In times of stress or crisis (or both!) I find myself returning to favourite books as a form of comfort that is both cheaper and less fattening than chocolate. Since I was combing the shelves last night looking for a bit of a pick-me-up, I thought I’d share some of my favourites.
Top of the list is Soul Music by Terry Pratchett, about what happens when rock and roll hits the Discworld. I’m a big fan of the Discworld series, although I’ll admit to not having kept up with the last few published, and Soul Music is my absolute favourite. Not only does it frequently reference one of my favourite films (The Blues Brothers) but I feel a certain affinity with the character of Susan. As well as sharing a name, we share a logical, rational mindset, combined with a certain underlying anger when the world (and people) just don’t work the way they’re supposed to.
Continuing with the Terry Pratchett theme, next up is Good Omens, co-written with Neil Gaiman. It tells the story of Armageddon from the point of view of the Antichrist (a 12 year old boy living in an English village), the angel and demon sent by their respective sides to make sure that he grows up properly, and the witch and witch-finder out to stop the whole thing from happening. Like Soul Music, it’s the humour and the references that make this so enjoyable.
For a very short pick-me-up, I can also recommend Neil Gaiman and Charles Vess’s graphic novel, Stardust, about a young man who journeys into Faerie to retrieve a fallen star as a gift for his true love.
Moving away from the fantasy genre, I have to include anything by Alexander McCall Smith, particularly his No. 1 Ladies Detective Agency series. These are the books that I read when I want to be reminded that there are good people out there and the world doesn’t have to be a cruel, selfish place. His books are probably a little too nice (or possibly naive) for everyone’s tastes but, for me, they’re the literary equivalent of a large mug of hot chocolate when you’ve just come in out of the rain. The other bonus is that he’s pretty prolific so, even for someone who reads as quickly as I do, there’s usually a new book just out or on the way soon.
Marian Keyes is another author that I return to at times like this. Her heroines are just flawed enough to be instantly identified with and her writing can move me from tears to laughter over the space of a page.
Non-fiction can be comforting too. I find myself returning to Bill Bryson’s travel books over and over again, especially Notes from a Small Island, about his travels in the UK. The (often self-deprecating) humour combined with a genuine affection for the people and places he sees make this probably my favourite non-fiction book ever.
And, last but not least, my literary equivalent of buying (and eating) a whole 400g bar of Dairy Milk is any sort of trashy chick-lit bought at the train station on the way home from a bad day at work (sometimes along with the chocolate). The brighter and more garish the cover, the better. Escaping into a world of sheer fluff and silliness for a couple of hours is often exactly what I need. Hmm, I think I might have to stop by the bookshop at the train station on my way home tonight!