By Brett C. Hoover (Riverhead Books, 2011)
Don’t let the fuzzy slippers on the cover fool you: Brett C. Hoover’s book Comfort: An Atlas for the Body and Soul is less spa-getaway and more philosophical inquiry that delves into a pervasive, little-critiqued cultural value.
That’s not to say Comfort is a heavy read. Hoover considers our homes, cars, food, and finances. He considers our relationships, lifestyle choices, spiritual attitudes, and responses to crises and transitions. He questions where we find comfort and what purpose that comfort achieves. “As a practical matter, we need to take a serious look at the real human costs and benefits of what we believe makes us comfortable,” he writes.
Hoover, a Paulist priest, writes in an eminently pastoral tone, drawing on Catholic tradition while simultaneously invoking pop-culture references and reflecting on his experience growing up in suburban Southern California in the 1970s and ’80s. The book’s research includes academic and cultural studies as well as personal interviews. While these narratives offer breadth to the work, the more compelling material is the extensive historical, religious, economic, sociological, and scientific data he cites, as well as his own reflections.
Readers may be more likely to pick up the book after something particularly uncomfortable has happened to them, but this isn’t Hoover’s primary intended audience. He admits as much, recounting the response from the first person he told about his book idea: “My notion of a complicated and ambiguous comfort left him cold. To him comfort served essentially one purpose: peace and healing for people in pain and crisis."
But Hoover’s notion of a complicated and ambiguous comfort is accurate and insightful in our culture today. The book is both a roadmap and a challenge for readers who want to contemplate the role of comfort in their own lives.
This article appeared in the January 2012 issue of U.S. Catholic (Vol. 77, No. 1, page 51).