‘Returning to this book is paying a visit to my childhood best friend’: comfort reads for exam season

By Sea Pawanrat Vachanavuttivong

There is one thing about me that most people in my life have never understood — I like to know how things end before I finish them. Most of the time I resist the urge to flick to the last page, or search up the Wikipedia article halfway through a series, but there is something I find particularly comforting about knowing everything will be okay. I think this is just one reason for why I seem to always seem to turn back to my comfort books during times of stress. 

To try and understand this question better, I went for coffee with an old friend — my battered copy of Six of Crows by Leigh Bardugo. Purchased six years ago during exam season, this copy is so covered in notations, there are probably more scribbled pencil marks than there are words from the original story. I was fifteen and hit five feet tall less than a year prior with dreams about studying Computer Science in Scotland. I now do an English and History degree — if only I knew what was coming. 

I take the novel in my hands, and I learn to love my present and my future

For me, returning to this book is visiting my childhood best friend. The nostalgia factor of it all: the feeling of being fifteen again and discovering that wow, this is the genre for me. As a reader, it feels as though nothing really compares to when you first fell in love with reading. Re-reading this book is me looking back on my past in a non-critical, loving way, like a long hug from my younger self reminding me that times were not always this complicated, and it will not always be. For someone who picks apart every interaction I have and every breath I take, having this part of my life that is so deeply personal and filled with nothing but love and excitement for what is to come is what always draws me back to these pages. Instead of turning up my nose at my younger self, scoffing at the label ‘ALLITERATION!!’ written with such clear excitement that the page had nearly ripped, instead I take the novel in my hands and I learn to love my present and my future, just as I love my past. 

Six of Crows follows six main protagonists; a convict, a sharpshooter, a runaway, a spy, a witch, and a thief with such slippery fingers that he ought to be a middle aged man with thirty years of experience rather than a teenage boy. A novel full of found family and lovable characters, it is the found family I always find myself returning to when things get rough. It is also the story that gave me the relationship advice that seems obvious to me now, but was so revolutionary to me at that moment, “Many boys will bring you flowers. But someday you’ll meet a boy who will learn your favourite flower, your favourite song, your favourite sweet. And even if he is too poor to give you any of them, it won’t matter because he will have taken the time to know you as no one else does. Only that boy earns your heart”. This being the pinnacle of relationship advice is only one marker of how much I have grown since I first read this.

Every time I reread this book, it gains a new memory of when things were rough but I survived, a little history of my darkest moments, but somehow a physical manifestation of comfort

Six of Crows is no longer my favourite book. It hasn’t been for a while. Naturally, that title belongs to Six of Crows’ older brothers; the behemoth Rhythm of War and The Final Empire, both by Brandon Sanderson, with the former containing over 1200 pages and the latter containing a few too many parallels to my comfort book to be truly coincidental. Regardless, Six of Crows holds the stamps of each time that I read it, found in the pages’ tears, pencil marks or dog ears. Every time I reread this book, it gains a new memory of when things were rough but I survived, a little history of my darkest moments, but somehow a physical manifestation of comfort. 

It is for these reasons that during times of intense stress, I find my thoughts repeating the words of the Crows themselves: “no mourners, no funerals”. It is a mantra I will continue to lean on.

Image: Christin Hume via Unsplash

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