It’s difficult to do anything when one is sick or feeling down. While others might nap away a minor fever or watch Netflix, my go-to solution for when I can’t focus on any work during a sickness nor sleep any more (because I napped too hard during the day) is to read books. I also turn to reading for comfort whenever I’m just not feeling my best. Sometimes, the books find me and I realize they were exactly what I needed on an otherwise gloomy day.
The following is a list of works—from fairy tales and post-apocalyptic comics to science fiction and children’s books—that distracted me during a recent bout of fever, along with stories I’ve turned to when I wanted to take a break from my life and lose myself in a feel-good world where I don’t have to overthink everything, where I can just sit back and let the words take over…
Stand Still, Stay Silent by Minna Sundberg
It’s 90 years in the future, almost a century since a “rash illness” broke out. Barring the Scandinavian countries, the world has been rendered uninhabitable because of the beasts, giants, and trolls that this illness produced. Into this “silent world” venture our protagonists: a crew of bored and desperate people looking for a change, adventure, or well, money, by hunting for books left behind by the countries the illness wiped out.
The crew’s journey and funny character dynamics aside, what I love most about Stand Still, Stay Silent are Sundberg’s sweeping landscape illustrations, which combine the beautiful and the eerie, revealing a hushed world full of abruptly abandoned cities and nature, with strange creatures lurking under the blanket of snow, the waters of a lake, or in the corridors of a supermarket. This contrast makes it a cozy and comforting tale that is perfect for slowing down and for binge-reading, which was somehow the very thing I needed when I was down with a fever a few months ago.
The webcomic began in 2013 and updates consistently every Monday, Tuesday, Thursday, and Friday. The first adventure finished in 2018 and we’re 460 pages into the second one, so there’s a lot of content to enjoy.
The Tale of Despereaux by Kate DiCamillo
Kate DiCamillo’s homely fairy tale starts with the birth of a very tiny mouse with very big ears. But it also starts before that, when a rat living in the dark dungeons of a castle discovers light, and before that, when a girl is told again and again that no one cares what she wants, and even before that, when a princess loses her mother at a banquet. The Tale of Despereaux is the story of how all these people and light and darkness and revenge and love (and soup!) come together.
I read the book—which I’d initially ignored at a thrift shop—when I was much older than the intended audience. But despite that, it was the first book that made me feel quite so many things; I loved it so much that if my house were ever on fire, this is one of the first books I’ll rescue. It’s the ultimate comfort read for lonely days, days when you could do with a hug, a nice blanket, and a warm bowl of soup.
The Tea Dragon Society by Kay O’Neill (sometimes credited as Katie or K. O’Neill)
Imagine a world where tea leaves grow on the horns of dragons—leaves that store memories of the dragon and the people it loved—but the art of taking care of these dragons is disappearing. Within this unique world, O’Neill explores, with their colorful illustrations and honest dialogue (with some characters speaking in sign language) themes such as identity crisis, loss of memory and purpose, finding new purpose, and the realization that sometimes things don’t go as planned, but that doesn’t mean alternative outcomes cannot be just as fulfilling. While this may sound like heavy stuff, everything about these books—from the cheerful landscapes to the cozy tea-making rituals and the adorable, cuddly dragons—feels like a reassuring hug, like someone speaking comforting words that you didn’t realize you needed to hear.
Fortunately, the Milk by Neil Gaiman
One more children’s book, yes—but when it’s Neil Gaiman telling that story, the age of the reader becomes irrelevant. Because, honestly, what person wouldn’t want to go on a time-travel adventure with a dragon in a hot-air balloon every time they stepped out to buy milk? If you’re having a day when you’re not feeling great but also don’t have a lot of time to take a break to rest, this is the perfect book to pick up, or listen to—the audiobook is narrated by Gaiman himself and is barely an hour long.
The Ultimate Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy by Douglas Adams
Sometimes Mostly, life doesn’t make sense. For times when this feeling is particularly strong, Douglas Adams’s classic Hitchhiker books are a good distraction. They’re funny, they’re ridiculous, they’re philosophical, and they’re a weirdly emotional reminder of why this world is worth living in and protecting.
They’re also immensely reassuring—for, when you’re done reading and return to the real world, you’ll be glad that, as tough as this day might be to get through, at least you don’t have to save the entire universe.
The View from the Cheap Seats: Selected Nonfiction by Neil Gaiman
Okay, so this is not SFF but a book about SFF, among other things. Gaiman writes with honesty, kindness, and deep love, whatever the topic—these include his famous ‘Make Good Art’ speech, his credo on good and bad ideas and freedom of expression, portraits of authors and artists, and reflections on the books and events that have inspired him over the years. Reading this collection is like getting the chance to fangirl about books and movies and music alongside the author.
I flip through my copy and reread the quotes I’ve underlined every time I’m feeling uninspired or lost. Gaiman comes across to his readers as the kind of person who seems to understand you without ever having met you. It’s impossible to read this book and not feel excited about making and consuming art and reveling in all the marvelous things that humanity has produced, even if you’re not an artist yourself. As Caitlin Moran states in her cover quote, “If this book came to you during a despairing night, by dawn you would believe in ideas and hope and humans again.” And isn’t that a good feeling to have when you’re not feeling your best?
Originally published August 2021.
Ratika Deshpande’s (she/her) work has appeared in Flash Fiction Magazine and Every Day Fiction. She has also written for Submittable’s blog, Discover. She’s good at summarizing long conversations, better at finishing work before the deadline, and best at making bad jokes. She lives in New Delhi, India, and is currently pursuing a Bachelor’s in Applied Psychology.