Literary comfort food

There is nothing better than choosing a new book to read, settling down and soon finding yourself lost in the pages. There is the anticipation of a good story, the threat that the book won’t be for you and the potential that you will stumble across a new all time favourite. But sometimes a lot of readers want to read something they are familiar with. They want to return to old literary friends, get lost in a world that they are familiar with. This may be to find your reading mojo, get you out of a book slump, or simply because you want to escape from a world where we have little control, to find solace in one where we know what to expect. I call these books comfort books, the ones that refresh the reading palette, bring us welcome joy and respite from an often weary world. They are the bookish equivalent of (new) pajamas and a (large) bowl of ice cream. For me, my comfort read is Persuasion by Jane Austen. It is guaranteed to lift me out of the doldrums, to escape into a wonderful cocoon of a bygone time and leave me with a warm glow. There is, for me, something beautiful about a book where you know exactly what is going to happen but you still savour every moment of the journey getting there. So using the hive mind that is social media I posed my question on Twitter and Facebook and was overwhelmed with the response. Here are the books that others turn to when they need a book cuddle.

Carys Bray, author of A Song for Issy Brady, Sweet Home and The Museum of You goes for Persuasion, as does Rebecca Mascull author of The Visitors and Song of The Sea Maid and Jane Lythell, author of The Lie of You and Woman of the Hour. Lyne Shelby, author of French Kissing chooses Pride and Prejudice as do a few other people, as we shall see. Jane Hanbury and blogger Christina Philippou are both Jane Austen fans.

One of blogger Sharon Wilden’s all time favourtite books is Little Women by Louisa May Alcott. Sharon blogs at Shaz’s Book Blog.

Tracey Sinclair, author of Dark Dates, Wolf Night and Angel Falls turns to Terry Pratchett books (the witches and guards ones) but she doesn’t just turn to his books for her comfort reads. She also loves Pride and Prejudice, Persuasion, Dangerous Liaisons by Choderlos de Laclos, The Good Soldier by Ford Madox Ford and Big Magic by Elizabeth Gilbert.

Helen Giles, who blogs at Life of a Nerdish Mum picks up Crime and Punishment by Fyodor Dostoevsky if she’s in a reading slump and doesn’t know what to read.

Whilst author of Harvest Festival and 2000 Tunes Karl Drinkwater has read many novels more than once he’s now at the point where he wants to read new books as good as these. (Which of course is the only way to discover comfort books after all). He does however love to re-read short stories and his favourites include Roadside Picnic (Strugatsky), I Have No Mouth and I Must Scream (Ellison), I Am Legend (Matheson), Who Goes There? (Campbell Jr), The Yellow Wallpaper (Gilman) and The Lottery (Jackson).

Although blogger Caroline Vincent recently re-read and loved Pride and Prejudice her turn to books are those written by the crime writing queen, Agatha Christie. Caroline is not alone for Christie’s books are the go to books for book reviewer Louise Wykes also turns to any of Agatha Christies Marple or Poirot, saying they make her feel safe, and I see what she means. Other Christie fans are author T Scully and blogger Sandra Foy.

Josie Barton who blogs at the wonderful Jaffa Reads Too, turns to Outlander by Diana Gabaldon when she needs a comfort read. She says ‘ I have re-read it countless times and know that I can pick it up on a whim and know that I will feel better when I’ve spent some time with the characters’

Author of Blood and Roses Catherine Hokin has two books she gets lost in: The Night Circus by Erin Morgenstern and Wise Children by Angela Carter. Barbara Copperthwaite, author of Invisible and Flowers for the Dead chooses between The Night Circus, Great Expectations by Charles Dickens, Rebecca by Daphne Du Maurier and Far From the Maddening Crowd by Thomas Hardy.

Terri Nixon, who is the author of Maids of Oakland Manor chooses between Stephen King’s The Stand or Jilly Cooper’s Rivals, showing that comfort reads can be diverse, even for the same reader! Julie Houston, author of Goodness, Grace and Me, The One Saving Grace and Looking for Lucy, plumps for any Jilly Cooper but in particular Riders and Rivals. In her words ‘the cheese on toast and a big fat cream bun of books’.

Linda Huber, who penned The Attic Room, The Cold Cold Sea and Chosen Child is also a Pride and Prejudice fan. She also reaches for her copies of Little Women, A Cry in the Night by Mary Higgins Clarke and the Chalet School books when she needs ‘balsam for the soul’.

Jenny Blackhurst, author of Before I Let You In and How I Lost You, seeks solace in Dean Koontz’s Phantoms or Strangers, and has had to replace her copy of Strangers, so well read was her previous copy.

Cathy McNally, who blogs at 746Books, regularly re-reads The Secret History by Donna Tartt, as does Caroline Dunford, author of the Euphemia Martins mystery series.

Madeleine Reiss, author of This Last Kiss has read The Mill on the Floss by George Eliot a number of times and whilst Josa Young, author of Sail Upon the Land loves Persuasion her ‘valium’ read is Georgette Heyer.

