Tuesday, 15 December 2009
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.