Comfort books

So, 2020 is finally over. A well and truly good riddance! As a matter of principle, Jen and I stayed up long enough to see the new year in, then almost immediately hit the sack. Every year, I confidently predict the new year will be better than the last, but from now on I’m keeping my trap shut. Hoping for an improvement on 2020 is setting 2021 an awfully low bar, but I don’t want to tempt fate. (Not that fate can be affected by anything we say or do: that’s the whole point of fate… Not that fate actually exists.)

On New Year’s Day evening, I had the latest of my weekly FaceTime chats with my friend Stense. We both brought along a bottle to toast the new year. A year ago, who’d have thought video calls would become so important in our lives? Talking to my hard-of-hearing dad on the phone is an absolute nightmare at the best of times; FaceTime saved the day during the lockdowns. Regular video calls with a small number of close friends also helped make a dreadful year more bearable for me. I’m sure I’m not alone.

Stense and I had actually done some homework for our latest chat. She’d spotted a book she thought we’d both like, so treated us both to copies for Christmas: The Bookseller’s Tale by Martin Latham. From next week, it’s unlikely Stense will have much time for reading or video calls, so we’ve agreed to read one chapter of the 13-chapter book per month, starting in December 2020, taking us neatly to the end of 2021. So, in advance of our first chat of the year, we’d both read chapter one, the subject of which is comfort reading.

Our conversation was fascinating. We talked about the books that have brought comfort to us over the years. It’s not my place to name Stense’s comfort books, but I reminisced about firm favourites from my childhood: The Story of Ferdinand (the first book I ever ‘read’—although I really recited it by heart); Enid Blyton’s Famous Five stories; the Asterix comics; Arthur Ransome’s Swallows and Amazons series; and all things Tolkien. I also told Stense about the authors whose works comfort me as an adult, in particular Kathleen Jamie, W.G. Sebald, and Ronald Blythe (whose Wormingford series brought a much-needed sense of tranquility during the first lockdown).

As we reached the end of our wonderful chat, I told Stense I wish I’d recorded our call, as it would have made a lovely podcast.

Stense looked mortified.

Richard Carter

Richard Carter is a writer and photo­grapher living in Hebden Bridge, West Yorkshire. He is currently working on a book about looking at the world through Darwin’s eyes.Website · Newsletter · Mastodon · Facebook

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