tales-of-the-cityWeeks of grey skies, freezing fog and a bout of flu – it should have been the ideal time to tackle my TBR pile. Instead, I picked up Tales of the City and didn’t stop until I’d finished Sure of You, the sixth in Armistead Maupin’s series set in San Francisco. Why?

Because I love these books. They’re perfectly structured, terrific fun, filled with wonderful characters and sharp dialogue. Best of all, they are familiar. They comfort me.

Just as I reach for pyjamas, Heinz Tomato Soup or a hot toddy for solace and soothing, there’s a whole section of my bookshelf I’ve labelled as ‘comfort reads’. It’s an eclectic selection.

heinz-tomato-soupJane Austen beside David Baddiel, Bill Bryson next to Nancy Mitford, and Stella Gibbons is sandwiched between Iain Banks and Kate Atkinson. If I’m poorly, sad, tired or run down, it’s to these pages I run for a hug. So what is it about these books that make me feel better? What exactly is a comfort read?

Book bloggers, readers and writers were kind enough to share their old faithfuls and the variety was surprising. Childhood favourites, classics, chick lit, escapism or crime seem to be our reliable pick-me-ups.

Here’s a selection of choices and I now have a new list – To Be Re-Read.

Children’s Books

secret-gardenPerhaps it’s an emotional echo of when someone else looked after us, but Winnie the Pooh, Enid Blyton, Laura Ingalls Wilder, Frances Hodgson Burnett’s The Secret Garden, Dr Seuss, Judy Blume, Roald Dahl and Maurice Sendak are solid favourites amongst the reading community.

Yes indeed. I buy copies of Where The Wild Things Are for all my favourite small people.

Tove Jansson’s The Summer Book for me. Its subject is incredibly bleak (a little girl whose mother has died spends the summer with her father and her grandmother, who is preparing for her own death) but it’s so beautiful and homely that it cheers me up every time. It’s the darker cousin of her Moomin books and it breaks my heart and heals it all at once – Cassandra Jane Parkin

Classics

Jane Eyre, Pride and Prejudice, A Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man, To Kill A Mockingbird, A Midsummer Night’s Dream, Le Grand Meaulnes, Grapes of Wrath and Under Milk Wood all seemed popular in my unscientific study. Is it because we know what’s going to happen and relax in the knowledge of certainty? Or it is because we know and love the rhythm of the words in the case of Lee, Shakespeare and Thomas?

under-milk-wood

I turn to the classics – Bleak House or if I’m really in need of it A Christmas Carol. I love them because they are so brilliantly written, they take you completely away from all the things going on in life – and things turn out right in the end – Peter Taylor-Gooby

Light, Laughter and Romance

Comfort reading for me must transport me elsewhere, hold my attention there, have strong characters and include resolution of a problem/situation and a happy ending. I don’t want to be harrowed and can’t stand misery literature of any variety – Catherine Kullmann

Writers who make my respondees and me laugh include Jeeves and Wooster, James Herriot, Terry Pratchett, Mil Millington, Marian Keyes, David Baddiel, Flann O’Brien, Sophie Kinsella, Stephen Fry and Bill Bryson.

The Night Circus by Erin Morgenstern, it’s a magically-weird world where I can hide from whatever’s bugging me in this one – Catherine Hokin

Darkness and Drama

agatha-christie

Sometimes, even while feeling grey, we have the urge to go darker. Maybe reading how bad things could be acts as a cathartic purge. Apparently there are dog-eared copies of books by Kate Morton, Dostoyevsky, Stephen King, Agatha Christie, Thomas Harris, Val McDermid and Frank McCourt on many a bedside table.

Diary of a Mad Housewife by Sue Kaufman is a book I’ve kept beside my bed for years and I often reread passages. Kaufman describes a woman full of anxieties and unfulfilled in her marriage so vividly. It may seem strange that I find this comforting, but I do – Alison Baillie-Taylor

I’m also grateful to Harriet Springbett for alerting me to The Novel Cure by Susan Elderkin & Ella Berthoud. It advises which book to read according to your ailment. Brilliant idea!

And you? On the days you retreat beneath the duvet with a hot-water bottle and a mince pie, which kind of book do you reach for, in the sure knowledge it will make everything all right?