Above all else, I value variety in my reading life. I like to be surprised. I read fiction and nonfiction in every genre, and often I’m reading several very different books at the same time.
The only thing that remains constant are the books I like to read before I go to sleep. By the time I finally get in bed, I’m too tired to work my way through anything challenging or complicated. My brain likes to use the window of time right before I turn off the lights to worry, stress out, and work itself into a frenzy about everything from the latest political nightmare to what I’m going to cook for dinner the next day. The last thing I need is a book that I actually have to think about.
So I always have a book ready on my nightstand to read in bed, one that I know won’t induce panic, surprise or anger. The kind of book that will help me wind down from the day and still my mind. Setting aside this time before bed to read what I like to call “beautiful fluff” has made me a happier person and a better sleeper.
Here are the rules I use to select the best books for soothing, calming, comforting bedtime reading.
1. keep it short
It’s likely that I’m only going to read this book for ten or twenty minutes each night before bed. I don’t want to be stuck reading it for a month. I’ve found that books under 300 pages are best, because I can usually finish them in a week or less, even if I’m only reading them in tiny chunks. Romance, children’s lit, and middle grade novels all make for fantastic bedtime reading because there tend to be a lot of great options in the 170-300 page range.
2. Keep it light
This is escapism, folks. The world is often dark and depressing, and there is a time to wrestle with that darkness, but comforting bedtime reading is not that time. The aim is to soothe yourself to sleep, not to get your heat broken. So books that deal with heavy subject matter are out.
Serious subjects can make appearances in light books. Tension is okay. Tension is what drives fiction forward. But I stay away from books in which the plot is primarily fueled by the worst this world has to offer—racism, sexism, homophobia, transphobia. No books about war, sexual assault, suicide, police brutality, devastating natural disasters.
Romance, obviously, is great. So is light fantasy, space opera, and fluffy feel-good fiction about friendship. There’s a lot of fantastic YA that makes for comforting bedtime reading, but do your research first. The Hate U Give (which you should absolutely read if you haven’t already) does not qualify.
3. Happy endings only
I mean, obviously? If the characters get themselves into trouble, every last one of them gets out safe. No tragic deaths. No unresolved mysteries. No dark twists that lead to surprise endings. No cliffhangers. If a book makes you cry for reasons other than giddy happiness, it’s not a candidate for bedtime reading.
Have I mentioned how much I love reading romance before bed?
4. make it a page-turner…but not too much of one
Finding books that strike a balance between just-right engrossing and stay-up-till-three-in-the-morning engrossing is surprisingly hard. You don’t want a book so unputdownable that you won’t be able to stop reading. But you don’t want a book that’s too slow, either. Comforting bedtime reading should be fun, light, engaging, and easy—the kind of book you don’t want to stop reading, but that you can.
One again, romance is here for you. It’s suspenseful (when will they kiss?! how will they overcome their insecurities and get together?!) but generally there aren’t fiery pits full of human-eating monsters that your beloved protagonists have to fight their way out of. There’s also a fair bit of family/friendship focused YA, and character-driven science fiction/fantasy that finds this balance.
5. keep it familiar
Comforting bedtime reading is not supposed to expand your mind. The point is not to get your brain fired up, but to help calm it down. If you love historical romance, read that. If cozy mysteries are your soothing thing, stick with those. If there’s one particular series that brings you joy and solace, do not be afraid to reread it on loop. Why bother branching out? That’s what the daylight is for.
Need some suggestions for your comforting bedtime reading booklist? Try these cotton candy queer books or this list of queer stories that aren’t tragic. Here’s a list of 25 cozy mystery series. Maybe you’ll find something perfect on this list of 100 must-read funny novels or this list of 100 middle grade fantasy books.
And there’s always the romance archives. There’s enough comforting bedtime reading suggestions there to last you a decade at least.