Books can be so many things in so many different circumstances of our lives: they can open our minds, they can call to action, they can scare us or turn us on. But they can also soothe us when we need to be comforted. I have always turned to books at those times when my anxiety threatened to pull me under. As I’ve written about before: reading is my religion. And boy do I have a lot of holy texts.
The hard part, I have to admit, is choosing the perfect comfort read. As a bookseller turned librarian, I am literally surrounded by books–which, believe it or not, doesn’t make it any easier to choose what to read next! And so I’ve developed a system for finding my own comfort read. I like to do this on paper, with colorful sharpies and a visually pleasing flow chart. However, if you prefer to do this all in your head while standing in the aisle of your local bookstore, that’s fine too! Whatever works.
- Decide what you don’t want. For me, it’s violence, particularly violence against children or animals, (looking at you, George R.R. Martin), but really no kind of violence. Not when I’m comfort reading. Maybe you hate reading books about dysfunctional families because your own is a perfect model. Or perhaps you want to avoid romance because you just went through a breakup. Consider carefully and add it to your list.
- Figure out what books you have truly enjoyed reading in the past. This is a classic tool for booksellers and librarians when we are crafting your perfect recommendation. Rack your brain for some of the most pleasurable reading experiences you’ve had and try to pinpoint how they made you feel. For instance, I loved listening to Amy Poehler’s memoir Yes, Please, because she read it herself in that warm, wonderful Amy Poehler way that made me laugh and smile and miss watching Parks and Rec something fierce.
- Find a commonality. Once you’ve come up with some titles, try to figure out what they have in common. Are they all memoirs? Do they all involve food in some way? Maybe they were all classics, written before the 20th century. Whatever the case, consider the books that have left you feeling satisfied and comforted and try to find some commonality.
- Consider your passions / hobbies / interests. This seems like a really obvious step, but you’d be surprised how many fascinating books out there explore a wide variety of subject matter in new and engaging ways. Reading a different perspective on something you enjoy doing or learning about can be invigorating and inspiring. Did you know Haruki Murakami wrote a book about running? Or that the folks behind Cook’s Illustrated and America’s Test Kitchen have a number of interesting books about food science and kitchen hacks? Sustainable farming, Star Wars obsessions, hell, even the funeral industry, no matter what your interest, you are very likely to find a book about it.
- Consider a children’s book. As a professional children’s librarian, I am definitely biased toward books traditionally considered “for young readers.” But one of my missions in life is to encourage grown ups to read more kid lit. One of my favorite things about books for young readers is that the quality of writing and the richness of emotion is just as present as it is in grown up books, but you can usually dive into a picture book or middle grade novel without worrying too much about being traumatized–which can be a desirable quality in a comfort read. Try reading the award-winning The War that Saved my Life by Kimberley Brubaker Bradley about an abused girl who finds a new life in a small English town when she flees London during World War II. Or Thana Ali’s gorgeous, relatable novel Listen, Slowly, about a 12-year old girl who reluctantly travels to Vietnam with her aging grandmother who is determined to find out what happened to her missing husband during the Vietnam War.
- Don’t forget to laugh. When all else fails, look for laughter. I always try to include something funny in my comfort reading list. The number of humorous memoirs out there continues to grow with comedians, actors and various assorted personalities publishing books like whoa. Mindy Kaling is one of my favorite swiss army recommendations, and both of her books are hilarious and engaging. Caitlin Moran’s books are outrageous and delightfully dirty. Finally, consider a book published by bonafide comedy outlets like The Onion or, my favorite, Awkward Family Photos, which will make you laugh until you’re gasping for breath.
By this time you should have a healthy list of topics, themes, and books that have worked for you in the past. And that’s it! The next step is to gather ye books and dig in. This sounds simple, but can be the most daunting part. Fear not, we are here to help. Book Riot has a ton of lists by genre that you can browse to your heart’s content before you even set foot in a bookstore. If you’ve figured out you like memoirs, for instance, here’s a list of 100 must read memoirs. If you want to get more specific, here’s a list of ten great celebrity memoirs, and here’s another with adventure memoirs. See? We are here for you. Once you’ve got your pile and you’re ready to dig in, remember that it is okay to abandon a book that isn’t working for you. Life is too short and there are simply too many books out there. Remember also, that booksellers and librarians are happy to help with suggestions. If you’re short on time and are unable to carefully plan and craft your comfort reading list, just ask! Most of the best books I’ve discovered in my life have come to me from one on one recommendations.
Do you have a tried and true method for finding your comfort reads? Do tell.