Hold on, Ill People: the Books are Coming!

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this lady forgot her bedjacket…

Last week I did a post on choosing books to send to a convalescent to cheer up their recuperation – my first choice was Saffy’s Angel by Hilary McKay

I asked for others’ ideas, and – as fully expected – my readers came up trumps. I think a list of useful comfort reading (of many different kinds) might be a good idea for many of us, so I have collected all those suggestions together. 

I hope to have found as many as possible from the various online and blog-based places they turned up – please forgive me if I have missed yours out. Give me a shout in the comments and I will add them. And new ideas also welcome.  Many of the books have featured on the blog – click on the links to find the posts.

Hilary McKay, author of my recommended book, gets pride of place: she says

Rumer Godden’s Episode of Sparrows

*‘anything by Rumer Godden’ was added by another reader

& Happy Ever After by Adele Geras.

And when others came up with Elizabeth Goudge books we thought of The Dean’s Watch which Hilary first recommended to me,

A City of Bells and The Scent of Water (both by EG) were also mentioned.

Several people came up with the excellent idea of an entertaining fellow-feeling read: books where an policeman is laid up with an illness or injury, and spends his time solving a long-ago crime. These are:

The Daughter of Time by Josephine Tey – Inspector Grant looks at the case of Richard III and the Princes in the Tower

The Wench is Dead by Colin Dexter – Chief inspector Morse is recovering from an operation, and starts worrying about a miscarriage of justice in a Victorian murder case.

And then there’s Christianna Brand’s Green for Danger – the most terrifying book ever set in a hospital, so apply with caution, but a complete page-turner. And one reader recommended The Nursemaid Who Disappeared by Philip MacDonald – saying ‘ok, I know it's not the nurse who disappeared but it's fun nevertheless!’

I would also like to mention by good friend Margot Kinberg: I told her she should write a post on the topic for her much-loved blog, Confessions of a Mystery Novelist, and she took up the challenge. She has some great ideas for series for convalescents – make sure you read her ideas here, and of course her loyal band of readers came up with yet more ideas.

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I am dividing the rest of the suggestions into categories, thought many of the books would fit in more than one place…

classic comfort reads

Several people suggested most of them.

I Capture the Castle by Dodie Smithone of my top books of all time, and a long-time blog favourite. (Of course I didn’t do a whole fake blogpost for April 1st on James Mortmain’s book-within-a-book. No, I did TWO fake blogposts, to cover BOTH his books.)

Miss Pettigrew Lives for Day by Winifred Watson Another blog favourite. It’s hard to believe it hasn’t been in our lives forever – it was first published in 1938, but was lost for years till the wonderful people at Persephone rediscovered it about ten years ago.

Nancy Mitford’s Pursuit of Love and Love in a Cold Climatethe Mitford sisters must have provided me with a dozen blogposts, and Nancy is at the forefront.

Anything by Eva Ibbotson – apparently she said herself that her books would be ideal for post-flu reading. And do not miss the article she wrote for the Guardian some years ago, a very personal story to be told in defence of libraries. It will take you five minutes to read and will live with you for a long time. And if you don’t have a tear in your eye at the end of it you have a heart of stone. (And it will show you the seeds of one of the plotlines in her book The Morning Gift.)

The Dud Avocado by Elaine Dundy

The Diary of a Provincial Lady by EM Delafield – a class act and eternal joy.

Ballet Shoes by Noel Streatfeild recommended by several people.

Gaudy Night by Dorothy L Sayers

New Classic Comfort read: Eleanor Oliphant is Completely Fine by Gail Honeyman

Rebecca by Daphne du Maurier

Anything by Georgette Heyer

Anything by Mary Stewart a perfect suggestion from my friend Deborah, because I actually discovered Mary S when I was a teenager laid up with a broken foot, and a kind friend of my mother's brought over a huge bag of books - what a great thing to do...

Anything by Barbara Pym -was missed off the original list, but obviously should be there. Thank you Paula Sutcliffe. 

