The Value of Comfort Reading

The reasons for reading are many and varied. For some it’s academic; a need to understand a new idea, for work, school or even just out of curiosity. For others it’s for entertainment, they want to laugh at humorous events, or feel the rush of adrenaline during tense moments. For a lot of people the reason they state is escapism. They get to leave their current life behind and enter another. One which they get to choose, maybe with quests, wizards and dragons. Maybe they visit a new land and culture, or experience a different career and colleagues. Perhaps they participate in a high speed chase, or a battle or an intergalactic war. Whatever floats your boat, there is a book that can take you there.

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I am part of a few Facebook book groups, in general they are open and friendly and as a group non-judgmental. That being said individuals will state their opinions that you may or may not agree with. One I’ve seen a lot of is that there are so many books in the world, why would you ever re-read a book. Another almost unconscious bias, is that some books are more worthy than others, children’s books or young adult books (YA) seem to have a stigma attached to them, almost like you need to apologise for reading or enjoying them. People are allowed their opinions and they are perfectly valid. I however disagree with these two ideas.

Sometimes though, what you need is a comfort reads; when you aren’t looking for a grand epiphany, or a rollercoaster of emotions, instead a sense of soothing familiarity and innocent positivity. There are books that naturally fall into this category for example “cozy mysteries” where everything turns out well for the characters you are invested in such as Miss Marple by Agatha Christie, or Agatha Raisin by M.C. Beaton (review here). Or easy reading chick-lit such as Wild Designs by Katie Fforde (review here) or Afternoon Tea at the Sunflower Café by Millie Johnson. If you enjoy farcical capers there’s P.G Wodehouse (review here) or The fugitive Pigeon by Donald E Westlake (review here).

But these aren’t the type of books I want to focus on. Instead, when I’m stressed or down, homesick or lonely, what I crave is a re-read of a favourite, or books aimed at younger people

Recently on a road trip in my campervan, we started experiencing mechanical difficulties, we needed to carry on, and so we listened to Claudine at St Clare’s by Enid Blyton. One of my childhood favourites I have read many times, even as an adult. Did I learn anything? No. Did I feel any strong emotions? No. But that was the point. I could escape into this world I knew inside out and allow myself to relax into the gentle humour of the book without worrying about twists or turns. I am also very excited about the new Malory towers TV series that’s just starting. From what I’ve seen on social media, it’s the parents who are really interested in this, probably for a similar nostalgic reason.

St CLares

Another week, I was a having a difficult and stressful week at work. I felt the week slipping out of my control. So I downloaded Winnie the Pooh by A.A. Milne. I’d never listened to or read it before, so I didn’t know the exact storyline, but the idealistic nature, charming naivety and cheerful positivity allowed me to relax and filled me with a sense of serenity. I even painted a little watercolour of my favourite scene.

Winnie the Pooh

This week I was due to go on holiday to see my family. I live and work abroad in Kazakhstan where I don’t speak their language and in general they don’t speak mine, consequently it can be quite isolating so I was excited to go home for a bit. Obviously things being as they are at the moment it didn’t happen and so I needed to provide myself with a sense of home and comfort another way. The books that give me greatest sense of home, are The Belgariad by David Eddings.

Belgariad books

This is a light and easy going traditional fantasy series written in the early 1980s. It’s not written in a YA or children’s style, though its innocence and child friendly subject matter make it perfectly suitable for that age group. Unlike the popular heavy and brutal grim dark style that dominates the fantasy genre today, these books promote all the positive attributes of the genre. They books take me back to my childhood, my Dad loves them, and introduced me to them when I was about 12 (in between Harry Potter books). Since then I have read them many times, the characters feel like friends, the cities and towns like holiday destinations, the world itself as familiar to me as any home would be, in fact more consistently so as I’ve moved so often in my adult life.

