This post is part of Bookroo‘s September campaign to “Keep Calm and Read On,” where they’re offering new subscribers a HUGE discount of 20% off a 3-month subscription with the code KEEPCALM. Bookroo is a subscription box for kids that we recently fell in love with (and which I’m now a proud affiliate for!)
Note: There are affiliate links in this post to products mentioned, which means that I may get a commission on any purchases made.
As I mentioned in my last post, it’s been a bit of a rough patch for me lately—lots has been going on around here, and there’s just been a lot of change and uncertainty and stress to deal with.
One thing I’ve noticed is that during this period, my reading tastes have distinctly shifted—I’ve always been one to read multiple books at once, but I usually try to balance out those books so I get a good blend of different genres, fiction vs. nonfiction, new vs. backlist titles, etc.
Lately, I’ve hardly done any reading at all (for me), but whenever I do, it’s almost always been the same types of books over and over and over again. The more I thought about it, the more I realized that I definitely have a “comfort read” niche that I turn to whenever I’m feeling particularly strung out and stressed.
As a kid, I was the same way—whenever I just wanted to escape reality for awhile and get a shot of instant comfort, I would turn to my well-worn copies of The Secret Garden and A Little Princess, Harry Potter and The American Girls series. As my tastes got more defined as an older kid/young teenager, I didn’t always feel like I had to turn to re-reading for comfort—I learned to branch out a bit by reading something new by a familiar author (like Joan Bauer or Phyllis Reynolds Naylor), and I would spend hours (literally hours!) browsing the shelves at home and at our local library, carefully studying book jackets and scanning first pages to get a sense of whether a new book would fulfill a particular “comfort” need.
If you’ve been reading my blog for awhile, you’ll know that I’m not a big spender—we tend to generally save our money towards bigger goals and family experiences rather than buy more “stuff.” However, for books I make an exception, especially when it comes to making sure we build up a library for our children.
In another season not so long ago, I would never have dreamed about paying for a subscription box. Saving money was usually the bottom line, and anything that could be cut was cut. Now that we’re in this strange season of our lives though, when everything is in transition and we have no idea where we’re heading over the next few months, I’m definitely in need of more comfort than ever, and since we’re extremely fortunate at the moment to not have a mortgage or rent payment to worry about (since we’re living with family for a few months), I’ve had more breathing room with our budget.
After years of consciously spending money on what matters most to us, I’ve gotten quite a lot more picky about certain things. While I still do watch our bottom line (and therefore still shop through places like Walmart and Amazon to save money), I’ve also started looking for ways to support small businesses and the local economy a lot more, even if it means spending extra. Over the course of the pandemic thus far, that’s looked like visiting the local used bookstore (and buying over a dozen books there), frequenting a local restaurant on most Friday nights as a family, and purchasing seeds and flowers at a local family-owned nursery.
Through my purchase of The Ultimate Homeschooling Bundle a month ago, I got a bonus that could be redeemed for a free book box from Bookroo. I will take free books any day of the week, so I redeemed the offer immediately! With Bookroo, there are 3 options to choose from—3 board books, 2 picture books, or 2 chapter books. If you have kids of multiple ages, you can also request that they alternate which type of box comes each month (or you can splurge and get one of each kind!). Once you pick the kind of box you want, you’ll get a monthly delivery of books for your kids. (And I personally LOVE that each book comes gift-wrapped—-it makes it seem like Christmas comes every month!)
I know that subscription boxes might not work for your budget or your family right now, but if you find yourself in a place to support a small business that’s all about putting great books into the hands of children, this is a great one! (Plus, it’s introduced me to a LOT of fabulous titles I’d never even heard of before.) In a time that’s uncertain for so many of us right now, having something comforting AND fun to look forward to every month has felt like a Pretty Big Deal around here.
If you’re interested, click HERE to check out their website, and don’t forget to use the coupon code KEEPCALM for 20% off!
