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!
2 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.
3 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!
6 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!
7 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?
9 thoughts on “Escape Reading: Ten Comfort Books That Beat Holiday Blues”
That’s our kind of Christmas, too. Because of a lifetime with cats, we haven’t had a Christmas tree for years. We adopted a cat this summer, so we think we may just put lights on a tree outside.
What a diverse list of books! They all sound good. My goal is to finish Don Quixote, which I’m simultaneously reading and listening to, and Travels of William Bartram, both interesting, but both books that frequently have taken a backseat when other books have come along.
Yes, it’s great to have a low-key Christmas.
I love the idea of the DQ audiobook. That IS great escape reading!
Thank you for this inspirational blog post, I like your way of thinking. And no, I don’t want a text messaging vacuum cleaner either, although I wouldn’t mind one that does the vacuuming for me.
The families in the commercials looks so happy with their robots! But honestly I can preheat the oven without help.:)
😉 Happy holidays!
The Truth was my first Terry Pratchett book! I love his satires on various professions/fields.
He is a brilliant writer. So sad that he died young.
I completely agree with you about Christmas. In part this is because of my Aspergers; I don’t deal well with anything that disturbs my routine. I am already lining up my comfort reads for what is now practically a full fortnight’s disturbance in the U.K. I agree about Truth, which was my first Terry Pratchett as well. My proud boast is that I once met him and have a signed copy of the first book in the series. I still have some of them to read and I might treat myself as a present from me to me. Helene Hanff is always there as well, just because I love spending time with another reader. I used to have all the Bogarde autobiographies but they didn’t make the cut when I moved; perhaps that was a mistake. I am definitely going to look out for a copy of the Emma Tennant. I used to include one of her short stories in a course I taught and very much enjoyed her style. I reall should read this.
Christmas can be a trial! I find the TV ads overwhelming, and the subliminal message is that we’re not as glossy, charming, and fun enough unless we have a perfect family and a bunch of stuff. So we are VERY quiet after a couple of years in which I tried too hard and nothing went quite right. Terry Pratchett is a godsend! I no longer remember which of his books I’ve read but I do have several left and he is brilliant. I do envy your signed copy!