Recently, editors at The New York Times asked several authors to name books that bring them comfort. We thought it would be meaningful to create our own list to share with you. Enjoy the list, stay safe, and happy reading.
Joseph A. Salem, Jr.
Dean of Libraries
As often as I can, I do the evening routine with my five-year-old daughter, Summer, which includes reading three books or chapters of a book together. She is now reading more to me, but I still get to read to her and my favorite for a long time has been Virginia Lee Burton’s Maybelle the Cable Car. It is great and hopeful because it is about democracy at work in San Francisco and the effort to save the cable cars by ballot measure. Since it is set in and really all about San Francisco, it reminds me of my favorite trip to the city. In 2015, our major professional organization, the American Library Association, held its conference in San Francisco, so I was lucky to be there when the Supreme Court ruled that same-sex marriage was constitutional. When I heard the news, I was outside on a beautiful sunny day in a beautiful and historically significant city, and I will never forget the excitement I felt for the world in which my daughter would grow and live. One where marriage would just be marriage and one in which one kind of discrimination would be relegated to the past. I was extremely hopeful and happy in that moment, and the book takes me back to that feeling every time I read it.
Assistant University Librarian
A book that brings comfort to me is Hinds Feet in High Places by Hannah Hurnard. This book is an allegory and features Much Afraid who lives in the village of Much Trembling. She longs to go to the high places but finds it difficult due to her disabled foot. She receives encouragement from the Chief Shepherd as she bravely starts her journey. It is comforting because the highs and lows of her journey are familiar for many of us and satisfying in the end when earlier events become clear. I particularly like the beautifully illustrated children’s version because I read this one with my daughter who loved it.
Books have been a big part of life ever since I learned to read. I worked in my junior high school library just so I could get to the new books first. I have been reading science fiction for almost sixty years now so some of my titles are science fiction. I would suggest several titles by Robert Heinlein: Glory Road, The Moon is a Harsh Mistress, and Stranger in a Strange Land. Another title is This Immortal by Roger Zelazny. And a last science fiction title, Soldier Ask Not, by Gordon R. Dickson. I could easily add more titles but I will stop with the science fiction and take a different direction. My other joy is traveling and taking pictures of where I have been. One title in this vein is America’s National Parks: A Photographic Journey Through Nearly 400 National Treasures. Something off-the-wall but fun: Weird Michigan: Your Travel Guide to Michigan’s Local Legends and Best Kept Secret by Mark Moran and Mark Sceurman. And finally since I like to take pictures but am not a photographer, I mention at least one title by Ansel Adams, Yosemite.
Assistant Head of Cataloging and Metadata Services
Watership Down by Richard Adams is a story of danger, escape, adventure, and battle – but also a story of community, of the fight against authoritarianism and oppression, of sacrifice and hope for a better future. And all of this is accomplished by following the adventures of a group of rabbits! It’s an extraordinary book. Adams draws a striking cast of characters and weaves in a richly imagined rabbit mythology. One of the most entertaining, life-affirming, and re-readable books on my shelf. I return to it often. When you finish it, try the Redwall series by Brian Jacques. Similarly charming and surprisingly profound.
Information Technology Professional
Anything by P.G. Wodehouse. The Jeeves stories and all the Uncle Fred stories. "Uncle Fred Flits By" is a particular favorite.
Curator and Cataloger of Rare Books
I’ll actually be echoing Eric Weston and suggest anything by P.G. Wodehouse, especially the Jeeves stories and the Mr Mulliner stories. As a member of the P.G. Wodehouse Society since the age of 13, I’ve picked him as my go-to for many years. In some ways it’s fluff, but it’s funny and, if read before bed, is a good guarantee of pleasant dreams.
Ruth Ann Jones
Special Collections Instruction/Outreach Librarian
Massive 20th century history novels
- Gone to Soldiers, by Detroit writer Marge Piercy. Follows the stories of 10 men, women, and children in the U.S. and France during World War II.
- Five Smooth Stones, by Ann Fairbairn. A black man and a white woman – a lawyer and artist, respectively - struggle to build a life together in the midst of the Civil Rights movement.
- Mary Stewart’s Merlin Trilogy. Originally published in three volumes: The Crystal Cave, The Hollow Hills, and The Last Enchantment. (These got me through a bad breakup in college.)
- The Mists of Avalon, by Marion Zimmer Bradley. Arthurian legend from the women’s point of view.
