Tuesday, June 21, 2022

Comfort Zoning

 Ovidia--every other Tuesday

I'm thinking about Comfort Zones because there's been almost too much good stuff going on around here right now. A second run of my play, Hitting (On) Women, just closed after a sold out run and another, Kwa Geok Choo is opens on 8th July. Plus my next history mystery, The Mushroom Tree Mystery, lands on Kindle Today (21 June) and as actual books in July.   

So, given everything that's going on, I stay home in my Comfort Zone whenever I can. 

This is a photo of some of the comfort books that live within my comfort shelf! The books on the carpet here being re-shelved belong to the 'books I once loved so much I can't bear to give them away even though I've probably outgrown them' category. 

They're comforting because I can open any of them at random and know pretty much what's happening in them. And they're in my office because I need to feel them nearby, next to the table where my TBR and duty reads get staged.

But I suspect the real reason I hang on to them is picking them up brings me back to who I was when I was reading and loving them. This is probably true of all the books I deep read. But some others didn't leave me with any 'comfort'. 

I remember feeling gas bloated full of hard, brilliant, angry energy when I surfaced from books like The Catcher in the Rye, The Bell Jar and The Orton Diaries, and fancying myself a misunderstood genius teen feeding on JD Salinger's Glass Family stories.

But I realised that wasn't a state I wanted to live in. 

Neither there nor in the cookbooks that I also have far too many of, and that I'm probably never going to cook my way through! But I realise I read food writers like other people read romance. And food writing was my gateway drug to traditional mysteries, via Agatha Christie (Lucy Eyelesbarrow's smashing roast beef and treacle tart) and Rex Stout's Nero Wolfe.

Just a few of my too many cookbooks! The Larousse Gastronomique at the far right is a volume that comforts everything that might ail you, from angst through convalescence and insomnia to writer's block.  

And this sweet, tattered volume that's been with us since the bedsitter days in No. 10 St. John's Rd, Cambridge. 

I suspect I could be happy reading nothing but mysteries and food books but I think many of us (in my generation at least!) are conditioned to believe it's not enough to stay in our comfort zones and be comfortable. I still believe it's kind of true (see? conditioning works!) because if we never stretch/ push/ challenge ourselves we lose our ability to grow. 

Over the last week three people (two friends on separate occasions and one Grab driver) complained about how 'today's youngsters' only want the 'easy life', applying it to how often they change jobs and romantic partners and how they 'can't' read books.

Naturally I was the most interested in the last category. 

'I thought your daughter wants to write? What do you mean she can't read books?'

'Nowadays all she writes is Instagram lah, Tiktok lah, whole day staring at that tiny little screen sharing-sharing-sharing!'

'Maybe try passing her something you've enjoyed reading and ask her if she can write something like that?'

'No lah. I don't have time to read nowadays,'

[note: this is a woman who was just lamenting over lunch the emptiness of her life now Top Chef is over for the year and she's finished binging all seasons of Bosch, Bosch Legacy and Lincoln Lawyer. Yes I offered to lend her my Michael Connellys and MFK Fishers. No, she didn't accept. And no, she's not read any of my books either. Yes, we're still friends!]

Trying to venture out of my own comfort zones recently, I tried watching Love, Death + Robots (represented in emoji form as ❤️❌🤖) on Netflix. These are short animations that are wry, clever, entertaining, but it felt like the underlying message there is: life is dangerous, hope is an illusion. Why try at all? You're doomed before you start. 

It seems like a lot of energy put into saying things are pointless. Maybe it's a phase the creators or humankind needs to go through, but while I thought them clever, they made me want to retreat away from them to my comfort zone. 

Don't worry, I'm not going to stagnate in here. I'll go on trying to read unfamiliar stuff and going to unfamiliar places and expanding my comfort zone little by little. 


  1. Is there anything you can't do well, Ovidia? Your perspicacious pursuits give inspiring comfort to us all!

  2. I re-read all the Little House books to my son when he was young. They were cozy and comforting on an entirely different level reading them as an adult. The Long Winter is a personal favorite of the series. As I am a lover of reading and book lists, would you share a listing of your comfort books with us? Thanks!