On The Guardian they used to have a section for Comfort Reads. The sort of books you tucked into for their bolstering and trusty qualities. The sort that recalibrate and propel you into a place that makes you feel okay or even joyful about the world.
They stopped this column – from what it looks like – in 2014. It’s kind of a shame.
But this idea of comfort reads got me wondering about the books that mean a lot to us. For instance, I noticed a comment on one of the Comfort Reads columns which declared that To Kill A Mockingbird was the best comfort read of all time. I thought that was interesting. And also feel differently.
And then I got thinking that some of these sorts of reads will be perhaps be common to us all , while others are not and are more of a marker of time and place than just about the feeling a book can give you.
There’s some science behind the appeal of comfort reads, it turns out. Research suggests that reading fiction gives us a sense of belonging, boosts empathy and helps us to connect to others … and ourselves. Put even more simply certain books – like our comfort reads – make us feel more secure and human.
“Books give readers more than an opportunity to tune out and submerge themselves in fantasy worlds. Books provide the opportunity for social connection and the blissful calm that comes from becoming a part of something larger than oneself for a precious, fleeting moment,” researchers Shira Gabriel and Ariana Young told The Guardian.
“I think the reason fiction but not non-fiction has the effect of improving empathy is because fiction is primarily about selves interacting with other selves in the social world,” the University of Toronto’s Keith Oatley said in the same Guardian piece. He notes that books help us to practice the sort of thinking that teaches us about talking with and responding to others.
Which sounds comforting, right?
My Comfort Reads are hard to settle on. And a work in progress. But I think the following would be on my list …
My Family and Other Animals by Gerald Durrell. A brilliant story well told … the sort of book you want to climb into. Max is reading this at the moment and reminding me of some of the brilliant bits.
Jane Eyre by Charlotte Bronte OK, not traditionally comforting as such, but a trusty book you can disappear into … for me at least. I return to it again and again and have about 7 copies in various editions.
Man At The Helm by Nina Stibbe. Such a funny, funny eccentric book I love it so much. Super cheering and also cleverly observed. A sort of Enid Blyton for grown-ups.
The New York Times Cookbook by Amanda Hesser. I mean. It’s like a big story about life, family, friendship and food when you think of it.
Pippi Longstocking by Astrid Lindgren. An independent and delightfully naughty role model. Much adored and definitely a comfort.
The Charlie and Lola books by Lauren Child. I loved reading them to my kids and I think their sweet humanity was always more of a comfort to me than them!
Danny the Champion of the World by Road Dahl. I adored this book as a kid and each time I think of it now I think of that cosy caravan with a warm stove and supper cooking and cups of tea.
There are also books that I turned to for comfort as a child, that I wonder whether I’d love quite so much now. The Famous Five. The Faraway Tree. The Secret Seven. Just the titles remind me of comfy times and I’m happy to think of them as childhood comforts rather than lifelong ones. Because things have changed, you know?
What are your favourite comfort reads? Which books would be on your list?
PS: There is a great Comfort Reading thread on Reddit here, if you fancy gobbling that up!