Middle East Studies Librarian, Area Studies Coordinator
When I think of comfort, I think of particular children's books which I was lucky to have had in my home as a child, which were read to me and also taken in alone, repeatedly, and have particularly warm illustrations and sounds. I could pick either: The House at Pooh Corner by A.A. Milne or The Nutshell Library(Chicken Soup with Rice, Alligators All Around, and two others, small books which fit in their own small case) by Maurice Sendak. Both of these books feature small children or animals on the adventure of life, with deceptively simple line drawings. Or maybe not deceptive? Maybe just simple, and that's what's comforting. The friendship of Pooh and Piglet, the howl of the wind through the Hundred Acre Wood, the rhythm of the calendar (In January it's so nice, while slipping on the sliding ice, to sip hot chicken soup with rice...) and of the alphabet itself (A Alligators All Around, B Bursting Balloons...). At bedtime my mother would play the (vinyl) record of The House at Pooh Corner, the format itself, with needle revolving around, comforting me as she left the room. Sendak's books have more of an aloneness, a wild edge, with sharper angles and looks, whereas Milne's group of animals always finds a way to help each other out of the latest conundrum (who can forget the drawing of round Pooh, so round he's stuck in a hole, and all the animals lined up, one behind the next, to pull him out?). Both modes of being and perceiving are present in regular life and in extraordinary times like ours. I recall this from memory, today on a snowy March day in a small house on Gunson Street in East Lansing Michigan.
Librarian for English and American Literature and American History
Two recent rereads: The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn and Howard Zinn's A People’s History of the United States. For Zinn: Engaging and well crafted prose. A blurb on the back of my paperback edition says it all: "...the only volume to tell America's story from the point of view of-- and in the words of-- America's women, factory workers, African Americans, Native Americans, working poor, and immigrant laborers."
For HF: This book is everything. Adventure story, history, thriller, political satire, social satire, humor, and deep pathos told about a brutally abused runaway boy and a runaway slave who are on a journey of American discovery. Some of the passages that take place while on the peace of the river contain some of most beautiful prose ever composed. There is the "problem" of the ending, though...
Teaching and Learning Librarian
Book Series: The Wayfarer Trilogy by Becky Chambers
Reason: These books imagine a future where human connection and ethical decision-making still exist, despite advanced technology. Reading them (especially the third, Record of a Spaceborn Few) is like getting a big, warm hug, and the reassurance that it will be possible to retain our humanity despite technological changes.
Associate University Librarian
The Daily Stoic: 366 Meditations on Wisdom, Perseverance, and the Art of Living by Ryan Holiday
Short, contemporary, and accessible translations of key Stoic philosophers’ writings coupled with equally manageable interpretation from the authors make for an easy daily read. The comfort arrives as the philosophy charts a course toward determining what is in your control and what is not, and how to act accordingly. Stoicism reminds us that behavior rather than words is the path to virtue.
The book that I tend to read when needing comfort is actually a kids book: Rilla of Ingleside by L.M. Montgomery. This is the last book in the Anne of Green Gables series (so if you haven’t read any of those books, now is a good time! They are all pre-1924 and mostly available for free online). Anyway, Montgomery dedicated the book to her best friend, who died of the Spanish flu. The book takes place in the Canadian Maritimes during World War I. All of Rilla’s brothers go off to war; some die. She starts a junior Red Cross and somehow adopts a war baby that she brings home in a soup tureen. It’s just a sweet, hopeful, entertaining novel about what must have been a scary, uncertain time in history.
Cindy Hunter Morgan
I’m going back to childhood, as many are, and naming Tove Jansson’s The Summer Book. As it happens, my selection was included on the list from The New York Times. Elizabeth Gilbert picked it. I felt a little territorial when I saw that. Nobody can love that book like I love it!
Graham Greene submitted that only in childhood do books have any deep influence on our lives. I’d like to disagree, but I’m not sure I can with certainty. This book’s hold on me is multi-pronged. There’s the setting – a wild island in Finland – and things I admire (garden tools, meadows, and woods), and then there is the wonderful relationship between a grandmother (smart, pithy) and her granddaughter, Sophia. They spend summers exploring moss-covered rocks, listening to birds, making boats of bark, rowing other boats, and crawling along a path tunneled through rose bushes, spiraea, vetch, loosestrife and alder. They cut the path themselves. It is their secret path that leads to their secret bower. Their summers felt like my own summers with my grandmother. We climbed trees, built forts in the horse pasture, and carved boats from zucchini.
