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Ask HN: What is your comfort book?
51 points by amorphous 8 months ago | hide | past | web | favorite | 91 comments
The book you read over and over for whatever reason. Mine is "Money: A Suicide Note" by Martin Amis, a book I listened to and re-read several times.

Feynman: Surely You're Joking, Mr. Feynman! - great inspiration for regaining playfulness. Particularly this quote applicable to many burnt out developers I believe:

Physics disgusts me a little bit now, but I used to enjoy doing physics. Why did I enjoy it? I used to play with it. ... So I got this new attitude. Now that I am burned out and I'll never accomplish anything,...I'm going to play with physics whenever I want to, without worrying about any importance whatsoever.

Pratchett discworld series. Started when I was young and I still enjoy rereading them all, still spot some new things in them now and again too.

Pratchett is a very special author! Though not my absolute favourite, he does manage to combine brilliant humour with an incredibly observant social satire and deep, likeable characters.

BTW, if you like Pratchett, do you know the Discworld MUD? (http://discworld.starturtle.net/lpc/)

I've read them all multiple times, and go back to them again and again. As with you, I still occasionally spot new things, or get taken afresh by a turn-of-phrase. I still laugh out loud at some points.

I think I've read the entire series at least two times. Now I tend to pick and choose - the Death books and the Watch books are my favorites.

Currently at 33rd book. Couldn't agree more.

I’m surprised only one other comment mentions Harry Potter, which is definitely my answer. I was part of that “Harry Potter” generation that was right around his “age.” Those books really were incredible for spurring reading in children, and they definitely stimulated my imagination more than many activities in my childhood. Reading them now is comforting not because of the content of the book, but because of the feelings of nostalgia for and positive associations with my childhood that come with it.

I'm also in the Harry Potter generation; I was 8 years old when the first book came out. I remember my grandma recommending it to me at the time. It sounded like "kid stuff", so I didn't pay much attention to it and went back to reading Asimov.

I finally read this "kid stuff" years later, in my mid-twenties, and I liked it very much!

Douglas Adams "The Hitchhikers Guide to the Galaxy".

I think I've read it 4 times the last 7 years, which may not be that often, but it definitely has a special place in my heart.

The Complete Robot by Issac Azimov.

Well actually, I couldn't decide between "I-Robot" and "The rest of the robots", but luckily there's a compendium with them both in.

I don't think I've ever read a book twice. My to-read list is so long that re-reading something doesn't even tempt me.

I'm the same with movies and tv shows. Music, for some reason, is different though. I play the same albums and artists over-and-over.

Poetry's always nice for familiarity and rereadability. Perhaps Shakespeare's Sonnets.

Yes, and it's great to combat mood swings :D

I have a fairly extensive and varied poetical library that I regularly go back to for all kinds of reasons. TS Eliot is probably my favourite, you can read him every week for a year without fully understanding him, but every time you understand him just a little bit better and every time you glory anew in his superb control of imagery and language.

What was your entry into poetry?

Because Shakespeare was always presented as something you should read because it's good for you, not because you enjoy it when I was in high school, I don't think I'll ever be able to enjoy it.

I got into it relatively recently, way after high school. I think I got my start mostly with Victorians like Christina Rosetti, maybe some of the Romantics. Far away enough in time to be interestingly different, but close enough that the language is comprehensible. And prior to all that modernist experimentation which moved poetry away from poetry as I understand it. (I don't denigrate that stuff but it isn't a good entry point.)

Shakespeare's sonnets are a bit more accessible than his plays insofar as each one is a small, manageable, bite-sized chunk. Nonetheless, they do require fairly slow, relaxed attention in an edition with good notes to get the most out of them. (When I was reading them, I would read a couple very slowly over breakfast every day. I miss being able to do that!)

May I suggest Robert Frost? He's fanatical about rigorously adhering to meter, cunningly so.. when you go back and count the iambs it's striking how few deviate. The way he encodes his lyricism is subtle and soothing, like a precise, subaudible metronome.

If this appeals to you, then dip into Shakespeare's sonnets, and let yourself feel the rhythm as you read. It's so bloody good.

Shakespeare and Robert Burns were both blighted for me by being inflicted at high school.

Ironically I found that I really like A Midsummer Night's Dream by watching a movie version with my son who was performing in it at school.

