What Is Your Comfort Reading?

After the sickening news from Boston, I find myself in a room with no books, and thus climbing the walls.

After dozens of grim news reports, a bitter drip of blog updates and messages, I can’t help but want one of my comfort reads. A book I know well—something that helps restore perspective and hope. I don’t turn to the “good book” but I usually turn to my good books.

Even if just for a few minutes at the end of such a day, these comforting books give me a necessary sanity check and measure of stability. Sure, there’s an element of escapism, but more often, I’m consoled by authors who size up humanity and find something to root for.

The book doesn’t necessarily have a happy ending, but I want to hear a voice of reason. I need a reminder of our capacity for strength, beauty, and tolerance. And I want to read a printed book, not something on a screen, because at these moments, the screen crawls with bad news.

Often I turn to a few key pages of Middlemarch or Persuasion. Or to a Mitchell: David or Joseph. Sometimes to Anthony Lane’s profile of the British adventurer Patrick Leigh Fermor, who had a “dangerous mixture of sophistication and recklessness” (said the high school that kicked him out) and fought Nazis on Crete. Graham Greene or Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie—brilliant writers, but not today. Maybe I should try a book on polar explorers?

Do you turn to books for comfort or distraction when bad news hits? And if so, what do you read?

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