For me, it’s a holdover from reading as a child, the guilty pleasure of a return to print. Go, Alice! Go, Stuart & Charlotte! Go, Brothers Grimm and Hans Christian! Take me where I’ve been before, thrill me again, and leave me satisfied. They did. (They still do.)
I’m blessed with being able to read quickly and can usually summon a fierce concentration that takes me into the words, the scene, the place, the plot. (Please try not to interrupt me; I may scream at the fright of being suddenly fiction-wrenched.) In some ways it’s like visiting that old friend from college, the one you haven’t seen in years, but you pick up the deep and meaningful conversation right where you left off. Except we’re not talking deep here: no historical imperatives or the alternate meanings of the what and the how. Not even current politics (especially not current politics). What I’m talking is the equivalent of a good deep comfortable nap under a warm duvet on a cool late autumn afternoon.
Don’t get me wrong: thrillers are great. When I’m on a plane, I like to settle in with a new Lee Child or Robert Crais (for me, Dennis Lehane is a little too dark for comfort). But while you can return to any of these authors (or Agatha or Dorothy) with rare exceptions can you return to one of their books? Because, for the most part, if it’s turn-the-page-turn-the-page, and if you remember whodunit, then what’s the point?
But when the world is too much with (or without) me, when skies are drear, and soul’s mid-winter approaches, it’s time for the solid comfort of escape with an old friend. Here’s my list:
- The Good Companions by J. B. Priestley: 1920s seaside England; a “concert party” of disparate talents winningly comes together over one summer.
- The Franchise Affair by Josephine Tey: based on a case from Elizabethan England, in a small Midlands town, a young girl claims to have been kidnapped by a genteel mother and daughter. Stick-in-the-mud lawyer to the rescue.
- Vile Bodies, A Handful of Dust, Brideshead Revisited: Evelyn Waugh writing with delight about the decline of Britain’s upper classes.
- The Season, The Making of “No, No Nanette,” Everything Was Possible (The Making of “Follies”). Theatrical sausage making combined with “Hey, Kids, let’s put on a show!” I’m happy to follow the trail of travails over and over. Fell into backstage lit before I got to high school.
- Great Expectations: Mr. Dickens soothes. The original “tell me a story” never fails to delight. “Here’s a nod for you, Aged P; and another.”
- Pride and Prejudice: “It is a truth universally acknowledged…” that the language, wit, wisdom, and well-drawn characters of Jane Austen are worth a visit at least once every two years.
And you? Any well-worn pages you’d care to share?