Your Favourite Authors' Favourite Books

During lockdown, our favourite writers are stuck in exactly the same position as most of the rest of us. So what books keep them going during tough times? From Hilary Mantel to Matt Haig, these are our top authors' ultimate comfort reads.
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Hilary Mantel Says...

"There’s one novel I’ve recommended more than any other over the years, and most people love it. It’s Molly Keane’s Good Behaviour, set among the horsy Anglo-Irish, just after the Great War. Sex, class, money, and a perfect comic structure; it’s a gem, not a word out of place."

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Bernardine Evaristo Says...

"I am comforted by storytellers who are able to transport me away from my daily reality into the world of their imagination. I love the fiction of Jacob Ross, and his foray into crime fiction keeps his literary spirit alive. Black Rain Falling, his second book in a crime trilogy set on a fictional Caribbean island, is gloriously immersive and seductive. As we cannot travel at the moment, this book will take you travelling to a small island society where secrets, corruption and revenge lurk in its underbelly."

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David Mitchell Says...

"Trying to describe Mikhail Bulgakov’s supermoon of a masterpiece The Master and the Margarita in a single sentence is like trying to summarise a continent in fifty words while playing Radio 4’s Just A Minute; but this evergreen, probing, moving, deadpan novel about the Devil and his entourage in Stalin’s Moscow will not let you down."
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Dolly Alderton Says...

"I am re-reading Less by Andrew Sean Greer. It is a hilarious, heart-warming story about an imperfect, optimistic and utterly loveable protagonist Arthur Less, stumbling towards a milestone of middle-age on a geographical and personal odyssey while reflecting on his life so far. It is my idea of perfect comfort reading – heroically hopeful, laugh-out-loud funny and overflowing with love."

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Matt Haig Says...

"The Outsiders by S.E. Hinton is a book that has comforted me at various points in my life. I first read it when I was about 13. I wasn’t having a particularly great time at school, so the book became a kind of friend to me. It was the first book I read that wasn’t recommended by a parent or a teacher, and was also the first book where I really understood that books could be as rebellious and entertaining as cinema and music, and not these wholegrain things you have to consume to be healthy and good."

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Tayari Jones Says...

"During these weeks of being shut-in, I have revisited The Overstory by Richard Powers. It's a novel about the natural world –trees specifically – and our power as human beings to destroy it or redeem it. It reminds me that we are all connected and that there is still time to make things right."

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Dawn French Says...

"Whenever I need cheering up, I return to Puckoon by Spike Milligan. It was read aloud to me by an Irish boyfriend in my teens on a romantic holiday in a canal boat, by the light of a tilly lamp. It is raw hilarious. The silly funny plot and the fantastic characters are wonderfully ridiculous. Plus, the author himself addresses his main character, the massively lazy Dan Milligan, who can't be bothered to take part in the book. I didn't know it was possible to break the fourth wall like that. I didn't know what a fourth wall was. I still don't."

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Nick Hornby Says...

"Larry McMurtry's great western novel seems to me to have everything you need for right now: it’s long, absorbing, thrilling, it has fantastic characters you care deeply about, and most important of all, it recognises that life is fragile and risky, and that the world is a dangerous place. I wish I hadn’t read it so recently, but that might not stop me from reading it again."

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Ruth Jones Says...

"Not my usual cup of tea but I absolutely loved it – a thousand-page, twelfth-century epic tale of politics, revenge, love, sex and cathedrals. I couldn’t put it down. There’s something so strangely comforting about a centuries-old saga completely unrelated to anything current – in fact, history’s the way forward for me right now. I’d also recommend The Cazalet Chronicles for comfort, and my all-time Thomas Hardy favourite, The Mayor of Casterbridge."

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Robert Webb Says...

"A sentence written by Clive James is a comfort zone in itself because it’s so well constructed. I would be just as happy reading his TV reviews of shows I never watched. But this first volume of the memoirs gets bonus points not just because it’s so funny, but because James is at his most romantic when talking about his childhood in Australia."

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Max Porter Says...

"I’m comfort reading children’s books, with or without my children. With my littlest son I just read Esio Trot and was amazed by what a sinister and manipulative hero Mr Hoppy is. A maniac. I’m also reading Michael Morpurgo’s Outlaw. I’m reading them again and again. Using them as prompts to daydreams, really. Escapism, pure and simple. I want to be playing bows and arrows in the woods, aged 7."
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Elizabeth Strout Says...

"Anything by William Trevor, but especially his Collected Stories. They are so truthful and warm, one feels enveloped by them. Reading these stories is like being under a quilt with a cup of hot chocolate. They are often sad, but gloriously so."
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Deborah Levy Says...


"James Baldwin is not so much comforting as inspiring. Yet in this strange time of quarantine and lockdown, it is comforting to be inspired. Reading Baldwin always lifts my day. He is in sparkling form in this collection of four substantial and fascinating interviews on subjects such as literature, race, sexuality, politics and friendship. These conversations span the years 1961 to 1987, so we get a sense of how Baldwin’s thinking develops over nearly three decades. The last interview (by Quincy Troupe) takes place in St Paul de Vence, France, a few weeks before his death. Here, Baldwin muses on becoming a legend: “You have to be lucky. You have to have friends. I think at bottom you have to be serious.” The most spirited interview is with Studs Terkel in Chicago, in which Baldwin describes arriving in the mountains of Switzerland to write his first novel, armed only with his typewriter and two Bessie Smith records. He recalls looking out at the snow and white mountains and white faces, and how in isolation, he tried to “dig back” to the way he must have spoken when he was a child. It was in that icy terrain, “as far removed from Harlem as anything you can imagine”, that Baldwin wrote Go Tell It on the Mountain, published in 1953."
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Sophie Kinsella Says...

"The Mapp and Lucia series by E.F. Benson is the perfect escape from current times, into a hilarious world of rivalry and social sparring in a small town between the wars, where battles rage over such vital issues as a stolen recipe for lobster. Mapp and Lucia are the most perfectly matched rivals, the whole series is supremely witty, barbed and stylish and the best news is, there are six books to enjoy."
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Peter Swanson Says...

"Also known as Miss Marple’s Last Case, a young wife is renovating a seaside mansion when she becomes convinced that she’s not only been in the house before as a small child, but that she witnessed a murder. This was one of the Christie novels that I read at a young age and it has always stayed with me. A classic gothic thriller that morphs into a Miss Marple whodunit."
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Elizabeth Ames Says...

“And I became fixated, too, upon Katharine Hepburn’s famous Fred and Ginger theory: He gives her class, she gives him sex. Was this a general rule? Did all friendships – all relations – involve this discreet and mysterious exchange of qualities, this exchange of power?” That “discreet and mysterious exchange of qualities” is such a potent dance in friendship! The power dynamics in a childhood friendship can be as dynamic and explosive as that between whole nations. Smith understands this, and some of the scenes between our narrator and her best friend, Tracey, are as alive in my mind as though I’d lived them myself."
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By the Authors

The Mirror and the Light
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Girl, Woman, Other
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Ghosts
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Just Like You
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Never Greener
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Come Again
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Lanny
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Olive, Again
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The Man Who Saw Everything
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I Owe You One
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Rules for Perfect Murders
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The Other's Gold
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