Look, sometimes life gets to be too much, to the point where you don’t just want any book. You want a book with no unpleasant surprises, a book you know and love. A comfort read.
There are many criteria to a comfort book. Most importantly, it should be one you’ve read before. If you don’t know how it ends, then how do you know it will make you happy? Also, there is comfort in familiarity. New excitement is for feeling adventurous, not for feeling comfortable.
The book also has to be character focused. Not that there can’t be any action or any kind of plot, but usually that’s not what brings me back to the book. What brings me back is the characters, the way they think and interact. I want to be able to immerse myself in their world, and I can’t do that unless I know and like them.
Finally it has to be an uplifting book. No grimdark here. I don’t want to wallow in misery. Of course there’s nothing wrong with a bit of jeopardy or a long dark night of the soul, as long as you know it ultimately ends well for everyone. At least everyone you care about.
So, in no particular order, here are all the books I read for when I feel like chilling with something easy.
The Chrestomanci Series, Diana Wynne Jones
Really anything by Diana Wynne Jones, but I felt I had to narrow it down, and this series is my go to. The Chrestomanci series all takes place in a series of parallel worlds called the Related Worlds. The Chrestomanci is the leading magic user of World 12A, and he pops up in some form in each book. However, each story can also be read as a standalone and usually focuses on different characters each time. With these books, you really get into the heads of the characters, and get to experience life through their eyes. Add to that Diana’s twisty plots and you’re in for a fun ride. My favourites in this series are Conrad’s Fate and the Pinhoe Egg.
The Murderbot Diaries, Martha Wells
A more recent addition to my list but great for all that. This series follows Murderbot, a security construct that has hacked its governor module and uses its newfound freedom to download and stream media. A more relatable character is hard to find – up until the point where it’s fighting for its life and that of other people, I guess. Just watching Murderbot have feelings is a lot of fun, though.
Protector of the Small, Tamora Pierce
Really most of the early Tortall books, but again, narrowing this down. In Protector of the Small, Keladry of Mindelan becomes the first girl to openly try to become a knight in a hundred years (Alanna of Trebond was the first but did it secretly in the Song of the Lioness series). I’ve heard this series be compared to a boarding school type story, which is true for the first two or three books – rather than follow a cohesive story, it is more episodic in nature and usually bound by the timeline of the pages’ and squires’ training schedules. Also like a boarding school story, there is a relatively large cast of characters to bond with.
The Hobbit/Lord of the Rings Trilogy, J.R.R. Tolkien
The Hobbit should go without saying. It is a charmingly written children’s book with a neatly bound adventure. Lord of the Rings might seem a bit more of a stretch, what with its length, and its reputation for wordy descriptions and lore and what-not. But it’s still a character centred story. There’s a lot of people talking and walking, conversations and disagreements. This is a book series I’d argue gets better on a reread, because once you know the shape of the plot you can focus on the small moments, the stories within stories (I appreciated the Council of Elrond so much more on a reread). Besides, the epic moments are glorious, and worth living through multiple times.
Most books by Agatha Christie
Now that I’ve worked my way through pretty much the entire Christie collection, these are now a great read for when I want to turn my brain off. I don’t have to work out whodunnit – I already know. A murder mystery may seem an odd choice for a reread, but Christie’s stories are character centred – often the mysteries contain long analyses of the people involved and all their petty little dramas, that are apparently needed to clear away to catch the murderer. Besides, as I have pointed out before, most of Agatha Christie’s crime novels have more romance than her supposedly ‘romance’ novels. (I would not recommend any Mary Westmacott books for comfort reads.) What can I say, I’m a sucker for watching people bond over corpses.
I have many more comfort reads, but if I listed them all I would be here for too long. Anyway, it’s probably time I went out of my comfort zone for a bit. What are your favourite books to reread? Let me know in the comments!