Tuesday, December 14, 2010

Top 10 Comfort Reads

I've had a bad day.  Not the hypothetical day described below.  But suppose:

Your husband read your diary, your cat has a cold, and your boss gives you an assignment to write a feature about a mysterious CEO-turned-Luddite-mountain-man who lives in a tiny geodesic dome...nobody knows quite where.  

I need to zonk out with a novel and chocolate milk.  But it can't be just any book.  

Comfort books.  You can turn to them and fall into another world. 

So here are my Top 10 Comfort Books.  And if you have more, please add them.

1.  Francesca Lia Block's Weetzie Bat.  Publisher's Weekly said:  "An offbeat heroine shares a Hollywood cottage with three equally quirky companions; in PW 's words, "Block's first book is related in a breezy, knowing voice; her strange and sparkling tribute to growing up in L.A. is a rare treat for those sophisticated enough to appreciate it."

2.  Kitchen by Banana Yoshomito.  Library Journal:  "In this translation of a best-selling novel first published in Japan in 1987, the young narrator, Mikage, moves into the apartment of a friend whose mother is murdered early in the tale. What seems like a coming-of-age melodrama quickly evolves into a deeply moving tale filled with unique characters and themes. Along the way, readers get a taste of contemporary Japan, with its mesh of popular American food and culture. Mikage addresses the role of death, loneliness, and personal as well as sexual identity through a set of striking circumstances and personal remembrances. "Moonlight Shadows," a novella included here, is a more haunting tale of loss and acceptance. In her simple and captive style, Yoshimoto confirms that art is perhaps the best ambassador among nations. Recommended for all fiction collections."

3.  Dorothy Sayers' Gaudy Night.  A Golden Age Detective Novel.  Sayers is famous for her Peter Wimsey novels, and this is one of her best.  Amazon description: "When Harriet Vane attends her Oxford reunion, known as the "Gaudy," the prim academic setting is haunted by a rash of bizarre pranks: scrawled obsentities, burnt effigies and poison-pen letters -- including one that says, "Ask your boyfriend with the title if he likes arsenic in his soup."Some of the notes threaten murder; all are perfectly ghastly; yet in spite of their scurrilous nature, all are perfectly worded. And Harriet finds herself ensnared in a nightmare of romance and terror, with only the tiniest shreds of clues to challenge her powers of detection, and those of her paramour, Lord Peter Wimsey."

4.  Richard Russo's Nobody's Fool.  Library Journal:  "Sixty-year-old Sully is "nobody's fool," except maybe his own. Out of work (undeclared-income work is what he does, when he can), down to his last few bucks, hampered by an arthritic broken knee, Sully is worried that he's started on a run of bad luck. And he has. The banker son of his octogenarian landlady wants him evicted; Sully's estranged son comes home for Thanksgiving only to have his wife split; Sully's own high-strung ex-wife seems headed for a nervous breakdown; and his longtime lover is blaming him for her daughter's winding up in the hospital with a busted jaw. But Sully's biggest problem is the memory of his own abusive father, a ghost who haunts his every day. As he demonstrated in Mohawk (Random, 1986) and The Risk Pool (Random, 1989), Russo knows the small towns of upstate New York and the people who inhabit them; he writes with humor and compassion. A delight."

5.  I Capture the Castle by Dodie Smith.  A charming novel in diary form.  The 17-year-old narrator, Cassandra Mortmain, lives in a castle with a very eccentric family.  

6.  Faith Fox by Jane Gardam. Publishers' Weekly:  "A motherless baby named Faith is the linchpin of this delightfully eccentric comedy of manners and miracles by Gardam, a two-time winner of the Whitbread Prize (The Hollow Land; The Queen of the Tambourine). First published in Great Britain in 1996 and set in the early 1990s in the moody Yorkshire moors and the gentrified climes of Surrey and London, the novel features a highly entertaining cast of dotty characters whose class, ethnic and religious differences are wonderfully deconstructed by Gardam's sharp, dark wit. Jolly Holly Fox ("an extraordinarily nice girl") is the last person her devoted mother, the widowed and wealthy Thomasina, expects to die in childbirth. Unable to even look at the surviving baby, she runs away with a retired general. Andrew Braithwaite, Holly's physician husband, is equally unable to cope ("he disliked children altogether, really") and gives Faith to his brother, Jack, a devout but nontraditional Christian minister and Jack's Indian, ex-hippie wife, Jocasta, who live at a Yorkshire commune headed by Jack. Assorted relatives and friends wring their hands over Faith's fate, including her anxious paternal grandparents, the affable Toots and Dolly; ancient Pema, one of the mysterious Tibetan exiles staying at Jack's commune; Nick and Ernie, two ex-burglars working for Jack; and Jocasta's 11-year-old Indian son, Philip, whose loyalty to little Faith never wavers. Gardam's voice is dead-on as she crafts a tale with a lovely surprise ending that reaffirms the importance of faith, making this a royal treat for the holidays."

7.  Housekeeping vs. the Dirt by Nick Hornby.  This collection of Hornby's book columns from The Believer makes me laugh.

8.  P. G. Wodehouse's Blandings books and Jeeves books.

9.  My Turn to Make the Tea by Monica Dickens.  A hilarious memoir about Monica's experiences working for a small-town newspaper.

10.  Modern Baptists by James Wilcox.  Amazon product description:  "Universally and repeatedly praised ever since it first appeared in 1983, Modern Baptists is the book that launched novelist James Wilcox’s career and debuted the endearingly daft community of Tula Springs, Louisiana. It’s the tale of Bobby Pickens, assistant manager of Sonny Boy Bargain Store, who gains a new lease on life, though he almost comes to regret it. Bobby’s handsome half brother F.X.—ex-con, ex-actor, and ex-husband three times over—moves in, and things go awry all over town. Mistaken identities; entangled romances with Burma, Toinette, and Donna Lee; assault and battery; charges of degeneracy; a nervous breakdown—it all comes to a head at a Christmas Eve party in a cabin on a poisoned swamp. This is sly, madcap romp that offers readers the gift of abundant laughter."


Danielle said...

Wow--we're on the very same wavelength--I was just thinking about comfort reads and was writing mine up last night to post later this afternoon! I've been turning to comfort reads quite a lot this year, though I have to say mine are probably a little less intellectual than most of yours! I could happily add I Capture the Castle and Mariana to my list, too. If you're curious to see what I came up with, my post will go up after work around 5:00-ish. And why on earth have I not yet read Wodehouse?! Great list.

Anonymous said...

I can't always predict what will comfort. Alas, Graham is not sustaining me. Stanger from the Sea has not yet pulled me in and is not yet a comfort read. I need one just now, Kathy. Ellen

Frisbee said...

Danielle, I can't wait to read your comfort list. It's that time of the year.

Ellen, maybe R. F. Delderfield? I loved his historical novel, God Is an Englishman.

StuckInABook said...

Oh, comfort reads are so perfect. I must compile a list, although having said that, most of my favourite books are also comfort reads. I Capture the Castle would definitely be there, as would the film for that equivalent list.

Have you read Monica Dickens' One Pair of Hands? I enjoyed My Turn to Make The Tea, but One Pair of Hands even more so.

Frisbee said...

Yes, I love One Pair of Hands! I like Monica Dickens' memoirs even better than her novels.

Comfort reads are so much fun. I love these ever-changing lists and will certainly look forward to yoars.