I mentioned in my last post that I re-read books frequently. I’ve even started a new shelf on Goodreads to keep track of the books I’m rereading. Feel free to check it out if you’re curious. I thought I’d do a post today about the books I turn to over and over. Sometimes, I just don’t have the energy to start a new book; the unknown can be daunting. Other times, I’m just feeling sad and I need the literary equivalent of a hug. I’ve had a difficult few years lately and there have been times that my books have been as much a part of getting me through the day as the support of my friends has been. In a very real sense, books have been my friends. So, I thought I would introduce you to some of them…
Howl’s Moving Castle by Diana Wynne Jones
This book was the subject of my very first post on this blog. Diana Wynne Jones is a perennial favorite of mine. I mourned her passing like I would that of a beloved aunt. Overkill? Maybe, but her books have been with me since I was in elementary school. They’re worn, and torn, and filled with homemade bookmarks that have been left at favorite passages for decades.
I’m not sure I can even guess how often I’ve returned to the world of Howl, Sophie, and Calcifer. At a guess, once at least once a year since 1989. Let’s call it twenty-five times. That’s actually probably low-balling it, but I haven’t kept close track. I’ve read the other two books in the series, Castle in the Air and House of Many Ways. Of the two, House of Many Ways is the one I return to. I don’t believe I’ve ever re-read Castle in the Air. It helps that both Howl’s Moving Castle and House of Many Ways have very well done audiobooks available.
If you’re already familiar with Howl and Sophie, I recommend moving on to Enchanted Glass, The Pinhoe Egg, and Conrad’s Fate. I like the first four books in Chrestomanci Chronicles too, but again, I haven’t returned to them as many times as I have the others.
Which Witch by Eva Ibbotson
This is another one that’s been with me for a long time. I’ve had a paperback copy since Scholastic published it in 1988. I can no longer read that copy because the spine has cracked into two pieces. But I can’t throw it out; it’s the copy that I had all the way through my childhood. I bought a second copy in 2001 when Scholastic reissued it in paperback. There is an audiobook of this as well, but I haven’t listened to it yet.
Our protagonist is Arriman the Awful, the darkest wizard in England. But, it’s not easy being a national figure. He has a legacy to maintain and, unfortunately, it looks like he’s going to have to maintain it by… well… marrying and producing an heir. Now, he’s not against marriage in general, but you see, in order to have an heir of darkness he’s going to have to find a wife seeped in darkness, and that means a witch. Arriman has announced a contest to find the darkest, blackest witch in England. But, England is a little short on toothsome witches. There’s the one with the pig familiar and the dirty wellies. There’s the one with the hairy mole, the twins with scaly legs, and the serial widow with the necklace of teeth. None of these are quite what one would want to see over one’s morning kippers. Then there is Belladonna. Belladonna has golden hair, limpet blue eyes, and, unfortunately, the sweetest, lightest disposition you could ever hope to see. There’s no way she could possibly win the competition, but maybe, with a little help from an unusual familiar and a young boy she can fake it long enough to find true love with the handsomest of warlocks.
Pride and Prejudice by Jane Austen
I’ll be honest… I hated my first Jane Austen novel. It was Sense and Sensibility and I tried to read it right after the Emma Thompson/Kate Winslet movie came out in 1995. But then! I discovered Pride and Prejudice, both the (in)famous BBC miniseries with Colin Firth and the novel itself. I loved Pride and Prejudice! I got a Dover edition (pictured to the left) and read it three times in one summer. I also plowed my way through Persuasion (loved it), Emma (liked it), Northanger Abbey (liked it), and Mansfield Park (hated it).
I have copies of the books, in some cases I have multiple copies. I have my original paperbacks of Pride and Prejudice and Persuasion as well as the beautiful Penguin Clothbound Classics editions. During college, I kept a copy of P&P with me during all four years. One January I had to fly back to campus a couple of days early because a giant storm was supposed to come in and close down the airport. I had housing for the extra days, but the dorms weren’t open. The expected storm came in and dumped a foot and a half of snow onto western Massachusetts. I couldn’t get to my copy of Pride and Prejudice and I had to read it right now! So, I hiked a few blocks through the snow to get to the Odyssey Bookshop and buy a second copy of the book. My dorm was literally across the street from the bookstore. I passed two libraries on my way (both the college library and the public library), but I couldn’t get into any of them for 36 hours. So, I went and bought another copy so that I could read it in my bunk bed that night. This is one of the reasons I hate, hate, hate getting rid of books. These impulses will come over me and I just have to read the book or go a little mad.
There are lots of audiobooks of Pride and Prejudice available, but I prefer this particular one narrated by Kate Reading. There is also a fantastic Persuasion narrated by Geraldine McEwan. (She was the new Miss Marple when ITV rebooted the series in 2004.)
The Complete Works of Tamora Pierce (More or Less)
Ok, technically, I can’t really count all of Tamora Pierce’s books since I do not frequently re-read a few of the books. Strangely, the ones I don’t go back to include the original series that made me love her. I love the Song of the Lioness quartet, but I’ve only read them three or four times. This is compared to the ten or so times I’ve read the Protector of the Small, or the Magic Circle books. But she’s never written a book I don’t love. When I got Terrier I read it, then the audiobook came out so I finished the paper copy and then immediately listened to it on audio.
Most of Tammy’s books are on audio and they’re all done really well. The Magic Circle series is recorded by Full Cast Audio and they’re amazing!
Aunt Dimity Series by Nancy Atherton
Again, I’ve done a post on the Aunt Dimity series already. And, I’m currently listening to one of the audiobooks (Aunt Dimity Beats the Devil) again. Sadly, I can’t recommend the audios anymore unless you can somehow find the two that were recorded by Christina Moore. The new narrator is terrible! Aunt Dimity is genteel, English, and spectral. Her protegé, Lori, is stubborn, American, and refreshingly earthly. The books are cozy mysteries, but almost never involve a murder. They detail human nature, romance, kindness, community, and family. That sounds maudlin, but they’re not. Lori is blunt enough that the series doesn’t devolve into saccharine sentiment. Dimity is there for me as much as she’s there for Lori.
I could keep going. Sorcery and Cecelia, Lillian Jackson Braun’s The Cat Who series, the (almost) complete works of Agatha Christie, Dorothy Sayers, and Ngaio Marsh. There are graphic novels I re-read almost obsessively (Zita the Spacegirl, Courtney Crumrin, and Polly and the Pirates). The Rook by Daniel O’Malley and Angelmaker by Nick Harkaway are well on their way to joining this list. I do feel that a book should be out more than three years before I officially add it to my comfort reads list. Strangely enough, the Joe Ledger series by Jonathan Maberry is also on my comfort reads list. But I think that’s specific to me. I’m not sure that scientific horror would make most people feel warm and fuzzy.
What are your comfort reads? Is there a book or books that can cheer you up; that you turn to when you’re feeling down?