#TOpicks: Comfort Reads

April 11, 2019 | Wendy

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Jim Dillard
Toronto Argo Jim Dillard catches up on his reading, 1968. Toronto Star Photograph Archive.

Unwinding, relieving stress and decompressing are essential to a happy and healthy life. We all have favourite books, movies and music which are like a comfortable blanket, familiar friend or pair of pajamas when we need it the most. What do you choose to read, watch or listen to when you need to relax, or when you're feeling a bit low?

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Share the books, movies and music you go to for comfort during our Twitter live chat on Wednesday, April 17 from 12:00 – 1:00 pm! Can't take part? That's okay. You can join the conversation any time on Twitter using #TOpicks.

Here is what our #TOpicks team choose when they are looking to relax and unwind: 


Follow Brendon on Twitter @TPLBRNDN.


When I'm feeling blue 

My childhood Saturday mornings were when I greedily consumed the colour comics section of the newspaper. In particular, I would devour Bill Watterson’s Calvin and Hobbes. The blend of childhood imagination, deep philosophy and the comedy of Calvin’s continual comeuppance makes for hilarious and timeless reading enjoyment. 

Calvin and Hobbes

Calvin and Hobbes by Bill Watterson.

When I need to re-center myself

When I need to remind myself what is truly important in life, I read Carl Sagan’s “Cosmos”. It's another book from my childhood that I used to pore over. Sagan’s wise, poetic and calm prose is reassuring as he connects human knowledge, cosmology, science and philosophy in a non-judgmental manner – something we can use more of to quell some of the everyday chaos of our world. 


Cosmos by Carl Sagan.

When I'm sick 

The movies I watch when I'm sick, or need a boost in my mood, are varied. I love Wong Kar-Wai’s Chungking Express the irrepressible buoyancy and hopefulness of that film, in both in its form and content, makes me swoon. It's a true love letter to cinema. I can see why Wong Kar-Wai made the film in 23 days to relieve the pressure he was facing when he was in post-production of “Ashes of Time”. 

Chungking Express

Chungking Express directed by Wong Kar-Wai.

When I want to meditate 

Like Cosmos, Ron Fricke’s film Baraka serves as a centring, meditative experience. The film is shot in 24 countries and documents numerous cultures and global events. This would be the film to send to an alien civilization to tell them who we are. The cinematography is in heart-stoppingly beautiful 70 mm film. 


Baraka directed by Ron Fricke.

When I need to laugh 

If I need to laugh, I watch Back to the Future. I consider it a note-perfect Hollywood movie. Most people already know this movie, so I will instead tell you a story about it (SPOILERS AHEAD!). I remember I showed this movie as part of a family movie screening. The kids watched in rapt attention, in awe of the DeLorean coming out of the truck in a haze of fog to Alan Silvestri's mysterious musical cue. At the end of the film, a bunch of kids near the front jumped up and cheered simultaneously when the lightning bolt hit the DeLorean and sent Marty back to the future. That was my favourite Back to the Future experience, and shows the timeless perfection of this feel-good family movie.

Back to the Future

Back to the Future directed by Steven Spielberg.

When I need to get my day started right 

When I need to refresh myself sonically or get a rough day started, I listen to Way Out West’s progressive house music masterpiece Intensify. I have been listening to electronic and dance music for decades, but I have never heard an album which is so completely cohesive and, for lack of a better term, “progressive” as this one. Sometimes, older electronic music sounds dated- the sounds and melodies in this are fresher than some of today’s music, and it was made in 2001! Intensify is a future-proof electronic music box that lifts my spirits and gets my day going. 


Intensify by Way Out West.



Follow Wendy on Twitter @TPLWendy.


Human brains work in mysterious ways, and whenever my own neural peculiarities thrust a stick into the spokes of my life, I find it comforting to turn to Oliver Sacks. A neuroscientist with some challenging wiring of his own, Sacks looked at the endless pageant of human neurodiversity with a calm, patient curiosity that never flagged, even at the end of his own life.  

