Best feel-good books: 12 comfort reads you can enjoy over the winter

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The nights are drawing in, most of the nation is house-bound for the next month, and the first lockdown taught many of us our hopes of reading Dostoevsky or writing the next King Lear were a touch over-ambitious. For a more realistic goal, pick up one of these comfort reads over the winter evenings of Lockdown 2.0.

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Dolly Parton’s Songteller

She’s donated over 1 billion books to children across the United States in the past forty years. She has consistently championed philanthropic causes. She's written some of the greatest country songs of all time, has a delightful a sense of humour and she wrote Jolene and I Will Always Love You in the same day. There are few legends as remarkable as Dolly Parton and none of us could fail to learn something from her example. Her latest book, Songteller, explores her life through the lyrics of her song. Required reading for any serious music lover.

The Midnight Library by Matt Haig

Matt Haig has ploughed his furrow as a beloved author who trades in high-concept fantasy novels, populated with warm, empathetic characters, and a deep understanding of human mental frailty. His new work, The Midnight Library, meets Nora Seed as she is at her lowest ebb. Contemplating suicide, one night she finds herself transported in to a magical library where each tome represents a different path her life could have taken. So many of us have had reason to struggle with mental health this year in particular; this humorous, kind novel is necessarily life-affirming.

Such a Fun Age, Kiley Reid

Sharp as a crisply tailored suit.  This Booker long-listed debut novel dissects middle class malaise, the white saviour trope, and the ridiculousness of preformative allyship. Such a Fun Age tells the tale of a 25 year-old Philadelphian black woman, Emira, and her peculiar relationship with Alix, the white woman whose child she babysits. Deftly plotted, with insightful characterisations, this exploration of modern American race relations is funny, compulsive, and has not the slightest hint of sanctimony.

The Queen’s Gambit, Walter Tevis

This 1983 novel has just been bought to life as Netflix’s best original series in 2020. Whether you’ve watched it or are yet to (please do), it’s worth reading the source material, written by master storyteller Walter Tevis (he also wrote the novels the Hustler, Colour of Money, and The Man Who Fell To Earth). The enthralling tale of a young orphan girl who seeks to become the world chess champion, you don’t have to know your rooks from your bishops: it’s riveting nonetheless.

Quite, by Claudia Winkleman

The kohl-ringed eyes and soot black fringe of Claudia Winkleman's iconic face graces the cover of this collection of observances on the things she is passionate about: cheese, napping, pirate boots, and art. Feather-light and almost scandalously easy to read, it’s the book equivalent of spending the whole night gabbing enthusiastically with your best pal, setting the world to rights. Foes of the frivolous need not apply.

The Thursday Murder Club, by Richard Osman

There are few genres more delightfully British than ‘cosy crime’, and Pointless presenter Richard Osman’s debut novel is an instantly successful entry into the oeuvre. It's the tale of four retirees whose weekly meet-ups to solve cold case murders spirals out of control when a brutal murder takes place in their otherwise sleepy village. With ingenious plotting, Osman's yarn is laugh-out-loud funny.

Ghosts, Dolly Alderton

Fans of Dolly Alderton’s Sunday Times Agony Aunt column will know her as a kind, insightful chronicler of the human condition. That generosity of spirit extends to the protagonist of her debut novel, Nina, a food writer who struggles to come to terms with being ghosted by her boyfriend, while also losing her father to dementia. This modern love story has lashings of arch humour and gentle wisdom, and slides down as pleasingly as a slice of cake and a nice cuppa.

Dune, Frank Herbert

This space-set fantastical monolith - oft-described as the greatest sci-fi novel of all time (justifiably so) is a richly imagined tale of interstellar warfare, inflected with 1960s mysticism, tactical intrigue, and a messiah subplot for good measure. A major motion picture version will be on the big screens next year, COVID not-with-standing - consider lockdown the perfect time to wallow in the book's spectacular star-scape in preparation. (Star Wars lovers: you'll learn where George Lucas purloined many of his ideas from...)

AND IN BRIEF:

The nation's most comforting cook takes on thoughtful journey through her most recent food obsessions. Anchovy-lovers will be exultant.

Gorgeously ghost-written by music journo par excellence Alexis Petridis, this is a raucous, candid tale of rock-n-roll excess; funny, shocking, wild.

Lovers of Jack Reacher will be thrilled to discover the first novel to be co-authored by Lee Child and his baby brother, Andrew, is every bit as tough, wry, and exciting as it's predecessors.

Podcaster and comedian Adam Buxton is one of the nation's silliest, funniest men. His meditation of music, the eighties, and his family life is a giddy joy.