Fiction 101: Cozy Reads

Welcome to our new blog series: Fiction 101! Each month we will be focusing on a different topic, exploring genres that span from the enchanting realms of fantasy to the gripping tales of mystery and everything in between.

What is a Cozy Read?

by Shelby D.

As the days grow shorter and the chill in the air leaves us searching for a warm escape, there’s nothing quite like snuggling up with a cozy book! But what exactly makes a book cozy? Is it the comfortable settings, the relatable characters, the predictable narrative? Maybe it’s the smile we have when we read of a happily ever after or the cathartic tears following a bittersweet conclusion? Read on as we embark on a journey to discover what defines a cozy book and check out cozy book recommendations from our librarians.

A pillar of cozy reads is of course cozy mysteries. This is one of the first genres of books that had the term cozy applied to it. While cozy mysteries are about crime solving (often murder) the details of the murder aren’t gory or explicit. The stories tend to take place in small picturesque towns, with a quirky cast of characters (sometimes even a talking cat!). A large amount of the book involves the protagonist making friends and building relationships with the community around them. And we can’t forget the delightfully punny titles like Eggsecutive Murders by Julie Hyzy and Better Off Thread by Amanda Lee!

The term “cozy” is applied more broadly than to just cozy mysteries. For instance, cozy fantasy is a currently growing genre — however, cozy reads extend even beyond the worlds of fantasy and mystery. While not exactly a genre itself, cozy reads do often share similar themes and characteristics across a wide range of styles:

  • Straightforward plots (without too many twists and turns along the way)
  • Story wraps up neatly at the end
  • Main characters are relatable and likable
  • Positive messages such as living life to the fullest and enjoying the moments we have together are central to the story

While a happy ending is undeniably cozy, tragic endings can also provide a perhaps unexpected sense of coziness. When curating book recommendations for our Winter Reading Challenge, themed “Cozy Up with a Good Book,” I researched other cozy book lists from publishers, readers, and other librarians and realized that comfort books could be sad — not every book needs a happy ending. Some of my personal favorite comfort books have a tragic ending, and I learned that I was not alone in that feeling. This led me to expand my own understanding of a cozy read — whether happy or sad, a “cozy” book always makes us feel connected to the story being told.

The books with sad endings all tend to have a plot that involves making deeper connections with others — another staple of a cozy read. The story needs to include building close relationships with the characters in the book — friendship, family (found and families of origin), and love of all kinds. In my opinion, this is the most important part of a cozy read. The feeling of warmth a story leaves us with is why we find it comforting as readers. There’s also no denying that there’s something cathartic about crying over a really good book.

Cozy Book Recommendations

A book I turn to over and over again for comfort is The Song of Achilles by Madeline Miller. Something that I look for in books that I enjoy is lyrical writing, and as such, I find the poetic feel of The Song of Achilles particularly comforting. The ending is definitely sad and I cry every time I read it — but to me that doesn’t detract at all from the comfort the book brings me. I really love how the protagonist sees the world and how he builds meaningful relationships with the people around him.

Another book that I consider a cozy read is Pride and Prejudice by Jane Austen. Like with The Song of Achilles, the lyrical writing draws me in and paints a world I love to sink into. I also find Pride and Prejudice to be personally nostalgic, since it’s a book I’ve read so often throughout my life. Elizabeth Bennet is a really enjoyable protagonist, and the plot is driven by the building of relationships and her love for her family and friends, which keeps me re-reading it as often as I do.

To further explore the definition of a cozy read, I asked around the library to get cozy recommendations from our staff!

Sarah Palfrey, the Director of the Morgantown Public Library System, focused on classic cozy read favorites: the cozy mystery! She recommends a few food-based favorites including Vivien Chien’s A Noodle Shop Mystery series and multiple series by Laura Childs. Looking for a more historical setting? Sarah suggests The Gaslight Mysteries series or Her Royal Spyness by Rhys Bowen. For her, cozy reads include a comforting, if not somewhat formulaic storyline, with likable characters. In general, she really likes that in a cozy book the main character is usually learning something new or starting over in some way where they are unsure of their skills and rise to meet the new challenges.

Jenean, our Youth Services Specialist, explained that to her cozy meant something that she can sit and read with hot chocolate and a blanket. A few such books that she turns to for comfort are Legends & Lattes by Travis Baldree and The Night Circus by Erin Morgenstern. Crystal, our Inter-Library Loans Specialist, enjoys Emily Wilde’s Encyclopaedia of Faeries by Heather Fawcett. She says it’s a cozy read thanks to its cozy cottage setting, the tea drinking while sitting by the fire, and the adventures staying comfortably close to home.

Ultimately, this deep dive into cozy reads revealed to me the many different ways that people define a cozy book. While the details might differ, a pattern emerged of books focused on relationships that the protagonist built with the people around them. I feel that winter is a good time to focus on the people we love and the friends we have and will make, and our cozy reading choices during these chilly months reflect our desire to draw comfort from the community we’ve built around us. The only question that remains — what cozy book will you read this month?