So, 2020 isn’t going the way that any of us had planned. No matter what you had in mind, this wasn’t it. It’s strange, something about the year having such a pleasing round-number sound to it makes the betrayal all the more bitter. Up until now, I had been finishing off my Greek Mythology Challenge and tootling through my Review Backlog. I currently find myself trying to cram my job into my son’s naps and in the golden hour or so after his bedtime before my brain switches off too. This does take a pretty gigantic bite out of my blogging time. It’s also just a strange way of living, it’s affecting everybody’s mental health and the kind of reading that we’re in the mood for. Rather than books that challenge me, I am seeking comfort and escapism. I’m guessing that I’m not alone on that. I’ve already shared a list of my Comfort Reads, but when I was looking at it again, a lot of these seemed quite specific to me. Not everyone finds Tudor history soothing. So I took a look over my reading history and had another go. I’m going to be prioritising reviews of comfort reads over the next few months – please do share your recommendations too!
I am rereading this one at the moment and I basically think that it should be prescribed to anyone who has any form of blues. It is possibly the most comforting book ever written. Miss Pettigrew is a woman struggling to keep going and over the course of one glorious day, her life is transformed. She discovers a confidence that she never knew she had, she makes friends and she is whisked away from all her past misery. It’s pure Cinderella and I love it.
Mattie Simpkin is a middle-aged former suffragette who refuses to give up the fight. Nonetheless, ten years after women ‘got the vote’, she’s struggling to find direction Old Baggage is an incredibly humane novel, embracing human frailty with such grace and love. The characters are warm, the dialogue witty and the story bittersweet. Rereading this myself lately, it was very timely to read Mattie recognise that while she had been chasing that which was out of reach, she was forgetting all the gifts that were close at hand. If you’re looking for gentle escapism, look no further.
What a truly lovely book this one is – the title character here is not the famous author but rather her elder sister, the true holder of the title ‘Miss Austen’. Cassandra is a woman on a mission, setting out to destroy the letters that she and her sister have written over the years in the hopes of preserving both their reputations and privacy for generations to come. Scholars have long-lamented that Cassandra did this but in this book, Hornby suggests that it was an act of love. Miss Austen is another book full of warmth and heart, celebrating the bonds between women and the strength of sisterhood.
The Vanished Bride
I’ve only just finished this one. The review is in draft. The Vanished Bride features the three Brontë sisters (yes, those Brontë sisters) setting out to solve a disappearance in their local neighbourhood. That’s right. Someone has actually written a piece of comfort-crime-fiction about the Brontë sisters being detectives! It’s exactly as much fun as it sounds and utter escapist high-kicking entertainment.
Not everyone’s going to want to read something ‘heavy’ at the moment and I completely understand that. But trust me. Lady Audley’s Secret is a pot-boiling piece of scandal fiction and it is just so much fun. There’s a guy who has very probably been shoved down a well, a she-devil making mischief, to-ing and fro-ing at high speed to get to the truth – it’s not something you can actually take seriously. I also had the sneaky suspicion that Mary Elizabeth Braddon just might have been on Lady A’s side and that only made me love the book even more. If you’re looking for a good time, talk to Lady Audley. She’ll see you right.
I’m always going to recommend this book to anyone struggling with anxiety. Whenever I find myself getting too melodramatic or prone to catastrophising, I find it’s always worth asking yourself – what would Flora Poste do? You can bet that she would have a rational suggestion and a no-nonsense attitude. I am already half-way considering who would be the best characters from literature with whom to self-isolate and I feel that she would be the top of the list. Cold Comfort Farm is literally all about taking control of an unappealing situation – it’s the ultimate read for a pandemic.
Similar to the previous and in fact I think that the Grand Sophy and Flora Poste would have thoroughly approved of each other. But if you are looking for a more escapist Regency aesthetic, I think that a slice of Georgette Heyer may be just what you’re looking for. This book is rippingly good fun from start to finish – a classic case of reading transporting you somewhere else when you have to stay where you are.
I feel like Mariana is the literary equivalent of a hug. Set in the 1940s, the novel traces its heroine’s life up to the present point and considers how she has come to be. It’s essentially about facing a challenging situation and realising that you can overcome it, that no matter how awful things really are, it doesn’t matter because you are enough in yourself. I think that this is the kind of message that we could all do with at the moment.
Another book that I love so much. It’s about the three sisters coming together after years of separation, all of them seeking direction in their different ways. The Weird Sisters is another incredibly warm-hearted book; none of these women are perfect, all are heavy with care but all find grace and acceptance. It’s also extremely funny and captures a lot of the humour around family life. (As a bonus point, check out my linked review – it’s one of the first ones I ever wrote back in 2012 and it is so badly written!)
At this point of the post, I feel like I’m mentally stuffing a box full of books to send. If I could afford the postage, I would love to get everyone a reading list to get them through this. I have always tended to read my way out of a crisis so it’s really the best thing I can think of to help. Coming Home is a slightly maverick addition to the list since I don’t normally read romantic fiction. I read it when I was on my year abroad in a remote area of France and feeling very socially isolated. What I remember most is that although it was largely about very posh people, they were all mostly very nice to each other. Judith may have been separated from her family but she did have people who loved her. For me, Coming Home was a soothing read during a lonely time. I hope other people enjoy it too.
Anything by David Sedaris
The only reason I joined Audible was because of David Sedaris. I am a huge fan. While my absolute favourite of his books is probably Me Talk Pretty One Day, I’m really not fussy. He just makes me laugh like a drain. Another tip from my year abroad is that having audio around you can really help in lonely situations. Weirdly, I’ve always found radio or audiobooks to be more effective for this than television. David Sedaris is always ready to poke fun at himself, at his family and at the world around him – I heartily recommend him as companion for social isolation.
I’ll be honest, my initial draft of this list was at nearly thirty books but I whittled it down. I have a feeling though that another edition may be in urgent order. If you’re a regular visitor to the website, I’m going to guess that we have similar literary tastes and that this is a time when we are all in need of some bibliotherapy. I am currently scouring my own shelves for comforting reads over the next few weeks and months and am welcoming recommendations – let’s see if we can read our way to a happier tomorrow!