Last week, I brought you my top five books of all time. This week, I bring you an alternative top five – my top five comfort reads. These are the books I’ve returned to over and over again through the years. They’re the ones with the dog-eared covers. They’re my old friends.
It’s an unfortunate fact that the more you know about how writing works, the more difficult it is to get lost in books. So I’ve decided to pay homage to these books in memory of a time when I could get lost.
I’ve always wanted to go to Penelope’s house, eat one of her delicious lunches and hear her tell stories about her amazing life as the daughter of a famous Victorian artist and her much younger French wife. Penelope is the central character in The Shell Seekers. Her wartime love affairs have a high swoon factor. But what lifts the book above Mills and Boon territory is the free-spiritedness and strength of Penelope herself.
Circle of Friends is the literary equivalent of a warm bath. It takes you back to the lost world of 1950s Ireland, where big-hearted, big-boned Benny learns about the meaning of love, loyalty and friendship at university in Dublin. The characters speak in voices we all recognised and they’re an endearing bunch – you’re rooting for them all the way.
This was my favourite book of all time right throughout my teens. I reread it (yet again!) a couple of years ago and I could see why. It’s such an uplifting story and the Africa it depicts is a thrilling place, full of dramatic scenery and epic music. It’s set in South Africa at the height of apartheid. Peekay, the central character, is a bit too perfect for words, but the tale of his struggle to become a boxer is compelling. It’s a triumph of good over evil .
Nobody does raunch better than Jilly Cooper – she does it in such a humorous way. Rupert Campbell Black is one of the handsomest men ever to grace the pages of a book and he’s the subject of all Jilly Cooper’s major novels. In this, he is finally tamed by sweet-natured Taggie in a heart-melting romance.
5. Starring Sally J Freedman as Herself – Judy Blume
This was my favourite book when I was 10. Sally is also 10, full of imagination and full of questions about the way the world works that no-one is willing to answer. I used to act out scenes from the book, cycling around the yard at home, as I followed Sally’s attempts to get to grips with a house move to Miami Beach in Florida just after World War II and her separation from her father. Sally may have starred as herself, but I saw myself reflected on the pages.
It’s interesting to note that these books may not be on critics’ list, but their authors sell by the truckload, so clearly they’ve won the heart of millions. Proof that literary merit shouldn’t be the only criterion by which we judge books.