Our book group coordinator asked for our 10 favourite books to add to a group email last week. This was my response, with comfort reading appearing in the section in bold:
“I would struggle to select 10 favourite books – that is, to limit a list to 10. Or to even say “that is a favourite”. Apart from my childhood books by Rumer Godden: Miss Happiness and Miss Flower and Little Plum. Probably Winnie the Pooh. And my choices change with time. More recent books which have stayed with me are Fiona Farrell’s The Villa at the Edge of the Empire and pretty much anything by her, including her poetry in The Inhabited Initial. Patricia Grace’s Potiki. Happiness by Aminatta Forna. Paula Green’s recent Wild Honey about New Zealand women poets. Jane Austen’s Persuasion, if you want a classic. Shakespeare’s A Merchant of Venice. And in between the often traumatising books we read for book group, I return constantly to Sara Paretsky’s V.I Warshawski series (always political, set in Chicago), Alexander McCall Smith’s Isabel Dalhousie series (philosophical and set in Edinburgh), Lindsey Davis’ Flavia Albia series (political and set in ancient Rome), Jacqueline Winspear’s series, and I’m enjoying some Indian detectives in the books of Vaseem Khan and Sujata Massey. My guilty pleasure is keeping up with the Janet Evanovich Stephanie Plum series. There are also wonderful discoveries, such as the books by Nigerian women writers recently: My Sister the Serial Killer, Girl, Woman, Other, The Girl with the Louding Voice. And writers I never read earlier, such as Tove Jansson, Penelope Fitzgerald, and Thea Astley – whose book The Multiple Effects of Rainshadow reminds me that detention centres are not a new phenomenon in Australia. But there are many, many books which I treasure and all books expand my knowledge and widen my perception of the world.”
At the moment, I’m reading a digital copy of the seventh book in the Kerry Greenwood Corinna Chapman series. It is quirky and diverting, even though I wonder at some of the author’s indulgences. But we all have indulgences, and comfort reading is about indulgence. And with comfort reading, you often don’t always expect the literary writing you appreciate in more ‘serious’ literature. In comfort reading, the ability of the author to tell a good story is everything.
On my shelves pictured above there are DVDs such as a Jeeves and Wooster box set. This helped us through the earthquakes, so I recommend Wodehouse for these anxious times. The language is hugely entertaining, and we need to laugh. Here’s one of my favourites about the dreaded aunts: “Aunt calling to Aunt like mastodons bellowing across primeval swamps…” Stephen Fry writes in his introduction to What Ho! The Best of P.G. Wodehouse: “…isn’t it true that we are all of us, for a great part of our lives, sick or imprisoned, all of us in need of this remarkable healing spirit, this balm for hurt minds?” A contemporary homage to Wodehouse is Ben Schott’s Jeeves and the King of Clubs. Each paragraph is a delight and this homage may be more palatable than the original stories to the modern reader.
Once, in a time of stress and exhaustion, using my kindle app, I made my way through almost the entire series of the Monsieur Pamplemousse books by Michael Bond, author of the Paddington books. It is pretty hilarious and undemanding – written for adults. The main character is a French policeman who has lost his job in circumstances hinted at throughout the series. He has reinvented himself as a food critic and travels around France (in, of course, a 2CV) sampling mouth-watering regional dishes (a bit like Rick Stein’s Secret France programme) and somehow, with the help of his faithful police hound Pommes Frites, solving a number of mysteries.
Then, as a final word, there is always the comfort of the comic book.