I always enjoyed writing poetry myself, but I only discovered I liked reading it when I read some of the Romantics. Their themes and style resonated with me, so I read more of them and started to get a taste for it.

The more I learnt to appreciate poetry, the more I found that Romantics weren't the only good poets, so I expanded to the Realists, the Metaphysical poets, the fin-de-siecle, etc. And, yes, Shakespeare too ;-) (He takes practice to read and you can't read a lot of him in one sitting, but he really deserves his reputation as an amazing author and poet.)

I really enjoy Ted Kooser. A poet from Nebraska, who was the poet laureate twice. His recent Splitting an Order was wonderful.

Asimov's Foundation series. I find a story spanning centuries, different eras and characters to be deeply calming; there's a strange sense of purpose and meaningfullness when you consider events in a historic perspective.

Actually, the whole Dune series, and risking to be controversial - the extended universe with the abomination of books by Frank Herbert's son. Yes, they break the rules, yes, they are rushed and yes some explanations plain don't make sense, but ohmygod the additional tens of thousands of years added to the story just put on so much more grandure... But why I like it: I open random page, and I just enjoy falling back to the epic story and remembering small details, discovering new ones, pondering upon the small artificial quotes before the chapters. Those books have so much going on for them, and thanks to the time spans involved you can actually pretty much jump in at any moment.

Other one is Stainless Steel Rat series by Harry Harrison, those are very funny and don't attempt to take themselves too seriously, and have the same principle - you can jump into the story at any moment and just enjoy rapid pace of events splashed with humorous commentary. Plus the protagonist is a very much self made man in a world where it doesn't come easily, so there's that bit of hope for you.

Thirdly - Discworld. I guess it does not need comment, does it?

I bought Cormac McCarrthy's Border Trilogy on a whim (had seen and loved the film of No Country for Old Men before). I'm based in the UK, but it honestly takes you places you can never go. Read the whole three books four or five times nows.


Blood Meridian is also worth a read. Very comforting.

My top three would be:

Dune by Frank Herbert (only the first book, dislike the rest of the series)

Farmer in the Sky by Robert Heinlein

The Crysalids by John Wyndham

I've probably read these three books at least twice a decade since the 80s when I was a teenager.

The Complete Robot from Isaac Asimov would be a close forth.

The Tripod Trilogy by John Christopher would be fifth on the list. Hadn't read since a teenager, but about ten years ago tracked down copies of them (and the prequel) and it was delightful to reread.

Not a single book, but The Dresden Files series is really good. The first few books are a little on the weak side, but the author gets better and better and the world building is very deep. There's gotta be a zillion characters interacting to a point where it feels real. Good arc going on too. It's a wizard detective series set in modern times.

Fantasy Books by Brandon Sanderson.

A book? I can’t color between the lines on this one, maybe I can’t read between them either. Here’s 3:

Collapse by Jared Diamond

The History of the Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire by Gibbon

Brevísima relación de la destrucción de las Indias (English: A Short Account of the Destruction of the Indies ) by Bartolomé de las Casas

Anything by PG Wodehouse. Perfect antidote to too much seriousness.

Often in spring I read Dylan Thomas 's Under Milk Wood.

PG Wodehouse is great. I first saw the "Jeeves & Wooster" TV series (with Fry and Laurie) and already loved that. Then I read the books, and discovered a whole new layer of humour in Wodehouse's prose language :D I remember literally weeping with laughter at some of the scenes...

Meditations, Marcus Aurelius

Couldn't agree more. 99% of the time I feel blocked, frustrated, etc - I pick it up and read (almost at random) and it also helps reset mindset. This in particular is one of my favorite passages:

"Never let the future disturb you. You will meet it, if you have to, with the same weapons of reason which today arm you against the present."

Used to be the Swallows and Amazon series (when I was much younger).

Then it was the 2 memoirs by Patrick Leigh Fermor: "A Time of Gifts" and "Between the Woods and the Water".

Lately it's the Aubrey-Maturin by Patrick O'Brian series which I have re-read multiple times.

The First $20 Million Is Always the Hardest by PO Bronson.

About the beginning of something very similar to java.

Hope you enjoy it.

[Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance](https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Zen_and_the_Art_of_Motorcycle_...)

