Of all the reasons we choose to read, surely comfort must be chief among them. Whether we’re having a tough day, a tough year, or a tough life, there is a unique comfort to be found in books. Of course, what constitutes a “comfort read” will vary from reader to reader, but usually they’re uplifting in some measure and/or familiar in their content and form. Here are ten of my own favourite comfort reads.
Breathe easy, my trans and NB/gender-queer friends! You’ll find no mention of TERF-y wizards here. I know some people count Those Books as “comfort reads”, but I find no comfort in the dehumanisation and oppression of your awesome selves. This is a safe space!
Me Talk Pretty One Day by David Sedaris
One of the first things I look for in my comfort reads is a good hearty laugh, and David Sedaris has plenty of those to offer in Me Talk Pretty One Day. Sedaris’s wry humour and keen observations, of everything from family life to travel to cooking to education, are timeless. Even when I know the punchline is coming, it still never fails to elicit a chuckle. During the last lockdown, I took particular pleasure in re-reading this one on audiobook; Sedaris was my constant companion on my daily government-sanctioned walks around the neighbourhood, and I didn’t even mind that I looked like a crazy person laughing to myself in public. Read my full review of Me Talk Pretty One Day here.
Pride And Prejudice by Jane Austen
If you’re looking for comfort reads that are heart-warmingly familiar, you can’t go past Jane Austen’s most beloved novel, Pride And Prejudice. Even when you know how it’s going to pan out, you’ll find yourself just as lost in Elizabeth and Darcy’s romance as you were the very first time. As Meg Ryan’s character said in the classic booklover film You’ve Got Mail: ““Confession: I have read Pride and Prejudice two hundred times. I get lost in the language, words like: Thither. Mischance. Felicity. I am always in agony over whether Elizabeth and Mr. Darcy are really going to get together.” Read my full review of Pride And Prejudice here.
The One Hundred Year Old Man Who Climbed Out The Window And Disappeared by Jonas Jonasson
Whenever a loved one is feeling down, The One Hundred Year Old Man Who Climbed Out The Window And Disappeared is the book I thrust into their hands. I’m sure you can guess from the title what it’s about. Alan Karlsson makes for a wonderful accidental centenarian protagonist in this wild romp. It’s like a European Forrest Gump: funny, heart-warming, and just a little over-the-top. The Swedes are best known for their crime noir, when their comfort reads are really where it’s at. Read my full review of The One Hundred Year Old Man Who Climbed Out The Window And Disappeared here.
The Helpline by Katherine Collette
I can tell you from personal experience that Germaine’s time working on a Senior Citizen’s hotline is a dream in comparison to real-life call centre work… but that’s the beauty of comfort reads! They are the spoonful of sugar that helps us swallow the real-life medicine. The Helpline is a delightful debut from Australian novelist Katherine Collette, with a quirky protagonist, an eccentric cast of characters, and a David-and-Goliath battle to save a community center. Pick this one up when you’re feeling left out and down on your luck. Read my full review of The Helpline here.
The Devil Wears Prada by Lauren Weisberger
The Devil Wears Prada is a two-fer: a wonderful comfort read and a perfect comfort watch, in the form of the film adaptation! Weisberger’s book is a grittier, darker version than the one portrayed by Anne Hathaway and Meryl Streep (Meryl Streep!!) on screen, but both have laughs and aspirational lifestyles to offer. There’s also the delicious gossipy delight of working out how much of Weisberger’s “fiction” debut was actually drawn from her time working under Anna Wintour at Vogue… I first picked this one up at an airport, hoping for a distraction on a long flight, and instead I got one of my favourite-ever comfort reads that I’ve returned to many times over.
The Hobbit by J.R.R. Tolkien
It took me a while to warm up to The Hobbit – my father gave me a copy when I was eight or so, and hassled me to read it for years and years before I finally gave it a shot – but it’s become one of my favourite comfort reads for when the Real World becomes Too Much. It’s far more fun than Tolkien’s epic fantasy efforts in the Lord Of The Rings trilogy, and far easier to read. Forget about the film adaptation travesties, where they bloated the story beyond all recognition. The Hobbit is the comfort read to pick up when your inner child needs a bit of TLC and your brain is ready to switch off from real-world concerns.
Bridget Jones’s Diary by Helen Fielding
If you’re looking for the same heart-warming comfort of Pride And Prejudice, but with a more contemporary setting and relatable heroine, your best pick would be Bridget Jones’s Diary. Bridget is everything we need in a leading lady: flawed, good natured, optimistic but realistic. Her romantic interests are of a Type we all know: the scoundrel, the hoity-toity, the gay. She drinks too much, smokes too much, and loves a carbohydrate, but never once gives up on her quest for self-improvement. While it’s maybe more of a throwback now than it was the progressive ground-breaker it was at the time, it remains one of my all-time favourite comfort reads.
To All The Boys I’ve Loved Before by Jenny Han
Skeptics (like me) really struggle with young adult romances, and it’s not hard to see why. All too often, they’re trite, twee, and unrealistic to the point of irritation. To All The Boys I’ve Loved Before is one of the rare exceptions, with just the right balance of sweet and savoury to make it a perfect comfort read. The premise, on its face, is horrifying – a high school girl’s secret love letters are delivered to their subjects, and she’s forced to fake-date the Popular Boy to throw her sister’s boyfriend off the scent – but the tone is so delightful and the plot so satisfying, it’s guaranteed to put a smile on your face. Read my full review of To All The Boys I’ve Loved Before here.
The Nancys by R.W.R. McDonald
Cozy mysteries make for great comfort reads, and they don’t come any cozier than The Nancys. When Tippy Chan’s mother wins a two-week cruise, her non-traditional family expands to include her Uncle Pike (who bears a startling resemblance to Santa Claus) and his fabulous boyfriend, Devon, fresh off the plane from Sydney. Together, they form The Nancys, a group dedicated to solving the mystery of a local school teacher’s murder (and they do makeovers, on the side). If you’re normally a crime-thriller reader but you’re looking for something softer and more comforting to read during tough times, give this one a go.
Matilda by Roald Dahl
Break glass in case of emergency: when none of your other comfort reads are cutting it, return to one of your childhood favourites for an instant feel-good hit of nostalgia. Matilda is the first time I can remember seeing myself represented in fiction – an intensely bookish, mostly misunderstood girl uses her powers for good and beats the bullies once and for all. This is a classic of children’s literature for a reason, and it totally holds up to an adult reading, too.