Under pressure, I read Pratchett. What’s your refuge reading?

It’s been a bit of a week. Not directly for me and mine – we’re all fine and well, and believe me, I am profoundly grateful. Because around us, folk whom I like and value are having a hell of a time.

Earlier this week I went to the funeral of a local writerly friend, whose unforeseen, terminal cancer diagnosis in January was followed with shocking swiftness by her death. Meantime, another pal who lives hundreds of miles away has been coping with a parent’s emergency hospitalisation while said parent was on a trip to Oxford. So we’ve been offering what support we can by way of local knowledge and resources.

In between times, in bits of down time, I’ve been re-reading Night Watch, and have just picked up The Fifth Elephant. Not for the first time, I’ve noted that the Discworld is where I head these days when I need to press ‘pause’ on things going on around me, to regroup before I re-enter the fray. Not exclusively; glancing along the bookshelves, I note the Kate Brannigan, and the Lindsey Gordon books by Val McDermid also fall into this category of ‘refuge reading’, along with the Elvis Cole novels by Robert Crais. This is by no means the only time I reread these books, and I reread plenty of others. But when the going gets tough? These are the particular books I head for.

I’ve noticed something else recently. While I’ve always had these refuge reads, they’ve varied through the decades and through the different phases of my life. When I was a student, I’d reach for P.G. Wodehouse, Dorothy L Sayers or Dick Francis. When the kids were small, it was Georgette Heyer, Ellis Peters’ Brother Cadfael stories or the ‘Fairacre’ books by ‘Miss Read’. All of which I’ve reread since, but not in quite the same way.

So over to you. Where do you go when you need to find a breathing space, some respite, between the covers of a book?

Author: Juliet

Juliet E McKenna is a British fantasy author living in the Cotswolds, UK. Loving history, myth and other worlds since she first learned to read, she has written fifteen epic fantasy novels so far. Her debut, The Thief’s Gamble, began The Tales of Einarinn in 1999, followed by The Aldabreshin Compass sequence, The Chronicles of the Lescari Revolution, and The Hadrumal Crisis trilogy. The Green Man’s Heir was her first modern fantasy inspired by British folklore in 2018, and The Green Man’s Quarry in 2023 is the sixth title in this ongoing series. Her 2023 novel The Cleaving is a female-centred retelling of the story of King Arthur, while her shorter stories include forays into dark fantasy, steampunk and science fiction. She promotes SF&Fantasy by reviewing, by blogging on book trade issues, attending conventions and teaching creative writing. She has served as a judge for major genre awards. As J M Alvey, she has written historical murder mysteries set in ancient Greece.

20 thoughts on “Under pressure, I read Pratchett. What’s your refuge reading?

  1. My refuge read has always been Robin McKinley’s ‘The Hero and The Crown’. As a teenager, it made me properly fall in love with reading and I’ve never looked back.

  2. Depends on why I need the refuge – could be Pratchett, or it could be Josephine Tey – basically do I need humour or not.

      1. I have 3 absolute faves of Tey’s: Daughter of Time, The Singing Sands, and Brat Farrar…

        I forgot to say I also like to re-read Susan Cooper’s King of Shadows when I need a refuge.

          1. Do! I re-read it a couple of years ago when I did a re-read of all Tey’s novels in a post-3-months-in-charge-at-work refuge reading splurge…

      2. Heh. I love “Brat Farrar”, but I hate “The Franchise Affair” with a passion. It should have been a deeply clever book, wherein both the accuser and the accused turn out to be telling the truth; and instead it’s a work of rank snobbery, where the nice middle-class ladies say “this common girl who accuses us was undoubtedly off doing something she shouldn’t” – and lo, it is exactly so. Yuck, spit.

  3. Comfort reading, yes. For me it’s Pratchett, but I’ve read and re-read those books so often that I have to be in a really bad way to go back to them. Like, say, when the author died. Also, Lois McMaster Bujold’s Vorkosigan books, Charlie Stross’s Laundry Files, the Felix Castor books by Mike Carey, Roz Kaveney’s Rituals of Blood series, pretty much anything by Chris Brookmyre.

    In times past it would have included Iain Banks’s Culture novels, Bill Bryson’s gentle, funny travelogues and social histories, everything by Douglas Adams, but especially Last Chance to See (makes me cry now), Sunshine by Robin McKinley.

  4. It’s interesting to see how none of us are opting for writers who offer unrealistic, cosy consolation.

    All of the authors cited so far address the challenges of life head on, no ducking of difficulties in their work.

    Whatever escape we might be seeking, it’s assuredly not head-in-the-sand, lalala-not-listening reading, is it?

  5. I almost never re-read fiction. A mixture of wanting to be surprised and knowing there are oodles of great writers whose work I’ll miss out on keeps me looking for new works. So I guess my comfort reading is anything I haven’t read before, with a strong preference for anything with dragons.

    My s.o. is like me in this respect, which is why he’s had The Shepherd’s Crown stuck on a shelf in its packaging still untouched for months and months now. It will be the last time he cracks the spine on a new Terry Pratchett book, so he’s saving it for when he really needs it.

  6. Pratchett for me too. He’s helped me through many a dark spot. Currently re-reading Good Omens (Pratchett/Neil Gaiman). Might be the end of the world, but at least I can have fun reading about it!

  7. “Whatever escape we might be seeking, it’s assuredly not head-in-the-sand, lalala-not-listening reading, is it?”

    I don’t do much head-in-the-sand reading. I’m 100 pages into one, and I doubt I’ll finish it. I used to visit Elizabeth Moon’s Paksenarrion series because I wanted to understand how she handled guilt. Later it was Patricia Wrede’s _A Matter of Magic_ stories because I needed the comfort of a love story. Then Jennifer Roberson’s Tiger & Del series as I worked through one of the many layers of sexism. Next I tumbled into Diana Gabaldon’s Outlander series, again looking for the comfort of a romance, this time salted with the little challenges that help people grow together. And now I’ve moved on to Wen Spencer’s Tinker series because I love how Tinker is overwhelmed but appreciates the community that she suddenly finds herself in. I also love her mad-cap sense of humor.

  8. Anne McCaffrey tends to be my comfort read. Either Dragonsinger, the tale of Menolly overcoming sexism to become the first female Harper, or Treaty at Doona. I love the descriptions of the humans and Hrrubans getting along just fine co-habitant on Doona/Rala.

  9. Belatedly adding my tuppence worth…

    1. Robert Parker’s Spenser novels.
    2. Robert Crais’s Elvis Cole/Joe Pike novels (snap!)
    3. John Sandford’s Lucas Davenport novels.
    4. Dick Francis. (I’m surprising myself here.)

    But the one time I needed a book to get me through a long, dark, soul-harrowing night, it was Anne McCaffrey’s Ship Who Sang. Bless her.

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