The River of Consciousness

The River of Consciousness by Oliver Sacks.

There’s a pleasantly spooky/peaceful mood that I associate with a specific memory of lying on a lonely hillside as a kid, watching the neighbour’s lilacs toss in a high June wind as fat white clouds skimmed overhead. And the only reason I can recall that feeling so clearly now is that Hayao Miyazaki has brought it back to me, viscerally, in every one of his movies that I’ve seen; but especially in Spirited Away.  

Spirited Away

Spirited Away directed by Hayao Miyazaki.

There are times in life when people behave badly, and it can be comforting to have that acknowledged. I can think of a few authors who do pettiness and villainy well, and while I don’t think most people would classify them as “comfort reading”, I do sometimes find myself going back to them in dark times. Three books that are the opposite of being gaslit: 

London Fields

London Fields by Martin Amis.

You think it Ill say it

You Think It, I’ll Say It by Curtis Sittenfeld.

Get in Trouble

Get In Trouble by Kelly Link.

Then again, sometimes you want to feel as though there are good people in the world, and that good things might happen to at least some of them. Sometimes you want reassurance, or insight, or moral instruction from somebody who’s a lot wiser than you could ever hope to be – someone who gets it, but doesn’t let it stop her. Don’t be intimidated by her reputation, or the book’s bulk: sometimes you need George Eliot. 


Middlemarch by George Eliot.



Follow Christie on Twitter @TPLChristie.


Whether it comes to unwinding, relieving stress or just pulling myself out of a "low funk", I find I need to be on my own, in my own space. I find an immense comfort in the quiet and stillness around me. I’m quite a social person on most days, and I genuinely love to be around others and make them smile and laugh, with the only exceptions being when I’m stressed, frustrated or angry or mentally exhausted. I find I have better control of my head space when I’m in these situations if I am not surrounded by others.  

Once I’m in my own space, I have several ways of unwrapping my brain from all the day-to-day tasks I’ve completed and/or have on schedule for the upcoming days, to just…be. Of course, how I choose to do it depends on what has caused me to need this downtime in the first place. 

Reading to unwind 

I normally tend to read books I haven’t read before, but when I want to unwind, I reach for old favourites. This can be anything from non-fiction reads to classics, but my usual go-tos are:

The Subtle Art of Not Giving a F*ck

The Subtle Art of Not Giving A F*ck by Mark Manson.

The Hobbit

The Hobbit by JRR Tolkien.

Something Blue

Something Blue by Emily Giffin


Cooking with Billie Holiday and Roberta Flack to de-stress 

A master chef in the making, I am not. In fact, I’m sure my lack of speed and finesse would cause Gordon Ramsay to pull his hair out while shouting any number of expletives towards my skillet. However, when I need to de-stress, I love to cook. Not anything overly complex, just simple, tasty dishes. It helps to focus my mind on something tactile, and to turn off overthinking. While I’m cooking I tend to listen to Billie Holiday or Roberta Flack. I just find their voices soothing and relaxing. 

Lady Sings the Blues
 Lady Sings the Blues by Billie Holiday.

The Best of Roberta Flack

The Best of Roberta Flack by Roberta Flack.


I prefer dramas and documentaries to reality shows when I’m feeling overwhelmed with real life… 

I do admit that I used to watch loosely-scripted reality shows like The Hills and Jersey Shore years backThey were a fun escape and a bit of a guilty pleasure. I also tuned into the Jersey Shore: Family Vacation series, but mostly for nostalgic purposes, and because – as I said to many of my friends – “it’s the only drama I want in my life right now.” ;)    

However, I have always preferred dramas and documentaries over the scripted reality shows. So when I need to decompress, I would rather watch a series like The Affair or The Sinner, or a documentary series like The Staircaseor the only soap opera I watch, Coronation Street. 

The Affair

The Affair.

The Sinner

The Sinner.

The Staircase

The Staircase.


