As is probably apparent to anyone who follows this blog, I am a list person. I like to categorise and organise and sort. I’m also a big fan of rereading. Recently, I’ve been wondering what it is that makes me return to some books over and over, especially on a gloomy day. Of course, some are childhood favourites (I have no idea how many times I’ve read the Swallows and Amazons or Chronicles of Narnia books, but it’s probably at least thirty apiece). Others, however, are newer discoveries: a mixture of crime, humour, and bildungsroman, bound together by very little except that there isn’t much drama, and one or more of the characters is generally happy at the end. There is something about picking up any of these books that makes me feel warm and cosy, regardless of how much the wind is howling or the rain is pouring. I’d thought I’d share my five favourites in case anybody is browsing the internet in search of a comfort read.
1) Three Men in a Boat (to Say Nothing of the Dog!) by Jerome K Jerome
This is probably the book that got me thinking about the subject in the first place. I absolutely love this book, especially the illustrated edition by Pavilion Classics that I have tucked away on my bookshelf. Frankly, I think more books for grown-ups ought to have pictures, although perhaps I am influenced by the fact that I spend large chunks of my time surrounded by toddlers. This book details, with painstaking accuracy (according to the author’s note, at any rate), the misadventures of three idle upper-middle-class city boys trying to take a boating holiday on the Thames. I have never read it without laughing. There are anecdotes and by-the-ways and misunderstandings galore, and it’s extremely easy to believe the author’s claim that everything in the book actually happened. According to Goodreads, which may or may not be accurate, this started out as a semi-serious introduction to amateur boating, and the detour happened in spite of Jerome’s best efforts. Thank goodness it did.
2) Fanny Herself by Edna Ferber
Alas, I have no pretty picture of this one. I read it online at The Literature Page, as it’s in the public domain. Most Edna Ferber books cheer me up, but this one is especially wonderful. Having reread it back in March of this year, I’ve been intending to review it on here for ages, but the fact of the matter is that I can’t bring myself criticise it (and I know that, if I were completely honest, I would have to be at least a little critical. It’s certainly not perfect). This book follows Fanny Brandeis throughout childhood and into early adulthood, as she grows up. It features, in no particular order, soaring descriptions of landscapes and cityscapes, women’s suffrage, outraged cartoonists, and an extraordinary number of successful businesswomen, especially considering that it was written in 1917. Ferber’s strength lies more in her characters and style than in her plots, which lend themselves better to short stories than to novel-length works, but I don’t care. If you can manage to stop giggling over the title, I advise you to go and look it up. It’s just lovely.
3) The Code of the Woosters by PG Wodehouse
Rather like Edna Ferber, Wodehouse’s writing could cheer me up whatever the weather. However, Jeeves and Wooster will always be my favourites, thanks in large part to Fry and Laurie’s fantastic TV series. I don’t have a lot to say about this book–more upper-class idle rich messing around-type humour, made beautiful chiefly by fantastic turns of phrase and brilliantly absurd scenarios–but I can recommend it wholeheartedly.
4) Striding Folly by DL Sayers
Terrible picture. I apologise. By Striding Folly, what I in fact mean is the last of the three short stories therein: Talboys, which features a late-middle-aged Lord Peter trying to work out whether one of his small children is guilty of stealing a neighbour’s peaches. He approaches the subject with the same vigour that he used to apply to murder and mayhem. It is delightful. Harriet Vane is on top form, and the gentle drama of the English village is one of the settings that invariably wins my heart.
This is a fanfiction. Just making that clear to anyone who was wondering. It’s a sequel to Pride and Prejudice, focussing on Mary and Kitty, and is preceded by Miss De Bough in Bath, which is also very good. I’ve included it because the only difference between it and any published P&P sequel I’ve ever read is that it’s a great deal better. Mary Bennet is one of those characters I (rather uncomfortably) can relate to very well, and I love the way that she is allowed to become more like herself in this story. With no alterations to the original character except the fact that she is no longer being mocked, Mary blossoms into a very interesting person. Unfortunately, the sequel to this (The Last Miss Bennet) currently only has two chapters, and has gone without an update for a long time. This is still a complete work in its own right, though, and I can’t recommend it highly enough.
I excluded my childhood favourites from this list, because we would have been here a long time (in addition to those mentioned above, my copy of The Railway Children has been taped together at least three times, and there are an awful lot of horse books and ballet stories that have no literary merit whatsoever, but still make me happy). I am very curious to find out what other people think about rereads, comfort reads, or anything else. Thoughts?