Now that the kids have their monthly book box coming (which has been even more fun since all of our books are packed away in storage at the moment), that’s solved THEIR access to books (pretty much all of which will be comfort reads for them, just because…picture books).
But what does comfort reading look like for me right now?
In this season of life, it looks like relatable memoirs about “normal” people with “normal” experiences and journal-like essays and fictional favorites, most of which revolve around the very things my current life revolves around: Family, Faith, Homemaking, and Small Comforts and Pleasures. It looks like books that take an obviously optimistic spin on everything and that choose to be cheerful about the state of life rather than doom-and-gloom and suspense and intense situations. (Think Pollyanna vs. Stephen King.)
I don’t know if this will be a niche that speaks to you or offers you comfort, but just in case it is, here are 15 titles that feel like a warm blanket around my shoulders and a cup of cocoa in my hand:
15 Comfort Reads for Uncertain Seasons
I’m currently rereading this title because I knew it would be the perfect read for me right now in our house-and-life limbo state. In this memoir, Greer writes all about how she and her husband both had a distinct impression that they can only describe as divine that they needed to move their family to the country. They eagerly put their house on the market and found the perfect home (with ample acreage!) exactly where they wanted to go…and then their house doesn’t sell, and the country property is sold to someone else. For anyone who has ever prayed and felt an impression to make a big move or change and then been confused about the timing and the way things have worked out, this is a book you’ll want to check out–it’s a book about trusting in timing and learning hard lessons exactly where you’re at (especially if where you’re at isn’t where you currently want to be), and much more.
I’m sure it’s funny to some people that I read a lot of books by people that aren’t of my exact same faith, but I have always enjoyed reading memoirs by Christians (as well as Muslims and Jews) of all sorts of different denominations—I find that it often helps me approach my own Christianity and beliefs with fresh eyes. Niequist is a perennial favorite of mine, and this particular collection of essays by her seemed to especially resonate with me. This is all about her quest to slow down and stop hustling, and how much that went against everything she’d been doing her whole life. Equal parts relatable and inspirational, this is one I often turn to when I need a quick dose of perspective on what’s really important.
Purifoy and her family traded in life in a perpetually warm, beachy climate to buy a crumbling and old but beautiful Victorian farmhouse on a huge lot in Pennsylvania. Not only is she adjusting to a new home in a totally new place, but she’s also adjusting after giving birth to her fourth child, and this book chronicles that first year of adjustment with all of its insights and struggles and small triumphs.
The tone on this one might not be as soothing and comforting as some, just because this is a book that’s about setting the bar high as a homemaker and taking pride in your everyday homemaking rituals, but I found that for me, this was a great read that gave me a gentle kick in the pants to make the most of this season of our lives, even if we don’t currently live in a home that’s our own. I give this book full credit for inspiring me to go out and purchase myself some “real” pajamas (no more sweatpants for me!), taking the time to organize and take care of the temporary spaces we’re living in, and actually dressing in “real” clothes every day. I like the idea that I have control over SOMETHING in this time when so much feels completely OUT of my control, which is why this book was perfect for me right now. (And I not only purchased my own copy of it, I’ve also started rereading sections!)
It’s not often (almost never, in fact) that I start a book over as soon as I finish it, but that’s what I did when I finished this one awhile back—I didn’t even shut the back cover—I just flipped right back to the beginning and started again. How to describe this book? Well, it’s one that’s been around for a long time—you’ll notice the “50th Anniversary Edition” on the cover if you look hard enough. It’s a collection of essays centered around different kinds of seashells, each being a metaphor for a life lesson. It’s a book about motherhood and working and marriage and finding balance and finding joy and working through hard things and a lot more. And it’s a classic for a reason. Read it with a highlighter in hand—this has a lot of gold in it.
File this under “stories written by people with unusual jobs.” Heather Lende is an obituary writer in a small town in Alaska, and in this short and sweet collection of essays, she writes about how she’s learned to live her own life better after having to sit down and try to summarize the best of those whose lives have now passed. I found this book to also be a study in learning to find the best in people, as obituaries tend to do, rather than on focusing on people’s flaws. A powerful little nugget of a book that needs to be on more people’s TBR shelves.
