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.

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  1. Kate C says:

    Oh, I adored all the Melendy books! Though for some reason I didn’t find The Saturdays until I’d already read the others in the series. But I think I loved Gone-Away Lake and Return to Gone-Away even more — have you read those? I found the abandoned houses and all their lost possessions absolutely bewitching.
    As a kid I found it harder to connect with American books than English ones, but Elizabeth Enright was a definite exception. Another set of books awaiting for a re-read…

    • susan says:

      I loved the Gone-Away Lake books also. For the same reason as you – the idea of finding a “lost” house, still full of furniture and pictures and personal possessions, full of mysterious stories, is such a lovely fantasy.

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