The Bible, Hobbit, LOTR series, Narnia, Catcher in the Rye, 1984, Papa Hemingway, these are all books that I’ve had to buy multiple times because they fall apart over the years. Never realized until just now how many comfort books I have...

I was wondering how comforting reading The Bible (as a cultural catholic) could be, so I dipped in to the first book which came to mind:


Satan Takes Job's Property and Children

13 Now there was a day when his sons and daughters were eating and drinking wine in their oldest brother's house, 14 and there came a messenger to Job and said, “The oxen were plowing and the donkeys feeding beside them, 15 and the Sabeans fell upon them and took them and struck down the servants[c] with the edge of the sword, and I alone have escaped to tell you.” 16 While he was yet speaking, there came another and said, “The fire of God fell from heaven and burned up the sheep and the servants and consumed them, and I alone have escaped to tell you.” 17 While he was yet speaking, there came another and said, “The Chaldeans formed three groups and made a raid on the camels and took them and struck down the servants with the edge of the sword, and I alone have escaped to tell you.” 18 While he was yet speaking, there came another and said, “Your sons and daughters were eating and drinking wine in their oldest brother's house, 19 and behold, a great wind came across the wilderness and struck the four corners of the house, and it fell upon the young people, and they are dead, and I alone have escaped to tell you.”

20 Then Job arose and tore his robe and shaved his head and fell on the ground and worshiped. 21 And he said, “Naked I came from my mother's womb, and naked shall I return. The Lord gave, and the Lord has taken away; blessed be the name of the Lord.”

22 In all this Job did not sin or charge God with wrong.


I'm not sure how that made me feel, but I bet this is more effective if you pick specific passages you like.

Yeah, you chose one of the absolute worst passages for that ;-)

I read the Bible every day, a habit that is very important to me. But I don't just "pick specific passages I like", I take a book and read it through sequentially, then move on to the next. I find much of it intensely practical and applicable to my life; it challenges, comforts and teaches me. Of course, some parts are of a more historical interest, yet others (like the one you quote) can be really tough to make sense of. But I believe that the Bible is one of the main ways in which God communicates with people, so I want to read and think about all of it.

I guess I was just unlucky. Maybe I'll try reading it the way you describe next time.

I suggest starting at the beginning, Genesis chapter 1, and really dig into just that 1 chapter for a while and try to figure out what it's really about. Remember that it was written to a different culture, a different time, in a different language, and not at all for the purposes that a lot of modern readers want.

I would actually recommend starting with the New Testament, especially the gospels. Genesis is fascinating, but you need a lot of background to really understand its implications and intentions. The gospels are much more approachable (and relevant).

I used to think so, too, but I’ve been listening to the Bible Project podcasts and realized that the entire Bible, including the NT, is very Jewish, not modern or Greek at all, and in some ways the NT is actually more confusing because it can appear familiar when it really isn’t.

But if someone could only read a small part of the Bible, no doubt I’d send them to the Gospels.

Teach Yourself Turbo C++ Visual Edition for Windows in 21 Days

"Les Miserables" by Victor Hugo. That book embodies so much: love, redemption, justice, perceived justice, human growth, rebellion, religion...it can be a hard slog of a read at times but Hugo really gives his characters space to develop and for you to care about. The Bishop, who is given a passing glance in both the musical and movies, is so much more in the book. Highly recommend to everyone.

[edit: "revolution" -> "rebellion"]

"Anne of Green Gables" and its sequels. I love the simple, every-day stories LM Montgomery writes and her philosophy of life that shines through. The first reminds me of the way I grew up and the second has often inspired me. I also love the way she sees beauty in everything, and how she conveys that in her prose.

These are the books I turn to when I am depressed or stressed or just fed up with life in general :-)

American Gods by Neil Gaiman.

Not the best book I've ever read. Not even my favorite book I've read. But it's the one I've read the most, and the one I always go back to. It reminds me of my childhood home, my time growing up there, as well as helps diminish my wanderlust when I'm feeling restless.

It also helped me through times of depression and encouraged a love of reading.

Currently Anatham. Couldn’t tell why exactly but there’s something about the society described in the novel that I find very comforting.

My hardback copy of Anathem self destructed through continual re-reading of favourite parts. However, I now also have it on Audible so I can listen to it on my jeejah... ;-)

I think about the Hylaean theorem world every few days. I’m afraid to reread it because it will consume so much time.