If you haven’t delved much into the research behind the power of gratitude, this book is a great (and engaging!) place to start. Not only does Kaplan summarize some of the most compelling research that’s been done in recent years (like on how gratitude seems to be one of the most powerful tools in helping everything from anxiety to relationship problems), but it’s also interesting to see how the practice plays out in her own life as she works to incorporate as much of the findings as possible into daily practice. This is highly reminiscent of The Happiness Project by Gretchen Rubin.
If you’ve noticed that this list has been shockingly devoid of fiction titles thus far, you’re right—so here’s one to try and offset all the nonfiction reads on here. Fiction is a tricky space to feel like comfort reading for me, just because when I’m stressed, I want a story I can get lost in but that’s not stressful to read about. So much of contemporary fiction bombards you with all the hard stuff we’re already dealing with all the time (either personally or everything we see in the news), and so it can be tough for me to find a good story that still FEELS real and that is a title I can get lost in, but that is also upbeat and positive (without being sappy and eye-roll-inducing). This book about a single, middle-aged tree caretaker (yes) was such a gem for me, in that it took a person living a fairly normal, believable life and gave her realistic problems, but that also showed a charming path forward for her, all wrapped up in an interesting format.
I’ve read (and written about!) a LOT of books having to do with minimalism and pursuing a simpler, more minimalist life, so perhaps that’s why titles like this feel like such comfort reads for me—they’re about a subject I’m very familiar with, and they don’t require intense focus to keep characters straight or to learn anything brand new. In this memoir, blogger Miranda Anderson records her family’s year-long journey to consuming less, minimizing, and consciously appreciating their present possessions and situation more, and while it doesn’t provide anything earth-shattering and new for anyone who is familiar with the pursuit of a simpler and more minimal lifestyle, it’s still an enjoyable read and one that will make you want to embrace your own version of a simpler life.
If you want to watch a movie that will just tear your mom heart right out, watch the YouTube video of Kenison reading the poem she wrote by the same name as this book of hers, which talks all about the journey of being a mom and watching your kids get older and thinking that your current stage will last forever until you suddenly realize that nothing does. (Seriously, don’t watch it unless you’re prepared to ugly cry.) For a read with significantly less tears, consider trying this memoir by her, which talks about their family making a momentous move so that their son could have a chance to pursue his musical dream at an alternative high school and everything that came along with that. I love that this book involved them living with her parents for awhile (so relatable to me right now!), and that it also involved them buying a tiny farmhouse on a hill with acreage (a long-cherished dream of mine, though not perhaps the “on a hill” part). I love Kenison’s way of blending the ordinary with the divine and of weaving in bits of wisdom into every life experience she goes through. This is one I’m planning on purchasing for my own library soon.
If you’re a fan of the Modern Mrs. Darcy blog or the What Should I Read Next? podcast, you’ll already know all about this book, but if not, know that this is a GREAT book for readers to escape into for an afternoon. It’s basically a collection of essays that dives into all sorts of aspects of the reading life the bookworms everywhere will relate to, from the joy of browsing library shelves to the beautiful feeling of serendipity you get when you connect with a “reading twin” whose tastes mimic your own to the “guilty bookish secrets” that you thought you were all alone on (like not liking Shakespeare). This one is just fun and pure escapism for anyone who loves to nerd out about the printed (or digital) word.
Okay, here’s another fiction pick for you. Betty Smith is much better known for A Tree Grows in Brooklyn (which I almost put on this list), but I wanted to shed some light on this lesser-known work by her, so I’m including it instead. Joy in the Morning is the story of a very young, very newlywed couple trying to figure out life while having almost no money as the husband is studying law and the wife is trying to figure out a direction for herself. As I wrote in my Goodreads review on it, Betty Smith has a gift for capturing certain seasons and stages of life with such poignancy and relevancy that you feel like she’s writing about YOUR life, even if the details and circumstances are totally different than what you’ve experienced. In this, she captures so perfectly the ups and downs and learning curve of the first year of marriage, and the growth that comes from the struggles and the triumphs together.
