I don’t know about you, but I find reading to be one of the most relaxing activities in the world. There’s something about getting lost in a book that takes you out of your own head and into an alternate universe. Good writers are those who can create new worlds that feel just as real as your own, and make you long to be a part of them.
Reading can also provide a much-needed distraction when anxiety gets too intense. I devoured books as a kid and to this day walking into a bookstore or library takes me immediately to a happy place. Much like the adorable nerds in this video, when I was little I felt that books were my friends and that I was never alone if I had a good book to keep me company.
I think anyone who reads a lot develops, over time, a roster of books that are tried-and-true favourites, ones that they return to again and again because the characters and stories feel comfortable and comforting, like being around old friends. One of my favourites, Jilly Cooper’s Rivals, is a novel that I picked up at a sleepover when I was 12 (highly unsuitable reading for that age, fyi). I read it again in my freshman year of high school when I had my heart crushed for the first time, and then as a junior when I was studying for my SAT’s. I re-read it in my first year of university when I was homesick, and since then I’ve returned to it every couple of years as needed, in times of stress. The great thing is that no matter where I am in my life, the characters in Rivals are always playing out the same storyline, with the same outcomes. There is something deeply reassuring about that.
Here is my list of favourite comfort books. They may not be the best* or most literary books I have ever read, but they always make me happy.
*(Except that they secretly totally are).
The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn – Mark Twain
This has always been my all-time favourite book, and maybe it always will be, because I can’t think of anything more perfect than the idea of running away and following a river. Can you?
Don’t Care High – Gordon Korman
I won’t say too much here about this excellent YA novel, because it really deserves its own post, but in my opinion Gordon Korman is a bizarre genius and reading his books as a kid helped to shape my worldview in ways that I am coming to understand and appreciate more and more each time I re-read them.
Gone With the Wind – Margaret Mitchell
It kills me that this book is traditionally marketed as a romance novel (see cover, above). Yeah, sure…if your idea of ‘romance’ is cruelty and emotional torture.* The book is less of a bodice-ripper than a history lesson, exploring the economic, political, and social causes of the American Civil War. Aside from that, it features one of the most deeply rendered characters I have ever read. Seriously, after finishing it I felt like Scarlett O’Hara was more tangible to me than some people I have actually met in real life. Which is kind of crazy.
*And maybe it is! If so, cool – this book’s for you.
Hammer of the Gods: The Led Zeppelin Saga – Stephen Davis
I’ve read this book at least half a dozen times, and even though many of the anecdotes within it are no doubt slightly exaggerated, it encompasses all that is amazing about the excesses of the rock ‘n roll lifestyle. I also love reading about the stories behind the songs. Plus, Zeppelin rules.
Rivals – Jilly Cooper
The aforementioned Rivals contains all that you would expect from a Jilly Cooper novel – intrigue, excess, glamour, backstabbing, sex, adultery, and unapologetic moral laxity. As a 12-year-old, it blew my mind. I think it’s a testament to the author that even though basically every character is a total degenerate and/or moral reprobate, and I’m not sure I really like any of them (except for maybe Caitlin), I love them all.
That’s my list. What are your favourite comfort books?