When Customers Need Comfort Books

Josie Leavitt - January 30, 2013

One of the great things about owning a bookstore in a small town is you get to know people well. Often you see them during their worst moments. This can be hard on a bookseller, but I feel like it’s our job to really help our customers through their hard times.
Yesterday, one of my favorite customers brought her grown daughter to the bookstore for the first time. Deb, hadn’t shopped here before because she’s only newly back to the area. Sadly, she’s back for aggressive cancer treatment. I was in the back office when I heard her ask for a pure escape read. I sensed, somehow, that she wasn’t as forthcoming about the kind of book she wanted because she was shopping with her mom. Several staffers offered great suggestions, and Deb passed on them. I popped out of the office and handed her Bared to You, a tamer and better written Fifty Shades of Grey.
She smiled at me and said, “You nailed it.” I felt good about that and asked her about her cancer and her treatment. The relief was palpable in being able to discuss her illness with someone who wasn’t scared for her or upset. We circled back around to books and I suggested next time she might like funny essays, perhaps something from David Sedaris. I also mentioned that she should let me know if the book wasn’t the right one. I don’t take someone not liking a recommended book personally. I just like to know so I can rethink for the next time.
When kids are sick it’s more difficult to find books right away. It hits me harder when I hear kids are sick and I so want to get the perfect book to make their illness go by a little a faster that I tend to overwhelm myself with titles. But I’ve found that the books that comforted me as a kid will make the younger generation feel just as good.
For young ones I always suggest a Richard Scarry book. There is something lovely about all the details in the books. What Do People Do All Day? was the book that I pored over as a kid, sick or not. Where was Lowly Worm? What was the hardhat-wearing pig doing on this page? I loved looking for these comforting characters. I also like wordless books for sick kids because they can get lost in the pictures and make their own story.
Middle readers love From the Mixed-Up Files of Mrs. Basil Frankweiler. The thought of two siblings running amok in the Metropolitan Museum of Art tends to appeal to just about anyone, sick or not. The mystery is not too hard to follow and the book is just plain fun. The Harry Potter series is a comfort book for many children because they are so familiar with the characters and the setting. Sick kids, and adults, like books they don’t have to pay attention to when they’re not feeling well. Rereading is something I actually love to do when I’m under the weather.
The other great thing to recommend to anyone who isn’t feeling well, is audio books. It’s the next best thing to having someone in the family read aloud to you. And let’s face it, as nice as parents might be, they’re probably not as good at narrating a story, say as Jim Dale or Phillip Pullman.
So, what are some of your favorite comfort books?

12 thoughts on “When Customers Need Comfort Books

  1. Linda C.

    Written for children (“Ages 5 and up”), but I (age 68) found great comfort in a book, “The Best Cat in the World.” Told in the voice of an 8 or 10 year old boy whose beloved cat has died. Victor expresses his great sadness about the loss of Charlie, and eventually , helped by his Mom and her wisdom, he gets a new kitten. It is a beautifully written book, available in paperback with lovely pictures.
    The Best Cat in the World by Leslea Newman and Ronald Himler – 32 page picture book format

  2. Trish Brown

    Until I was in my 30s, I would re-read the Narnia books whenever I was sick. These days, I’m more apt to turn to Jane Austen. We have a bookcase in the den with a shelf of picture books, and my daughter read them whenever she was sick, lying on the sofa, until she went to college. If she ever gets sick while she’s visiting home, I’m sure she’ll read them again!

  3. Diana

    When I feel cruddy enough to curl up in a ball and hide I pick up John Green, anything by him will make me smile. Dingo by Charles De Lint or the Mortal Instruments series by Cassandra Clare (oddly enough because the first time I read them I was sick already and they were a great distraction). 🙂

  4. Ellie Miller

    When I need bolstering either for illness or personal problems, I frequently find myself reverting to the mindset of my unhappy teens when NOTHING made me feel better than just about anything by L.M. Montgomery. Many years later, losing myself in Anne or Emily or Jane’s worlds or rediscovering “The Blue Castle” is still my favorite form of comfort escapism. I’d also note that those wonderful DVDs of the first two Anne books…emphatically NOT the third which bears no resemblance to the series whatsoever…provide escape WATCHING par excellance.

  5. Deborah

    The “Aunt Dimity” series by nancy atherton is the coziest, most comforting mystery series. I also find Robert McCloskey’s “Homer Price” and “Centerburg Tales” –comedies set in a small Ohio town in the 1940s — very comforting. And there’s always Jan Karon’s “Mitford” series … very comforting, relaxing novels set in small-town North Carolina.

  6. Maya

    I second the Anne books. Another one I go back to over and over is The Princess Bride by William Goldman. Maybe because of the idea that things aren’t perfect, but that doesn’t mean they’re not good.

  7. keith

    These are great recommendations, and I think I’ll pick up What Do People Do All Day? for my girls. One suggestion: the 4th paragraph begins “When kids are sick…” and, because it’s following the discussion of your customer’s daughter with cancer, I thought you were referring to children with disease rather than children feeling under the weather. It gives a very different feel! Perhaps say “When kids are feeling under the weather…” just to keep things clear! Thanks.

  8. Sharon T.

    “The Secret Garden” is my favorite sick book. I read and re-read it time and again as a child and come back to it often as an adult. I don’t always get all the way through; sometimes I start in the middle. But I always want to read about the healing of Mary and Colin, which always makes me feel better.

  9. Lauri

    I have two sets of comfort books. Feeling down, depressed or sick? Maybe just lonely? Dune, Frank Herbert. I have reread this so many times I could probably recite it by memory.
    Lately I have been turning to the Twelve Houses series – four books by Sharon Shinn.


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