Sometimes you just need a reflective and meandering and all-over-the-map look at life in the messy thirties, trying to juggle career and kids and marriage and faith and hobbies and homemaking and more. L’Engle is best known for her much-loved children’s classic A Wrinkle in Time, but she was a prolific writer who managed to still produce a TON even with small children underfoot. I loved getting this glimpse into her inner world, both of her writing mind AND of her daily home life.
Perhaps this feels like such a comfort read because I read it during such a hard time in my life (when my father-in-law was in the ICU for almost two months), but when I see this on my shelf, it’s one I feel like I could pick up and just feel enveloped in a sense of purpose and meaning and comfort all over again. In this memoir, Donald Miller writes about how he was approached by a filmmaker about making his previously published memoir into a movie, and how he realized as they were talking through how to produce it, he realized he needed to “edit” his current life and use the techniques he learned from changing a book to film form and apply them to his daily life to make it richer and more meaningful. It’s hard to summarize exactly what this book is, but it’s full of hilarious stories, deeply resonant truths, and just a powerful sense of live-your-best-life-ness (but for real, not in a tongue-in-cheek #instagram sort of way).
Sometimes I want to escape with my comfort reads, and sometimes I want something that’s a bit more “on the nose,” so that’s why, as I’ve felt more or less shut up indoors for the entire year (since we actually started quarantining ourselves in December due to my third child being born prematurely), I’ve felt myself drawn to this fictional tale of a Russian aristocrat who is sentenced to life imprisonment in a luxury hotel (yes) to be surprisingly relatable. While the protagonist initially enjoys his former level of ease and comfort at the beginning of his stay, he is soon downgraded to a much smaller, more sparse kind of room and existence, yet he still manages to make the most of his situation by making friends, enjoying the simple pleasures of every day, and even falling in love. I LOVE Amor Towles’s writing, and I am constantly checking for when he’s going to have a new book out. I don’t buy a ton of adult fiction titles for my own shelves, but I made an exception with this one because it’s definitely one that calls to be read and re-read.
All the titles above I’ve read (and often re-read) and enjoyed, but just in case you’re curious, here are five bonus titles that I’m purchasing soon (used, from Biblio), none of which I’ve read but all of which I’m excited to get my hands on:
- Living a Beautiful Life (Amazon / Biblio) by Alexandra Stoddard
- homemaking inspiration galore (cover says it includes over 500 tips on how to make your life more beautiful)
- Home Comforts: The Art and Science of Keeping House (Amazon / Biblio) by Cheryl Mendelson
- combo of the technical aspects of improving homemaking (how to sew! how to get your towels to stop fading!) and the philosophy behind why homemaking is important
- The Life-Giving Home (Amazon / Biblio) by Sally and Sarah Clarkson
- a faith-centered collection of monthly rituals and routines to center your home life around
- Big Dreams, Daily Joys (Amazon / Biblio) by Elise Blaha Cripe
- a book all about goal-setting and dreaming big, with included sections for journaling
- Orchard House (Amazon / Biblio) by Tara Austen Weaver
- a memoir about how a mother and daughter sought to repair their emotionally distant relationship through bringing an abandoned garden back to life together (written by a blogger I used to follow obsessively, who no longer blogs now…so sad)
Stay Calm, and Keep Reading!
I know life’s uncertain for pretty much everyone right now, and I hope you found some good comfort picks from this post you’ll want to check out for yourself. And don’t forget, if you’re wanting to provide a bit of comfort reading for your kids, make sure to check out Bookroo and use your 20% off code of KEEPCALM before the end of the month!
P. S. If you try out Bookroo and end up loving them as much as I do, they’re currently looking for affiliates to work with. If you want more info about it, you can email me at [email protected], or you can apply to them directly and tell them I sent you!