Comfort books are better for us than comfort food

woman-reading-book-1Comfort food.” A phrase to describe nibblies we crave when we’re sick, depressed, and out of sorts.  Often based on nostalgic or sentimental feelings, especially from childhood, valued by the diner. This describes dishes like mac & cheese, chicken soup, apple pie, tomato soup, fried chicken. While comfort foods do bring comfort, I’ve found another activity that accomplishes the same end without calories. Comfort books.

Often books read in childhood or adolescence, sometimes a volume from adulthood that I’ve read over and over, they function like an old friend. I greet them with a cry of recognition and close them with a sigh of satisfaction. For me, this means they aren’t terribly complicated and at least some of their characters are pleasant, interesting and good. Needless to say, they wrap up happily. Other people include more challenging or depressing material. It’s up to you.

I’ve discovered a number of my childhood favorites are now in the public domain. This means I can locate them as free ebooks. I recently reread Heidi and Tarzan of the Apes, and made some discoveries. I still loved the description of Grandfather toasting cheese over the fire in Heidi. (Hmmm, is there a relationship to mac & cheese?) But there many more descriptive passages of the mountains, flowers, snow, city, that jumped out as good writing.  Tarzan, too, contained much more illustration than I recalled, as well as action and developments that moved so rapidly they can serve as examples to improve my own writing.

The first book I learned to read on my own has become a comfort book. I was so enamored of The Backward Day,the story of a little boy who gets up and puts his clothes on backward and sits backward at the table and walks backward to school, my first-grade teacher had me visit other classrooms and read it out loud. I’d love to locate a copy of The Wonderful Visit to the Mushroom Planet, discovered in seventh grade and the impetus for my fascination with some science fiction since. Another series in the scifi genre, the Vorkosigan saga by Lois McMaster Bujold, distracts me in times of political crisis and gives me a positive vision of the future.

Since I realized that many of the oldies are, indeed, available as free ebooks, I’ve downloaded more. The Five Little Peppers, Anne of Green Gables, Wizard of Oz, Black Beauty. A number of websites provide free electronic versions. If you search Amazon for titles of old favorites and add “free,” you can usually find them. Project Gutenberg specializes in converting public domain books to ebooks at no charge ( as do others (,, etc.). Mysteries, romances, history, philosophy, plays, an endless stream for your pleasure and comfort.

I thought I invented the term “comfort book,” but I find through a search, others also know the concept. If you go online, you’ll find sites to guide you to these readers’ individual lists. And next time you need a little emotional comfort, try an old book favorite. Heart and soul, you’ll feel better, and you’ll add zero calories.