Tuesday, 15 December 2009

Comfort Reading

I have been spending a lot of time recently with rakes and dandies. I’ve been hanging out in Bath and Brighton, riding in phaetons and curricles, admiring sprigged muslins and sighing over handsome noblemen.
In short, I’ve succumbed to a severe addiction to the work of Georgette Heyer, whose historical romances are as irresistible as pure grade heroin to a junkie.
A visit to the hideous jumble sale that once was Borders has fed my habit to dangerous levels. Georgette Heyer wrote around 40 romances, and I’m quite happy to read them all. In fact, when I ran out recently I just finished one and then started it all over again two days later.
Not only is the historical detail convincing, but the characters well-drawn, the plotting masterful and the romance fabulous. Even when the hero is introduced as mincing - yes, mincing – in high heels along a Parisian lane, you fall in love with him at the end. At least I do.
The reason for this Heyer-fest is quite simple. Comfort reading. My life - apart from the writing side of things - is enormously stressful at the moment, and a good book is a great way to escape from everyday concerns. Georgette Heyer is my drug of choice right now, but I’ve also been known to revert to childhood favourites, in particular Noel Streatfeild or Antonia Forest. Or sometimes I’ll read crime novels – PD James, Ruth Rendell. Books with good plots and memorable characters, books which tell a good story.
At the weekend I read about a boy who reads for comfort. 11-year-old Kasun wears shabby clothes and goes shoeless to school. Once there, he loves reading books in the school library - ‘My favourite place on earth.’ The book he loves best is about a colourful fish, and its many friends in the ocean.
He lives in an orphanage, because his father is dead and his mother could not afford to feed him. David Pilling, who wrote about Kasun in the Financial Times magazine, visited him there: ‘It was not until I visited him later at the nearby orphanage - housed in a Buddhist Temple and presided over by an unsmiling saffron-robed monk - that I fully understood why Kasun was so enthralled with the fish’s busy social life. The other children had gone to the fields to work but Kasun was left behind. Sitting on his filthy bunk bed, one of several lined up in the dank and unwelcoming dormitory, he was all alone.’
The FT was writing about Kasun because the school library was funded by the charity the paper has chosen for its Christmas Appeal. Room to Read promotes literacy for children in the developing world, providing libraries and books for children in many countries. If you want to support this charity then do it through the FT appeal - corporate sponsors will double your donation.
They’re bringing children much more than just comfort - they’re giving them education and hope for the future as well.
It does seem strange that when the multiple values of books and reading are so obvious in the developing world, school libraries in the UK are being cut and closed apace. There is no statutory right for British children to have a library in their school and many give priority to computers. It seems to me that the people who make these decisions are the sort of sad losers who never discovered reading for comfort.


  1. A nice, comforting read as always Mrs David.

  2. This comment has been removed by the author.

  3. Georgette Heyer was a teenage and early 20s vice of mine, I haven't read one of her books for years and need to escape from the world in the arms of one of her high-heeled heroes. Comfort (unchallenging?) reading has a lot to be said for it.

  4. Anne - it's just the thing for you. Sylvester is a favourite of mine...

    Fish - Can't really see Georgette Heyer being for you...I dread to think what your comfort reading looks like.

  5. Hi Keren, I loved GH as a teen too and have read the odd one as a comfort read since - so I am so with you there.

    On the subject of school libraries, I was shown round a new Academy in the East End a couple of years ago by one of the designers. He was actually boasting about designing the library for computers and not books. In his view, books were old fashioned and out moded. In my view he's a philistine!


  6. Ha! Was your G Heyer spree triggered by that FB conversation we had? I do hope so. And thanks for the heads up about Rooms to Read. I'll go there now--it sounds like a brilliant idea and a very worthwhile thing to support.

  7. Jeannette - that designer sounds like just the sort of sad loser I had in mind. The sort who thinks that libraries are for looking up facts on wikipedia.

    Lucy - Yes! It all down to you. Mmm..the postman has just delivered Sylvester, Black Sheep and The Foundling.

  8. OK, fewer calories than comfort eating, but isn't there a danger that comfort reading starts to affect your own style? I'l be watching to see if mincing Georgian dandies and G.Heyer's gushing descriptive passages start appearing in your contemporary YA fiction. ;-) Great read- and an important message at the end.

  9. Oh I love Georgette Heyer I read one once when in a hotel abroad where people left books behind they had finished. Total comfort lit - great

    Kate xx

  10. Joe - she doesn't gush! But on the other hand I don't really do description. Hopefully I can learn a lot about romance anyway, if not mincing..

    Kate - read more! If you liked one, you'll love them all.

  11. I'll have to see if I can find some of her books.
    I can't imagine what I'd have done without the library growing up. I didn't have many real friends, so I spent a lot of time sitting in my room, reading. I don't have nearly as much time to read now as I'd like, something I truly regret.

  12. I've read all the Sharpe books at least three times. Easy to get in to, hard to put down, action, violence, intrigue, history, camaraderie, sex and all about as taxing on the brain as an episode of "Captain Caveman". I'm on my fourth run at the series right now actually; and I loves it, see?

  13. My gran always read Georgette Heyer and so that put me off for a while, but I confess to a certain hankering for them when I want some escapism.

  14. I wish I could get away with mincing. I have to run from beatings when I do it, never mind potential romances.