Comfort Books

Gaiman, Neil. “Nourishing The Spirit”, Washington Post, December 2, 2001, Page T03

Comfort books, like comfort music, tend to offer a place to go — a doorway to another time, where things are simpler or darker, or more reassuring. I find, sometimes, I indulge in comfort writing: When the world becomes difficult, it can be a fine thing to go into a world where your whim is law, and things happen more or less as you thought they would.

My comfort book (fiction) is Roger Zelazny’s 1960s sf novel Lord of Light, a retelling of the Hindu myths and the birth of Buddhism transposed to a distant planet in the far future. It gets harder as I get older not to see the nuts and bolts behind a book, but this is as good as it was when I was a teenager (most books aren’t) and it walks a line between true myth and genre, as valid as either of them. The story, and the people, remain as comfortingly all-enveloping as I could wish.

My comfort book (nonfiction) is Henry Mayhew’s London Labour and the London Poor, a series of interviews with the down-and-out or the down-on-their-luck that starts to feel, after a while, like a plotless but perfect Dickens novel that goes on forever in all directions; the time we spend with the Punch-and-Judy Man, or the Begging-Letter writers, or the costermongers, is good time.

(Neil Gaiman is the author of the Sandman graphic novels and of the recent fantasy novel “American Gods.”)