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Matt Haig Recommends His Favourite Books of Comfort

Posted on 5th July 2021 by Mark Skinner

Equally adept at uplifting fiction and reassuring words of real-life wisdom, Matt Haig returns this month with The Comfort Book, a compendium of reassuring advice and hope that mixes memoir, philosophy and poetry. In this exclusive piece, Haig selects his top reads that provide solace and comfort.    

Letters to a Young Poet by Rainer Maria Rilke

This is the ultimate comfort read, in my opinion. The book is literally what the title suggests: letters from one older poet to a younger one. The great thing about Rilke’s advice is that it truly acknowledges the darkness and suffering of existence yet manages despite that - maybe even because of that - to be inspiring. And this isn’t just advice on poetry obviously but advice on life, love, sexuality and learning to be true to one's self. 

 

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Hugely influential and consistently profound, Rilke’s epistles to a young cadet officer cover advice on writing and structuring poetry but also touch on broader themes of love, religion and truth in a manner that still resonates to this day.
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When Things Fall Apart by Pema Chödrön

I read this book during the first lockdown and it was the perfect read for uncertain times. Although she is a Buddhist, the advice and philosophy expressed in these relatively few pages speaks universally. It’s a great book about embracing life in its totality and seeing hope and suffering as part of the same whole. A beautiful read. 

 

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The former Tibetan Buddhist nun gifts the benefit of her accumulated wisdom in this comforting and compassionate guide to attaining happiness by recalibrating what we are looking for and how we go about achieving it.
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The House at Pooh Corner by A. A. Milne

I feel the Winnie-the-Pooh stories really speak to people going through tough times. In many ways each of the characters reflect a different mental state. For instance, Eeyore is depressed, Tigger is hyperactive, Piglet is anxious and Pooh reflects a hope and optimism much needed in recovery. This book I reread when I was ill with panic disorder and it helped soothe me. 

 

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The second volume of heartwarming tales from Hundred Acre Wood sees Pooh, Piglet, Tigger and co. embark on more gently funny and surprisingly profound adventures courtesy of the unique genius of A.A. Milne.
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Bird by Bird by Anne Lamott

This in my opinion is the greatest book about writing that was ever written - alongside Stephen King’s On Writing - but as with Rilke, Lamott is offering far more than writing advice. She is offering wisdom on life and how to embrace its imperfect nature. 

 

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Bursting with hard-won, practical advice and invaluable tips and tricks, Lamott’s volume is the definitive guide for all aspiring writers which also doubles as a sage self-help manual for life itself.
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Meditations by Marcus Aurelius

Maybe the world's ultimate self-help book, Marcus Aurelius was the most powerful man in the world when he wrote these two millennia ago with a literal empire at his disposal, yet the philosophy presented here is a humble one that shuns material rewards in favour of a quiet stoicism that helps build resilience and the wonder of a night sky. 

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Intended solely for personal consolation, the Roman Emperor’s philosophical maxims have become a beloved source of comfort and wisdom to millions due to their enduring insight and universality.
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