all my favorite scenes without feeling like I'm missing anything. And the end of that book...man...that's how you do it. I don't think I've read a better ending. I envision that Taylor Brown's Fallen Land is going to be one of those novels for me as well. That hit me right in my sweet spot. Other books on my comfort read list: To Kill A Mockingbird (of course), The Cider House Rules by John Irving (anything by him really), Richard Russo's Nobody's Fool, Alice Walker's The Color Purple, and John Steinbeck's East of Eden.
Book commentary...I love it.
Emili Vesilind: Fabulous Nobodies by Lee Tulloch is my go-to read when I'm stressed out—I also read it every five years or so because it makes me laugh. It's a rather formulaic story told in incredible detail about a fashion-obsessed girl named Reality who lives on the Lower East Side and talks to her clothes (example: she can hear her frocks quivering in anticipation as she's about to put them on). Tulloch was a writer for fashion magazines, and she encapsulates a really specific, magical moment in New York City pop culture with this one. It never fails to make me happy.
Gary Almeter: On days when I am feeling "not so fresh" I typically revisit college anthologies and read some poems and/or a short story or two. They are familiar and provide comfort; and each subsequent reading is different from those before it. They also serve as a sort of benchmark for how I have grown as both a reader and a writer.
Sean: My ultimate comfort read is called “The Hemingway.” It’s just me drinking too much whiskey in a boat while trying to wrestle a marlin.
Dave Pezza: Take me, Sean. Anytime, anywhere.
Danny DeGennaro: I once saw Sean punch a grouper so hard that they had to call in the Coast Guard.
Gary: Once Sean and I were on a raft heading down the Mississippi River when a big ugly catfish the size of a horse jumped onto the raft. Sean dropkicked that fish so hard and so far. I've never seen anything like it.
Sean: That was an awesome summer trip, Gary. We learned two things:
- I don't care for catfish.
- Gary can build a raft out a few planks of wood and a lot of heart.
Stephanie Schaefer: Does a comfort television show count? If so, “Friends” all the way. It never gets old!
Daniel: Bradley Cooper would disagree with you, Sean:
I'd be remiss if I didn't say that "The West Wing" remains my ultimate comfort television. I could start anywhere in the seven seasons and be happy as a clam. The acting and writing is superb, of course, but each show has a different memory attached to it. Watching "Two Cathedrals" with my three best friends/roommates in New York City when none of us had much more than the clothes we wore and cheering as Jed Barlet denounces God in Latin. Bingewatching with my younger brother when I came home for holidays and cramming 22 episodes into three days. Watching with my parents during the four months I stayed with them while transitioning to Boston and telling my mother she had to watch what happened next instead of asking me questions. I recently watched the series finale, which means I get to start over (and listen to Joshua Malina's new podcast while I’m at it)!
Stephanie, that was a long-winded "yes" to your question!
Rachel Tyner: Comfort TV would be “Friends,” “New Girl,” “The Office.” Comfort books include Harry Potter (obviously!) and A Wrinkle in Time.
Lindsey Wojcik: Comfort TV is easy. “Arrested Development,” “How I Met Your Mother” (sans the series finale), “30 Rock.” Comfort read would have to be Here Is New York by E.B. White. A constant reminder of why I love living in the city even when things get rough and an illustration that the city never really changes with time.