The Booker Prize this year was awarded to Paul Lynch's Prophet Song, a dystopian novel that has not yet been published in the States. Dark novels are important, especially when it comes to wondering "what if" this happens or that comes to pass. That's especially true in dire times like these, when the worst that could happen may come to be.
But it's understandable that people would seek respite in their reading. Here are some of the books that offered measures of comfort and positivity that I read this year.
Foster by Claire Keegan is the account of a girl on the verge of womanhood, sent to live with an aunt and uncle in rural Ireland when her mother delivers yet another baby and her lout of a father is no help. The calm, sturdy love shown by her aunt and uncle is simple and full of grace. This novella is a beautiful story with an end that requires tissues for a good cry.
The Dog of the North is the second novel by the Elizabeth McKenzie, author of The Portable Veblen. In the latest, Penny leaves her job, her rotten marriage and her home, landing in Santa Barbara to try to corral her ornery grandmother. Grandma's accountant, Burt, is living in a van, named The Dog of the North. And, well, adventures ensue. This is a sweet story about making sense of one's family which reminds me of Where’d You Go, Bernadette.
Chain Gang All-Stars, the no-holds-barred debut by Nana Kwame Adjei-Brenyah, also isn't an immediate idea of a comfort read. But in this audacious, explicit novel of convicts trying to survive and possibly gain freedom by taking part in gladiator battles, there is compassion and love. Added in are incredible commentaries in the form of footnotes, razor-sharp descriptions of a population addicted to reality TV competition and the resiliency of the human spirit.
The God of Good Looks by Breanne McIvor is a light-hearted look at a woman back home who discovers herself and a certain someone. This was a fun story to enjoy, and the island setting doesn’t hurt when the temperature dips and the snow falls.
The Heaven and Earth Grocery Store is another glorious novel by James McBride that brings to life a community of individuals who are each their own persons but know how to come together when it's needed. It's as good as Deacon King Kong.
A Council of Dolls by Mona Sue Power is a comfort read in its empowerment of a woman who comes to terms with her family history.
Paul Murray's The Bee Sting didn't win the Booker, but it won me over with its deep look at four members of a family. It's more of an engrossing read, the kind of book to live in, perhaps than a comfort read. But it's one of those books to dive right into.
Best of all in my reading experience this year was Ann Patchett's Tom Lake. A family gathers together in the early days of lockdown, harvesting cherries on their farm. The grown daughters ask their mother to tell them again the story of how she knew a famous movie star during the season she was in summer stock at Tom Lake. It's a beautiful, loving story. And its echoes of Our Town are spot on.
What have been your comfort reads this year?
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