Reading a good book at a time you need it can feel like being wrapped in a warm hug (or whatever your version of being comforted looks like!) I remember reading Perks of Being A Wallflower at age 17 and feeling all the emotions I’d been avoiding for a while. The words felt like a borrowed shoulder to cry on. I finished that book feeling lighter and breathing easier. Authors have made me feel these emotions multiple times, and in multiple different ways. They’ve done this in poetry with lines that quietly tug at the strings of my heart. They’ve done it with banter that makes me smile, smirk, chuckle, and laugh out loud. With their stories, they’ve made me feel seen, heard, and understood. They’ve also helped me see, hear, and understand things I didn’t before.
Some authors have done all this with gentleness and ease, even while writing about heavy themes. Their honesty has created a safe space to explore and process difficult emotions. So here’s a list of authors who I’ve felt taken care of by. They live in my head rent free, and their words breathe hope and warmth into my days. I’ve added excerpts and quotes from some of their books here, and I hope you find something that comforts you too.
Naomi Shihab Nye
Naomi Shihab Nye is a Palestinian American poet who uses the imagery of little things to write about big things. I’m in awe of the lens through which she views the world and the honesty with which she articulates what she finds. I adore her poetry collections Everything Comes Next and Tender Spot. I took my time reading both while making space for the tenderness of her words to reach me.
Here’s a stanza from her poem So Much Happiness:
“Since there is no place large enough
to contain so much happiness,
you shrug, you raise your hands, and it flows out of you
into everything you touch. You are not responsible.
You take no credit, as the night sky takes no credit
for the moon, but continues to hold it, and share it,
and in that way, be known.”
Benjamin Alire Sáenz
Benjamin Alire Sáenz writes prose that reads like poetry. In his work, he brings out the small, everyday details of life. Aristotle and Dante Discover the Secrets of the Universe filled a place in my heart that will always be full, no matter how empty anything ever gets. The sequel is just as wonderful, and I was delighted to spend more time with the characters.
Here’s a word of advice from The Inexplicable Logic of My Life:
“I told you that there were only two things you needed to learn in life. You needed to learn how to forgive. And you needed to learn how to be happy.”
Meera Lee Patel
Meera Lee Patel’s guided journals are all kinds of comforting. The smooth, tender strokes of watercolor put me instantly at ease. The words inside are carefully chosen and illustrated in soothing colors and patters. Create Your Own Calm: A Journal for Quieting Anxiety and Made Out of Stars: A Journal for Self-Realization are worth checking out!
To see what I’m talking about, just look at this illustration from Create Your Own Calm.
Matt Haig’s awareness and understanding of his own mental struggles translates into his writing. In his fictional and nonfictional works, the words feel like they’re coming from an honest and considerate place. I read Notes on a Nervous Planet during the pandemic and it resonated with me. My favourite work of his, though, has to be The Humans. It made me tear up, chuckle, and feel waves of affection and hope for humans.
Here’s a excerpt from The Humans.
“Advice for a human.
90. But know this. Men are not from Mars. Women are not from Venus. Do not fall for categories. Everyone is everything. Every ingredient inside a star is inside you, and every personality that ever existed competes in the theatre of your mind for the main role.”
Fredrik Backman writes such nuanced characters. They win your heart with their flaws, hurt, joy, hope, and sheer humanness. His characters usually feel the full range of human emotions (at different intensities) as they try to navigate life. Add to this Backman’s signature wit and humour, and you’ve got yourself a perfect comfort read. A Man Called Ove made me feel warm and Anxious People made me smile and chuckle.
Here’s an excerpt from Anxious People:
“Some people accept that they will never be free of their anxiety, they just learn to carry it. She tried to be one of them. She told herself that was why you should always be nice to other people, even idiots, because you never know how heavy their burden is.”
Elizabeth Acevedo is a Dominican American spoken word poet. Both her writing voice and her actual voice sweep me off my feet. Her verse novels The Poet X and Clap When You Land make you pause, wonder, and reflect. They address difficult themes with kindness and compassion.
I don’t have the vocabulary to describe her work. So here’s a Ted Talk where she tells us why she writes what she writes about.
Ocean Vuong is a Vietnamese American poet and author. His poetry collection Night Sky With Exit Wounds won the 2017 T.S. Eliot Prize. His epistolary novel On Earth We’re Briefly Gorgeous has writing every bit as good as its title. It made me believe in our brief gorgeousness while I was reading it. He writes about loss, family, love, hurt, and the glimpses of healing and hope we cling to.
Here’s a line from his latest poetry collection Time Is A Mother:
“The most beautiful part of your body
is where it’s headed. & remember,
loneliness is still time spent
with the world.”
Andrea Gibson is one of my absolute favourite poets. Their voice and words make me want to be kind and brave. I was swooned by Pole Dancing To Gospel Hymns, which was the first poetry collection of theirs I read. With their partner Megan Falley, they wrote the book How Poetry Can Change Your Heart. It was a an ode to poetry I really needed to read, and I did it with stars in my eyes the whole time.
Here’s an excerpt from their poem The Year of No Grudges:
“I love you because we both have
showed up to kindness tryouts
with notes from the school nurse that said
we were too hurt to participate.
But we learned how wrong we were
and weren’t those the best days
when we learned how wrong we were”