There have more been bits and bobs of bad news this last week, but I’m sick of brooding about it all. I’m also really busy, so I’ll keep this quick and painless.
When things suck, I have certain writing I return to — Georgette Heyer, P. G. Wodehouse, a bunch of classical and medieval Japanese monogatari, Alice, Fanny Burney’s diaries. In some cases, I have read them so much that they have lost their tread; I don’t read them so much as recognize the pages. I may still see the pleasures of their prose or their concepts, but the surprises are entirely gone. At some point comfort books stop being books and turn instead into memories of books.
So finding a new-to-me work (or works) that has what I need from a comfort book is pretty exciting. Now I have both the comfort and the surprises that come in the first few readings of any well-written work. It’s not all imprinted yet. I don’t remember what happens on the next page, so when I get there I respond with delight. After a few more read-throughs we get to a familiar place: no surprises here, just comfort.
Individual books will sometimes do this — King-Hall’s The Diaries of Cleone Knox did, as did Dewdney’s The Planiverse and Collier’s His Monkey Wife — but it’s always better if it’s a series. A long series. Like, twenty books or more. And because of my tastes, it’s best if the series is elegant but old-fashioned in its prose. So my newest comfort series is the Swallows and Amazons books by Arthur Ransome, all twenty-plus of these calm, charming, children’s adventures from the years before WW2. I read everything as a child and yet I have no recollection of these, so discovering them a year or two ago was a revelation. And now these are the best of all possible comfort reading: works that instantly make me feel better about life and yet still surprise me on every page. Twenty of them, fat, leisurely novels that will take me a month or more to get through. How lovely. Do you have comfort books? I’m always looking for new ones.