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crime books

These from my gang of fellow-crime-fiction fans, though they also came up with some of the non-crime books…

Anything by Rex Stout

Wilkie Collins' Woman in White and The Moonstone

A collection of Poirot short stories; ditto the Lord Peter Wimsey short stories,

Krista Davis writes a cozy series, the Paws & Claws Mysteries, that hits all the cozy marks like a warm blanket.’

The Wheel Spins' (aka 'The Lady Vanishes') by Ethel Lina White – ‘real edge of the bed stuff!’

‘Donna Andrews's books are creatively written and incredibly funny.’

Corpse in a Gilded Cage by Robert Barnard.

John Dickson Carr books - She Died a Lady, The Judas Window, and Skeleton in the Clock were all mentioned

Love Lies Bleeding by Edmund Crispin.

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A sweeping saga to get lost in

– as David Putnam said, ‘A big fat thick one they can not put down. A book they would not normally read because of time investment.’

Gone With The Wind by Margaret Mitchell

The Prince of Tides Pat Conroy

Lonesome Dove Larry McMurtry

A River God by Wilbur Smith

Any of the RF Delderfield books, such as A Horesman Riding By, To Serve Them All My Days, God Was an Englishman. (What a title… ) Don’t think they would be confined to Delderfield’s compatriots – these were recommended by my Canadian friend Bill Selnes.

London Belongs to Me by Norman Collins (his Bond St Story would do too)

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enjoyable non-fiction

Live Alone and Like it by Marjorie Hillis – full of joy and interest, and she has another book, Orchids on your Budget – thanks Birgitta.

Colours and Jewels, both by Victoria Finlay

This is Going to Hurt by Adam Kay (but only when the invalid is a bit better, apparently)

I was told there'd be cake (Sloane Crosley)

Rebecca Front’s Curious

funny books

So long as the patient is  not banned from laughing… there are some very funny books (though of course many of those in other sections are very funny too):

Anything by PG Wodehouse. Of course.

The Jennings and Darbishire books by Anthony Buckeridge: the funniest and best-plotted children’s books. Privileged 7 year olds at a boarding school in England in the 1950s -surely they cannot appeal to modern day children? Oh but they can – just try them. The firmest of favourites in our house.

Bill Bryson’s Notes From a Small Island (could equally file under non-fiction)

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Final Random Selection

most of which could go under other headings above…

A Gentleman in Moscow by Amor Towles

The Hunger Games Trilogy by Suzanne Collins

And those authors we will read anything by:
Anne Tyler
Laurie Graham
Lissa Evans

Lissa  also gets to give her own choices:

'A Month in The Country' by J L Carr* is both short and completely curative in most cases. 'The Devastating Boys' - short stories by Elizabeth Taylor is available for moments of recurring weakness, and some light and lovely travel by way of 'River Town' by Peter Hessler...

* And others by Carr were recommended by others

Also – Laurie Lee’s Cider with Rosie

Stella Gibbons’s Cold Comfort Farm

‘some early Jilly Cooper’ and Cooper’s The Common Years
were both mentioned.

Green Equinox by Elizabeth Mavor (new to me)

Betty MacDonald books – The Egg and I and The Plague and I

‘Would the cosy science fiction of John Wyndham be of interest? What about the Cazalet series by Elizabeth Jane Howard - not too demanding I would hope.’ from Sergio.

A Man Called Ove by Fredrik Backman

How Green was my Valley by Richard Llewellyn

My family and other animals by Gerald Durrell


As one reader said, the thought of reading all these wonderful books makes a person want to book in for a minor, painless operation to get the chance to read. Bedjackets not really optional (as regular readers of the blog will know) – so there is a selection throughout…


  1. Thank you so much for the mention and the kind words, Moira. I'm so glad you put out that challenge; it really made me think. And this list you have here is outstanding. So many different choices and authors, including some I don't know. I love it! There really is a difference between books you read on a regular basis, and books that are best when you're convalescing, isn't there?

    1. Thanks Margot - and thanks for rising to the challenge. You and your readers came up with excellent suggestions.

  2. All suggestions great!
    But when you've been really ill and you're convalescing, I've found the most relaxing is - Headphones and a Kindle audio book.

