Dear Friends: Comfort reading is far more enjoyable than scanning the headlines these days. I hope that sharing some of my favourite books in all genres will help your retreat from reality.
Most of these recommendations are older books, which you may wish to read again. In the words of Canadian author Robertson Davies:
“A truly great book should be read in youth, again in maturity and once more in old age, as a fine building should be seen by morning light, at noon and by moonlight.”
I couldn’t possibly list ALL my favourite books, which would number in the hundreds, but here’s a small selection that should appeal to all tastes.
Click on the highlighted titles for more info. I have linked to Amazon Canada just because it’s easier, but you can probably still order books from your favourite bookstore — in fact, you should be supporting them now more than ever.
COMFORT READING: HUMOUR
In times of trouble, it helps to laugh. This book would have made my list anyway, but the title is very apropos. Flora Poste moves into an old farmhouse filled with dysfunctional family members, and whips both the house and its inhabitants back into shape. Very British, wickedly dry and witty. This classic 1930s novel by Stella Gibbons, who never wrote anything else of note, was made into a 1995 movie with several British stars including Stephen Fry, Rufus Sewell, and Ian McKellen.
Comfort reading at its finest. If you can’t concentrate on a complicated plot, here’s a bit of intelligent fluff. P.G. (Plum) Wodehouse wrote eighty novels in his long career, so if you fall in love with the hare-brained Bertie Wooster and his more intelligent butler Jeeves, you won’t run out of reading material. These books are in a rare category of literature that make me laugh out loud.
Not only the British write funny books, of course, and one of my recent favourites is this one by Susan Juby, who lives on Vancouver Island. Fittingly, the heroine buys an old farm on Vancouver Island and moves there, intending to make her fortune, and finds herself involved with a cast of hilarious characters. It was so darned funny that I purchased the sequel, The Republic of Dirt, which was also very humorous.
COMFORT READING: HISTORICAL
I know what you’re probably thinking — a cowboy book? But this is such a fascinating story you will find yourself lost along the old cattle trail in no time. You don’t have to be a fan of Westerns to fall in love with Gus McCrae and Woodrow Call, two former Texas rangers on a long cattle drive.
McMurtry deservedly won the Pulitzer Prize for this literary masterpiece. If you can’t get enough of these cowpokes, there are two sequels. I read and loved them all. The TV miniseries with Robert Duvall and Tommy Lee Jones is also great, but (as always) you should read the book first.
I first read this book as a teenager, and then a couple of times subsequently. Just sixteen years old, the Boston heroine marries a handsome Mountie in 1907 and accompanies him to Hudson’s Hope, British Columbia, where she encounters the most incredible hardships. This is based on a true story, as told to the couple who are credited as the authors, Benedict and Nancy Freedman.
COMFORT READING: WARTIME
Although this appears to be a “manly” series, it’s appealing to all genders. Along with lots of swashbuckling action, the human relationships are gripping. A few years ago I went crazy for the Master and Commander series, devouring all twenty of them back to back in one six-month reading marathon, voyaging around the world in a man-of-war, alongside Captain Jack Aubrey and Dr. Maturin. I was sad for days after I closed the cover on the last book in the series. The first book was made into a movie with Russell Crowe.
This book appears on a list that I posted previously of TWENTY best wartime books, and you can view that list by clicking here: Best Wartime Fiction.
COMFORT READS: CONTEMPORARY
Beloved by book clubs everywhere, including my own, this novel tells the tale of a crusty retired British major who is having trouble accommodating himself to the modern world. However, he manages it with great dignity, and the book also features a charming middle-aged romance.
Victoria Clayton is a British writer whose heroines find themselves in old houses filled with dysfunctional characters and transform them, sort of a contemporary version of Cold Comfort Farm. Her books are clever and terribly funny. I wrote the author a fan email, and she replied, which I thought was very gracious of her. She has written seven very good adult novels, and I own them all. (You can also borrow the ebook on a free website by clicking here: Internet Archive.)
You didn’t really think I was going to avoid mentioning my own book, did you? Seriously, this story about a young woman from the city who goes off the grid and lives in isolation for one year with her little daughter couldn’t be more apt for our current situation.
COMFORT READING: MYSTERY
10. The Nine Tailors
There are so many great mysteries, new and old, that I hardly know where to begin. However, I’ll throw this one out there in case you haven’t heard of Lord Pete Wimsey. Dorothy L. Sayers created an unforgettable and romantic detective in Lord Peter, the man who fought the criminal element while courting his true love, mystery writer Harriet Vane. Apparently Sayers wished she WAS Harriet Vane, and so do I when I read these books.
