In praise of “comfort books”

It’s the end of an era.

I have just finished the last of the Fairacre books.


Are you familiar with this series?  The author is Miss Read, but that’s actually a pen name.  The real author is Dora Saint, who has been writing about Fairacre since the first book in the series, Village School, was published in 1955.  (The last book, A Peaceful Retirement, was written in 1996.)   The books are told from the point of view of Miss Read, the schoolteacher, who observes the comings and goings of her neighbors in Fairacre, a rural English town.

It is hard to describe the appeal of these books, because  — in the words of one reviewer — nothing much ever really happens in them.  A new family moves into the village, the church roof is damaged in a storm, the assistant teacher falls in love with the local ne’er-do-well,  the entire school goes to the seaside on a fieldtrip.   It’s not as if dinosaurs suddenly come back to life, or anything.   But the books are proof that  gentle adventures with well-written characters can be profoundly satisfying.  The books are charming without being precious; the kind but steely voice of Miss Read keeps them from becoming too saccharine, even when she is describing her adorable ragamuffin student from the wrong side of town.   If you are an Anglophile (like me), the descriptions of the English countryside throughout the seasons — sparrows and hedgerows and daffodils and holly — will have you positively salivating.  Plus the books are illustrated with charming line sketches.  I guess I’ve never really grown up, because I still love books that have drawings in them.

And I don’t know about you, but sometimes — more and more, these days — I just want to sit down with a book that I know will not contain distressingly graphic material.  Life is complicated enough; I don’t want to read anything angsty right before bed.  The Fairacre books fit the bill.  I  know that I’ll drift off to sleep with with visions of tea cosies, robins, and thatched roofs in my head.   That, I believe, is a very nice way to end the day.

Do you love the Miss Read books, too?  Or do you have any other “comfort books” that you read in times of stress?  I’m always looking for suggestions.  (And the good news, by the way, is that Dora Saint also wrote an entire set of novels about another village, Thrush Green.  I think our local library system will come through with those titles, too — and just in time.)

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