It’s the depths of winter, it’s positively polar out there, and we’re locked down again. You want a comfort read, an escape, but you don’t want to work hard to find it.
Find a cozy spot and try one of these:
A children’s book
Gretchen Rubin, the author of The Happiness Project, describes in that book how much pleasure her children’s book clubs give her. She is positively evangelical about the joys of reading kids’ books, none of your own children required. (Here is a list of her favourites on Goodreads. Just reading this list is fun.) Go back to a childhood favourite, discover a classic or read something freshly published.
If you need suggestions, I loved Lucy Mangan’s Bookworm, her memoir of childhood reading, and found many suggestions for new-to-me reads in there as well as familiar titles. I listened to Richmal Crompton’s Just William books on audible on her recommendation, and I laughed like a drain. I read all of the Ramona Quinby books by Beverley Cleary last summer when Cleary died, and they were among the best books I read all year. Period.
It’s a proven winner. Pull down a book you’ve loved in the past and escape into its known folds. One of my favourite re-reads last year was Pride and Prejudice as an audiobook. Rosamund Pike shone as a narrator, and her portrayal of Mrs. Bennet was sympathetic and gentle and added a whole new perspective to my understanding of the book.
An alternative to revisiting an old favourite is to see how contemporary authors re-envision the classics. I love this category of book because I love how it highlights the elasticity of stories. Among my favourites is Anne Tyler’s Vinegar Girl, a brilliant rewriting of The Taming of the Shrew. There is a whole series of these contemporary rewritings of Shakespeare from Hogarth Press. I also loved Curtis Sittenfeld’s rewriting of Pride and Prejudice, Eligible, in which Bingham is the star of a reality tv show. Hilarious.
Is there a classic you have always meant to read? This isn’t homework; it’s a gap you are filling for your own sake. I loved this episode of Anne Bogel’s podcast What Should I Read Next with Jim Mustich, the author of 1000 Books to Read Before You Die. He describes reading just 10 pages a day from a classic he’s missed, and at that pace, he can relish the book and tick it off his list. It doesn’t have to be a big time investment.
A forgotten classic
I have found many forgotten classics through podcasts like Slightly Foxed and Backlisted. My most recent read, and a book I can’t recommend highly enough, is Sylvia Townsend Warner’s Lolly Willowes. I read it twice through, I loved it so much. Laura Willowes, a maiden aunt whose family has been content to put her in the second best guest room like a forgotten piece of furniture, moves from London to the Chilterns and becomes a witch. It’s short and lyrical and funny and profound, and it makes the point that if a woman has to make a pact with Satan to get her independence, maybe the problem isn’t the woman. Persephone Books and Virago are great places to find forgotten classics by women.
A book in a series
I love a reliable series because when you finish one book, the next read is a no-brainer. In first lockdown, I burned through Ann Cleeves’s Shetland and Vera mystery series. It was such a comfort to just plow through them. I knew they’d be well-written, I knew there were many, and I knew that at the end of each book, someone would solve a mystery and there would be closure. The joys of the genre.