For me it is Zodiac, Snow Crash and Diamond Age.

Illusions, by Richard Bach.

Catch 22. - I can re-read that over and over laughing at the silliness of their situation.

Also If you enjoyed Catch I recommend Vernon God Little

The Count of Monte Cristo.

I was hoping someone would mention this book. I think the less you know about it before you read it the better.

It's free to read on Project Gutenberg


A Canticle for Leibowitz

I keep coming back this book and I think it's wonderful, but calling this a comfort book seems wrong somehow.

I think I would say Consider Phlebas. Flamboyant space opera.

What is the term for something you keep revisiting because you find it profoundly disturbing?

Threads and A Colder War both belong to this category for me.

Either Cloud Atlas by David Mitchell or The Amazing Adventures of Kavalier and Clay by Michael Chabon.

1. Burn down the night By Craig kee strete

A fictional drug trip with Jim Morrison

2. Budding Prospects By T.C. Boyle

A group of friends leave San Francisco in 1983 to start their own marijuana enterprise out in the country

3. Fear & Loathing in Las Vegas By Hunter S. Thompson

"when the going gets weird, the weird turn pro"

I go back to "Winter's Tale" by Mark Helprin once or twice a decade. It has an uncanny combination of page-turner pace and sheer stop-and-savor-it writing beauty that makes it a sheer joy every time.

I don't read fiction much anymore, but when I was a teenager, I reread both The Hitchhiker's Guide and Youth In Revolt a few times

The Princess Bride, by William Goldman.

I found the book after I saw the film, and it was a revelation that even the action sequences are better in the book.

the prophet by khalil gibran

Pinball 1973 by Murakami Haruki. It's written before he really consolidated his style, but has a clunky charm all of its own.

Pride & Prejudice. There is something extremely silly about the squabbles of nineteenth century British upper class people.

Emerson's Essays. SARK's first 4 or 5 books. The Sirens of Titan. Stevenson's essays.

"Nine princes in Amber", by Roger Zelazny. Read the whole series multiple teams and the Corwin Cycle some more...

Antifragile by Nassim Nicholas Taleb

> Taleb introduces the book as follows: "Some things benefit from shocks; they thrive and grow when exposed to volatility, randomness, disorder, and stressors and love adventure, risk, and uncertainty. Yet, in spite of the ubiquity of the phenomenon, there is no word for the exact opposite of fragile. Let us call it antifragile. Antifragility is beyond resilience or robustness. The resilient resists shocks and stays the same; the antifragile gets better". Hormesis is an example of mild antifragility, where the stressor is a poisonous substance and the antifragile becomes better overall from a small dose of the stressor. This is different from robustness or resilience in that the Antifragile system improves with, not withstands, stressors, where the stressors are neither too large or small. The larger point, according to Taleb, is that depriving systems of vital stressors is not necessarily a good thing and can be downright harmful.

Source: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Antifragile

It is an interesting observation.

The Diamond Age by Neil Stephenson.

Terry Pratchett- I've re-read Thief of Time the most but they all work.

For poetry, Mary Oliver.

There's a few:

The Mysterious Island by Jules Verne

False Memory by Dean Koontz

Neuromancer by William Gibson

the lion the witch and the wardrobe

was recommended by my mom at a young age (1st grade?), read it a bunch of times in grade school (went to same school K-8 so had access to the same library).

I should probably reread that whole series as an adult

The Holy Bible. Especially in times of stress, bereavement, worry, etc.

CS Lewis for me (his non fiction stuff) and Tolkien (LOTR).

The Good Soldier Švejk

VALIS by Philip K. Dick and Magic Mountain by Thomas Mann

Travels with Charlie, Blue Highways, The Little Prince.

Letters to a Young Contrarian by Christopher Hitchens

The Bhagavad Gita translated by Jack Hawley

bros. karamazov

Barking up the Wrong Tree by Eric Barker

In a Sunburned Country by Bill Bryson

Harry potter. First and the last part

Ficciones from Jorge Luis Borges

The Gospel of Selfless Action

Wiedźmin (The Witcher)

The Dresden Files.

As A Man Thinketh

Egil's Saga

The Zhuangzi

The Odyssey

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