Comfort reading (or, the books I always go back to)

One of our 10 bookcases

We have a lot of books.

I know. I can see your amazed face. Who would’ve guessed it?

Matthew and I are lifelong book nerds. We were voracious readers as kids (and, growing up just ten miles apart, probably stood unknowingly next to each other in various bookstores, browsing), we met working at a bookstore, and combined have well over 30 years of history working in bookstores, libraries, and other book-related jobs. When we moved from Boston, we had 40 boxes of books and maybe 40 boxes of other stuff. Eventually, we decided to donate about 80% of our books to the Friends of the Library bookstore. That wasn’t easy, but we were sick of moving them. For the most part, the books we have left now are the essential books, the ones we absolutely will not part with. The reasons vary—they’re signed, they’re rare, they’re favorites—and even in our “bare bones” state our book collection far exceeds that of many people.

I’m a big fan of comfort reading. I like to go back to certain books over and over. Some of them are from my childhood and some of them are things I read in my twenties, but I haven’t added any new “favorites” that fall into this rereading category in ages. Here are some of my essential books. I want to know your rereads. Leave me a comment on Facebook or come talk to me on Twitter


Swami on Rye by Maira Kalman 

I am a Maira Kalman superfan. If you’re not familiar with her, you should fix that. Soon-to-be-doggy-daddy Max goes on a whirlwind adventure of enlightenment pursuing the answer to the question of “What (after all) is the meaning (anyway) of life?” My favorite line comes at the very beginning of the book: “This is life./One minute you’re sitting/quietly in your room, when the/doorbell rings. You knock over/a glass of water, run to open the/door, and someone throws a wet/sock on your head.” That pretty much sums life up, Max.


Any books by Beverly Cleary

Almost nothing pleased me more as a kid than discovering Ramona Geraldine Quimby. She was spirited, sassy, complex, creative, and so undeniably Ramona. She did her own thing no matter what anyone thought. I read all of Cleary’s books endlessly as a kid, but especially the Ramona books. I still think Chevrolet is a lovely name for a doll.


The Betsy-Tacy series by Maud Hart Lovelace

I grew up in and around Mankato, Minnesota, known in the Betsy-Tacy books as Deep Valley. My Oma, who was a third grade teacher (and who was, incidentally, my husband’s third grade teacher), introduced me to these books. I spent my childhood working my way through the books in the Lovelace Wing of the Mankato library (which had a display case with some memorabilia). I went on tours of the Betsy-Tacy homes. As a child, my grandpa lived at 333 Center Street (around 1917), which readers will recognize as the fictional 333 Hill Street, home to Betsy Ray (and in reality, to Lovelace herself). I have read this series more than any other books. For a long time, I reread it in its entirely once a year. If you’re a Lovelace fan, check out the Betsy-Tacy Society. 


Life After God by Douglas Coupland

I’ve read, I think, every book Coupland has ever written and this remains my favorite by far. From the publisher’s description: “We are the first generation raised without God. We are creatures with strong religious impulses, yet they have nowhere to flow in this world of malls and TV, Kraft dinners and jets. How do we cope with loneliness? Anxiety? The collapse of relationships?
How do we reach the quiet, safe layer of our lives?” I’ve underlined about half of this book. It’s extremely quotable. I also love it for its small size and for the twee drawings peppered throughout the text. A favorite line: “Time ticks by; we grow older. Before we know it, too much time has passed and we’ve missed the chance to have had other people hurt us. To a younger me this sounded like luck; to an older me this sounds like a quiet tragedy.” 


The Secret Diary of Adrian Mole, Aged 13¾ by Sue Townsend

The whole series is great, but nothing beats that first book. It’s hilarious and cringey and Adrian is just so insufferably awkward. I adore him. Also, Townsend’s other books are an absolute delight.


Still Life with Woodpecker by Tom Robbins

I read a handful of other books by Robbins and none of them grabbed me the way this one did. (As I’m typing this, there is a literally a woodpecker attempting to drill into our house.) This was the favorite book of a boy I liked in high school. In fact, this battered copy I have is from him. From the publisher, “Still Life with Woodpecker is a sort of a love story that takes place inside a pack of Camel cigarettes. It reveals the purpose of the moon, explains the difference between criminals and outlaws, examines the conflict between social activism and romantic individualism, and paints a portrait of contemporary society that includes powerful Arabs, exiled royalty, and pregnant cheerleaders. It also deals with the problem of redheads.”


Harriet the Spy by Louise Fitzhugh

Harriet’s precocious and unlikable. She spies on everything and scribbles observations down in her notebook. She is my favorite.


Weetzie Bat by Francesca Lia Block

Like so many other women my age, I was introduced to Weetzie Bat thanks to Sassy magazine. This book was unlike anything I’d ever read (I was 12 or 13 when I read it)—magical, surreal, dealt with AIDS, had characters with names like Duck and Secret Agent Lover Man, and was so short and beautiful and just fantastically quirky. And the writing—oh, the writing! “Grief is not something you know if you grow up wearing feathers with a Charlie Chaplin boyfriend, a love-child papoose, a witch baby, a Dirk and a Duck, a Slinkster Dog, and a movie to dance in. You can feel sad and worse when your dad moves to another city, when an old lady dies, or when your boyfriend goes away. But grief is different. Weetzie’s heart cringed in her like a dying animal. It was as if someone had stuck a needle full of poison into her heart. She moved like a sleepwalker. She was the girl in the fairy tale sleeping in a prison of thorns and roses.”