These are strange, anxiety-inducing times. It is hard to feel such a lack of control. It’s not easy to have to stay at home with no social interaction. But I think reading helps most situations, and for me this is a time for comfort reads.
Everyone’s definition of ‘comfort read’ will be different. For me, these books are the equivalent of a blanket and a cup of tea. These are worlds I want to inhabit. And some of these might not seem comforting at all – they might seem dark, or a bit too murder-filled. But it’s not just the plot of the novel that makes it comforting. It’s the tone, the author’s voice. I suppose maybe the idea that they have complete control over the world of their novel. Or the kindness and humanity that saturates the pages.
So put the kettle on, get cosy and take a look. I would love to hear what your favourites are.
Stay safe, stay well – stay home.
I Capture The Castle, Dodie Smith
‘I write this sitting in the kitchen sink…’ isn’t that the most wonderful opening line for a novel? I loved this book, my daughter loved it. If you haven’t read it yet I beg you to…and if you have read it then I hope you’ll agree it’s one of those books that definitely stands up to being read again and again.
Little Women, Louisa May Alcott
No introduction required…but really this is perfect for right now. Comforting, heart-warming, inspiring. And I’m hoping the movie gets released soon so I can sob all the way through it again!
Olive, Again, Elizabeth Strout
This is what I am reading at the moment and what a pleasure it is to be back in the company of grumpy old Olive Kitteridge! Elizabeth Strout is one of those writers who can capture the profound in the mundane, who manages to just convey so much heart and humanity. You might want to start with Olive Kitteridge . I have enjoyed everything I have written by this author…
The Pursuit of Love, Nancy Mitford
I love Nancy Mitford. She is funny and smart and pulls no punches. Her writing sparkles, her dialogue is sparing and spot-on. I’ve gone on and on about her before…but I feel that she isn’t as respected as a writer as she should be. So please try this – or Love in a Cold Climate. I also very much enjoyed this podcast where the journalist Grace Dent discusses her love for Mitford.
The Mitfords: Letters Between Six Sisters, edited Charlotte Mosley
Ok, so after I read Nancy Mitford I got slightly Mitford obsessed. There is a great biography about them by Mary. S. Lovell but I loved reading their own words. And what lives they had – one sister was in love with Hitler (yes really) and shoot herself in the head when war was declared – and survived! One sister ran away to fight in the Spanish civil war. They were in the press all the time – much to the consternation of their parents. They were friends with everybody who was anyone. This, for me, was pure escapism.
Les Parisiennes, Anne Sebba
Moving on from the Mitfords but sticking with non-fiction, Les Parisiennes is a fascinating account of the lives of real women during the occupation by the Nazis. Ok strange to call this a comfort read, but the author writes so wonderfully and vividly about these lives – and the strength and humanity shown by many of these women is a real inspiration.
A Gentleman in Moscow, Amor Towles
I have recommended this book to SO many people. It is just so gorgeously written. And the main character – Count Rostov – is under house arrest at the Metropol Hotel in Moscow. So a bit like quarantine…although his lasted thirty years. One of those books that stays with you long after the final page.
Other authors I will definitely be turning to are Anne Tyler – any of her books (except the Taming of the Shrew re-write Vinegar Girl which was my worst pick for the Expat Book Club – sorry!) would be perfect, but I especially loved The Amateur Marriage and Back When We Were Grown Ups.
Kate Atkinson is another favourite – from her Case Histories series which I currently re-read when feeling a bit flat…which I know is weird because there’s a lot of murder and awful stuff that happens and yet I find them comforting?! I adored Life After Life and especially A God in Ruins. Difficult scenes and themes in both, but I found myself totally engrossed in the worlds she creates.
And of course I’m going to be reading Hilary Mantel’s The Mirror and the Light – the final instalment of the Wolf Hall trilogy. Perfect for right now, these books force you to give them their full attention! Also the latest – which I have in hardback – is so heavy that reading it will double as a gym workout!
Would love to know what your comfort reads are, and if any of these appeal to you.