You could join a choir or start a gratitude diary or try dry January or veganism. Or you could just shut the curtains, pour yourself a gin and tonic, and curl up with a good book.
Not just any good book: there is a certain kind of quality comfort reading that is the perfect solace in the long, dark January of the soul. The kind of book that is sweet but not sickly, sharp but not bitter, hilarious but without the hum of rage or resentment as its engine. We’re talking Bertie Wooster, not Patrick Melrose.
Over time, I’ve built up a collection of books that I turn to whenever I’m struggling, and that I give to friends instead of flowers or chocolates if they’re dealing with anything from sickness to heartbreak or bereavement. The soothing power of literature is well documented: there’s a reason shellshocked soldiers were prescribed Jane Austen. She also works if you’re stressed, insecure and awake approximately 73 times a night feeding a newborn.
Books take you away from your own thoughts in a quieter way than television, giving you space to simultaneously rest your mind and stretch your imagination. Add the specific kind of dry humour or madcap whimsy that so many English-language writers excel at and you have the perfect fix for the January – or any season – blues. Here’s my uplifting selection.
Lucky Jim, by Kingsley Amis
Fact: it is impossible to read Lucky Jim while eating a bowl of cornflakes without spraying them across your kitchen wall. Amis’s spoof of the academic life is uproariously funny. The eponymous Jim Dixon is an unimpressive junior lecturer clinging to a job with a pompous professor he loathes. The set piece that ensues when he is invited to his professor’s fussy home, passes out drunk with a cigarette in his hand then tries to cover up the damage to the guest bedroom is farce of the first order.
Mansfield Park, Jane Austen
Yes, Fanny Price is the sappiest heroine to wear a spotted muslin gown, but there is something irresistibly reassuring in this classic triumph of the underdog tale. Plucked from her own family to live with her aristocratic relatives, the meek and worthy Miss Price sticks to her values and finally comes into her own. Revel in Austen’s timeless and gently barbed prose, and sigh with contentment as the noisome Aunt Norris gets her comeuppance. Read more