You can always rely on a comforting read to make you feel good.
Whether you want something to help you relax, to take you somewhere far away or just distract you from unsettling times, books can be a great companion or source of escapism. And now, more than ever, is the perfect time to reach for a reliable read and get lost in its pages.
I spoke to some of my favourite people in the book community about their own go-to comforting reads and why they’re so special to them. From childhood favourites and laugh-out-loud reads, to heartwarming stories and beautiful writing, here’s what they had to say about their top picks!
Corey Terrett, Book Blogger
My favourite book from last year and one of my favourite authors. His writing transports you somewhere else – it’s creative, original and it’s a gorgeous, comforting read. His first book Grief is the Thing with Feathers is another gorgeous book about grief that I also love.
He is one of my favourite authors and he writes beautifully – you could easily spend an entire afternoon reading his novels. His characters are wonderful and they stay with you. His latest novel Sweet Sorrow is a quiet, comforting read about young love and One Day is one of my favourite ever books – comfort reading for the soul.
I love poetry and always turn back to it when I’m looking for a comfort read or in a reading slump. I recently loved Mary Jean-Chan’s Fléche and Soho by Richard Scott exploring being gay, gay shame and more.
Sophie McDermott, Founder of Women’s Writes
The Night Circus was one of the most beautiful love stories I had ever read when I first picked it up. The book follows the story of two young magicians, and their circus, and the story is so beautifully woven together, I lost all sense of time and place while reading this. It is the perfect book for an escape.
A more recent release, this non-fiction book, the third by Catherine Gray in the “Unexpected Joy Of” series, is an opportunity to pause and appreciate all the good you have in your life, no matter how ordinary it may be. Since lockdown, one of my most ordinary joys has been sitting in the sunny spot on the sofa while the sun sets with a good book. Gray teaches you how to appreciate these moments.
For me, Harry Potter was a huge part of my childhood. I used to read the books on the long journey to my Grandmother’s house (she lived in the middle of nowhere, it would take about 10 hours) and I would always have the Harry Potter audio tapes on. And yes, I mean the actual physical tapes you had to wind up! Now, I mix it up between reading and listening before bed if I’m really struggling to switch off.
Ellie Butler Church, Book Club Organiser at Cinema & Co.
I hold this book to my heart for many reasons. Sentimentally, it’s ‘the book’ that’s bought for teenage girls in my very matriarchal family and therefore carries a lot of our values. The book is the protagonist’s journal, and the play between Cassandra observing her family with a shrewd accuracy and simultaneously retreating from her own story makes her voice funny, poignant and subtly modernist. She is obsessed with capturing the essence of the decrepit Castle that her family live in, as well as the family members themselves and the nature that envelops them all. Cassandra’s attitude is very ‘make-do and mend’ as she values the spring mornings, the swans slipping across the moat and the castle’s ancient and looming atmosphere more than dressing in style, luring men and marrying well, like her sister, Rose.
The essence of the novel, for me, boils down to how money and sex translate to masculine and feminine power. As Rose begins to play in the age-old game of transactional relationships, it’s balanced by Cassandra’s (albeit naive) assurance that these decisions should be made with love, passion and being true to yourself in mind. Smith treating all character’s insecurities, flaws and moral dilemmas with such loving care never fails to remind me that we’re all only human and we’re all trying to make as much out of what we’ve been given.
This is an atmospheric novel about people making a simple life by clinging to a Scottish island in the middle of the North Sea. The sea’s yearly cycles – its generosity and severity – are brought to life by the poetic and stirring prose. The ebb and flow of the sea turns love into tragedy as the small community is destabilised by a death of one of their own. What the sea does next is where it gets interesting: it spews forth from the churning flotsam a man who doesn’t recall how he got there. The village is torn between suspicion and hope, has the mythic Fishman of Sye finally washed up on their shores?
I’ll leave you to read the novel to find out – it’s all in the journey with this one. The book’s main character is the Silver Dark Sea and how its cycles – the fits of temper, the gentle healing caress, the emboldening gales – can prepare us for the cycles of life. The ups, the downs, the ebb, the flow.
I read ‘Elsewhere’ when I was chosen to judge a children’s book award during my time in secondary school. The book is about second-chances, regeneration and ever-shifting human nature itself. Looking back, with seemingly irrevocable GCSE options looming on the horizon, I’m sure I was soothed by the idea that maybe I’d get a second shot at everything if I messed it up – to be honest, I still find that thought comforting.
Parts of the plot, and the premise of the novel in general, still stick to me this day. It still pops into my head every few months, despite not having read it for a good few years. The book starts with the sudden death of a teenage girl. Waking up on a boat going to Elsewhere, she departs and is greeted by a younger version of her Grandmother. Elsewhere is a magical realism imagining of the after-life, where you steadily de-age, undo life’s damages and are sent bobbing down a river as a squeaky-clean babe. Sign me up, buttercup.
Committee Members, Cardiff Feminist Book Club
Emina: Reading Caitlin Moran’s writing for me has always been like a big hug, a warm mug of builders tea and feeling like you’re talking to a friend. I take comfort in her ability to be funny, honest and smutty – I love it. These books are semi-biographical and follow the life of Johanna Morgan, a budding journalist, proud feminist, sex goddess and weirdo as she moves from Wolverhampton to London to pursue her career and love of music.
Ali: I have this book on my bedside table; it’s a collection of love letters and notes from lovers, friends, family and flatmates. It’s great to dipped in and out of it when you need a bit of heartwarming, funny love; it will make you laugh and cry but best of all it feels like a hug as you get to experience the love that others have for each other.
Eli: It isn’t always an easy read – I found the chapter about trying for a baby heartbreaking. But it’s full of hope as well, her experiences have shaped her into the woman she is and I love that she learns to let go of the things she can’t change. It’s an empowering read. “I am afraid of being the disruptive woman. And of not being disruptive enough. I am afraid. But I am doing it anyway.”
Freya: Whilst the book’s themes include ageing, fractured parental relationships and general family dysfunctionality, don’t let that dissuade you from how heartwarming it is (I laughed out loud several times).
Sedaris feels like a familiar voice with his dry humour and wit. His observations on the mundane, banality of life – in this case, after he’s bought a beach house on the Carolina Coast – feel sanguine and comforting. I’ve already dog-eared multiple pages as I intend to pass on to friends as soon as I can.
Polly: When Harry met Sally is my ultimate comfort watch, so it only makes sense that Ephron would create my ultimate comfort read too. While it is fiction, Heartburn is known to tell the story of Ephron’s own divorce from Carl Bernstein. She manages to turn a story of heartbreak into a heartwarming, hilarious book that shows the whole range of human emotions throughout a time like this.
Her wit makes you smile, even in the saddest parts of the book, and her life as a food-writer living between Washington DC and New York is a nice bit of escapism. That’s not even to mention the recipes which are wonderful… mash potato anyone?
What are your favourite comforting reads?
I’d love to hear about the books that make you feel warm and happy. Have you been leaning more towards reading the books you can always rely on or spending time reading new books and authors? Let’s chat in the comments or on Twitter – I’m on @HannahDurham_!