Jessica Norrie, author of The Infinity Pool, feels that Laura Ingalls Wilder’s Little House books are just as good for adults as they are for children.

Ghostbird author Carol Lovekin’s choices are Jane Eyre by Charlotte Bronte (one of my other comfort reads), To Kill a Mockingbird by Harper Lee, Human Croquet by Kate Atkinson, Fall on your Knees by Ann-Marie MacDonald and can re-read Virginia Woolf’s diaries ‘ad infinitum’. Katey Lovell, author of the Meet Cute series turns to Jane Eyre or 84 Charing Cross Road by Helene Hanff, whilst another fan of Jane Eyre is Rowan Coleman who’s books We Are All Made of Stars and The Memory Book appear further on as comfort reads themselves.

Author of They All Fall Down Cat Hogan’s constant companion is Shantaram by Gregory David Roberts, or if she needs ‘comfort food’ To Kill A Mockingbird.

For blogger Laura Delve, she turns to Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone by J.K. Rowling saying ‘..it brings me back to my childhood and makes me feel safe and happy” (and sometimes what we need for a book is to make us feel safe and happy after all). Another Harry Potter fan is blogger Laura Bambrey who also chooses non-fiction books about art history as her go-to recharge books.

For Jon Teckman, author of Ordinary Joe,  his choice is Catch-22 to ‘just marvel at Joseph Heller’s genius…’. Mary Jayne Baker, author of The Honey Trap also turn’s to Heller’s classic and Wuthering Heights by Emily Bronte too. Essie Fox, author of The Somnambulist, Elijah’s Mermaid, and The Goddess and the Thief, also picks Wuthering Heights and blogger Abbie Rutherford picks Wuthering Heights or Tess of the D’Urbevilles by Thomas Hardy.

For Sarah Vincent, author of The Testament of Vida Tremayne her go to book is Memoirs of a Midget by Walter de La Mere.

Cassandra Parkin, author of The Summer We All Ran Away and The Beach Hut, is another Persuasion fan. She also picks up Mansfield Park, The Secret History, The Great Gatsby and any Agatha Christie so has a great range to choose from.

Roisin Meaney, author of The Reunion, Two Fridays in April and After the Wedding would choose between Lolita by Vladimir Nabokov , The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society by Mary Ann Shaffer and Annie Barrows and Dinner at the Homesick Restaurant by Anne Tyler.

Blogger Kirsty Rogerson picks Nicholas Sparks’ The Notebook saying its always easy to dip in and out of. Her alternative comfort read is The One Plus One by Jojo Moyes.

Thorne Moore, author of Motherlove and The Unravelling, lists all of Jane Austen’s in the following order: Pride and Prejudice, Emma, Northanger Abbey, Mansfield Park, Persuasion and Sense and Sensibility but also likes to mix things up with The Tombs of Atuan by Ursula K Le Guin.

Clodagh Murphy, author of Some Girls Do, The Disengagement Ring, Frisky Business, goes for Dorothy L Sayers or Jane Austen.

Blogger Pam McIlroy has a look selection box of comfort books: Rebecca, Wuthering Heights, The Light Between the Oceans by M.L. Stedman, The Snow Child by Eowyn Ivey, The Illusion of Separateness by Simon Van Booy and The Book of Negroes by Lawrence Hill.

Margaret Madden who blogs at Bleach House Library turns to Rebecca, or Pride and Prejudice, or childhood favourites, The Little House on the Prairie by Laura Ingalls Wilder and Mary Poppins by P. L. Travers.

Fiona Cane, author of The Other Side of the Mountain picks up The Great Gatsby by F Scott Fitzgerald when she is seeking literary comfort food, whilst the go to book for Susie Lynes, author of Valentina, is Who Will Run the Frog Hospital? by Lorrie Moore.

Bev Spicer, author of One Summer in France and Stranded in the Seychelles, uses her favourites to remind her what great writing is. She reaches for Cat’s Eye by Margaret Atwood ‘for its unsentimental nostalgia and ruthless characterisation’, Heart of Darkness by Joseph Conrad for ‘its terrifying insights and imagery’ and The Shipping News by Annie Proulx ‘just because I can open it at any random page and be amazed by the language’.

Author of Hampstead Fever and One Night in the Jacaranda, Carol Cooper keeps it in the family by choosing Cocktails and Camels by Jacqueline Carol, who happens to be her mother, and reaches for it as it is ‘the funniest and most comforting book I have ever read’.

For the author of The Cosy Teashop in the Castle, Caroline Roberts her pj and ice cream books are We Are All Made of Stars or The Memory Book, both by Rowan Coleman which she describes as ‘both beautiful’.