I remember my grandma pausing to rest one afternoon when we climbed a hill between the barn and the house. We’d gone looking for arrowheads by the river. She was bent over, panting. I was worried, and part of my worry came from thinking of Sophia’s grandmother, who, at the end of the book, has a hard-to-breathe moment in the woods. In Jansson’s telling, the grandmother sits on a stump waiting for her balance to return, wondering if what she hears is a slow thumping of a herring boat or her own heart. I knew, even before that scene, that Sophia's summers with her grandmother were limited. I was eleven or twelve, but I knew Jansson got it right – got all of it right – and I felt that moment beside my grandma more deeply because The Summer Book had both divined it and prepared me for it. That’s what stories do: they prime us for the hard times in our own lives.
Agnes Haigh Widder
I'm enjoying We Explore the Great Lakes, by Webb Waldron with artwork by his wife Marion Patton Waldron. NY, Century, c1923. We plan a little voyage from Pt. Huron down the St. Clair River, around the St. Clair Flats and the top of Lake St. Clair to Mt. Clemens, when it is safe to travel again. This is part of our little-bit-at-a-time peregrinations around the edges of Michigan, as close to the water as we can get, because we enjoy being by the water. The book came to my attention in some reading I was doing about the history of Lake St. Clair area. It's about this couple's travels in a earlier era, another time, removed from our present, by ship, primarily, where they went, what they saw, the people they met.
Videographer and Podcast Specialist
Book that gives me comfort: The Essential Calvin and Hobbes by Bill Watterson. I remember when I was 10 or 11, going over to my childhood friend’s house during the summer and he had in his bedroom a comic-strip book called The Essential Calvin and Hobbes. At the time, I was interested in cartoons and drawing constantly so naturally I was instantly captivated by the image that was on the front cover. I later discovered that Calvin and Hobbes was a comic strip from 1985-1995 about an adventurous, philosophical six-year-old boy, Calvin, and his adventures with his anthropomorphic stuffed animal tiger, Hobbes. The reason this book gives me comfort is because there is a nostalgic factor to the whole series and because it was the first Calvin and Hobbes book I got. The comic strip featured stunning fantasy drawings for Calvin’s imagination, which I loved to look at and emulate in my drawings. Now that I’m older and reading Calvin and Hobbes, I realized how deep Calvin’s conversations and monologues with Hobbes were and how often they covered existential topics that completely went over my head when I read it at a young age. I think Calvin and Hobbes is enjoyable for all ages and will bring you the nostalgic comfort of childhood imagination.
Assistant Director of Development
At Home in Mitford by Jan Karon. Meet Fr. Tim, an Episcopal priest who ministers to his congregation in a small community in rural North Carolina. Yet life is anything but slow for the country rector. Goodreads.com’s description goes on to say, “Enter a dog the size of a sofa who moves in and won't go away. Add an attractive neighbor who begins wearing a path through the hedge. Now, stir in a lovable but unloved boy, a mystifying jewel theft, and a secret that's sixty years old” (goodreads.com).
At Home in Mitford brings me comfort not only because through beautiful prose and lighthearted humor Jan Karon reflects on the themes of friendship, faith, and community amidst every-day adversities. Additionally, this book was one of my mom’s favorites. Reading this connects me with Mom despite the separation of death, and helps me feel close to her through the love of reading she instilled in me.
VR Coordinator, Digital Scholarship Lab
I’ll submit that I’ve called to mind the Bene Gesserit Litany Against Fear, from Frank Herbert’s Dune, a few times lately. I’ll paste it below for reference (credit: Wikipedia since I wasn’t certain I could remember all the words accurately unaided).
I must not fear.
Fear is the mind-killer.
Fear is the little-death that brings total obliteration.
I will face my fear.
I will permit it to pass over me and through me.
And when it has gone past I will turn the inner eye to see its path.
Where the fear has gone there will be nothing.
Only I will remain.
Head of Cataloging & Metadata Services
Asst. Head of Technical Services
Book: A Timbered Choir: The Sabbath Poems, 1979-1997
Author: Wendell Berry
Why it brings me comfort: When Berry is celebrating instead of grousing, the poems feel like a deep breath. Checking in with one’s self, one’s spot in the world. Thinking in long time. And then we keep going.