One day a woman accidentally stumbles across a letter addressed to her, written by her husband, instructing her to open it ONLY if he is dead. Could you resist opening the letter? Could she? You’ll have to read the book to find out. Liane Moriarty is an Australian author, recently new to me, and I am currently reading all of her novels. Big Little Lies is now a televised miniseries with Nicole Kidman.
COMFORT READING: ROMANCE
If this is one of those books that you never got around to reading, now is the time. And if you have already read it, you might enjoy reading it again. The classic story is timeless, and simply smoulders with repressed passion. Several movies and miniseries have been made (the one with Colin Firth is head and shoulders above the rest), since the book is the very last word in romance. Jane Austen wrote seven novels — Pride and Prejudice is her masterpiece.
COMFORT READING: MEMOIR
Author Wallace Stegner was the 1971 Pulitzer Prize winner for his novel Angle of Repose. He was a well-known American writer and environmentalist who spent part of his boyhood in Canada. Wolf Willow tells the fascinating story of his prairie homestead. I visited his family’s former humble, two-storey abode in Eastend, Saskatchewan, which is now offered to writers and artists as a retreat. This is far more entertaining than the usual sodbuster memoir, as he writes so brilliantly about our colourful Canadian history.
COMFORT READING: HEALTH
We can no longer claim that we are too busy to exercise, and I, for one, am spending a lot more time outside walking. This down-to-earth book is a commensense approach to getting fitter and healthier and most importantly, strengthening our immune system! It was written by two men, who followed up with a women’s version which mostly repeats the same information, so you might as well stick with this one. The authors provide good, solid, inspiring advice about how to combat your chronological age.
COMFORT READING: CHILDREN’S
If you find yourself too distracted even to read an adult novel, how about a classic children’s book? Children’s books in days gone by were written at such a higher level that they are entertaining to read as adults. This 1911 story of the poor little rich girl in Yorkshire who creates her own secret garden is a wonderful tribute to the healing power of nature. And if you’re planning a garden this year (who isn’t?) this will inspire you.
Finally, here’s an idea for anyone who uses FaceTime. This photo shows me in front of my computer, reading aloud a chapter each day from Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone to my six-year-old granddaughter Nora.
(I WAS going to read her The Secret Garden, as shown above, but thankfully I noticed at the last minute that the little girl’s parents died suddenly in a cholera epidemic in Chapter One, so I decided that now is not the right time!)
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Miss Tweedle’s Hoops
Would you like to order a gift for a loved one, but you can’t go shopping? This is a shameless plug for my daughter Katie (her childhood nickname was Miss Tweedle), who has made more than 700 of these handcrafted name hoops for people all over the United States and Canada. They are most popular as nursery gifts or birthday gifts for young girls and boys. She even made one for my mother, to hang on the door of her apartment in her seniors’ residence, which is also a cute idea. You can choose the colours.
The eight-inch hoops sell for $65 each on Etsy, but I can offer you my Mother’s Special: $50 each in Canada, including taxes and postage; and $55 U.S. in the States (because of the higher postage rate for mailing across the border). Email me at firstname.lastname@example.org for more details.
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Calling All Book Clubs
Recently I participated in a discussion with a book club in Edmonton, Alberta that was reading my novel Wildwood. We used Zoom, and it worked like a charm. I can also visit your club via Skype, FaceTime, or even just a plain old telephone conference call.
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WARTIME WEDNESDAYS FLASHBACK
Did anyone watch Queen Elizabeth’s inspiring message regarding the current Covid-19 crisis? She referred to the dark days of war, when the Allies overcame great odds to defeat a common enemy. Elizabeth is now the only serving sovereign in the world who is also a veteran of the Second World War. Read about her wartime service here: War Veteran Wears a Crown.
Elizabeth was inspired by her own mother, also named Elizabeth, who refused to leave London even though it was being bombed, and contributed so greatly to British morale that Hitler called her “the most dangerous woman in Europe.” Read about Queen Elizabeth, the Queen Mother, here: Queen Mum.
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Friends, take heart. This is a temporary crisis and although none of us can anticipate the long-term effects, human beings are a hardy species who have weathered far worse storms than this. Take care of yourselves and each other.