Looking for a soothing read to get you through these uncertain times? These are the books to settle down with.
Much like a giant bowl of mac and cheese or a bag of your favourite chips, there are some books that exist to comfort the soul and soothe a stressed-out mind.
You know the ones I’m talking about. They might not have an award-winning sticker on the front or a cavalcade of literature purists singing their praises, but they sure as hell do wonders for when you need a hefty dose of escapism.
And unlike when you binge-eat through your weekly potato chip stash in one go, the best comfort reads don’t leave you feeling sickened and/or full of regret after you devour the last word. These books are like a warm hug from your favourite person in the world, or the perfect cup of tea, or a sun-drenched morning where the sky is a brilliant, cloudless blue. Perfect, in other words.
Here are a few of my all-time favourite comfort reads – what are yours?
Little Women, Louisa May Alcott
The ultimate soothing read. I’ve thumbed through this book so many times it’s falling apart now, but reading about the March sisters and their ups and downs in 19th century New England never fails to spark joy (as Marie Kondo would say). As a love letter to sisterhood and mothers and daughters, and a picture of female ambition and fulfillment in all its different forms, Little Women stands apart.
Read if you like: sisterly squabbles, romance, charming (and moving) old-timey family drama.
Northern Lights, Philip Pullman
Northern Lights is the OG for me in terms of richly layered worlds, compelling characters and a brilliant adventure underpinning it all. Since first picking it up at age 13 and rereading it many times over the years since, I’ve found new things to appreciate with each revisiting. Whether you like fantasy books or not, this (and the whole His Dark Materials trilogy) is worth reading and a book I recommend to absolutely anyone and everyone.
Read if you like: complex characters, twisty narratives, world-building and talking animals AKA daemons.
City of Girls, Elizabeth Gilbert
A highly readable tale of New York and all its flashy excess in the 40s, as seen through the eyes of a young woman who gets caught up in the ins and outs of showbiz. The characters are colourful, deeply interesting and almost bounce off the page with their vivacity – this is one of those books that you can’t resist reading as fast as you can, even though every word devoured means you’re a step closer to the end.
Read if you like: Witty repartee, Old Hollywood glamour (and scandal), heroines who always manage to land on their feet.
The Dutch House, Ann Patchett
This one’s a bit of a slow burner, but it starts off with an interesting premise – a brother and sister find themselves increasingly drawn to the elaborate, eye-catching house they grew up in (the ‘Dutch House’ referenced in the title) and the connection it represents to their past. Described as “a dark fairytale”, The Dutch House weaves a compelling story of Danny and Maeve’s efforts to overcome the family drama that marred their childhood.
Read if you like: Stories that follow the same characters over several decades, mystery, psychological twists.
The Other Side of the Story by Marian Keyes
You could almost choose any of Marian Keyes’ books here – the Irish novelist’s sparkling wit, loveable characters and trademark dash of romance and realism always make for an enjoyable read. Sushi for Beginners, Rachel’s Holiday and Watermelon are also classics, but I read The Other Side of the Story most recently and would definitely recommend. It’s about three women – fabulous literary agent Jojo, event manager Gemma and writer Lily – and how their lives collide in different ways. Like your favourite rom-com, this is a funny, fast-paced gem you can’t help falling in love with.
Read if you like: Rom-coms, stories about female friendship, quirky characters.