Because few things are more soothing than dipping back into a well-loved novel.
When you were little, did you have a favourite book that you demanded your parents read to you again and again? Chances are, you did (my mum hasn’t read to me or my brothers for over two decades, but still winces at the memory of Farmer Duck, a picture book we insisted on hearing every night for months on end in the mid-Nineties). Young children love hearing the same stories on repeat because it gives them a reassuring sense of familiarity – as well as helping them get to grips with important things like vocabulary and narrative.
You might assume that the compulsion to reread books is something we grow out of in adulthood. But speak to anyone with a love of literature, and they’ll tell you there are certain novels they return to time and time again. Many prominent writers have spoken about the joys of rereading, from Patti Smith (who frequently dives back into César Aira’s novella An Episode in the Life of a Landscape Painter) to Jilly Cooper, who regularly rereads Anthony Powell’s A Dance to the Music of Time and Jane and Prudence by Barbara Pym.
“Rereading is crucial,” Cooper said in 2012. “If a plot of a book grabs me I gallop to the end, and only on later readings appreciate the depth of the characters, the wit, or the beauty of the language.”
Those are noble and highbrow reasons for rereading fiction. But for many of us, the urge to reread is driven by nothing more than a desire for comfort and nostalgia. Just like when we were kids, returning to a book that we already know back-to-front makes us feel soothed, safe and secure.
For one day only on Thursday 15 November, the content on stylist.co.uk is entirely focused on the ideals of kindness and self-care, inspired by our guest editor Katie Piper and Stylist’s Kindfulness Project. And when it comes to self-care, few things are more comforting than rereading a beloved novel. Particularly when we’re feeling stressed and burnt-out, we don’t necessarily want to attempt to start on this year’s Booker shortlist: we want something nourishing, familiar and totally safe, the literary equivalent of a big bowl of pasta.
Below, four members of the Stylist team share the books they turn to again and again whenever they’re feeling stressed. Happy rereading.
1) Beauty writer Hanna Ibraheem chooses Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone by JK Rowling (Bloomsbury, £7.99)
“While it’s not my favourite story in the series, there’s something extremely comforting to me about Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone. My aunt gifted me the book on my 11th birthday, and I was immediately sucked into Rowling’s magical world of witchcraft and wizardry.
From Mr. Ollivander’s dusty wand shop and the enchanted journey to Hogwarts to the extravagant welcome feast in the Great Hall and the development of a strong friendship between Harry, Ron and Hermione, Rowling’s words created a special atmosphere of warmth and comfort every time I turned the page. I still pick up my battered copy whenever I need a moment of calm.”
2) Editorial assistant Moya Lothian-McLean chooses Everything I Know About Love by Dolly Alderton (Fig Tree, £12.99)
“Is this the pumpkin spice latte of books? Perhaps. But it’s also a book I reread at regular intervals to reground myself – despite only being a year old, my copy is now extremely dog-eared and very well-travelled (I loan it out at every opportunity).
The lessons Dolly Alderton recounts with such sharp wit are so relatable, so familiar it feels like someone’s simply been scribbling down the exploits of me and my friends. If I’m ever feeling lost, Everything I Know About Love acts as a touchstone. And that refrain at the end becomes a mantra – one I think women the world over are so acquainted with and yet still need to hear daily. Yes. You are enough.”
3) Digital commissioning editor Sarah Biddlecombe chooses Every Last One by Anna Quindlen (Windmill Books, £9.99)
“There’s something supremely comforting about rereading a favourite book, and when I’m feeling stressed I always turn to my weathered copy of Every Last One by Anna Quindlen. I picked it up in a second hand bookstore in New York when I was 15, so reading it has the added bonus of reminding me of that holiday; plus, I like imagining all the owners that might have had it before me.
In terms of the storyline, it’s incredibly emotional. And, without giving too much away, it takes a completely different turn halfway through; it’s quite shocking the first time you read it. But for me, having devoured the book at least 15 times, there’s an innate reassurance in knowing exactly how the story will turn out – especially in moments when I’m not exactly sure what’s around the corner in my own life.”
4) Digital women’s editor Moya Crockett chooses One Day by David Nicholls (Hodder, £8.99)
“My copy of One Day has been through the wars. I bought it in a charity shop when I was at uni, and since then I’ve dropped it in the bath more than once, so that its graphic orange cover is faded and the pages are all wrinkled and rippling. It has stayed with me through five house moves, including when I first moved to London and spent six months sleeping on friends’ sofas.
Despite all this, I would hesitate to say that One Day is my favourite novel. But I keep it close to me because it’s the only book I return to when I’m feeling wobbly and anxious; when sleep deprivation, hormones and work deadlines combine to leave my nerves jangling and my heart rattling in my chest. There’s something immensely soothing about the narrative structure, which picks up with friends-slash-lovers Dexter and Emma on the same day every year for two decades, and the novel’s tone is a masterclass in unpretentious, funny warmth (challenging, avant-garde literature, this is not).
In many ways, I rely on One Day as an emotional crutch in the same way that I watch Friends when my brain isn’t up to attempting a new series. I’ve read it so many times that delving back in feels like reuniting with old mates, and there’s something immensely reassuring about knowing exactly how the story is going to play out. I’m pretty sure I’ll keep returning to it forever.”
For one day only on Thursday 15 November, Katie Piper has taken over stylist.co.uk as part of The Kindfulness Project, packing the site with articles on what she’s learned about empathy and the importance of self-care.
For similarly inspiring and uplifting content, check out Katie Piper’s Extraordinary People, available on Apple Podcasts now.
Images: Getty Images