    Lie in bed (with or without bed jacket) relax and just listen.
    Stephen Fry's voice is utterly soporific.........
    I recommend 'Mythos'.

    1. Here speaks one who knows! Very good point. I had to look up Mythos: it does sound good.

  3. A delectable list and I shall make use of it immediately - not for illness or convalesence, but for a translatlantic flight (almost the same thing). Your posts on "Bond Street Story" recently made me dig that out of the bookcase and re-read it, and I realised that I liked it quite a lot better than I thought I had when reading it the first time. In fact, I found that my memory was quite wrong about several things. I thought I remembered the author as being a bit condescending about women as well as working class characters but didn't think that was the case at all this time. Apart from the "phonetic" spelling of some of the working-class characters' speech, which is typical of the time but a bit cringe-inducing these days (at least for me) I thought that he was actually quite understanding and respectful about them. Mr Bloot in particular stood out to me as a deeply moving character this time - not a brainy man, but a very honourable one. (In fact, I think he should be considered the forerunner of "Forrest Gump" in some ways.) And both Irene Privett and her mother Mrs Privett grew on me and felt highly believable. So - for my upcoming 15-hour flight I shall invest in a copy of "London Belongs to Me" - and perhaps finally get around to Nancy Mitford, who has been on my list for ages!

    1. thanks! Yes I agree on Bond St Story - there was always a danger that he was going to tip over into condescension, but I think he avoided it: he looked at everyone with a cool but good-hearted eye. I was always a great one for reading on planes, but now I have gone over to watching many many films, or a box-set of a drama serial. I surprise myself.
      Anyway, good luck!

  4. "McAuslan in the Rough," by George MacDonald Fraser, but only if you don't have to worry about things like stitches.

    1. Will look that one up - I only know his Flashman books, and his wonderful Hollywood History of the World, which I suddenly want to read again now.

    2. I would be interested in a civilian's take on it. I laughed so hard in places I almost lost my breath; the British Army is of course a world of it's own, but there are some experiences that are universal. If you've ever been a platoon commander, you've had a McAuslan.

    3. Someone told me once that military humour was an absolute mainstay for 10-15 years after the end of WW2, when everyone had either done military service, or national service, or had a partner who had. Then, in the UK it slid away more or less, because so few people had direct experience. But I think things might be different in the US. Anyway, you can see why there are huge opportunities for humour: groups of disparate people thrown together in testing situations... Still very popular in the UK is Dad's Army, about the Home Guard, local defence volunteers, made in the 1960s and 70s and still being watched.

  5. Loved the title of the post and the books recommended but those pictures are of the least ill ladies I have seen in some time. Were the careful smiles and sultry looks actually concealing illness they are ill-dressed for convalescence. Good solid flannel pyjamas would keep them warm and comfortable as they read the fabulous books prescribed for them.

    1. I would expect nothing less from you Bill! They should be wearing red flannel right up to their necks, with perhaps some goose grease underneath. You can't expect to get better exposing quite so much skin...

    2. But if you are not desperately ill any longer, just convalescing, then wearing something pretty will be vital for your recovery!

    3. Fair point, Birgitta, and very much one Marjories Hillis would have made, I feel!

  6. I agree with Birgitta. A list I will refer to, but not wait until I am recovering or ill. And any list with "anything by Rex Stout" gets my approval.

    1. I know! I think that is a tempting list for anyone: all credit to the readers.

    2. And I forgot to tell you that I purchased a copy of Saffy's Angel and am reading it right now.

    3. Hope you are enjoying, and look forward to hearing...

  7. My personal sick day collection tends heavily towards juvenalia. It includes the All of a Kind Family series, the Betsy-Tacy books (which have DELICIOUS clothing), Laura Ingalls Wilder, and the Oz books. Also L.M. Montgomery. When I was in the hospital for a week last summer, those books kept me from coming unglued.

    1. Some great suggestions: I remember reading the All of a Kind books with my own children, along with Anne of GG, and the Little House books. But Betsy-Tacy is new to me, so must look her up!

  8. I still like to re-read Angela Thirkell in fact I have Love Among the Ruins on my bedside table now.


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