Escape Reading: Ten Comfort Books That Beat Holiday Blues

This is the time of year when I like to slow down.  WAY down.

I don’t participate in the holiday frenzy. In the  glossy commercials, attractive nuclear families give orders to their robots, Amazon Alexa and Google Assistant.   Am I the only one who doesn’t want texts from my vacuum cleaner on Christmas morning?

I blot out Christmas till it’s actually here. We try to have a nice day rather than a gift exchange.

And the hours formerly devoted to shopping are now  spent reading comfort books.  Mind you, these are not all classics but they transport you to another world—and then you’re satisfied with this one!

COMFORT BOOKS THAT CALM YOU DOWN .

1  I love D. E. Stevenson’s Bel Lamington, a light, charming novel I inhaled in an afternoon.

Although there is a marriage plot, the  heroine does not want to marry.  Bel, an orphan from the country, has a good job as a secretary in London.  She misses flowers and greenery, so she makes a secret garden on the flat roof outside her window. And this secret garden is so charming that I didn’t care what happened next!

One evening she finds a man sitting on her deck-chair in the garden.  Mark is an artist, and almost immediately starts sketching her.   He is fun, but impulsive and selfish. I do love Stevenson’s description of the artists’ scene!

The other man in her life is  Mr. Brownlee, her boss, who  upgrades her job responsibilities before he goes on a business trip to  South America.  Jealousies in the office escalate, and she ends up out of a job and on vacation in Scotland  with her old school friend, Louise. I won’t tell you what happens–but it ends happily for her!

The Truth by Terry Pratchett  is a witty satire of journalism, set in Pratchett’s fantastical city of Ankh-Pork, where William de Worde starts a newspaper after dwarves invent a printing press.

The Life in the Studio by Nancy Hale, a writer whose short stories were published in The New Yorker.  She was the  daughter of painters Lilian Westcott Hale and Philip L. Hale.  She was inspired to write this memoir about her unconventional family by relics  she found in  her mother’s studio when she cleaned it out after Lilian’s death.   A classic!

4  Carter Dickson’s And So to Murder, a  fast, funny Golden Age Detective novel with no corpses!  Set in a movie studio at the beginning of World War II, it focuses on the foibles of movie directors, writers, and actors as well as struggles to close blackout curtains and the fear of Nazi spies.

5. An Orderly Man by Dirk Bogarde.  Tired of the hectic life of an actor, Bogarde buys a small run-down house in France. He hires an architect to renovate it. While he is away finishing a film, the contractors make a mess, and everything that can go wrong does. Any home-owner will appreciate these difficulties, even if his or her house is not 500 years old!

Emma Tennant’s Confessions of a Sugar Mummy.  This delightful  novel is for women of a certain age, or at least for women who know they may someday be that age.  The witty Confessions are narrated by a sixtyish interior decorator who falls in love with a 40ish man.   She tells us that Freud discovered the Oedipus complex, but failed to invent the Jocasta complex, “to look at the situation from the point of view of…his mother.”  In her work as an interior decorator, she meets the gorgeous French tile maker, Alain.  An enjoyable light novel!

William Cooper’s Scenes from Provincial Life and Scenes from Metropolitan Life.  These delightful autobiographical novels about a physics-teacher-turned-civil-servant are the first two  in a series of five.  They were praised by Kingsley Amis and John Braine.  Neglected classics!

8  In Michael Arlen’s The Green Hat,  moody flappers and free love abound. The narrator, a writer, relates the tragic  story of Iris Storm, a languorous , beautiful woman of the 1920s who wears a green hat and drives “a long, low, yellow car which shone like a battle-chariot.”

9 Jan Struther’s Mrs. Miniver, a collection of charming columns she wrote in for the London Times, was published as a novel in 1939.  Mrs. Miniver’s domestic life is happy, she loves her children, one of whom is at Eton, and she  describes marriage as two crescents bound at the points, with a leaf-shaped space in the middle “for privacy or understanding.” In my favorite scene,  she endearingly buys an expensive green lizard engagement diary instead of a  hat.

10  Gene Stratton Porter’s A Girl of the Limberlost.  Porter, an Indiana native and environmentalist, is best-known for her children’s books. (You can read an excellent article about her by Janet Malcolm in The New York Review of Books.)  I thoroughly enjoyed  Girl of the Limberlost, which I recommend to fans of Anne of Green Gables.  Determined to get an education, Elnora defies her mother, a reclusive farmer who won’t give her money for new clothes.   Mocked by the other students, she walks home crying.  Two neighbors discover Elnora’s plight and buy the appropriate clothing and books – and a local expert on natural history, Bird Woman, informs her she can sell moths from her collection. An excellent coming-of-age story.

WHAT ARE YOUR FAVORITE COMFORT BOOKS?