Friday, February 13, 2015

Comfort Reading: Alice Taylor and Miss Read

On Saturday we called in at the library to pick up a book that had come in--an omnibus edition containing two Thrush Green novels written by Miss Read. When we walked in, Mary turned to the shelf behind her and was reaching for a book. When I got to the counter, she said, "Alice Taylor has a new book out. I kept it for you!"
Mary had recommended Taylor's book, The Night Before Christmas, to me before the library closed for 2 weeks at the end of the year. I loved the book and went back for more of her stuff. She has 3 novels and several books about her childhood and village life in a farming community in County Kerry. Mary tells me stories about how much the stories Alice Taylor tells echo her own childhood on a farm in County Galway. For her, the books bring back happy memories--she is always very animated and smiling broadly when she talks about this. For me, Taylor's books are an insight into Irish life not that long ago and give a sense of how things change. Mary is probably in her 50s, so her childhood is not ancient history--it's fairly recent. Things have changed a great deal in a short period of time. In the end, though, these are just fun books to read. The stories are often funny. These are really human books--you see people at their best and in times of trouble getting on with things. You read about love and loss, friendship and community, joy and sorrow--big themes to be sure, but written in a down-to-earth and comforting way. The descriptions of day to day life also make me appreciate stoves and washing machines!

The Miss Read books were also fun reading and perfect for this past week when I was on either end of my migraine! Someone mentioned Miss Read to me and I knew I'd heard of her but had never read anything by her, so I looked her up in the library system. The omnibus volume was about all there was, so I requested that. It's 2 of her Thrush Green novels--The School at Thrush Green and Friends at Thrush Green. On the second page, one of the characters picks up her knitting. I was smitten. I just loved this village and these people. I wish the library had more of these novels for me to request! I love books about English village life that have a lot of domestic detail and these do. There is no grand plot here--just narratives about people going about their lives. At a time when so much of what I see when reading "news" is ugly and heartbreaking, it is comforting to immerse myself--at least for a little while-- in a small world full of kind and caring people who look out for one another, understand the quirks and weirdness of their friends and neighbors and accept them and keep on caring about them in spite of the quirks.
Poor Bill could use some comfort reading today. He started coughing last night and said that when he went for his blood test the other day, there was a guy in the very tiny waiting "room" who was coughing all over the place and not bothering to cover his mouth. After a night spent waking up every hour or so to cough, he's tired today and still coughing some. The book he is working through is a 700+ page history book about Ireland in the 1970s. It's a great book and quite well-written, especially considering the author is an academic. But it may not be the kind of book to read when tired and coughing. I suggested he set that one aside and pick up one of the novels he has--he can whip through that and go back to 1970s Ireland later!

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