Belgariad

What I’m trying to say is, reading isn’t a competition; there are no prizes for completing a reading challenge, or reading the Booker Prize nominees, or ploughing through the classics. By all means set goals, and work on self improvement or study if you want. But allow yourself some comfort reading along the way

For more information of where to get hold of audiobooks have a look at my previous post here

The Village: An Imagining.

One of the quirks of the Russian language is the lack of articles; as a results many Russian speakers misuse articles when speaking English. This has led to possibly my favourite phrase ever. They all love to talk about “The Village

What are you doing at the weekend: I’m going to The Village.

Are you busy this evening: Yes I’m going to The Village.

Would you like to come to The Village.

It doesn’t matter who you talk to they all phrase it the same way, not a village, or my parents’ village. They never name The Village or in any way acknowledge that there may be another village in existence. To me it has a fantastical ring to it, to the point that this is what I imagine based on their descriptions.

To The Village!

Kazakhstan has only one village, it is known as The Village (capital T, capital V). It is somewhere in the centre of the country so that everyone can access it easily.

It seems there is some sort of direct, as the crow flies, means of transport to The Village. I’d like to think they teleport or similar, but they usually talk of taxis and trains so instead there must be a dedicated group of people whose sole responsibility in the nation is to transport people to and from The Village. I like to imagine them in a uniform, wearing national colours as they work for their country, or maybe there are different clans or rival factions, perhaps the train and taxi people are rivals. Maybe there are rogue transporters running people back and forth without official papers smuggling people or object in and out of the village without the authorities knowing; or maybe they do know, but turn a blind eye, taking a slice of course.

fantasy uniform

The village itself must be huge, during the weekend the population of the village must quadruple. It needs to house almost the whole population of Kazakhstan during the weekend and holidays. Maybe it’s on a parallel plane of existence.

During week days the population is old people and a few young children. The old people would be a bit like fantasy elves, they are long lived, stoic and formal. They’ve seen and know too much, they continue to practice the old ways despite the modern advancements their children try to bring back from the cities. I imagine the grandparents indulge their grandchildren in the secrecy of the week, imparting knowledge to them and even occasionally smiling, while the children’s parents work in the many cities.

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Their houses are immaculately clean as all of the women’s’ time is spent on housework and preparing food for the weekend’s festivities. I picture the men spending their time looking serious and sitting in their chair. They may take a walk around The Village, maybe they will read a book.

Logically however, there must be some sort of spacial rift in The Village as despite my colleagues all going to The Village, they have never mentioned seeing each other there. Or perhaps there is a wrong side of the tracks mentality. Maybe long held family rivalries prevent different groups socialising in The Village, it would not be tolerated. The adults who leave The Village during the week do as they please in the city and this causes friction between them and the previous generations. The grandparents consider going to a city frivolous and unnecessary, they suspect their children are dishonouring their legacy.

fantasy citadel

As soon as they get back to The Village each woman is expected to join in cleaning the house, and preparing the weakly feasts, all their time is to be spent with their own family sharing in the running of the household. I imagine all the females gathered around a stew pot as they prepare a special meal, stirring occasionally as aromatic vapour flows through the house, maybe they make bread and gossip about their neighbours. This is where they gain the knowledge of the old ways. Occasionally special events occur, new year, a birthday, a new birth in which socialising is encouraged, but of course only with friends and allies; the appropriate gifts should be given and feasts prepared. There is a balance between keeping their children doing the right things and keeping them happy.

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Maybe they are trained to never reveal the true nature of The Village, to never name speak its name as everyone knows names have power. The Kazakhs I know are incredibly difficult to get straight answers from and will reveal little to nothing about themselves. Perhaps they are all hiding a big secret about The Village. Maybe it was their safe place against the Russians.

Or maybe its just a quirk of the language.

The Name of the Wind by Patrick Rothfuss – A Book Review.

