Comfort reading. Like comfort eating, it can be addictive and feel a little shameful. Shouldn’t I be reading the latest, grimmest memoir or book on current affairs? What about that great tome of literary fiction that’s been on my shelf for months?
I know I’m not alone in this, but sometimes I just need to read something gentle and undemanding. At the suggestion of a friend, I’ve been devouring the Isabel Dalhousie novels of Alexander McCall Smith. They’ve proved both soothing and charming, though after five in a row I realise you can have too much of a good thing. And though perhaps it’s a stretch to classify books containing brutal and premeditated murders as ‘kind and gentle’, the Sarah Kelling mysteries of Charlotte McLeod are obviously meant to be parodies and I’ve found 1980s Boston just as cosy as any village in Midsomer.
Beloved books from childhood sometimes hit the spot, too. I had a credit from a wonderful local antiquarian and second-hand book shop, Mount of Alex, so I bought a few old favourites.The first of these is The Saturdays by Elizabeth Enright.
It’s 1941 in New York, and the motherless Melendy children – Mona, Rush, Randy and Oliver – decide to pool their weekly allowance money so that each Saturday, one of them can afford a really special treat. Randy chooses an exhibition of French paintings at an art gallery; Rush goes to a matinee at the opera; Mona has a haircut and manicure at a beauty salon, and Oliver, the youngest, sneaks off to the circus and is brought home by a policeman on a horse. On each expedition the children have a mild adventure, make a friend or learn something about another person’s life and they get to explore their home city of New York. There’s always their father and the wonderful housekeeper/cook/nanny Cuffy to come home to. And like many of these older children’s books, it’s really beautifully written.