Posted by: janesandell | January 30, 2009

Comfort Reading: The Big Three

Ages ago I wrote about Anne of the Island and said that it was one of my desert island books.  I chose the books in question for an article I wrote for the journal Folly.  As I already mentioned, what the books have in common is a strong sense of community and they also form part of my comfort reading.

 

If you’re paying attention it’s quite easy to tell when I’m stressed: I start re-reading certain books.  Most of them are children’s books and many of them are school stories although there are exceptions.  And this month I’ve read lots of them.  Things are hectic at work just now and I’m pretty sad at being back from Norway and away from the sea again.  So, there’s been nothing else for it but to lose myself in my favourite books.

 

Of the children’s authors I collect, my absolute favourite is Dorita Fairlie Bruce.  One of the Big Three (along with Elinor Brent-Dyer and Elsie Oxenham), she wrote fewer and (I think) better books than the others.  I like all of her books but most of all I enjoy her series about Nancy Caird, some of which are set in Scotland and some in England.  The later books in the series are set in Scotland and have a real homecoming feel to them.  It’s the last of them that’s my favourite: Nancy Calls the Tune.  By this time Nancy is grown up and is living in a small town and working as a Church organist.  It’s set during the Second World War and has a strong sense of community and camaraderie.  I’m a small town girl myself and, to a daughter of the manse, the Church setting is extremely familiar and the characters completely believable.

 

On my imaginary desert island I would have to have a Chalet School book but I found it hugely difficult to decide which one.  In the end I chose The School at the Chalet because it’s where it all begins.  It’s the Chalet School I’ve been re-reading recently and that made me realise all over again how much I like them and how difficult a choice it would be if I could really only have one of them.  I think The School at the Chalet has the best descriptions of the setting and it brings Pertisau and its environs back to me whenever I read it.  And, although I’ve fallen in love with Norway’s west coast as brought to me by Hurtigruten, Tirol will always have a very special place in my heart.  There have been many fill-in Chalet School stories written over the years but the first and best of these is Visitors for the Chalet School by Helen McClelland.  It’s a great addition to the series but it’s a good book in its own right too.  It gives a wonderful outsider’s view of the Chalet School and contextualises it historically.  And it has more descriptions of Tirol…

 

I enjoy Elsie Oxenham’s books, too, although not as much as those of the other two.  There was no competition for the one I’d take with me to my desert island (actually, I was going to Westray, one of the Orkney Islands).  It had to be The Secrets of Vairy.  I borrowed it when I was a teenager just beginning to collect EJO and for years afterwards it was the title I aspired to own.  For that reason alone, I wouldn’t be able to leave it behind but I think it’s my favourite anyway.  I was probably about the same age as Patricia, the main character, when I first read it and I could relate quite well to her even though it was set between the wars.  It takes place in Scotland, on the Clyde coast, and I can picture the setting which adds to my enjoyment.

 

These books are my hardcore comfort reads – at least as far as children’s books are concerned.  Another day I’ll tell you about some of the newer children’s books that I return to time and again.  And I’d be interested to know what you read in times of stress…

 

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Responses

  1. Thanks Jane for another interesting entry.
    What do I read in times of stress? Honestly, I stop reading. I could experience that throughout the last weeks as I was preparing an exam.
    I don’t reread books very often but there are a few exceptions, for example ‘Around the world in 80 days’ written by Jules Verne. I’m not quite sure if it’s book for children but I loved to read it. During my childhood I also longed to read stories about animals, especially about horses. That’s why I’ve got two favourite horse series I often reread: the ‘Blitz-series’ from Walter and Steven Farley and ‘Horse homeland in the highlands’ (that’s my own translation) written by Ursula Isbel, who’s a well-known german author of horse stories.
    At the moment I’m reading ‘The morning gift’ written by Eva Ibbotson. Quite an interesting book and I’m looking forward to find out if Quin and Ruth come to together in the end.

  2. This post brought back such strong memories of reading the Chalet School books, which were whipped up recently on a week’s break in the French Alps. Not entirely geographically accurate, I know, but half close my eyes and I was just about there.

    In times of stress, I return to K M Peyton’s Pennington trilogy. A concert pianist from the wrong side of the tracks – obviously the man of my dreams.

    And I’ll also reread Sharon Creech’s Walk Two Moons, which I read first in my 30s, so perhaps it doesn’t count? It’s up there with John Irving’s A Prayer for Owen Meany – I remember where I was, what I was wearing, when it was etc etc etc that I read them both for the first time.


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