The Name of the wind is the first in a traditional fantasy trilogy called ‘The Kingkiller Chronicle’, it has been on my ‘to read’ pile for a while knowing I’ll love it but not quite ready for the commitment. It’s so intimidatingly large that I just couldn’t bring myself to start it; I have a habit of becoming very antisocial when reading fantasy books and it never seemed quite the right time. To give you some idea of its size, it is approximately 250,000 words long; for context the first book in David Eddings’ Belgariad series (The Pawn of Prophecy) has 104,000, and it’s a similar size to Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix. The second one isn’t much smaller, I bought both the first two when I saw them at a charity shop after hearing good reviews of the series.

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I’m so relieved to find a new traditional fantasy series to lose myself in. If you are at all familiar with the genre then you will feel instantly at home. Horse and carts, bards and lutes, taverns and gods, it has all the pieces for a full fantasy world. I like urban fantasy well enough, J. K. Rowling, Patricia Briggs and Shanna Swendson, to name a few, have managed to bring the fantasy into our own worlds in I way I really enjoy, but often the genre has a angsty or sleek and sexy vibe to it which is very different from the homely, rustic feel of the old fashioned fantasy genre. The novel is suitable for most age groups, there’s no bad language (or so little I’ve forgotten it) no raunchy sex scenes, any violence is implied rather than explicit and the book doesn’t lose anything for it.

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A lot of the story is told as a story with very occasional, intermittent chapters of present time. Qvothe, the protagonist, is retelling his life story to Chronicler, a man who collects stories. There is clearly a plot to the current time events, but very little progress is made in that area, instead most of the action occurs is Qvothe’s recollections. The book is packed with events that keep the book moving along nicely, there are stories within the story which have their own set of characters and resolutions. The writing is beautifully done, and the characters are vivid and colourful. There are multiple, unofficial sections to the book that make convenient brake points and the chapters are thankfully small, as I said before the book is huge. There are times of humour and time of sadness; moments of cleverness and moments of foolishness; flashes of profound greatness and instances of weakness. Overall it is a great, long winding tale with highs and lows and no dull moments.

Despite its size, the book doesn’t really standalone well. There is no overarching plot to the book as a solo book. As I said there are many minor resolutions within the novel, but nothing that wraps the book up with any satisfaction, if fact quite the opposite, it leaves off on a bit of a cliff hanger, or more of a tease really. I’m not sure I like a book to end so openly however I can forgive it as I knew beforehand that it is part of a trilogy; a trilogy I shall most certainly continue to read. The slightly troublesome thing is that the third book is yet to be released, Rothfuss seems to be taking his time with it. However rumour has it that a Movie, TV series and videogame are in the works so at least I’ll be able to immerse myself in the world a bit more. (Kingkiller Chronicle movie news).

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Here’s a couple of excerpts from the book that show a little of the writing style and world created.

‘Dax set himself alight while attempting a spectacular bit of fire breathing and had to be doused. All he suffered was a bit of singed beard and a slightly bruised pride. He recovered quickly under Ben’s tender ministrations, a mug of mead, and a reminder that not everyone was cut out to have eyebrows.’

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‘”I’m giving you the opportunity to say something,” Kvothe said. “Something along the lines of, “That can’t be!”, or “There’s no such thing as dragons…””

Chronicler wiped the nib of his pen clean, “it’s not really my place to comment on the story.” he said placidly. “If you say you saw a dragon…” He shrugged.

Kvothe gave him a profoundly disappointed look. “This from the author of The Mating Habits of the Common Dracus? This from Devan Lochees, the great debunker?”

“This from Devan Lochees who agreed not to interrupt or change a single word of the story he is recording.” Chronicler lay his pen down and massaged his hand. “Because those were the only conditions under which he could get access to a story he very much desired.”

Kvothe gave him a level look. “Have you ever heard the expression white mutiny?”

“I have,” Chronicler said with a thin smile.

“I could say it, Reshi,” Bast said brightly, “I haven’t agreed to anything.”

Kvothe looked back and forth between them, then sighed. “There are few things as nauseating as pure obedience,” he said. “both of you would do well to remember that.”’