Over on Twitter I gathered these responses (I’ve not included who said them as I’ve not got their permission). Here is a list of what people turn to for a bit of literary comfort:

Bridget Jones’ Diary by Helen Fielding

A Village Affair or The Rector’s Wife, by Joanna Trollope

Most of Bill Bryson’s books

Confessions of a Middle Aged Woman by Sue Townsend

The Hungry Cyclist by Tom Kevill Davies

The Time Traveller’s Wife by Audrey Niffenegger

Agatha Christie

Dashiel Hammett (described as ‘pure joy’)

Anything by Paige Toon or Lucy Diamond

Wuthering Heights (‘even though it’s pretty depressing, all told…’)

Marian Keynes ‘and I’d immerse myself in Ireland and the Walsh Family’

‘most of the time something aimed at children or young adults, such as Howl’s Moving Castle or if I’m being grown up any Chic Lit’

Nancy Mitford (‘never fails’)

‘I’d go for a big, American thriller in the Lee Child style, a shot of pure entertainment’.

And don’t worry if you don’t have a comfort read. You aren’t alone. Bloggers extraordinare Anne Cater, Karen Cocking and Victoria Goldman don’t have such reads. Lisa Briggs Hardy rarely re-reads (but is planning on re-reading the Faraway Tree books before the film is released and who can blame her – I may use the same excuse!). Hemmie Martin, author of What Happens After, finds comfort in the book she is reading at the time (which I think is a wonderful way of looking at books).

So it’s apparent that all kinds of genres can provide that comfort read. The wonderful thing about books is that they provide different things to different people.

Do you have a go to book that brings you all the feels? Do let me know what it is if you do!

 

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22 Comments Add yours

  1. damppebbles says:

    This is a great post Janet. I really enjoyed reading it. I’m like Anne, Karen and Victoria and don’t have a comfort read. In fact, I don’t tend to re-read books!

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    1. janetemson says:

      I don’t really have time to re-read anymore. I try to make time to re-read Persuasion but often fail!

      Liked by 1 person

  2. MarinaSofia says:

    Persuasion is one of my comfort reads too: it is just so mature and sensitive and melancholy, so grown-up and elegant. A palate cleanser.
    Mind you, when I’m in a very unsettled state, like currently with the move (and everything that could possibly go wrong going wrong), I like to turn to some reliable page-turners and crime thrillers, to make me forget everything that is going badly in my life (or make it seem tiny in comparison).

    Liked by 1 person

    1. janetemson says:

      Yes – you describe Persuasion perfectly. And I agree with why crime novels and the like can provide solace for exactly the reason you give 🙂

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  3. What a range of comfort reading! Some of them not comforting at all, at least for me anyway. I don’t have a particular book I turn to but I do find the New England summer setting a useful one for escape for some reason.

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    1. janetemson says:

      I can see that setting to be a great one to escape to. I was surprised with the selection, there are some that I wouldn’t consider comforting but that’s what’s wonderful about books I suppose, every reader takes away something different 🙂

      Like

  4. Alison May says:

    I agree with whoever said Marian Keyes. I can reread her books over and over and over. Marian Keyes and Discworld (Terry Pratchett) and my go to comfort reads.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. janetemson says:

      Both good choices 🙂

      Liked by 1 person

  5. I have a book called Astas Book by Barbara Vine and I often re-read it (you can hardly the the title on the spine as it is so worn) I LOVE it and pick it up every so often to read again. xx

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    1. janetemson says:

      A sign of a well loved book – when it’s falling apart 🙂 I’ve not head of this one, I’ll have to look it up!

      Liked by 1 person

      1. that is definitely a sign of a well-loved book, when it is falling apart! I have had The Bay of Noon by Shirley Hazzard for years and I’ve re-read it so many times, it is now held together with Sellotape and in a Ziplock plastic sleeve. I also loved Back Roads by Tawni O’Dell; I felt as if I was moving among the characters it was so real. It has suspense, a good strong plot, tight prose, shocking reveals, all laced with humour.

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      2. janetemson says:

        I’ve not heard of either of those. I’ll have to look them up. It’s always lovely when you come across a book you just fall in love with 🙂

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  6. I loved reading this post, it’s so interesting to see what other readers turn to when they need a hug in book form. I think for me it’s Tess of the D’Urbevilles – I’ve lost count of how many times I’ve re-read it and it’s usually when life is a bit tough that I go back to it.

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    1. janetemson says:

      I’m so pleased to hear you enjoyed the post. I found it fascinating. it’s good to know a book is there for us when we need it 🙂

      Liked by 1 person

  7. Joanne says:

    Lots of great books there. Since blogging I’ve not really had time or the need to comfort read but Bill Bryson’s books were always good for me.

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    1. janetemson says:

      Bill Bryson’s funny interpretation of the world could lift me out of the doldrums so I can see why you would pick his books 🙂

      Liked by 1 person

  8. ifucanrememberituwerentthere says:

    Great to see Chalet School books on the list – they inspired me to write, age 9. Rebecca would be one I would return to if I had time to re-read as well as another more recent novel would be Olive Kitteridge.

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    1. janetemson says:

      That’s lovely to hear. I’ve not read Olive Kitteridge, I’ll have to add it to the wishlist. Finding the time to re-read is the challenge!

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  9. I’m not a rereader so don’t have a favourite I turn back to, but there is one book I reach for at Christmas that I love to pick up every year, its Paul Durcan’s prose poem Christmas Day, a humorous, clever reminiscence of Christmas past and present by a man with a few regrets.

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  10. Fascinating post! Thank you.

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