…But when I really need a laugh , I’ll retreat to Scranton, PA … 

I will binge watch The Office every time I need a good giggle. No matter how many times I watch the series, I find myself laughing, without fail! It is such a funny, clever show and I cannot believe how long it took me to start watching it. 

The Office

The Office.


Yoga and meditation are my ways to decompress, and my drive home starts it off 

Depending on the day, I have a 25-45 minute drive home from work. Some may find it stressful driving in traffic, but I actually find the drive home rather relaxing. I listen to the radio or a playlist and it becomes the start of my time to switch off.  

Every evening I do some yoga and meditate. I admit I’m not the best at yoga, but I’m getting into it and I love it! Combined with meditation to some music that gets me ‘in my feelings’, like Lana Del Rey, I find myself much more relaxed, ultimately sleeping better, and waking up more refreshed for the day ahead. 


Ultraviolence by Lana Del Rey.



Follow Maggie on Twitter @TPLMaggie.


By some really annoying twist of fate as I am writing this thing while having an emergency AND preparing to move house in a couple of weeks. If anyone’s in need of comfort reading right now, it’s me. 

For me the act of reading *is* the comfort. Reading anything allows space between yourself and the stressors in your life. Even as a child if I went away “to read” I knew people (aka the stressors in my life) would leave me alone for a little while. 

I find it helpful to read short pieces that you can pick up and put down during stressful times. You get a break from your life without being away from it for an extended period.  

For me the choice is Roger Ebert’s collections of reviews of bad films. He was an intelligent, funny writer and his righteous indignation about mediocre movies is delightful. You may not always agree with his assessments but it’s always a pleasure to read them. 

Your Movie Sucks

Your Movie Sucks by Roger Ebert.

A Horrible Experience of Unbearable Length

A Horrible Experience of Unbearable Length: More Movies that Suck by Roger Ebert.

Toronto Public Library also has collections of Ebert’s positive reviews and while I haven’t read them they’re probably great, too. 


Other Escapes from Reality: 

Doctor Who on DVD 

I was a kid during the classic Who era but I didn't like science fiction. It was not lost on me that the really smart people seemed to watch it. I was aware that the show was rebooted in 2005 but it wasn’t really on my radar until I was flipping channels after midnight one night and saw Agatha Christie battling a giant wasp with the help of a man they called “Doctor”. I immediately put holds on all the library DVDs by now I’ve watched all the episodes dozens of times. 

Doctor Who

Doctor Who on DVD.


The Gardiner Expressway

I know we’re supposed to hate the Gardiner Expressway, but on a quiet night driving eastbound on the Gardiner is like flying. 

The right music can add to the feeling of otherworldliness: 

Summer: Open all the windows and sunroof and listen to Björk. Post or Homogenic are great choices. 


Post by Björk.

Homogenic by Björk.

Fall: Summer is over. You’re mad about everything. It’s still warm enough to open the windows and scream into the void. Time for some PJ Harvey. Stories from the City, Stories from the Sea is one of my favourite albums and driving along the Gardiner with the city on one side and the lake on the other, it’s also totally appropriate. 

Winter: Kid A by Radiohead. It works beautifully in the frigid winter wasteland. Everything around you is dying but you’re safe and warm in your car. 

Kid A

Kid A by Radiohead.

Spring: Time for cautious optimism. The world is waking up from the traumatic winter but you can’t just climb into the closest tree and start chirping—you've got to ease into it. (There are no trees on the Gardiner, don’t even look for one.) The Louis Armstrong/Oscar Peterson recording of Let’s Fall in Love is a perfect song for the season. It’s a long song. It might take you all the way to the DVD if the traffic is good. 

Louis Armstrong meets Oscar Peterson

Louis Armstrong meets Oscar Peterson.


We'd love to hear from you!

What's your go-to comfort read (or watch, or listen?) Let us know by joining in our live chat on Twitter – Wednesday, April 17 from 12:00 – 1:00 pm (follow the hashtag #TOpicks) – or tell us in the comments!